Are we setting up for a Blue Ocean Event in Sept 2017?

Many climate scientists expect a gradual transition, with ice free not likely for at least a decade or more. Wadhams and a few others expect a phase change, with feedbacks leading to a rapid transition of the Arctic to open ocean much sooner.

Most climate scientists follow Chris Reynold's "Slow Transition" idea. 

ktonine at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum offers this summary of it.

Critical to all this is that I am becoming convinced that the approximate levelling of PIOMAS volume over the last few winters is telling us that the pack is becoming dominated by FYI, whose thermodynamic equilibrium thickness is largely setting the peak volume in April. Even if one year, with exceptionally good melt weather, were to lead to extent below 1 million kmsq, this will be unlikely to be repeated, and for the record, I do not think this is likely anyway. To get to a state of near ice free conditions in late summer we will need to see significant thinning of the winter peak thickness, which needs far greater winter warming. I don't think this is likely to be a fast process.

So I do not expect to see a virtually sea ice free state until later in the next decade - at the earliest, I suspect that Overland and Wang may be proven right in pinning it on the 2030s. In terms of expectations amongst many in the amateur sea ice community this is a slow transition. However in geological terms it remains abrupt.

Ktonine adds,

This year we *are* seeing significant thinning in winter thickness, but it still requires an even thinner pack to meet the requirements to get reliably under 1 million kmsq.  So, the question still remains: is this winter's lack of FDDs a step change or is it an anomaly?

I've always been an advocate of slightly faster timing than Chris for these processes, but the arctic has always managed to surprise me with it's resilience.  And in the end we're realistically talking about a difference of 10 to 15 years -- virtually no difference at all in scientific terms.

What I think we should also remember is that the scientist that first really went out publicly on a limb with an "over-the-top" prediction was Wieslav Maslowski.  Back in 2006 Maslowski predicted a nearly ice free arctic in 2016  +/- 3 years.  What many don't know is that Maslowski was not talking about sea ice are or extent - but volume. And 'nearly ice free' he defined as losing 80% of the 1979-2000 summer volume (see article by Joe Romm at ThinkProgress).   2012 came close.  2017 should come even closer - perhaps even make that prediction come true. [emphasis mine]

oren offers this caveat about Freezing Degree Days (FDD), which have been drastically lower this season.

Chris R's main assumption was that the freezing season remains mostly the same, with FDDs stable or perhaps undergoing a small decline, and that therefore arctic sea ice cannot just pass a tipping point and disappear following its first ice-free summer. Instead, even if a freak summer came along and melted all the ice, the refrozen arctic would still not necessarily melt out the year after. This is what he dubbed a "slow transition", as opposed to a one-way phase change.

The theory is very strong and Chris at the time gave many good arguments and explanations, but I believe this year has already shown its main flaw, and that is the FDD assumption. FDDs crashed this winter, leading to the possibility of a melt-out with a regular un-freakish summer. [emphasis mine]

So we have two schools of thought, and Freezing Degree Days is the pivot between them.

image source

Amateurs such as Paul Beckwith  expected melt-out last year. I can't imagine it will take longer than September 2017 or possibly 2019. Many new behaviors have emerged: jet stream changes, low Arctic pressure where there used to be high pressure, Atlantic storm tracks near or into the Arctic bringing both heat and moisture, stratosphere anomalies, shifts of the Hadley and Polar Cells, and the virtual disappearance of multiyear ice. The appearance of clouds in Spring and Summer the last couple of years helped the ice. This is also novel behavior. Overall I agree with the comparison to hysteresis, a nonlinear system fluctuating back and forth between two states, that often proceeds shifting from a previous stable state to a new one.

Hold on to your hats.

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F. Tnioli points out that the sea ice melt over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf might be due to methane release. This wild card might contribute a new low.

I notice one clear trend ...: rapid deterioration of ice situation in the ESAS. CARVE spotted numerous over-horizon methane bubbling regions there in recent past. Need i remind you that CH4 produces over 120 times more greenhouse effect (than CO2) short-term at the location on athmospheric entry? Or that extra heat content in ESS' water has few ways to spread but into higher-Arctic waters? My guts, unlike yours, tell me records are quite possible.

Hyperion goes into detail about the changing "state of the layered gulf-stream, Atlantic, pacific, and arctic surface waters" on the Atlantic side, from buoy data. His concern is that the halocline is threatened in this section of the Arctic. Normally sea ice is protected from warmth in the deeper salty water by floating on a distinct fresher colder layer of water above it (which comes from melted ice, precipitation, and river inflow). The halocline is this layer boundary.

... now an increasingly co-mixed inflow of gulf-stream, Atlantic and surface melt is fattening and coming in directly under the fresher surface layer.

Not only does this mean all the oceanic incoming heat is remaining in or near the surface, but It stands every chance of lowering its salinity enough to fully mix away the entire Fresh Arctic surface water layer when the ice really loses all its peripheral extent a month from now. Mixing water of differing salinity also releases a lot of latent energy by the way. 

The deeper warmer water, which came from the Pacific, has a much thinner fresh water layer above it on this side of the Arctic. (CAA means Canadian Arctic Archipelago.) He is concerned that the halocline will be breached in a month, leading to a serious melt feedback in that area.

... the Pacific water is less than 25m down all round that end from Siberia to the CAA, where its not already fully mixing near the coasts. Not only does this mean all the oceanic incoming heat is remaining in or near the surface, but It stands every chance of lowering its salinity enough to fully mix away the entire Fresh Arctic surface water layer when the ice really loses all its peripheral extent a month from now. 

