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Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues

By Joe Romm on April 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm

"Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues"

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The story of the decade is the collapse of Arctic sea ice and its impact on our extreme weather (see “CryoSat-2 Confirms Sea Ice Volume Has Collapsed“).

That merits the latest monthly update of sea ice volume by creative tech guru Andy Lee Robinson showing that “death spiral” is the right visual metaphor:

Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see a “near ice-free Arctic in summer” within a decade. 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 as well as the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost, which in turn will likely add 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.

For more on the death spiral, here’s Peter Sinclair’s latest video, featuring an interview with Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

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39 Responses to Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues

  1. dan allen says:

    True comedy: The Good Lord Monckton fumbles with headphones and settles contentedly for one ear backwards.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Have some respect. Baron Monckhausen is in mourning for his ‘Immortal Beloved’ the late unlamented human hand-baggage from Finchley.

  2. That is a truly wonderful (though frightening) graph!

  3. M Tucker says:

    The important thing is that we all stay calm. We don’t want to do anything rash. We certainly should not be tempted to do anything hasty or bold. As long as the majority of our scientists and political leaders are not alarmed enough to agitate for a change the rest of us should just sit quietly. After all they are the leaders. The scientist will let us know when to panic.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Would be funny if it were not so accurate M. That’s exactly one of the major forms of pathology in a hierarchical system, called the basic assumption of dependency. But it can change into fight/flight very quickly if the group decides the leadership is acting against their interest – oh dear! ME

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Considering the foul stench now emerging from the putrescent corpse of what was once the universally admired CSIRO, euthanased, ‘market-style’ by the vile Howard obscenity, I can see just why scientists keep quiet.

    • Joan Savage says:

      You are waiting for instructions to panic?

      Climate scientists are not advising panic, they are advising extremely urgent action.

      Pick on the politicians if you want. I sometimes wonder if politicians privately are in a total panic already, caught between funding and voting, dreading when their constituency may blame them for a lack of preparedness.

      • BlackDragon says:

        Any politician in such a bind and truly wishing to step out of the dilemma has, as you mention, the best possible out: the massive weight of science advising extremely urgent action.

        If they are so caught between funding and voting that they can neither act or lead, our system is totally broken.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        If politicians possessed consciences and the senses of shame and guilt, they would be in quite a great degree of mental torment by now. Fortunately such effete baggage is jettisoned before anyone enters the ‘real world’ of business greed and political complicity.

        • EDpeak says:

          Well BlackDragon, our system IS comletely broken. Well, one can split hairs about what “completely” means – let’s say it’s “sufficiently” broken. There are moral monsters in politics but the time we spend as climate hawks or progressives lambasting the middle ground or weak-liberal ones for doing so little, misses the point that their hands really are tied. If they spoke the truth out loud, they would in all but the most progressive disctricts, be losing the next election. We DO have a case to say, “then quit politics and become an activist if your only choice is to do far far too little far far too late” That would be a reasonable criticism. But for those not ready to do that their logic (sadly for planet earth) is not entirely wrong when they think “I can push our totally broken political system away from 99% bad policy to 98% bad policy, or I can tell the truth and lose the election and then I’m not donig anyone any good” so they water down and “compromise”…repeat that 100s of times and you get what you see on TV…they should just resign. I am NOT a “mild liberal” but we need to stop saying how eeeevil the mild-liberals are. The system is what’s evil.

          Do you really think that if Obama was Senator from Vermont (a progressive state) he’d have the same policies? Or that if Bernie Sanders (whose work I much admire) was President that he’d do the same? We know that’s not the case. Does this “Excuse” Obama? No, but the tactics we need to employ is to change the system (long term) and change the cost/benefit calculus (in short term) for the President by being loudly and public against..and getting more Americxans to do the same

          Supposedly FDR said to activists, “I agree with you..now you need to [go protest in the street and] make me do it”

    • Guest says:

      Calm scientist’s letting us know we should not panic:

      Prof. Will Steffan, Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute “the situation appears bleak, and there is a growing sense of panic in those who really understand what a 4°C world might be like”
      http://climatecommission.gov.au/others/avoiding-unadaptable-a-4-degree-celsius-world/

      Prof. Jim Hansen, recently retired director of the NASA Goddard Insitute for Space Studies “We are in a planetary emergency”
      http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jKKr0IRUKbR6Se7mFZu_qfcFWZTw

