Monday, December 30, 2013

Global Warming Scientist Studying Disappearing Ice STUCK IN ICE

The trapped-in-the-Antarctic-ice Australian research vessel's mission, among others, is to examine the effect of global warming on a receding Antarctic ice shelf...
(h/t @Pedlar7)

"Until recently it was thought this ice sheet was stable, sitting on the continental crust above today’s sea level. However there is an increasing body of evidence, including by the AAE members, that have identified parts of the East Antarctic which are highly susceptible to melting and collapse from ocean warming.

...The effects of this marked shift in westerly winds are already being seen today, triggering warm and salty water to be drawn up from the deep ocean, melting large sections of the Antarctic ice sheet with unknown consequences for future sea level rise"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Texas transplant finds her calling in Alaska serving up tamales

SUGGESTION - Stock up on tamales and burritos for your NW Passage - a quick and easy meal from freezer the microwave underway.

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Just a few minutes after the "open" sign lit up Thursday at Outlaw Tamales, owner Cylle Pompa was already worried that supplies were running low.

A car had just pulled up and ordered four-dozen pork tamales from the tiny North Pole food hut. A few minutes later, another vehicle arrived to put a dent in the chicken tamale reserve. Eight-dozen more tamales had been pre-ordered and were waiting for pick-up.

Since Outlaw Tamales opened in October, Pompa has quickly discovered that Alaska has a big appetite for the Mexican staple. Her nondescript 7-by-7-foot stand, which sits on the edge of the Blockbuster Video parking lot, is particularly busy this week. Christmas is traditional tamale time, and the husk-wrapped delicacies have been flying out of her drive-through window.

It's been a happy accident for the outgoing grandmother, who never imagined that she'd become North Pole's tamale ambassador.

"It was a blessing from God," the transplanted Texan said. "This just isn't what I thought I was going to do."

Pompa is from Brownsville, Texas, a border city where tamales are as common as steamy weather. It's not unusual to see them for sale in parking lots and out of car trunks.

"In Texas, they're a dime a dozen — everyone is selling those suckers," she said. "You see a mama with a baby on the hip and an armful of tamales in the other."

But Pompa hadn't ever done much tamale-making herself. The burrito-shaped dish, which consists of a cornmeal coating around a meat or bean filling, was made assembly-line style by her aunts. Her job in the process was simply to smooth out masa — a cornmeal paste — inside a corn husk with a spoon.

She hadn't even thought much about tamales since moving to North Pole five years ago to be closer to her son, John, who had moved to Alaska after a stretch in the Army. She'd helped raise her 4-year-old grandson while running a child-care business in North Pole, but admits she had a tough transition to life in the north.

"I was a hermit the first four years," she said. "I couldn't get used to the cold."

It all changed a year ago, when John asked his mother to make some Christmas tamales. She went crazy with the request, and at the end the leftovers were too much for the family.

John responded with a novel idea. Why not sell them on Craigslist?

Within 30 minutes, tamale-hungry locals were calling. One man ordered five dozen tamales before he'd even tasted them. With that model in mind, she made more and began selling tamales out of her car in parking lots around town.

"It's been fun watching it grow," John said. "It's taken on a life of its own."

Her informal approach might be common in Texas, but it wasn't appreciated by Alaska food-safety officials, who told Pompa she needed to make her tamales in a commercial kitchen. Her not-quite-legal car trunk approach inspired the name of her current business — Outlaw Tamales.

The stand opened in October, and she said it meets state standards for a commercial restaurant. But she still gets a chuckle out of her life on the run — she said her logo will eventually be a bandito tamale.

"I was dodging the bullets big-time," she said with a laugh.

The business also has given Pompa a chance to connect with her neighbors in North Pole. She chats happily with customers as they drive up to Outlaw Tamales, as steam billows out of her sweltering stand into the cold night air.

She's even provided some basic tamale education, chuckling at the thought of a bad review she received from someone who didn't know they needed to remove the tough husks before eating.

