Arctic Death Spiral Continues: Record Low Sea Ice Volume Appears Likely

by Neven, via the Arctic Sea Ice Blog

The PIOMAS people are early this month with updating the numbers (probably so that the SEARCH people have some extra info for their SIO).

Here is the updated Arctic sea ice volume graph as calculated by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center:

I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re going to have a new record volume low, although the difference with 2010 and 2011 has become smaller. Right now it’s 1249 and 730 km3 respectively.

Here is Wipneus‘ version with the calculated “expected” 2012 values (dotted lines), based on the same date values of 1979-2011 and an exponential trend.
A caveat from Wipneus: “Note that the statistical error bars are quite large.”

The trend is following the dotted line quite nicely, I would say.

The anomaly has come up a bit compared to last month, it’s no longer 4 standard deviations below the linear trend:

I have used my crude method of dividing PIOMAS volume numbers by Cryosphere Today area numbers to calculate the ice pack’s average thickness. Again, this is just an indication that allows us to compare with previous years:

That small uptick at the end makes the graph look slightly less alarming.

Thank you, PIOMAS.

Average thickness for July 31st (in m):

  • 2005: 2.38
  • 2006: 2.41
  • 2007: 2.15
  • 2008: 2.43
  • 2009: 2.06
  • 2010: 1.57
  • 2011: 1.55
  • 2012: 1.48

If the model is correctly assessing sea ice volume in the Arctic, chances of new extent and area records are still very much present. Despite the weather.

As a bonus, Jim Pettit‘s PIOMAS volume death spiral chart [see top figure].

Neven writes for the Arctic Sea Ice Blog. This  piece was originally published at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog and was reprinted with permission.

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25 Responses to Arctic Death Spiral Continues: Record Low Sea Ice Volume Appears Likely

  1. Wonhyo says:

    No need to worry. Once the Greenland Ice Sheet breaks up and slides in to the ocean, the sea ice extent will rebound to historical highs.

    All kidding aside, the probable change from La Nina to El Nino conditions this year is likely to bring unprecedented new extremes of weather. An observant non-scientific friend of mine goes deep sea fishing in the Pacific. He notes that years when warm water species get close to the West Coast early are followed by El Nino conditions characterized by heavy rainfall with very little snow. He’s seeing early arrival of warm water species now.

    Hang on for droughts and deluges like you’ve never seen before.

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    It’s like a multi-year drought in Western states, where the critical issue isn’t whether this year beats last year by an inch, but whether the dams along the Colorado River are running out of water from the whole drought.

    With Arctic ice, the critical issue is whether the accumulated heat in the Arctic Ocean is setting off gargantuan methane releases.

  3. Henry says:

    Why do you call it a “Death Spiral”? Did something die?

  4. Leif says:

    Something is dying and, trust me on this, you are going to miss it.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Because of the additional impacts..

    “Just the melting of all the floating ice in the arctic ocean, will add as much heat to the earth, as all the Co-2 we put in the atmosphere to date.” Prof. James Lovelock

    Estimating the Global Radiative Impact of the Sea-Ice-Albedo Feedback in the Arctic a more realistic ice-free-summer scenario (no ice for one month, decreased ice at all other times of the year) results in a forcing of about 0.3 W m−2, similar to present-day anthropogenic forcing caused by halocarbons.

  6. prokaryotes says:

    The impact of a seasonally ice free Arctic Ocean on the temperature,
    precipitation and surface mass balance of Svalbard

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Future abrupt reductions in the summer Arctic seaice

    We examine the trajectory of Arctic summer sea ice in
    seven projections from the Community Climate System
    Model and find that abrupt reductions are a common feature
    of these 21st century simulations. These events have
    decreasing September ice extent trends that are typically
    4times larger than comparable observed trends. One event
    exhibitsadecreasefrom6millionkm 2 to 2 million km2 in a decade, reaching near ice-free September conditions by
    2040.In the simulations,ice retreat accelerates as thinning
    increases the open water formation efficiency for a given
    melt rate and the ice-albedo feedback increases shortwave

    “The retreat is abrupt when ocean heat transport
    to the Arctic is rapidly increasing.”

    Analysis from multiple climate models and three forcing scenarios indicates that abrupt reductions occur in simulations from over 50% of the models and suggests that reductions in future greenhouse
    gas emissions moderate the likelihood of these events.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Enhanced poleward moisture transport and amplified northern high-latitude wetting trend

    Observations and climate change projections forced by greenhouse gas emissions have indicated a wetting trend in northern high latitudes, evidenced by increasing Eurasian Arctic river discharges1, 2, 3. The increase in river discharge has accelerated in the latest decade and an unprecedented, record high discharge occurred in 2007 along with an extreme loss of Arctic summer sea-ice cover4, 5, 6. Studies have ascribed this increasing discharge to various factors attributable to local global warming effects, including intensifying precipitation minus evaporation, thawing permafrost, increasing greenness and reduced plant transpiration

  9. Robert Lyons says:

    As the Arctic warms and it’s ice retreats, the release of methane trapped in sea floors, wetlands, and permafrost increases (among other effects).

