Thursday 26 July 2012

Greenland ice sheet melt

Holy Shit! - 97 % melt!!  It's mainstream now – a bit like the economic breakdown making the mainstream media

Greenland ice sheet melted at unprecedented rate during July
Scientists at Nasa admitted they thought satellite readings were a mistake after images showed 97% surface melt over four days

24 July, 2012

The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history, with virtually the entire ice sheet showing signs of thaw.

The rapid melting over just four days was captured by three satellites. It has stunned and alarmed scientists, and deepened fears about the pace and future consequences of climate change.

In a statement posted on Nasa's website on Tuesday, scientists admitted the satellite data was so striking they thought at first there had to be a mistake.

"This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?" Son Nghiem of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said in the release.

He consulted with several colleagues, who confirmed his findings. Dorothy Hall, who studies the surface temperature of Greenland at Nasa's space flight centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, confirmed that the area experienced unusually high temperatures in mid-July, and that there was widespread melting over the surface of the ice sheet.

Climatologists Thomas Mote, at the University of Georgia, and Marco Tedesco, of the City University of New York, also confirmed the melt recorded by the satellites.

However, scientists were still coming to grips with the shocking images on Tuesday. "I think it's fair to say that this is unprecedented," Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Guardian.

The set of images released by Nasa on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

Scientists attributed the sudden melt to a heat dome, or a burst of unusually warm air, which hovered over Greenland from 8 July until 16 July.

Greenland had returned to more typical summer conditions by 21 or 22 July, Mote told the Guardian.

But he said the event, while exceptional, should be viewed alongside other compelling evidence of climate change, including on the ground in Greenland.

"What we are seeing at the highest elevations may be a sort of sign of what is going on across the ice sheet," he said. "At lower elevations on the ice sheet, we are seeing earlier melting, melting later in the season, and more frequent melting over the last 30 years and that is consistent of what you would expect with a warming climate."

Zwally, who has made almost yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet for more than three decades, said he had never seen such a rapid melt.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he had never seen such a rapid melt over his three decades of nearly yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet. He was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

"If you look at the 8 July image that might be the maximum extent of warming you would see in the summer," Zwally noted. "There have been periods when melting might have occurred at higher elevations briefly – maybe for a day or so – but to have it cover the whole of Greenland like this is unknown, certainly in the time of satellite records."

Jason Box, a glaciologist at Ohio State University who returned on Tuesday from a research trip to Greenland, had been predicting a big melt year for 2012, because of earlier melt and a decline in summer snow flurries.

He said the heat dome was not necessarily a one-off. "This is now the seventh summer in a row with this pattern of warm air being lifted up onto the ice sheet on the summer months," he said. "What is surprising is just how persistent this circulation anomaly is. Here it is back again for the seventh year in a row in the summer bringing hot, warm air onto the ice sheet."

He also said surfaces at higher elevation, now re-frozen, could be more prone to future melting, because of changes in the structure of the snow crystals. Box expected melting to continue at lower elevations.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the past few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

Lora Koenig, another Goddard glaciologist, told Nasa similar rapid melting occurs about every 150 years. But she warned there were wide-ranging potential implications from this year's thaw.

"If we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome." she told Nasa.

The most immediate consequences are sea level rise and a further warming of the Arctic. In the centre of Greenland, the ice remains up to 3,000 metres deep. On the edges, however, the ice is much, much thinner and has been melting into the sea.

The melting ice sheet is a significant factor in sea level rise. Scientists attribute about one-fifth of the annual sea level rise, which is about 3mm every year, to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

In this instance of this month's extreme melting, Mote said there was evidence of a heat dome over Greenland: or an unusually strong ridge of warm air.

The dome is believed to have moved over Greenland on 8 July, lingering until 16 July.

Loss of Arctic sea ice '70% man-made'
Study finds only 30% of radical loss of summer sea ice is due to natural variability in Atlantic – and it will probably get worse

26 July, 2012

The radical decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change, according to a new study, and may even be up to 95% down to humans – rather higher than scientists had previously thought.

The loss of ice around the Arctic has adverse effects on wildlife and also opens up new northern sea routes and opportunities to drill for oil and gas under the newly accessible sea bed.

The reduction has been accelerating since the 1990s and many scientists believe the Arctic may become ice-free in the summers later this century, possibly as early as the late 2020s.

"Since the 1970s, there's been a 40% decrease in the summer sea ice extent," said Jonny Day, a climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, who led the latest study.

"We were trying to determine how much of this was due to natural variability and therefore imply what aspect is due to man-made climate change as well."

To test the ideas, Day carried out several computer-based simulations of how the climate around the Arctic might have fluctuated since 1979 without the input of greenhouse gases from human activity.

He found that a climate system called the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation (AMO) was a dominant source of variability in ice extent. The AMO is a cycle of warming and cooling in the North Atlantic that repeats every 65 to 80 years – it has been in a warming phase since the mid-1970s.

Comparing the models with actual observations, Day was able to work out what contribution the natural systems had made to what researchers have observed from satellite data.

"We could only attribute as much as 30% [of the Arctic ice loss] to the AMO," he said. "Which implies that the rest is due to something else, and this is most likely going to be man-made global change."

Previous studies had indicated that around half of the loss was due to man-made climate change and that the other half was due to natural variability.

Looking across all his simulations, Day found that the 30% figure was an upper limit – the AMO could have contributed as little as 5% to the overall loss of Arctic ice in recent decades.