Diners can get a dozen tamales with fillings of chicken, pork or black beans. Pompa's tamales cost more than their typical cousin in the Lower 48 — $20 for a dozen — but she said her filling-heavy recipe doesn't skimp on the good stuff.

Being known as North Pole's old-school tamale maker suits Pompa just fine.

"I've been asked, 'Are you going to get one of those tamale machines?' — no, no, no, no, no," she said. "I make these with love and my own little two hands."

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner,

Read more here:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Arctic Sea Ice Volume in 2013 Up 50%

The volume of sea ice in the Arctic is 50 percent higher than it was last fall, satellite measurements show.

In October 2013, the European Space Agency satellite CryoSat measured 9,000 cubic kilometres of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, said an ESA news release Monday. At the same time of year in 2012, it measured just 6,000 cubic kilometres — a record low.

The satellite, launched in 2010, is designed to measure sea ice thickness across the Arctic Ocean, allowing scientists to monitor changes in volume and not just surface coverage.

Despite the short-term rebound, sea ice volumes remain low compared to historical averages, scientists say.

“It’s estimated that there was around 20,000 cubic kilometres of Arctic sea ice each October in the early 1980s, and so today’s minimum still ranks among the lowest of the past 30 years,” said Andrew Shepherd, a co-author of the study, in a statement. Shepherd, who is a researcher at University College London, was part of a team that presented the study last week at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Both the surface coverage and volume of Arctic sea ice are monitored by scientists as climate indicators.

In September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre reported that Arctic ice cover at its summer minimum this year was 5.1 million square kilometres. That was also up 50 per cent from last year’s record low, but the sixth lowest on record. The seven lowest levels have all been recorded in the last seven years.

Coverage vs. Volume

Ice floes float in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland above the Arctic circle on July 10, 2008. The seven lowest levels of sea ice cover have all been recorded in the last seven years. Photo by Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press.

Scientists had noticed that generally, since CryoSat was launched in 2010, Arctic sea ice volumes haven’t varied as much from year-to-year as sea ice coverage.

Because of that, they hadn’t expected an increase in volume comparable to the increase in surface coverage, said Rachel Tilling, lead author of the new study, in a statement.

“But it has been, and the reason is related to the amount of multi-year ice in the Arctic,” added Tilling, a researcher at the U.K.’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.

Multi-year ice survives more than one summer without melting and is considered an indicator of “healthy” Arctic sea ice cover, the ESA reported.

About 90 per cent of the increase in sea ice volume this year is from the growth of multi-year ice, which now averages about 20 per cent or 30 centimetres thicker than last year, the release said.

Last week, the NOAA issued its annual Arctic report card, which found that Arctic temperatures in 2013 were cooler compared to the past six years, although they remained warm compared to the 20th century.

“The Arctic caught a break, if you will, in 2013,” said Martin Jefferies, the University of Alaska geophysicist who edited the report card, at the AGU conference. “But one year doesn’t change the long-term trend toward a warmer Arctic.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Arctic sea ice extent has increased over the last few centuries

New paper finds Arctic sea ice extent has increased over the last few centuries

A new paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews finds that reconstructed Arctic sea ice extent has increased over the last few centuries. According to the authors, the only sea ice proxy "records having a resolution suitable to document sea ice cover variations over the last centuries" find that "all records show an increase of the sea ice cover over the last centuries" and "a distinct trend for an increased sea ice cover towards modern values over the last centuries."


