Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue

The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see — but equally sharp — drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume.

Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see virtually ice-free conditions sometime in the next ten years. And that may well usher in a permanent change toward extreme, prolonged weather events “Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves.

It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost.

The European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe confirms what the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center has been saying for years: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner.

In fact, the latest satellite CryoSat-2 data shows the rate of loss of Arctic sea ice is “50% higher than most scenarios outlined by polar scientists and suggests that global warming, triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is beginning to have a major impact on the region,” as the UK Guardian reported last month:

If the current annual loss of around 900 cubic kilometres continues, summer ice coverage could disappear in about a decade in the Arctic.

I have focused on sea ice volume for the past 6 years, since I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Oceanography Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in a 2006 American Meteorological Society seminar.  He reported that models suggested Arctic ice volume had dropped sharply since the mid 1990s. He then made an alarming forecast:

If this trend persists for another 10 years–and it has through 2005–we could be ice free in the summer.”

That was in 2006, so he was talking about the possibility of being ice free in 2016.

Looking at volume and thickness helped me avoid the mistake that so many others made in thinking that the sea ice “recovered” after the 2007 minimum in sea ice extent.  The scientific literature and actual observations continued to vindicate Maslowski’s projection.

Since Maslowski’s warning appears to now have been vindicated by the CryoSat-2 data, I asked him for a comment. He said he didn’t want to comment on that data specifically until he’s seen the published results — since there are many inherent uncertainties involved. But he then added:

Regardless of all these uncertainties and for the record, if any of these estimates of arctic sea ice volume decline is close to reality, a near ice-free Arctic in summer can happen not in 2100, 2050 or 2037 but much sooner. One of the main reasons I believe it will happen sooner (i.e. the trend of sea ice volume decline will continue) is that with the shrinking sea ice cover in summer the Arctic Ocean increases its net annual heat content through absorption and redistribution, especially in the upper water column, below the surface mixed layer.

This constitutes a positive feedback to sea ice melt in addition to ice-albedo and other feedbacks, mainly because it can affect the sea ice cover year around, including in winter through upward heat entrainment and reduction of ice growth. The warmer Arctic Ocean can also affect air temperatures and circulation, not only during freeze-up but also in winter and spring. Observational evidence (Jackson et al., 2010 and 2011) suggests increasing sub-surface temperatures and over increasing area in the Canada Basin through 2009, which independently of models supports the argument about the increasing upper ocean heat content.

I do realize that the above sounds ‘alarmist’ and I’ve heard such criticism more than once before but I believe it’s my obligation to make sure that this message is heard by the policymakers and general public.

Maslowski did not make a new timing prediction, but instead directed me to a recent article he was lead author on, “The Future of Arctic Sea Ice,” in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

That article estimated a loss of 1,120 cubic kilometres per year from 1996 to 2007, quite close to the recently reported CryoSat-2 measurements. It continued:

Given the estimated trend and the volume estimate for October–November of 2007 at less than 9,000 km3 (Kwok et al. 2009), one can project that at this rate it would take only 9 more years or until 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer. Regardless of high uncertainty associated with such an estimate, it does provide a lower bound of the time range for projections of seasonal sea ice cover.

This is the same estimate Maslowski made in 2006, although he has couched it more conservatively here and has explained that he wouldn’t be surprised if some summer ice lingers above Greenland and Eastern Canada into the 2020s. That’s why he uses the term “nearly ice-free.”

What’s interesting is that the volume trend has in fact continued according to PIOMAS and CryoSat-2. Many other experts are warning that we have effectively passed the point of no return and nearly ice-free are imminent. Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale e360, reports:

Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge and who has been measuring Arctic Ocean ice thickness from British Navy submarines, says that earlier calculations about Arctic sea ice loss have grossly underestimated how rapidly the ice is disappearing. He believes that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2020 and possibly as early as 2015 or 2016 — decades ahead of projections made just a few years ago.

