NOAA: Climate Change Driving Arctic Into A ‘New State’ With Rapid Ice Loss And Record Permafrost Warming

Arctic sea ice is melting much, much faster than even the best climate models had projected (actual observations in red). The reason is most likely unmodeled amplifying feedbacks. The image (from Climate Crocks via Arctic Sea Ice Blog) comes from a 2007 GRL research paper by Stroeve et al.

“Scary New Report on Arctic Ice” is the Weather Channel’s headline for NOAA’s sobering 2012 Arctic Report Card.

Everyone should indeed be scared by what we are doing to the Arctic because it will accelerate global warming, speed up sea level rise, and make deadly superstorms like Sandy more frequent and more destructive (see “NOAA Bombshell: Warming-Driven Arctic Ice Loss Is Boosting Chance of Extreme U.S. Weather“).

This is what’s new up north in 2012:

New records set for snow extent, sea ice extent and ice sheet surface melting, despite air temperatures — a key cause of melting — being unremarkable relative to the last decade.

Multiple observations provide strong evidence of widespread, sustained change driving Arctic environmental system into new state.

Here’s a video summary from NOAA:

Two of the most worrisome highlights are:

The record Greenland melt is scary because if the Greenland ice sheet disintegrates, sea levels would rise 20 feet — and the process appears to be accelerating to a critical “tipping point” (see also “Science Stunner: Greenland Ice Melt Up Nearly Five-Fold Since Mid-1990s”). Indeed, polar researcher Jason Box, lead author of the Greenland section of the report, told the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco:

“In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone,” he told reporters at the AGU. “As Greenland crosses the threshold and starts really melting in the upper elevations it really won’t recover from that unless the climate cools significantly for an extended period of time which doesn’t seem very likely.”

The tundra warming is scary because it is a frozen locker of carbon whose defrosting will further accelerate warming (see “Carbon Feedback From Thawing Permafrost Will Likely Add 0.4°F – 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100).”

Here is more detail on what’s happening in the tundra:

  • In 2012, new record high temperatures at 20 [meters, 65 feet] depth were measured at most permafrost observatories on the North Slope of Alaska and in the Brooks Range, where measurements began in the late 1970s. Only two coastal sites show exactly the same temperatures as in 2011.
  • A common feature at Alaskan, Canadian and Russian sites is greater warming in relatively cold permafrost than in warm permafrost in the same geographical area.
  • During the last fifteen years, active-layer thickness [ALT] has increased in the Russian European North, the region north of East Siberia, Chukotka, Svalbard and Greenland.

The “ALT is the top layer of soil and/or rock that thaws during the summer and freez[es] again during the fall, i.e., it is not permafrost.”

The report makes painfully clear why all of these Arctic trends are going to continue — global warming and amplifying feedbacks:

Large changes in multiple indicators are affecting climate and ecosystems, and, combined, these changes provide strong evidence of the momentum that has developed in the Arctic environmental system due to the impacts of a persistent warming trend that began over 30 years ago. A major source of this momentum is the fact that changes in the sea ice cover, snow cover, glaciers and Greenland ice sheet all conspire to reduce the overall surface reflectivity of the region in the summer, when the sun is ever-present. In other words, bright, white surfaces that reflect summer sunlight are being replaced by darker surfaces, e.g., ocean and land, which absorb sunlight. These conditions increase the capacity to store heat within the Arctic system, which enables more melting – a positive feedback. Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that it is very likely that major changes will continue to occur in the Arctic in years to come, particularly in the face of projections that indicate continued global warming.

Anyone who thinks we can delay aggressive deployment of carbon-free technology simply has shut their eyes and ears to the growing scientific evidence.

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19 Responses to NOAA: Climate Change Driving Arctic Into A ‘New State’ With Rapid Ice Loss And Record Permafrost Warming

  1. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Question: Isn’t the horizontal axis in the extent graph usually represented by calendar months and not years? It’s the different lines that represent different years.

  2. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Oh, I see. This graph is for only one month. It’s curve and appearance are very much like the charts showing extent over a year or season, and then comparing various years – which we usually see. I’ve not seen one like this.

  3. The ice cap is the idiot light at the top of the world.

    Save the ice cap.

  4. Mark E says:

    And looks like a “firn buffer” might be keeping sea level rise from accelerating…. but only temporarily. The gist is that Greenland is getting enough BTUs to melt a LOT more water, but a fair bit is refreezing in the grainy firn below the surface. As that becomes saturated (and becomes more ice-like) presumably more of the meltwater will find its way to the sea. The researchers suggested this firn-buffering effect might last for a measly 20 years.