"Records having a resolution suitable to document sea ice cover variations over the last centuries have been obtained from the Mackenzie slope, the Beaufort Sea (Richerol et al., 2008; Bringué and Rochon, 2012; Durantou et al., 2012), and the Chukchi Shelf (core B5; de Vernal et al., 2008; Kinnard et al., 2011). At the Beaufort Sea sites, the variations are of limited amplitude and the estimates are close to “modern” observations, but all records show an increase of the sea ice cover over the last centuries. At the Chukchi site, the record shows large amplitude variations with a distinct trend for an increased sea ice cover towards modern values over the last centuries."
Dinocyst-based reconstructions of sea ice cover concentration during the Holocene in the Arctic Ocean, the northern North Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas

Anne de Vernal et al

Sea ice cover extent expressed in terms of mean annual concentration was reconstructed from the application of the modern analogue technique to dinocyst assemblages. The use of an updated database, which includes 1492 sites and 66 taxa, yields sea ice concentration estimates with an accuracy of 1.1/10. Holocene reconstructions of sea ice cover were made from dinocyst counts in 35 cores of the northern North Atlantic and Arctic seas. In the Canadian Arctic, the results show high sea ice concentration (>7/10) with little variations throughout the interval. In contrast, in Arctic areas such as the Chukchi Sea and the Barents Sea, the reconstructions show large amplitude variations of sea ice cover suggesting millennial type oscillations with a pacing almost opposite in western vs. eastern Arctic. Other records show tenuous changes with some regionalism either in trends or sea ice cover variability. During the mid-Holocene, and notably at 6 0.5 ka, minimum sea ice concentration is recorded in the eastern Fram Strait, northern Baffin Bay and Labrador Sea. However, this minimum cannot be extrapolated at the scale of the Arctic and circum-Arctic. The comparison of recent observations and reconstructions suggests larger variations in the Arctic sea ice cover during the last decades than throughout the Holocene.

Taking time to remember: Nome’s big 100 Year Storm on October 1913 - ALWAYS PREPARED

1913 Storm Photo Courtesy of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum

BARRELLING DOWN FRONT STREET — “Everyone was anxious and willing to do all in his power for others. The spirit of good will and helpfulness was abroad; and for the time being forgot their differences and worked in a common cause—the rebuilding of their city.” The mighty First Class City of Nome, Alaska.

Presented by Laura Samuelson for the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.

Here is a Christmas treat from the archives of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum. This story originally appeared in “The Aurora, ‘14” the yearbook published by the students of the Nome High School for the year 1913-1914 in Nome, Alaska. Just over 100 years ago, the First Class City of Nome, Alaska experienced its first documented “one hundred year storm.” We have experienced quite a few nasty Bering Sea storms in recent memory. Read on to see how they stack up against what eyewitness Ingeborg Stevenson MacMillan called, “The tsunami that hit our shores.” Museum notes are italicized in parenthesis.

Nome’s Big Storm October 5, 1913 By George Schofield, Class of 1916, Nome High School On October 5, 1913, the delayed equinoctial storm burst in all its fury upon the town of Nome, on the Bering Sea. For two days a heavy on-shore gale had been blowing from the southeast and the surf was running high. “Old timers” spoke of the big storms of 1900 and 1902 and seafaring men looked at the steadily falling barometer, wisely shook their heads and murmured of greater things to come.

As the night grew later, the wind increased until it attained a velocity of over sixty miles an hour. The sea rose ten feet in four hours and still continued to rise and it seemed as if the city were doomed. Immense lighters were torn from their moorings and hauled shoreward on the crest of mighty waves to become great battering rams destroying docks, breakwaters, buildings and every obstruction in their path.

The merchants were unprepared believing until the last minute that their buildings were safe. Without warning a mammoth wave swept the backs of the buildings on the south side of Front Street, breaking them in and every available man and team were in demand to move stocks of merchandise and household effects from the threatened buildings.

Many waited until too late and were unable to reach their goods stored in basements and warehouse buildings facing the sea. The water rushed in under the buildings lifted the floors high into the air, and then retreating let them fall into place again, until they were eventually broken into pieces. A Chinese laundryman, hoping to keep his floor in place, weighted it down with large rocks. To his surprise, the next wave hurled the floor, rocks and all high into the air. Buildings were falling and flues tumbling in every direction and fear of a new enemy arose—that of the companion of floods—fire. A fire patrol was organized All fires on the doomed south side of Front Street were ordered to put out. The only exception to this being that in the North Pole Bakery, where the bakers stood all night in the water, baking bread for tomorrow’s hungry.