Mark Drinkwater, mission scientist for the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite and the agency’s senior advisor on polar regions, said he and his colleagues have been taken aback by the swiftness of Arctic sea ice retreat in the last 5 years. “If this rate of melting [in 2012] is sustained in 2013, we are staring down the barrel and looking at a summer Arctic which is potentially free of sea ice within this decade,” Drinkwater said in an e-mail interview.

Wadhams told the BBC how much warming is accelerated by just replacing the reflective white ice with the more absorptive open ocean:

Prof Wadhams calculates that this increased absorption of the sun’s rays is “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”.

The Cambridge University expert says that the Arctic ice cap is “heading for oblivion.”

Not every expert thinks the Arctic will be necessarily be nearly ice free by 2020. And Dr Seymour Laxon who has been working on the CryoSat-2 data said this of the 2020 projection:

Laxon urged caution, saying: “First, this is based on preliminary studies of CryoSat figures, so we should take care before rushing to conclusions. In addition, the current rate of ice volume decline could change.” Nevertheless, experts say computer models indicate rates of ice volume decline are only likely to increase over the next decade.

But whenever the nearly ice free conditions occur (and I’ve long been in the camp that says it’ll be by 2020), those who think we have not effectively crossed a point of no return — those who think we are not in a death spiral — are not paying attention to the thickness and volume analysis. As Yale e360 reported:

Jay Zwally, chief cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and an observer of Arctic ice for 40 years, places little stock in the likelihood of a reversal of disappearing Arctic ice. New satellite technology has given scientists the ability to measure the height of sea ice above the water, and hence ice volume. Those measurements, he said, have vividly underscored that Arctic sea ice is in a swoon.

For example, a recent analysis of data from CryoSat and NASA’s ICESat satellite estimates that the volume of sea ice in a large area of the central Arctic Ocean has plummeted in late winter — February and March — by nearly half in just eight years, from an estimated 13,000 cubic kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 cubic kilometers in 2012.

We’ve gone through a tipping point, and of all the things a tipping point applies to, sea ice is the most appropriate, because the idea is when it goes below a certain thickness it doesn’t go back under present conditions,” said Zwally. “People can get hung up on the specifics and lose track of the big picture, which is that it’s getting worse and it’s going to get [even] worse.”

And that has serious consequences for every person on this planet and countless future generations.

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60 Responses to Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue

  1. Pangolin says:

    Look at the drop between 2009 and 2012. That drop is almost as large as the remaining sea ice volume. Now think for a minute how the pace of climate change has been accelerating.

    If there’s more than 2% of the winter maximum sea ice in the arctic ocean by September 15th 2016 I’ll be surprised. Shocked actually.

  2. Eli Rabett says:

    Excellent article sad development.

  3. Jack Burton says:

    It is obvious that sea ice volume is the key.
    I would not apologize for being “alarmist” by pointing out that volume is in a death spiral and the feedback loop would be exponential!
    We need some reality, instead of all this soft pedaling of the obvious onset of massive global warming effects in the arctic.
    We need to fear the CO2 released from thawing permafrost, methane from northern lakes and methane hydrates thawing from under the arctic sea. The Arctic sea methane plumes recently found off of eastern Siberia are clear warnings that this methane source is already in play.
    The deniers are now a sick joke, even the scientists have been caught being overly conservative.
    Who would have guessed that already in the year 2012 we could clearly see a melted arctic sea in the near future and the beginning of the huge and dreaded feed back loops up there. Just the thought of open water sucking up heat all summer instead of ice cover radiating all that heat back to space tells us the warming will spiral upwards very fast from here on in.
    And as many excellent articles have made clear, the melted arctic sea will lead to wild jet stream behavior and extreme weather events on the rise.

  4. I suspect we are seeing the first of the long anticipated tipping points this year. It is akin to someone bumping a pail full of water that you have been watching to see how fast it evaporates. A little water spills out and your graph takes a sudden nose dive. Watch for the coming major tipping point when someone kicks the whole bucket over. Incidentally, if you assume that thickness has been decreasing at the same rate as the “length” and the “width” of the ice then the Area to the 3/2 power will give an estimate of the decrease in volume. ie if the present area is 0.6 of some previous measurement than volume is 0.46 of the previous amount. Makes the prediction of an ice free Arctic seem much more probable.