The research is published online in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Day said that there are a number of feedback effects that could see the Arctic ice loss continue in the coming years, as the Earth warms up.

"[There is] something called the ice-albedo feedback, which means that when you have less ice, it means there's more open water and therefore the ocean absorbs more radiation and will continue to warm," he said.

"It's unclear what will happen – it definitely seems like it's going in that direction."

From the National Snow and Ice Dat Center

Arctic sea ice continues to track at levels far below average
Arctic sea ice continued to track at levels far below average through the middle of July, with open water in the Kara and Barents seas reaching as far north as typically seen during September. Melt onset began earlier than normal throughout most of the Arctic.

26 July, 2012

Overview of conditions
As of July 23, 2012, sea ice extent was 7.32 million square kilometers (2.82 million square miles). On the same day last year, ice extent was 7.22 million square kilometers (2.78 million square miles), the record low for this day.

Arctic sea ice extent continued to track at very low levels, setting daily record lows for the satellite era for a few days in early July. Extent is especially low in the Barents, Kara, and Laptev seas. In the Barents and Kara seas, the area of open water extends to the north coasts of Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya, as far north as typically seen during September, the end of the summer melt season. Polynyas in the Beaufort and East Siberian seas continued to expand during the first half of July. By sharp contrast, ice extent in the Chukchi Sea remains near normal levels. In this region the ice has retreated back to the edge of the multiyear ice cover. Ice cover in the East Greenland Sea, while of generally low concentration, remains slightly more extensive than normal.

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 23, 2012, along with daily ice extent data for the previous four years. 2012 is shown in blue, 2011 in orange, 2010 in pink, 2009 in navy, 2008 in purple, and 2007 in green. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
Conditions in context

The first part of July was once again dominated by high sea level pressure over the Beaufort Sea, combined with low sea level pressure over Siberia and Alaska. As discussed in 
last month’s post, this pressure pattern tends to promote above-average temperatures and enhances ice transport out of the Arctic through Fram Strait. Beginning July 11th, the pressure pattern changed as cyclones moved into the central Arctic Ocean, bringing in cooler temperatures and helping to slow ice loss. Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 3000 feet) in the central Arctic and the Beaufort Sea were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal as averaged from July 1 to July 14. In the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the sea ice has retreated to the edge of the multiyear ice cover. As a result of the anomalously high air temperatures, melt over the multiyear ice cover is extensive and ice concentrations are low. Anomalously low air temperatures for that period were found in the Barents, Kara, and East Greenland seas (1 to 3 degrees Celsius, or 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, below the 1981 to 2010 climatology).
Figure 3. The map of melt onset (top) shows that melting began earlier than normal throughout most of the Arctic. The chart of melt onset dates (bottom) shows that melt in the Kara and Barents seas began more than two weeks earlier than normal. Melt onset in the Laptev Sea was the earliest seen in the satellite record.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, data from Thorsten Markus and Jeffrey Miller/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
High-resolution images: 
Figure 3 (top)Figure 3 (bottom)
Early melt onset
The timing of seasonal melt onset, which can be estimated from satellite passive microwave data, plays an important role in the amount of ice that melts each summer. Unusually early melt onset means an early reduction in the surface 
albedo, allowing for more solar heating of the ice, which in turn allows melt ponds and open water areas to develop earlier in the melt season. In 2012, melt began earlier than normal (as compared to averages for the period 1979 to 2000) throughout most of the Arctic, the exceptions being the Bering Sea and the East Greenland Sea. Melt in the Kara and Barents seas began more than two weeks earlier than normal. Melt onset for the Laptev Sea region as a whole started on June 1 and was the earliest seen in the satellite record. Melt began 12 and 9 days earlier than normal averaged over the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, respectively.
Figure 4. This composite image from the SSMIS instrument obtained on July 23, 2012 shows areas of low ice concentration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the Canadian Archipelago, the East Greenland Sea, and north of Siberia. Purple indicates areas of high sea ice concentration, while yellow and red indicate lower ice concentration. Blue shows open water and green shows land.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy IUP Bremen
Low ice concentrations

NSIDC uses satellite data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) instruments, in part because they provide the longest consistent time series of data. However, more recent sensors such as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) provide a more detailed perspective. In particular, we can examine 
ice concentration, which tells us how much ice is in a pixel, providing information on how vulnerable the ice may be to summer melting.
In October 2011, the AMSR-E instrument on board the NASA Aqua satellite ceased operation, dealing a blow to the science community. This is because its higher spatial resolution and advanced technology provided detailed ice information to complement the long-term record of the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) instrument. However, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a new satellite called Shizuku, or Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water (GCOM-W1), on 18 May 2012.

 The Shizuku carries a new Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR2) instrument, a sensor similar to AMSR-E. As soon as calibration and validation of AMSR2 are complete, the University of Bremen will once again produce maps of sea ice concentration at a fairly high resolution (about 6 kilometers).

In the meantime, the University of Bremen offers sea ice concentration maps from the lower-resolution SSMIS. The July 23 chart shows areas of low sea ice concentration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the Canadian Archipelago, the East Greenland Sea, and north of Siberia. In the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, low ice concentrations and polynyas are found over areas of multiyear sea ice, where open water areas have developed between individual multiyear ice floes and significant ponding on the ice is observed. Low ice concentrations mean a low surface albedo, allowing for more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed, melting even more sea ice. This makes the multiyear ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas vulnerable to melting out this summer.

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