“Snake River Bridge is going out,” came the warning cry to the people of the “Sand Spit.” To some the warning came too late or was not heard and many were compelled to camp for hours without food or shelter on the highland to the westward, as every means of reaching Nome was cut off.One man living on the “Spit” was awakened by the waves breaking into his cabin. Hurriedly arousing his wife, he had her tie their baby on his back and facing the heavy current, swam across Snake River. Just before reaching the opposite shore, he became exhausted and was about to sink when he was rescued. A boat was immediately sent back for his wife.

In spite of every effort made to save it, the bridge finally gave away before the jam of vessels, lighters, boats, and wreckage pressing against it and went out in the flood, carrying with it some of the main electric light cables. For a time it seemed as if total darkness would be added to the horrors of the night. Again and again the electric current would be cut off by the falling of poles and the crossing of wires and darkness would intervene for a few seconds. Hurried repairs would be made and the city again flooded with light. Through all the hours of the terrible night, the superintendent of the Electric Lighting Company and his assistants rode rapidly through the dangerous streets, watching and working to prevent fire and darkness.

The pumps of the city had already been covered with sand and the pumping station wrecked. The most incipient blaze in the high wind prevailing meant destruction to the city. The situation was appalling and when for a second, there was darkness and above the roar of the surf and the wall of the wind could be heard the grinding and crashing of buildings, the stoutest hearts were awed to supplication.

As the sea steadily rose, the “Sand Spit” disappeared and the river and the sea became one. Nearly every building was swept from the “Spit” even the big plant of the Pacific Cold Storage Company being practically destroyed. This company was one of the heaviest losers in the flood.

The Eskimo village was almost obliterated. River Street was swept clean, the waves rising so rapidly and cutting off retreat from the street so early, that many barely escaped with their lives and were unable to save anything. One man was seen to take two children on to the roof from which they were rescued at great risk, just a moment before the house toppled into the raging torrent.

When the storm was at its height, the cry arose that the bulkheads protecting the Elite Bath House and Hotel (a three story building) were gone and the building filled with people was in danger. The inmates were warned to leave at once and the last guest had barely escaped when the building was seen to waiver and then collapse, carrying everything with it into the sea. The next morning there was nothing to mark the spot where it had stood; the heavy boilers and all had been swept away. Even the largest timbers had been smashed to kindling wood. 

Nothing was saved and nothing better serves to show the indomitable spirit of the people of this Northland than the answer of Mr. James when notified of their loss, by his wife over the long distance telephone. “Our building has tumbled into the sea and everything is lost.” The answer came back “ Don’t worry. As long as it had to go, I’m glad it’s all gone. It will save bothering with a lot of stuff.” This was from a man who had just lost over $50,000 ($1.2M in 2013 dollars).

Nearly every building along the south side of Front Street was badly damaged or destroyed. A section of the Fitzgerald Building, eighty feet in length was swept away. The Life Saving Station was smashed to pieces, these were piled in a heap, then covered with sand by the waves and with other wreckage formed a
barrier which protected the north side of the street from the force of the waves.

Towards morning the wind veered to the southwest and while it proved disastrous to the buildings along the south side of First Avenue West, by undermining them and toppling them into River Street, which had become a part of the sea, it cut down the waves and gradually the sea began to subside. 

The morning after presented a sad sight. Houses were floating in the sea and river. The buildings on the south side of the street, which had not been totally destroyed, had had their end walls torn out and the waves were sweeping through to the street and carrying everything before them. On Front Street, where the wreckage was being cleared away, horses were standing in water to their breasts. 