  5. Tom Bennion says:

    What hubris means: arctic ice to disappear just as Antarctic sight-seeing flights begin again:

  6. Chris says:

    Even if everyone on the planet decided tomorrow to stop all fossil fuel use, I’m sure we’d still have an ice free arctic in a few years. It’s going to happen.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    Wadham’s statement that albedo loss from an ice free Arctic is the equivalent of 20 years’ worth of human emissions needs clarification. Is that a hard calculation, and have others confirmed it? I assume he means that the net radiative heat increase per meter after ice disappearance will equal over 640 billion tons of additional human generated CO2 in the atmosphere, on a side by side basis without additional variables as to trends, timelines etc.

    That’s a big claim. Links and calculation methodology would be helpful here.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Yep, agreed on both counts.

  9. Artful Dodger says:

    Yes, Chris. Also the 2012 ice retreat occurred in a la Nina year (the cool phase of the Eastern Pacific surface water).

    The astonishing sea ice retreat of 2007 occurred during an especially strong el Nino.

    2013 will be both an el Nino year, and near the peak of the 12-year solar cycle. Unless there’s a major volcano, the Arctic could be nearly sea ice free next year.

  10. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    How many degrees warming is 20 years of co2? a degree f? that’s alot extra for a short period of time, and it is concentrated in the northern hemisphere.

    I was quite shocked in recent weeks watching the ice area and extent decline to a 50% loss from the 1980 – 2000 average, many of us know what this means, our world is no longer the same, in the coming years we will see extremes of weather far greater than even in the last 3 years. I was shocked to see the loss of half the arctic ice cap, even though we knew this would likely happen since 2007’s record melt. It is something so catastrophic that even though you knew it will happen, it still shocks you when it occurs.

    How soon will a loss of the arctic ice cap accelerate the melting of the greenland ice?

  11. I believe I read that the thawing of the permafrost (soil) in Greenland, N. Canada, & elsewhere will release a lot of methane, which is many, many times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    See the graph and discussion around Arctic basin sea ice area for an eye-popping illustration of just how wacked the behavior of the sea ice has been since ca. 2006:

    Arctic Basin SIA dips below 2 million km2

    That signal of late is extremely bizarre compared to earlier years. Clearly something fundamental has changed.

  13. From Peru says:

    “The astonishing sea ice retreat of 2007 occurred during an especially strong el Nino”

    That is not true. 2007 saw the development of a strong La Niña (2007-2008-2009), that followed a weak El Niño (2006-2007):

    That 2007 sea ice ice massacre happened during a neutral-to-La-Niña transition,the current, bigger massacre is happening with almost neutral ENSO conditions.

    You are right that 2013 will see the combination of the solar maximum with an El Niño event, a dangerous combination that is however mitigated by the fact that the 2012-2013 El Niño is still weak and is forecasted to be at most moderate in intensity (NINO3.4 <+1.5ºC)

  14. Yes. The only thing that might slow down the total meltdown for a while is the fact that as the total mass shrinks, the surface area to volume ratio gets smaller, so less surface area is exposed to the surrounding warm water and sunlight.

    However, that will only occur when the surface area is quite small, as the ice depth, as I understand it, is just a few kilometers on average. Also, there is a good chance the ice mass will break up as some point of diminishment, increasing the total surface area relative to the total volume of the remaining ice.

    In any case, we’re already seeing the effects. We don’t have to have an “ice free” Arctic to have a wobbly jet stream, thawing permafrost, melting clathrates, melting Greenland, Hell and High Water.

  15. Good point, Mike, but I’d place my money on Wadham — at least that he’s close. On the face of it, that means cutting emissions is less helpful. We’re in deep doodoo.