  5. Paul Magnus says:

    Ok sorry about this. At least its not monday… must hear…

    Climate: On the Road to Extinction?

    Are we on the road to climate extinction? Dr. Guy McPherson lays out the case in this speech at Bluegrass Bioneers in Kentucky.

    Then the World Bank says “Turn Down the Heat”. Daphne Wysham on their coal addiction, and Olivia Maria Serdeczny from the Potsdam Institute in Germany, authors of the report for the Bank.

  6. Paul Magnus says:

    So the ice graph is basically the flip of the carbon graph….

    Carbon Concentration vs Time

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    Once you’ve let this sink in you can appreciate the previous post…

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It is gratifying to see that somebody else apart from me is backing a global economic collapse as one of our best friends. It won’t stop the accelerating wave of change washing through the biosphere but it will drastically slow down the emissions rate, ME

  9. M Tucker says:

    “Anyone who thinks we can delay aggressive deployment of carbon-free technology simply has shut their eyes and ears to the growing scientific evidence.”

    That would of course include ALL Republicans in Congress and our wonderful President. The gap that exists between the speed of climate change and the response to it is widening. It is remarkable the completed lack of urgency the vast majority of our leaders show. Even the public, even those who say that something should be done when polled, do not demonstrate any urgency to their feelings. A nonchalant attitude exists among the majority of those who say something should be done. Everything I see just alarms me more.

  10. NJP1 says:

    if the temperature of a human being gets only 2 degrees above normal it results in sickness, 4 degrees above becomes a fever, 6 degrees above is a death sentence

    I’m surprised nobody has pointed out that the Earth is governed by roughly the same temperature range.
    right now, we are headed for the 2 degree level, and the Earth is feeling unwell, climate change is just the first sneeze to get rid of the cause of the infection (us) and prevent the onset of fever and death
    If these first sneezes don’t cure the problem, then, just like any kind of fever, measures will get more and more drastic until the problem is solved.
    I think we can be pretty certain that the Earth has no intention of dying, so it looks as if we are going to be purged

  11. Gore has used the fever analogy. I agree, it is very apt.

  12. Jacob says:

    “…so it looks as if we are going to be purged.”

    …not soon enough for the rest of life on this planet.

  13. M Tucker says:

    Geology professor Lee R Kump is a self described expert on planetary fevers. He is co-author on Dire Predictions and his SciAm article The Last Great Global Warming in July 2011 is a very good read.

  14. James W. Crissman says:

    Fever is a good analogy for planetary temperature, and tolerable CO2 levels in ppm are similar to blood alcohol levels. Next time a cop pulls you over for DUI, tell him it was just a few extra ppm that caused you to stagger and slur.

  15. Of course we are. Are we still trying to convince people about this obvious point? We Industrial humans have cooked the planet and hopefully brought about extinction of our lifestyle. Unfortunately we are going to take a great deal of other species with us.

  16. LilBang says:

    According to John Peterson (associated with a company AXPW.ob listed in the stock exchange) the grid that is supposed to effectively collect,combine, regulate, and distribute energy from wind power, solar power, etc technologies for homes, buildings and industries etc is at this point just a mirage … extremely inefficient, costly, misunderstood mess. We should be supporting companies like AXPW (perhaps) rather than the ones that have accidentally or deliberately exploited the public. Please see:

    If you need more info about this please ask here or JPeterson at his blog.

    I know this is a stretch but I’ve been concerned about Climate Change since 1969. However I’m just a mathematical physicist not a climatologist.

  17. The BAC analogy is a great one. Thanks for that.

  18. Allan says:

    Before anyone can claim certainty in the Arctic, I think its worth while to review some Canadian historical observations purtaining to Neo-Eskimo and other populations in the Arctic. In the Journal of Environmental Archaeology 10,2005. [Decadal-Scale Sea Ice Changes in the Canadian Arctic and their impacts on Human’s during the past 4000 years]indicate changes in temperature substantialy higher then we’ve observed in the last 30 years and as it got colder or warmer, impacted the abandoment or settlement of communities. To understand today, we have to understand the past.

  19. Spike says:

    “The rate of loss of June snow cover extent between 1979 and 2012 (the period of satellite observation) set a new record of -17.6%/decade, relative to the 1979-2000 mean.”

    That’s a lot of extra dark earth and vegetation to soak up the summer sunlight.