Men —homeless and hungry— were working in water waist deep trying to help others save something. Overall however, there hung the spirit of thankfulness that, bad as it was, it had been no worse. The “East End” suffered greatly not only by having the buildings on the south side of the street almost totally demolished, but from crude oil. The Steamer Elk, which for many years had lain on the beach, below the Standard Oil Plant, turned under the force of the waves, pointed her prow toward the hills and was carried as far as the north side of Front Street, where she now rests serenely as if to say, “Fear not little children; Noah has nothing over us. Am I not here and yonder Anvil Mountain?”

Owing to the heroic efforts which were made, but one life, that of C.V. Morrison, an old timer, was lost in the city of Nome. A different fate befell the poor unfortunate seamen who were at sea on small vessels. Sad tales came from up and down the coast. Many ships had been wrecked and these and the bodies of the unfortunate ones on board were washed ashore.

The little town of Solomon was totally destroyed and although there were no  lives lost, the people suffered from harrowing experiences. Some floated around all night on hastily constructed rafts; others carried away on an unmanageable launch, were saved by a line catching on the top of a telephone pole, the water at this point having reached such a depth.

Many strange incidents, among them some of special interest, are related to the flood. A freighter at Safety Road House was forced to escape on a raft. Before leaving however, he took his horses into a log cabin where he tied them with their heads as high as he could pull them. Returning two days later, after the flood had subsided, he found them alive, although the water had been over their backs.

A mule managed to reach a high spot of land where he lived through the storm. Many malamutes would swim to the spot and try to get on too, but the mule recognizing them, as foes in time of peace of refuge, in time of storm and so would kick off every dog that tried to climb on. One of the lighters, as if trying to make amends after battering down several buildings, proceeded to slip under another which was about to fall, imbedded itself in the sand and there it now rests a unique and secure foundation.

The Eskimos seemed as much frightened as the townspeople. A miner coming in from the creeks met a native woman fleeing with her two children to the hills. When asked what was the matter, she said “ Oh! Heap big water —everybody drown— me afraid, me run.”

Down the coast, the action of the waves uncovered an Eskimo village, which had probably been buried for hundreds of years. But the wind changed and the heavy surf and shifting sands reburied it again. The mad waves and resistless undertow played many queer pranks. A heavy safe was washed from one building and carried eastward in the face of the storm and buried in the basement of another building. A piano from Nome was found at the Cape thirteen miles to the eastward, while part of the Solomon Railroad track was washed nearly thirty miles westward to Nome River. Meat from the Pacific Cold Storage Plant at Nome was picked up as far to the eastward as Solomon, thirty two miles away, while some also carried to the westward, up the Snake River.

For days the “Sand Spit” and Snake River were the favorite resorts of the natives, who were busy collecting fuel and salving meats and supplies (“kow-kow”) for the winter. Snake River was filled with every conceivable kind of wreckage, including tugs, barges, boats, houses, coffins and floating in the conglomerate mass was to be seen, many tons of beef, crates of ham, bacon and eggs.

One of the most gruesome results of the storm was the washing out of the oldcemeteries at Nome and Solomon. Over fifty bodies were recovered and reburied. It is said that a miner thought he heard *knocking at his cabin door and upon opening it an upright coffin fell into the room. The coffin had been tossed against his door by the waves.

The storm caused many changes in the channels of the rivers and the contour of the beach, widening it in some places and narrowing it in others. After the storm, the financial loss was found to be over a million dollars ($23.6M in 2013) and that it would take Nome some time to recover. The merchants, who were the heaviest losers, went to work with a will and soon were doing business at the “old stand” but in buildings shorter than before.

Although not the heaviest losers financially, those who lost all—home, furniture, clothing and winter supplies—felt it the most. But they too proved themselves to be of worthy metal and with little complaining, started in to do the best they could.

Everyone was anxious and willing to do all in his power for others. The spirit of good will and helpfulness was abroad; and for the time being forgot their differences and worked in a common cause— the rebuilding of their city. The people of Nome have proven themselves so helpful and self-reliant that already the town is recovering and soon, indeed, the “Big Storm of 1913” will be a matter of history only.