  16. Josh Evans says:

    Looking at the trends, I’m betting it’s ice free in 2019 or 2020. We just keep on screwing up the planet.

  17. “How soon will a loss of the arctic ice cap accelerate the melting of the greenland ice?”

    I think it’s already happening. If nothing else, the ice cap effect on the jet stream is bringing weird weather to Greenland, and the warming Arctic sea melts all ice. Check out the Petermann Glacier calving and the pan-Greenland melt event that occurred this summer.

  18. Dave says:

    Somebody better think up a new place for Santa’s workshop — and fast!

  19. Rob Dekker says:

    Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to see if Wadhams is right with his statement that “the albedo effect of an ice free Arctic is comparable to 20 years of emissions”

    We increase CO2 in our atmosphere by about 2 ppm/year. That is 40 ppm over 20 years.
    A doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial concentration (280 ppm) would cause a ‘forcing’ of some 3.7 W/m^2.
    So 20 years emissions is a forcing of some 0.53 W/m^2, globally. Accumulated over the entire planet, that is about 270 GW.

    Now compare that forcing to the decrease in albedo of the Arctic in summer :

    Arctic sea ice minimum around 1980 used to be something like 8 million km^2. That is about 1.6 % of the planetary surface.
    In summer, Arctic insolation (radiation on the surface) is between 300 W/m^2 in June to some 50 W/m^2 at the end of August.
    So if we take the low end of that (50 W/m^2 in August) and make the reasonable assuption that the difference between ice albedo and open water albedo is about 0.5, then the albedo effect of 8 million km^2 ice cover at the end of summer is about 200 TW extra absorbed power over one month.
    Spread out over a full year, and spread out over the entire planet, that is about 266 GW.

    So Wadhams is right, and very accurately so.

  20. David Spratt says:

    There is some research on sea ice albedo impact:
    Estimating the global radiative impact of the sea ice–albedo feedback in the Arctic
    In summary, if the Arctic were ice-free for one month a year plus associated ice-extent decreases in other months then, without taking cloud changes into account, the global impact would be about 0.2 degrees Celsius [ºC] of warming. If there were no ice at all during the months of sunlight, the impact would close to 0.5ºC of global warming.

  21. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I remember when the first reports of the warming started coming in in the early 1960s. We all said ‘well that’s an easy one’ and bought solar hot water heaters, gave away our oil heating etc, the car manufacturers promised they were working on non-petrol cars, and so it went. Nobody believed we would commit suicide and be seeing this now. But we are. I just hope the survivors will have the tools to analyze what went wrong – see ‘Afterwards’ on and, ME

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I believe that the beginning of the rapid decline in Arctic summer sea ice some years ago, was the tipping-point. The amplification of northern temperatures caused by the resultant albedo flip was another, and the recent rapid decline in, first, volume, and now extent, of the ice, is a point of no return. There’s really no way back from here, we have been surprised by the sensitivity of the northern climes to smaller increases in greenhouse gas concentrations than we imagined. Meanwhile, in the bedlam of the insane asylum that is denialism, the bellowing is actually growing louder.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A volcanic eruption would be a disaster, because the resultant hiatus in warming will be used by the denialist genocidaires to raise their braying to a new fever pitch. Then the stratosphere will clear, after a number of years, and we’ll be even worse off.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Like the dodo.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s still rather rapidly falling. The surprises in stall for our unhappy species are not going to be entirely pleasant.

  26. Lennart van der Linde says:

    See this post for Wadhams’ calculation:

    No idea if this is correct/close.

  27. Spike says:

    The loss of albedo and resulting feedback is featured in some of the UK media

  28. Spike says:

    Other figures I have seen recently were 0.3W/m2

  29. Spike says:

    Ooops sorry Joe missed that link in your article.

  30. GW says:

    A terrible byproduct of the ice loss is the acceleration of petroleum exploration and extraction from the Arctic shelves. Most of the countries that border the Arctic sea are now taking advantage of the open water to further their economic development activities. Apparently the ice isn’t disappearing fast enough for some people!