    “Methane is like the radical wing of the carbon cycle, in today’s atmosphere a stronger greenhouse gas per molecule than CO2, and an atmospheric concentration that can change more quickly than CO2 can.”

    ~ Real Climate

    “The Arctic methane potential is a global warming carbon bomb.”

    ~ AMEG

  10. prokaryotes says:

    This recent NASA video shows how the increased water discharge tempers with the polar currents…

  11. glen says:

    JE Hansen writes in the Washington Post; In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

    The link;–and-worse-than-we-thought/2012/08/03/6ae604c2-dd90-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html?hpid=z3

  12. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe and Neven — thanks for the repost. I’m a huge fan of your Arctic Sea Ice Graphs blog.

    Neven, can you ask Wipneus to update his “PIOMAS Monthly Average Arctic Ice Volume” graph with the July 2012 number? Is it available yet?

  13. Paul Klinkman says:

    The Arctic Ocean’s ice expands and contracts in an annual circle. If the ice pack keeps recording lower lows and lower highs every year, and if we expect zero ice at some point, it’s accurate to call it a death spiral.

  14. Neven says:

    Thanks, Mark. Wipneus usually updates his graphs within nanoseconds of data release. His web page can be found here. I think he updated that graph you refer to, but it’s trend line is hidden by another exponential trend.

  15. Paul Klinkman says:


    During one 90 minute period, one Greenland ice river was recorded as sliding along at 3 miles per hour. Odd things happen when glaciers get lubricated by liquid water.

  16. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Last year Joe commented that he was told summer ice being down to ten percent of normal by 2020 might be just that little bit low.
    But this year even the thick ice above Greenland and Ellesmere Island is thinning rapidly. Very little is thicker than 4 meters.

    Regretfully I think your bet is safe. Then again I always thought so.

  17. Jack Burton says:

    Paul, I believe that off of the eastern Siberian arctic coasts that there are now massive methane plumes being released. The Russian Academy of Science released their findings of these many months back. Methane releases in the past we plumes of a small size, but they have grown to kilometers in width and there were really too many to count in such a vast area.
    The Russian scientists admitted to being shocked by the size and the area over which these releases were taking place.
    So yes, the arctic seas are warming and the methane hydrates are thawing and bursting forth up into the atmosphere.
    Is it doom and gloom? Who knows, if the releases continue to grow it could be a climate shock once more heat is trapped. I have heard that methane as measured over the arctic seas has shown a rapid rise, though I haven’t heard much further about it

  18. Mark Shapiro says:

    OMG — I think you’re right.

    It looks like the July number is right on the exponential trend line. Yikes.

  19. atcook27 says:

    So the arctic sea ice is deminishing at an ever increasing rate. I believe that it is easy to extropolate the decadal average graph back to a zero minima to estimate when the arctic will be ice free. It would be a miracle if we went another 10 years without achieving this startling milestone. We are indeed in a heap of trouble.

  20. atcook27 says:

    The decadel avererage diagram is one of those graphics which tells the story of climate change. It needs no explanation and has no inteligent rebuttal. We are indeed in a heap of trouble.

  21. catman306 says:

    Arctic cyclone warning! Large areas of sea ice expected to turn to slush.

  22. john c. wilson says:

    This article is still top of page featured so one more comment.

    There is a huge storm in progress in the Arctic. This is the biggest single event for arctic ice since 2007. All previous guesses hazarded for how much ice might be lost this season just became obsolete. Events are coming very quickly now, follow at neven’s.

  23. It’s a bit concerning. The report was issued last year. It made some rather concerning findings. Now, nearly a year later, silence.

    One would think that discovering methane seeps a kilometer or more across all over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf would be a matter of international urgency. Yet there is a complete visible lack of response or leadership on the matter.

    So many scientists are saying we need to determine whether or not this kind of methane release is normal. Fine. But one would think that there would at least be a sense of urgency. One does not discount a massive swarm of earthquakes underneath a supervolcano off-hand. And yet this is exactly what appears to be happening with these methane releases.

    True, they could be ‘normal.’ But if not, what then? Just rest on our hind parts?

    As for impacts. It’s pretty huge potentials. You’re talking about large portions of surface seas becoming anoxic. You’re talking a severe kick to the climate system from a very strong feedback. You’re talking about the potential for rather large fires from the methane as well. Much worse than the wildfires we’re seeing now.

    Some have said that dealing with global warming is an engineering problem — primarily oil company CEOs. But the scale of engineering is unprecedented in both its time-scales and costs. Furthermore, single action only address single issues. To deal with all of global warming’s troubles you have to re-build Earth.

  24. john welch says:

    In crude terms the open sea (<15% ice) has increased by half in 30 years. This is on the south of the ice where the sun is more effective and the vol. and area melt-rate is increasing. There may be a calculation for Arctic ocean albedo-heat totals over this period, but the coloured lines on the graphs do it for me.