      Sir David King, former Chief Government advisor to the British Government. “Avoiding dangerous climate change” is impossible – dangerous climate
      change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic
      climate change?”
      http://www.withouthotair.com/c31/page_248.shtml

      Prof. Ross Garnaut
      “The failure of our generation on climate change mitigation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity to the end of time.”http://www.petermartin.com.au/2008/09/final-report-of-garnaut-review.html

      Sir John Haughton,former co-chair of the IPCC, “climate channge is accelerating more rapidly and dangerously that most of us in the scientific community had expected”
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/01/climatechange-carbonemissions

      Prof. Lonnie Thompson, Director of the Byrd polar research centre:
      “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”
      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/12/13/207169/lonnie-thompson-climatologists-global-warming-a-clear-and-present-danger-to-civilization/

      Leading to our unalarmed world leaders to make reassuring statements like this:

      Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the U.N., “This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action”
      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-11-11/un-chief-says-global-warming-is-an-emergency/722062

    • Sasparilla says:

      I wonder to myself what the next state of “panic” the scientists have to start loudly publicly proclaiming…I think “Scared to death of what’s about to happen” would be a good start.

      I would expect the politicians to pretend that 2.0C is possible for long after it is not (which I think is the past already), probably right up to actually achieving 450ppm and or 2.0C whichever is achieved first – simply because it lets them off the hook.

      If the next IPCC report comes out saying 2.0c is still achievable we’ll know the writers cooked the books (watch past and future CO2 emissions assumptions) to keep the politicians off the hook and the public anesthetized enough…

    • David Goldstein says:

      M. Tucker- with your sardonic sense of humor, you might appreciate my latest published article, a climate change satire and fable: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidgoldstein/close-encounters-a-fable-_b_3033586.html?utm_hp_ref=climate-change

      • M Tucker says:

        Thanks David. I read it…
        “We can keep right on doing just what we’ve been doing. We’re gonna be just fine!”
        Which is exactly what we are doing, what we have been doing and what we plan to do into the future.

        I wonder which lobby has more actual power to control Congress, the NRA or the massive fossil fuel industry. Proponents of gun safety can get actual human faces in the news and in front of recalcitrant representatives and we will be lucky to get universal background checks. Madmen can still get 30 round clips! The best we can do is to try to improve the unsatisfactory background check system. And that might still fail. And that is with memorials to little children and pictures of those little children and news personalities talking about it every night. That is not possible with climate legislation. That does not happen with catastrophic weather events. We don’t hear every night about what the future has in store if we continue with business as usual.

        The thing about gun safety legislation or civil rights or equal rights for gays or immigration reform or voter’s rights or women’s rights or nuclear disarmament, they don’t have a time limit. If it takes 10 years for us to pass a law to ensure equal rights for all Americans, well we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. If it takes the US 10 more years to even begin to reduce CO2 emissions, well many of those scientists say we are looking at more than 2 deg C of warming. Most Americans, even those protesting Keystone, don’t have a clue what that even means for the stability of the climate. 2 to 3 degrees of cooling from pre-industrial levels puts us into an ice age. 2 to 3 degrees (or more) of warming over a time period of 50 to 90 years is completely unprecedented in the geologic record in the past 65 million years. It is not just about sea level rise and expansion of the worlds deserts into the temperate zones. It is about extinction and ocean acidification. And we hardly hear about that. Scientists say things like, “this makes me a little nervous.”

        I hope the activists like McKibben and Hansen can get more attention in the popular media because it will take large public support to make the kind of changes necessary to avoid the worst. Too bad Hansen and Lonnie Thompson and Bernie Sanders are moving up in age. Why are all the best ones also so advanced in age? I’m glad McKibben is still a young man. It looks like Lonnie will need a new ticker. For such an active man to get congestive heart failure is unheard of, sounds like a smokers fait, but that is what high altitude work can do I guess. We have very few scientists like Hansen and Thompson. Most will just say “I’m a little worried.”

  4. psher grant says:

    Nice graph. Who wants to make a bet on what year it will be when ice reaches zero in the summer months. My guess is that will be zero before the 2020.

    • Sasparilla says:

      The person running this site, Dr. Joe Romm, actually took a bunch of bets back in 2007 (if memory serves) that the initial Arctic Melt Thru would occur before 2020.

      If you look at the minimum from last year (2012) and compare it to the minimum from 3 years prior (2009) you can see it lost more than half its volume in 3 years…not many things can you cut their volume in half every 3 years and still keep around for long.