  31. john c. wilson says:

    Correction. “Ice depth” is not “just a few kilometers”. Average ice thickness for the Arctic ice cap is just under one meter if calculated from volume/extent and about 1.4 meters if calculated volume/area. Available surface area exposed to water is rather large as the ice fields are now mostly small broken floes. Less than half the ice area remaining resembles a solid consolidated ice pack.

  32. How will we adapt to an ice-free Arctic? How will we adapt to a fundamental change in the jet stream’s seasonal pattern and the precipitation it drives?

    The biggest adaptation is going to be social, as the full effect of the change in the weather plays out over the coming decade. When we have March 2012 times five across the entire Northern Hemisphere all summer long, with a positive feedback guaranteeing it’ll get nothing but worse, we’ll look back on 2012’s drought-shrunken corn harvest as being one of the last great hauls in history.

    What will social “adaptation” look like in that circumstance?

    Our Mayan predecessors can help us there.

    Good thing the 2nd-Amendment-solution Agenda-21 crowd has built up its private arsenal with 300+ million guns. That should help equalize food distribution as supply collapses and prices skyrocket.

    Drill, baby, drill!

    Excuse the bitterness. It’s early on the West Coast.

  33. John McCormick says:

    Doug, a fantastic link. Thank you!! One has to take a deep breath to get through it.

  34. Andy Lee says:

    Here’s my snimated 3D view of the same PIOMAS data:

    Speaks “volumes”.

  35. Byron Smith says:

    I would also like to see the working and assumptions on Wadhams’ claim. Is he talking about once it is ice free or already today? Does he mean just during summer or averaged over the whole year?

    Without this extra context the statement is at best deeply ambiguous and at worst a piece of misleading denier debunking bait.

  36. Byron Smith says:

    If that is what he is basing his claim on, then I don’t expect to see it in the literature any time soon, since it apparently accounts for neither angle of incoming solar radiation nor 24 hour Arctic summer, which are both huge effects on a calculation like this. In short, a reduction of albedo at the poles is (relatively) less important than a similar scale reduction of albedo at the equator.

    But maybe I am missing something and his numbers already have this factored in somehow.

  37. Mark E says:

    Does the much-earlier-than-expected loss of cryosphere albedo mean IPCC’s 2007 temperature projections were low?

    If I understand correctly the models those projections were based on assumed much longer-lived high albedo in the cryosphere, so I guess my question is whether the models had a built in uncertainty factor large enough to accommodate the earlier-than-expected extra forcing due to albedo loss? If not, then do IPCC’s upper numbers for each of the emissions scenarios in AR4 (2007), such as 6.4C for A1Fi, have to be adjusted upwards?

  38. On the other hand, I’m all for deferring my ultimate demise as long as possible. The denialists have triumphed. Sorry, a bit down due to this story.

  39. Sasparilla says:

    So well put – that drop between 2009 and 2012 – its the same amount that is left. Truly yikes!

  40. Sasparilla says:

    Great article Joe, very sad to be looking at it. No summer ice cap before 2020 seems quite reasonable based on the trends here.

    Begs the question of what it will take to get summer ice cap back once we loose it…short of some reckless geo-engineering we’re not going to live to see the summer ice cap get fixed. We’ve really messed things up.

  41. Ollie Ayers says:

    Has anyone address the thermodynamics of this issue? Ice absorbs a tremendous amount of heat in its conversion from ice to liquid. That conversion would tend to absorb a good deal of heat from the surrounding waters keeping the water temperature cooler. Once the ice… as a heat sink.. disappears, wouldn’t that also cause an acceleration of heat absorption in the water? This in turn, accelerating the impact on other systems?

  42. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    I should have been more specific on the greenland question. There are predictions of a 1 foot rise in sea level by 2050, and 6 feet by 2100, with the arctic ice cap melting around 2050. This means that after the ice cap melts, sea level rises at a rate of a foot a decade, i assume the extra solar insolence in the arctic will melt greenland faster. Will sea level rise a foot a year after the arctic ice is gone, around 2020 (if not sooner)? This is a scary world we live in.