1913 Storm Photo Courtesy of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum

WHAT A MESS —“The “East End” of Nome suffered greatly not only by having the buildings on the south side of the street almost totally demolished, but from crude oil.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Researcher's 1959 message in a bottle found in Arctic

It's not your usual message-in-a-bottle story, but maybe more fascinating for just that reason. Two researchers in the remote Canadian Arctic found the bottle tucked into a mound of rocks on Ward Hunt Island, reports Popular Science.

The note inside had a simple request: Measure the distance from the rocks to a nearby ice shelf, and then report back either to the note writer or to a colleague in Boston, reports the Halifax Chronicle Herald. It had names and addresses for both and was dated July 10, 1959. The modern-day researchers conducted the measurement and found that the ice sheet had retreated more than 200 feet since 1959, one tells the LA Times.

But the story is about more than that particular scientific experiment.

It turns out that the note writer was then-25-year-old Paul Walker and the colleague he mentioned was Albert Crary, both of whom are now renowned in polar research.

"I recognized the two names instantly," says one of the two who found it. (He mentions "goose bumps.") Part of the fascination is that Walker suffered a stroke just weeks after writing the note and died later that same year.

"I was just so pleased because it brought Paul back, in a way, and the work he had done," says a historian who knew him. "He had a brilliant career as a glaciologist and all of a sudden, to be cut short that way."

And the finale: The two present-day researchers took photos of the note but put it back where they found it, along with another from themselves asking future researchers to conduct the same measurement, reports the CBC.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alaska in the 2013 Arctic turmoil

Map of Arctic sea ice thickness and extent, March 1988 vs. March 2013. Multi-year ice is decreasing, leaving thinner weaker ice which melts more readily every year.: Courtesy NOAA team, based on data provided by Mark Tschudi, University of Colorado
Map of Arctic sea ice thickness and extent, March 1988 vs. March 2013. Multi-year ice is decreasing, leaving thinner weaker ice which melts more readily every year.: Courtesy NOAA team, based on data provided by Mark Tschudi, University of Colorado

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

“The Arctic is not like Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The major changes that we see in reduction in sea ice, reduction in spring snow cover extent, increasing vegetation that changes the radiation balance of the surface, potential changes in greenhouse gas fluxes, those are all ...implications that extend beyond just the Arctic region to the rest of the world."

Howard E. Epstein, environmental professor at the University of Virginia, was among the panel of researchers who presented the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2013 Arctic Report Card at the annual American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

The NOAA Arctic Research Program releases the Arctic Report Card to summarize changing conditions in the Arctic, an increasingly important region in the world stage. One hundred forty-seven scientists from 14 countries contributed to this year's peer-reviewed report. 2013's release marks the Arctic Report Card's 7th annual update.

Weather in Alaska

University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysicist Martin Jeffries, part of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and principal editor of the report, spoke about the unusual weather in Alaska during 2013. Spring air temperatures were frigid: in central Alaska, residents experienced the coldest April in 90 years. The cold spring contrasted with unusually warm air temperatures measured across Eurasia (Europe & Asia), where in May 2013 Arctic regions reached a new record low snow extent.

Back in cold Alaska, it wasn't until the 26th of May that the first green shoots started appearing on birch and aspen trees. That's the latest date since records began in 1972. After the slow start, though, temperatures really warmed up: Alaska experienced its second-warmest summer on record, and Fairbanks recorded 36 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 80°F (~26.7°C).

"There were fewer extreme snow and ice events in 2013 compared to 2012 but the impacts of a persistent decades-long warming trend remain clearly evident," Martin Jeffries explained. "We can't expect to be smashing records every year —there are going to be ups and downs— but those ups and downs are going to be superimposed on, nevertheless, a trend to a warmer Arctic and its effects throughout the Arctic environmental system."