      So psher, you’re in good company with the 2020 date, although recently some scientists, off the record, have been talking 2016/17 or so (assuming no volcanic surprises before then).

  5. Solar Jim says:

    No sweat, even though this hasn’t happened for several million years. Everyone stay calm. The leaders have everything under control: an “energy” system that is melting the polar ice sheets, which contain over seven million cubic miles of ice, by turning the air into a planetary gas chamber of carbonic acid.

    No sweat. What’s a little sea ice anyway.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    Just yesterday I posted a quick calculation of the amount of additional ocean heat that will accumulate due to a Blue Arctic event:

    http://www.grinzo.com/energy/2013/04/10/the-consequences-of-a-blue-arctic/

    Even without accounting for further albedo flip I came up with enough heat to warm Lake Ontario by 8.8 degrees F.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Lou that was a great article, the amount of energy that is added when we don’t have the ice cube in our drink at the top of the world is truly stunning.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Great! We can go fishing for barracuda!

  7. Michael Glass says:

    This “spiral” graph doesn’t srike me as the master stroke of scientific visualization that Joseph Romm seems to think it is.

    It strikes me as hard to decode. And having decoded it, I find myself mentally trying to compare various quantities which are all twisted around with respect to each other.

    I call chart junk. An ordinary straight left-to-right graph would be easier to see and more persuasive. Maybe even better would be to retain only the April and September traces.

  8. BBHY says:

    Am I reading this correctly? It looks like the yearly max is now approaching the previous (’79) yearly minimum!

    • BlackDragon says:

      You are reading it correctly. The Sep (yearly min) black line of 1979 is fairly close to the Mar (yearly max) yellow line of 2013.

      Thanks for pointing that out. And remember: DON’T PANIC

  9. Jack Burton says:

    I live on the shore of Lake Superior. The big lake was ice covered in winter back when I was a kid in the 60′s. Gradually the lake ice decreased until one year it never came in winter. Now it never comes, except in very small amounts and only for a few weeks. But mostly it remains ice free. I assume this is a feed back, as last year we set another summer water temperature record.
    It is safe to assume the arctic will flip very quickly like Lake Superior did. We went from regular ice, to spotty ice and then zero ice in the matter of a few years. It happened very quickly. It has not come back, and water temps are rising in summer so we begin each winter with warmer and warmer water.

  10. jyyh says:

    the 3d version of Andy Lee Robinson’s graph here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2Qae244T9o8
    from the looks of it, I’m proposing a name for the graph:”The Arctic Water Turbine”.

    • Andy Lee Robinson says:

      Interesting! Perhaps a poison chalice?
      I was just playing with the data and the perl program I wrote to translate it into scripts that PovRay can render (www.povray.org). There are so many ways of animating it and I can only do 0.00001% of what’s possible!
      I’ll do more versions, and keep them up to date as new data appears – this September will be interesting, but could still go either way.
      March volume recovered a lot since January, and now on a par with last year, but with most of the ice being first year ice, it’s looking odds on for a new record this year.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      We have plainly set climate destabilisation in motion, its momentum is growing, inexorably, although much is hidden from our eyes. When this Kraken wakes, heaven help us all, and he is stirring.

  11. EDpeak says:

    Graphic is great in some ways, not in others. For ealier years, great. But notice what happens by 2012: one can’t visually tell Sept 2012 from what will be Sept 2013..the tiny circle makes the two too close..

    For more recent, I like the regular graph (sq mi on y axis) for surface…and or course, also the volume graph is helpful as well.

    http://economicdemocracy.org/eco/images/2012.volume.final.jpg

  12. fj says:

    It could be very useful visualizing what a successful ramp up to major Net Zero climate action achievements by 2020 will be like in a massive international initiative coordinating the world’s largest cities C40Cities.org civil defence / offense network . . ., US Army Net Zero strategic . . . , Earth Institute science & information . . . , UN Millienium Design coordination planetary peoples . . . , World Bank Financial Instrumentation . . . , London School of Economics . . . , MIT machines of positive change, World Resources International . . . .

    • fj says:

      A world of a multiplicity on unilateral extreme efforts of positive change successes roiling in dynamic open source framework to bring accelerating climate change under control.

    • fj says:

      Communication channels are already existent.

      The task is to dig out positive signals from deep within the noise for further amplification and control.

    • fj says:

      As a continual mind map of civilization in a most extraordinary adventure.