Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sea Ice Collapse Accelerating

Two and a half years ago in mid 2007 I posted very clearly that the sea ice was entering its final collapse phase and should be largely eliminated during the summer of 2012.  No one else had made such a comment to that point.  I was bemused a couple of months later when NASA made the exact same statement in a quietly released item.

The only reasonable explanation was that someone had made the exact same calculation that I had made and had came to the exact same conclusion, possibly a lot sooner since it might have been made in 2000 and he or they had been muzzled.  Of course, my release on the 2012 date was ignored as I reasonably expected then, but I wanted to get it on the record and obviously so did that lonely NASA researcher.  My release simply freed his hand so that he would not appear a dunce a few short years later. 

We have just got the first reporting coming of the Amundsen from this season’s cruise in the high Arctic.  You do not see it here, but on the clip shown on CBC television, the spokesman said that the ice will be gone in two years.  Sounds like 2012 to me.  They were definitely trying to draw attention to the now visible loss of sea ice even in the depths of winter.

When I made my remarks, naturally I conditioned it with comments to the effect that a sharp change in weather may slow the process down.  I now understand that this process is not driven by weather conditions at all except as to accelerate the underlying process itself.  Now we see more storms breaking up the ice and speeding the mixing process.

This process is driven by the increased influx of warmer Atlantic surface waters into the Arctic likely caused by a changing of the circumpolar current underlying the surface waters that is compensating by slowing the Gulf Stream thus expanding the total volume.  The change was noted a decade ago and could have only two outcomes.  Either more heat or less heat would be pushed into the Arctic.  Obviously it is more heat and it is pretty constant year after year.

I remark that the heat content of the top two hundred meters of surface water through the thermocline puts that of the atmosphere to shame and the transfer of atmospheric heat must be comparatively minor.   Yet I was misled to take it seriously.  We really have it wrong.  The Arctic is warming and this has helped modify the weather of the temperate zone.  It is the real elephant in the closet.

Our scientists have now been rudely awakened and I suspect a new consensus is about to emerge. Better late than never, considering the damage it will do to ones standing if you continue to push the idea that we have decades to wait.
Anyway it is good to see good data now showing up with all these eyeballs looking.  When no one cared and changes were still small and incremental the data was sparse and mostly meaningless.  No longer.

 Arctic ice melting faster than feared: study
Last Updated: Friday, February 5, 2010 | 9:24 PM CT 
By John Bowman, CBC News

The head of the largest climate change study ever undertaken in Canada says the Arctic sea ice is thinning faster than expected.

"It's happening much faster than our most pessimistic projections," said University of Manitoba Prof. David Barber, the lead investigator of the Circumpolar Flaw Lead study. A flaw lead is the term for open water between pack ice and coastal ice.

The study aboard the Canadian Coast Guard research ship Amundsen began in July 2007 and involved 370 scientists from around the world.

It was the first time a research vessel had ever remained mobile in open water in the Far North.\

Barber called the expedition climate scientists' "first opportunity to look at what the Arctic Ocean looks like in the middle of winter."

They found that Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than scientists expected.

"We're seeing it happen more quickly than our model thought [it] would happen," said Barber.
Warning for the south
"It's an early indicator of what we can expect to happen further south," Barber said at a news conference in Winnipeg. "We can expect things to happen faster here, too."

Barber said the human impact on climate is being superimposed on the natural variation in climate and temperature.

The result is more variability in the climate: warm spells are getting warmer and the cold spells are getting colder.

The researchers also found that storms have become more frequent in the North as the sea ice thins.

"There are more storms now because there's more open oceans and those storms are having a dramatic impact on the sea ice," said Barber.

The storms drop precipitation, mostly snow, on the sea ice and the snow insulates the ice, keeping it from growing thicker.

Barber said much of the research undertaken on the Amundsen involved measuring the effects of changing climate on the Arctic.

"We know we're losing sea ice. What you're not aware of is … what the consequences of this change are," said Barber.

'Sea ice breathes'
Barber compared the impact of losing sea ice in the Arctic to the loss of trees in a tropical rain forest.

The Arctic sea ice isn't just a cap on top of the ocean, Barber said. "The sea ice breathes," he said. "It pumps carbon dioxide in and out."

The researchers also found pollutants in the sea ice.

"The Arctic is not as pristine as you would like to think it is. It's actually a dumping ground for a lot of contaminants," he said.

The Circumpolar Flaw Lead study was not only the largest climate study ever undertaken in Canada, Barber said, but the biggest study conducted during the International Polar Year.

The Canadian government provided $156 million in funding for the research during the International Polar Year from 2007-09.

The expedition involved 10 science teams, studying every aspect of the Arctic environment, from microbes to mammals to weather systems.

Barber anticipated that each one of those teams would have at least 10 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Barber also emphasized the role that traditional aboriginal knowledge played in the research, especially in mapping the edges of sea ice.

Barber said it's now up to governments to find solutions for climate change.

"[Scientists] don't just write for each other. We have to write for the policy-makers," said Barber.
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