  43. Rob Dekker says:

    Spike, thank you for the link to the publication of Hudson 2011 in JGR.
    That is much, much better than my back-of the envelope calculation (which messed up GW and TW for one).
    Hudson addresses all concerns that Byron reported, and much, much more.
    Excellent paper.

    The conclusions from Hudson 2011 are that forcing (globally, and averaged over the year) from loss of Arctic sea ice will be about 0.3 W/m^2 for a summer with 1-month ice-free (Aug 15 – Sept 15) to about 0.7 W/m^2 for an completely ice-free Arctic all through summer.

    The forcing of 20 years of emissions falls somewhere in the middle of that (I estimated 0.54 W/m^2) so it seems that Wadhams’ statement is in the right ball-park, although Wadhams seems to have taken the term “ice free Arctic” a bit liberal.
    For his numbers to match scientific research like Hudson 2011, would require an ice-free Arctic longer than 1 month.

    Personally, I think there is too much emphasis on the albedo effect of disappearing Arctic sea ice.
    I think the albedo effect of disappearing snow cover during spring and high-summer is much more important.
    For example, 2012 recorded a record negative snow cover anomaly during May/June/July, peaking at a whopping 6 million km^2 during June.

    In June insolation in the area of snow loss is brutal (some 300 W/m^2 on the ground), the snow albedo effect of June 2012 brought approximately 1000 TW of heat into the early melting season. If you consider that global energy use is about 15 TW, and 70 TW keeps much of the Barentz Sea ice free during the Arctic winter, you get a feeling for how much heat 1000 TW really is.

    No wonder Siberia gets set on fire, and record high temperatures get recorded across the Northern Hemisphere (OK, maybe with the exception of Norway this year).
    And if only 25 % of that snow albedo effect in June caused Arctic ice to melt, it would cause 500 Gton volume loss in Arctic sea ice to melt over the summer, or an ice area loss of about half a million km^2.

    And that was the effect of the June 2012 snow anomaly alone.

  44. bob says:

    If one applies the most common, commercial property of CO2 to climate change, it is all clear and apparent as well as ominous. CO2 likes water more than water likes water whence beverage carbonation, e.g., beer and pop. Increased atmospheric CO2 means water will be soaked up which causes droughts followed by later, downwind deluges when the saturated air suddenly releases water after aggitation.

    For the polar icecap, increased CO2 speeds up ice melt by soaking up water while serving as a dessicating barrier between upper atmospheric moisture and the ground which prevents replenishing the icecap in the winter–see Polar Timebomb.

    The role of CO2 barriers between upper atmosphere and ground is very evident in the US 2012 Mid-west drought where massive, mega-fires in the Rocky Mountains generated broad, ground-covering smog of CO2 that dessicated the ground while preventing upper atmosphere moisture from reaching the ground.

    The above mentioned CO2 matrix (release, dessication and deluge) is what has caused the multi-decade Horn of Africa drought which is downwind from the Saudi Peninsula where over seven billion cubic feet of natural gas is burned each day. This vast plume of CO2 sucks up water on the Horn causing the destruction of farmland which has led to the social, economic and political chaos.

    If you want to understand the hidden force worsening global warming faster than scientists and computers project, visit or visit

    The CO2 matrix has been documented at\globaldying\Index.htm for the droughts in Central Asia, China, Brazil, Russia as well as the historical US Dustbowls (1930’s and 1950’s)

    You can do your readers and yourself a great service by encouraging readers to visit the aforementioned youtube site as well as I hope your eventual “mental earthquakes” will not deter you from an objective, full viewing/readeing of the documentation of what is not global warming but global dying. We don’t have CO2 footprints but CO2 sinning.

    best wishes,

    bob barnett

  45. iceman says:

    just rearrange a few letters on the sign and rename it “Satan’s Workshop”

  46. Artful Dodger says:

    From Peru:

    The teleconnection between the equatorial Pacific and the Bering Strait entrance to the Arctic Ocean means there is about a 6 month lag between El Niño and it’s effects in the Arctic.