Does a "new low" mean that more storms will dump snow on the Arctic?

A low pressure system hanging around in the Central Arctic Basin might create stormy weather, which can melt ice. It depends upon it being paired with a high along the Russian or American edges. Such a "dipole" melted a lot in 2012. The other thing that matters is how strong the low is, the pressure as well as the pressure gradient (indicated by tightly spaced contour lines in pressure maps).

Snow can do different things. This year heavy Spring snow delayed melt. But in Winter a thick layer of snow actually insulates the ice and water below it from the cold air. Snow is a wild card, as I see it, and is expected to figure more prominently as more moisture gets transported into the Arctic due to greater warmth and disrupted Jet Stream.

I see mixing of layers each year, and I kind of understand what this means. But what about 2016/7? It looks like it has sunk below all the others and doesn't like it is going to mix. Is that a good thing or bad?

Get ready for a rough ride! Expect the unexpected! 

Mixing of the two layers in the Arctic Ocean is always a bad thing as far as retaining sea ice goes. The lower layer is saltier but also warmer than the upper layer upon which ice floats. When waves or open water encourage mixing it's called Ekman Pumping, and it results in bottom melt of ice. There's enough heat in the deep layer to melt all of the ice, were it mixed.

If the entire Arctic Ocean loses its stratification into two layers, sea ice will only form seasonally and melt out each year. New research indicates that the Atlantic Meriodonal Ocean Circulation would likely decline 30 to 50%, which would be very bad.

At the Arctic Sea Ice Forum, Thawing Thunder created a gif in which we can distinguish the state of sea ice from clouds above it, because the clouds come and go over days. The dark stuff is water.

Just posting an animation of the last two weeks with some slowmotion. In my opinion now you can see very well, what are clouds and what is SI. If the trend we see continues, the next two weeks could definitely wreck the ice.

RikW comments:

Is it just me of is everything outside the triangle canada ~135th longitude and 15th longitude looking to go poof in any moment?

To which Thawing Thunder replies:

I think so, too. But it's August. If all that had started just a week earlier, I would have called "doom!". But it didn't. let's wait and see.


gerontocrat points out that we're expecting some high energy weather in 5 days.

If this forecast is correct, it will stir the mobile pulverized sea ice.

If the forecast is correct, what does that mean to the people living there and are there ramifications to the rest of the world?

The worst case scenario, from what I gather, is that ice refreezes even more poorly this Winter and next year there's an El Nino. As a result in 2018 we cross a threshold  - hurtling to a Blue Ocean Event that year or in the next few. After that, in following years, the Arctic Ocean halocline starts to break down, the AMOC begins to slow, and wildfires/heat waves/droughts/floods increase so fast it will be obvious that we're permanently in a different world. <sigh> We appear to live in "interesting times", Joan.

Every year will probably get worse, just as this year the fires and drought are hitting southern Europe in an unprecedented way. 

Have you had any smoke from the BC fires? I've been reading about smoke in the Northwest. BC has been burning since July.

Related to southern Europe,

"Eleven southern and central European countries have issued extreme heat warnings amid a brutal heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, with residents and tourists urged to take precautions and scientists warning worse could be still to come …" [empahsis mine]


The smoke gets thicker daily. We drove to Spokane yesterday for a doctor's appointment, and we had a difficult time seeing Mt. Spokane, which is about 50 miles from Spokane and can be seen clearly when the skies have no clouds or smoke. We had to go in again today and Mt. Spokane was completely invisible, in fact, when we were on the north side of town we could not see the south aspect of the city at all. I have never seen this much smoke before. 

Driving from Newport to Spokane we saw many burned patches along the highway that exploded into a fire when so much of a spark from a dragging chain or careless smoking ignited the dry forest. The soils look parched. 

Laura, Larry and the family cleared out more of the forest to slow down any fire that may come this way. So far, there have not been any fires in this part of the county, but Laura was called to a heart attack this past week. She called for helicopter assistance to transport the man to Spokane, but all flights are off until the smoke clears.

Dominic has trouble breathing and we keep him inside as much as possible. 

The dried out forest, heavy smoke, and expected thunder storms this weekend make for a tense time with members of our All Volunteer Fire Dept. 

Despite the approaching stormy weather, most expect 2017 will only be second lowest sea ice area.

Oren says:

… area is now almost 600k above 2012 for the same date. Only a huge and persistent storm could now catch up with the 2012 record. A volume record is more plausible but also receding at this point. I am moving all my bets to a 2nd place finish.

Why was the Arctic was cooler this year? Apparently Siberia's deep land snow has been responsible.

Rob Dekker:

As for the where this 'cold' resided during this summer, here is the NOAA spacial plot (May-July, 60-90deg) for 925 mb temperature.

Note that the cold was most intense around the Laptev shoreline, incidentally the same location where the land snow lasted longest, and created that significant land snow anomaly this June ...

Snow has taken on a new role, and the refreeze season has become the most important for Arctic Sea Ice.

Be cause:

... my feel is that this is the most important time of year at this stage in the evolution of the new Arctic . The stage is set . If melt continues at the edges and below the ice even as it freezes and snows above , a late minimum is likely to be a very low one ...  

Shared Humanity:

The minimums for all three measures, volume, extent and area will be very low but my biggest concern about this new, stormy and humid Arctic climate is the impact it has on the freeze season. We no longer get brutally cold temperatures causing ice to freeze 2 meters or more. We instead have new and existing ice insulated by anomalously deep snow, preventing the warming Arctic winters from building a thick ice sheet across the Arctic. [emphasis mine]



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