Arctic sea ice area for June in recent years. Source: Cryosphere Today
By Neven Acropolis
If you want to mislead people into thinking that there is nothing weird going on in the Arctic, you have to do it during winter. In winter things almost look normal on some graphs, with gaps between trend lines and long-term averages not as ridiculously big as during spring and summer.
If you’re lucky, anomalous weather patterns can make those trend lines come real close to the long-term average, and you’ll have a couple of weeks of shouting ‘recovery’, ridiculing scientists and suggesting graphs are being cooked. It’s an annual ritual on pseudo-skeptic blogs, which is only logical. The Arctic is becoming ever more problematic for their life work, ie denying AGW could ever be a problem and thus delaying any meaningful action on mitigating the consequences of AGW. Thank God water still freezes in winter.
Sea ice extent maximum on the left and how it looks now on the right (source: NSIDC)
But what happens in winter is only interesting in so far as it influences the melting season that comes after it. The fact that this year saw a late finish to the freezing season, with an extreme expansion of sea ice into the Bering Sea, was far from irrelevant, but it didn’t tell the whole story either. Another part of that story was covered in a guest blog on ClimateProgress in February (Arctic Sea Ice Update: Spectacular and Ominous), and the whole story as I saw it was told in the 2011/2012 Winter Analysis on the Arctic Sea Ice blog. It quite simply came down to this: “Sea ice on the Atlantic side of the Arctic looks vulnerable, sea ice on the Pacific side should be thicker.”
The melting season is well underway now and in the last two weeks sea ice has been disappearing so fast that 2012 is leading all other years on practically all sea ice extent and area graphs. Take for instance the top graph I’ve made, based on Cryosphere Today sea ice area data.
That looks pretty spectacular, doesn’t it? Sea ice area has never been so low for this date in the satellite record, not even close to it. 2012 has over half a million of square kilometres less ice than record minimum years 2007 and 2011.
There was a distinct possibility this would happen, although I didn’t expect it to happen quite this early. But now that it has happened, it’s not difficult to see what the causes are. First of all, the extra ice in the Bering Sea that caused the late maximum, was wafer-thin and so has now virtually disappeared (I compared this year’s situation with previous years in this post on the ASI blog). All the easy ice is as gone as the easy oil.
Second, that vulnerability on the Siberian side of the Arctic is becoming ever more visible, with the Northern Sea Route possibly opening up for commercial shipping very early this year. Here’s a comparison to previous years for the western part of the Northern Sea Route (the eastern side doesn’t look so great either):