    The moderate El Niño of Jan 2007 helped push Pacific heat into the Central Arctic Basin, and was responsible for much of the additional sea ice melt during Summer 2007.

    Woodgate (2009) “The 2007 Bering Strait Oceanic Heat Flux and anomalous Arctic Sea-ice Retreat”, Geophysical Research Letters.

    A copy of the paper is freely available here:

  47. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    If the present trend continues then by the end of Summer, the Arctic could be free of sea ice–for a few weeks. I’m sure that the article wasn’t attempting to leave folks with the impression that the Arctic would be completely ice free other than for a few weeks. The ice starts for form up again after the Autumn Equinox. There is no way to know whether the Arctic was ice free at the end of summer during the previous Arctic warm period around the 1930’s. Or during the innumerable Arctic warm periods that occurred before that.

  48. Tim says:

    Actually, there are ways to know this – in fact, therte are arctic ice maps from the 1930’s which, although fragmentary, show there wasn’t an ice extent decline in the 1930’s that was anything like that seen now. There are also several paleoclimate studies showing this kind of meltdown has probably not been seen any time since humans have existed. Not that I expect you to be convinced – if you’re still peddling such idiocy at this point, I’m sure the denial will persist in your damaged cranium for a long time.

  49. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks, Rob, those are revealing numbers.

  50. Mike Roddy says:

    Merrelyn, the oil companies went to work here in the US. I ran manufacturing for Alten Solar in the mid 1970’s, building thousands of hot water and pool systems. Then, the California state tax credits expired, and, even more important, natural gas prices collapsed. We lost the market very quickly, in 1978.

    This collapse was not driven by our paltry competition; the prices were manipulated by the big boys. The same thing is happening now, with feverish fracking as a means to keep prices down, enabling gas power infrastructure worldwide.

    It’s so obvious. The media won’t talk about it.

  51. Hank says:

    It’s as Tim says, but let’s not forget the hundreds of military, commercial shipping and fishing vessels that have been poking around the edges of the arctic for a couple of hundred years at least. You’d think someone would have noticed that they could just sail straight across the Arctic Ocean without all of that annoying ice getting in the way.

    And then there’s the sediment cores that go back thousands of years. There’s a big difference in what settles to the bottom of open ocean vs. an ice cap.

    “[N]o way to know”? Only if you refuse to look at any actual evidence.

  52. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    Tim, even with my “damaged cranium” I can discuss what I think is an interesting subject without resorting to name-calling and ad hominem arguments. I will “peddle” some more “idiocy.” :)

    There actually isn’t any way to know what the Arctic Sea Ice minimum extent was in the 1930’s for those several weeks during which the minimums occur. Do you believe that reports of ships at sea (in the Arctic) were producing a record of the entire Arctic region for a particular several weeks? Our ability to really track Arctic Sea Ice extent really began with the satellites. My own speculation, is that this Arctic Warm Period is probably warmer than the previous one. This one follows about a half a century of unusually high solar activity. The previous arctic warm period followed a period of comparatively low solar activity. This one should be warmer than the previous. We really have no good way of determining the minimums further back than that. As for the studies that you mentioned, I am not impressed by studies that claim to know what is not knowable. There was a particular photograph that I thought was interesting. It is of a tree stump that was radiocarbon dated at around 4000 B.P. The interesting thing is that that area is now tundra where no trees grow. It had to have been warmer then than it is now. Climate changes. It always has and it always will.

  53. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    Hank, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I am always willing to look at actual evidence. Remember that the minimum is only for a few weeks. Even then, it isn’t likely that the Arctic would be completely ice free. For reasons that I stated, I think (I don’t know) that the current Arctic warm period is warmer than the previous Arctic warm period.

    Looking at the ijis data, it looks like the minimum will be around 3 million square kilometers this year occur some time within the next week. If the current Arctic warm period persists, we could, under conditions similar to what happen this year, have a year where the Arctic is ice-free for a few weeks just prior to the Autumn Equinox. It seems very unlikely that the Arctic would ever be ice free for longer than a few weeks. Each year, starting around the middle of September, the sea ice starts increasing again. Here is a link to a chart that I created using ijis data to track the sea ice extent. It is a pdf file. The ijis data starts in 2002. The current Arctic warming probably started sometime in the 1970’s or 80’s.

    You mentioned the ships. Radar didn’t come along for other than military ships until after WWII. Even with radar, the ability to see ice is limited by the horizon. It would probably be considerably less than 8 miles. Before radar, it would be less than that. In less than ideal weather, it would be even less.It would have been possible to plot the edge of the sea ice at a single location. A ship could move along the edge and plot it. But the sea ice is moving as the ship is moving. It would have been impossible to know the minimum sea ice extent back then unless there were thousands of ships stationed along the entire edge around the middle of September when the minimum occurs. Even then, there would have to be considerable interpolation to fill in the area between the ships. That’s why I think that the minimum during the previous Arctic warm period is not knowable.

    The sediments cannot tell us what the minimum was. It is the minimum that we are talking about here isn’t it?

  54. Hank says:

    I was responding to your original assertion: “There is no way to know whether the Arctic was ice free at the end of summer during the previous Arctic warm period around the 1930′s.”

    But it is possible to know that. All of the many civilian and military ships working the arctic ocean area, and sailing out from northern ports, encountered the sea ice. So we know that the area was never ice free. Nor was it anything like the current low ice extent, as those ships would have had great freedom to move about large areas of the Arctic Ocean, and no one reported any such thing.

    Do we know the minimim ice extent in the 30s and 40 to the same degree we do now? Of course not. Do we know that the Arctic was never ice free during that time? Definitely.

    I don’t share your optimism as to the future ice extent. The ice volume data shows that we have been melting old ice for at least two or three decades, and we are rapidly approaching a time when there will be little but first-year ice in the arctic. At that point we will be in a fundamentally different sea ice environment, and it is quite likely that the annual melt will proceed much faster than it has in the past, and the freeze-up will likely be delayed by warmer waters.

  55. Scott says:

    “There is no way to know” is (in the general case, when so unequivocally put) a very strong statement, and indicates that you’re not interested in learning that some bright person has come up with a way to find out. In this case, they have.

    “Climate changes. It always has and it always will.” Yes. Some of these changes have been very bad for humans, and some have been very good. The changes we are currently seeing are being caused by humans, and will be very bad for some large fraction of humans, and it would be nice if we could figure out how to avoid some of the bad effects.

  56. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    Hank, your arguments are certainly logical. I appreciate your courtesy. You might find this link interesting:

    It is page 589 from the November 1922 Monthly Weather Review. I think that it was published by the American Meteorological Society but I’m not certain of it. About half way down in the first column you will find “The Changing Arctic.” Here is a teaser. “Ice conditions were exceptional. In fact, so little ice has never before been noted. The expedition all but established a record, sailing as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes in ice-free water. This is the farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus.”

  57. Bill Goedecke says:

    An excellent article. I put the onus on our insistence on economic growth. Given the extreme danger we are in, if only we could come to a new place where property was not the driver of economic activity we may have a chance to make different priorities.

  58. thanes says:

    Over on Neven’s sea ice blog, there is a good argument being made that the 2010 volume drop was a more important event than even 2007’s sea ice extent change.
    Talk about a sneak attack. Two years since our climate “Pearl Harbor” happened, and we still don’t see it in the news. George Orwell could never have imagined such control over information.

  59. Hank says:

    Bruce, here are some studies of historical sea ice that include the 30s, 40s and earlier:

    It’s pretty well established that the arctic hasn’t been ice free at any time for many decades, and likely hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Certainly not in the 30s.