Graph of Arctic temperature increase 1900 - 2013 for all stations north of 60 degrees North. Though not as warm as 2012 average temperatures, the 2013 average temperatures were still above average.:Courtesy NOAA. Graph adapted from Figure 1, 2013 Arctic Report Card. Original data from University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit.

Vegetation and wildfire

We know that warmer temperatures and earlier snow cover decline are making the Arctic greener. The growing season has increased by an average of over 9 days per decade since observations began in 1982, and tundra vegetation productivity has increased by 25%. This North American 'greening' has accelerated since 2005. When scientists examine a census of Arctic plant life, they note tall shrubs expanding their range north. The hotter summers, longer growing seasons, and increase in biomass (plant matter) that results from larger plants invading the tundra can create an environment ripe for wildfires. According to Howard E. Epstein, Alaska's North Slope has seen a substantial increase in the number and severity of tundra fires.

Tundra fires, like the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire, release greenhouse gasses and push dark soot called black carbon into the atmosphere. The Anaktuvuk River fire burned 401 square miles [1,039 square kilometers] and released approximately 2.1 million metric tons [2.1 teragrams] of carbon, about the same amount of greenhouse gasses that the city of Miami releases in a full year. That's because the fire thawed and burned layers of soil called permafrost which usually remain frozen underground. Permafrost contains ancient plant matter which releases carbon dioxide and methane when it is decomposed (a process sparked by above-freezing temperatures) or burned. For all the carbon the Anaktuvuk River fire released, its flames only reached layers of permafrost containing plant matter 50 years old; deeper permafrost layers across the Arctic hold deep reserves of far older specimens.

Weaker sea ice

Don Perovich, Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, was on hand to talk about Arctic sea ice. "There was more sea ice at the end of summer of 2013 than there was at the end of summer the record breaking year of 2012, but the 2013 minimum ice extent was still 18% below the average minimum and ranked as the 6th smallest ice extent since satellite observation begain in 1979. Moreover, the past 7 years have had the 7 smallest ice extents in the observatinal record," (2007-2013). He added that the 'new normal' of reduced Arctic sea ice means a continuing shift from older thicker ice to younger thinner ice, as less ice survives the summer melt and sea ice reforming in late autumn is more often delayed because of heightened sea surface temperatures.

Because of warmer ocean temperatures, NOAA's data reports that the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters are becoming more hospitable to species from lower lattitudes. We're seeing fish that normally range in more southerly waters, just as on land plant species are creeping northward.

Graph of Arctic sea ice extents 1979 - 2013. Though not reaching as small an area as last year's breaking records, the 2013 sea ice extent was still well below average.: Courtesy NOAA team, based on data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic in the wider world

Increasing temperatures are strongly impacting the Arctic, which is warming faster on average than any other region of the world. It is experiencing the consequences of global warming. Those heightened temperatures are making snow and ice retreat. The dark land cover that is revealed: dark open ocean waters, dark soil over permafrost, black carbon from air pollution, even the leaves on tall shrubs, are friendly surfaces for solar radiation. When sunlight hits bright white snow and ice it bounces away, back into space. When it encounters a dark surface it soaks in instead, keeping the Sun's heat in Earth's atmosphere. This is part of Arctic amplification: higher world temperatures set off a chain reaction of events that alter the solar radiation balance in the Arctic, causing a positive-feed-back-loop of warming.

Less ice-covered Arctic ocean water is warmer because of the sunlight it's absorbed, but every fall the ocean's heat is transferred back into the atmosphere. That upset in the atmospheric norm has the potential to alter the jet stream and impact weather across the Northern Hemisphere, and perhaps beyond.

We need to remember that the world is connected. NOAA's Arctic Report Card may talk about a region that is far from you, but the Arctic is not isolated. Changes there have implications in the broader world. The consequences of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming include more extreme weather, and force changes on our planet that have real economic impacts on people and their livelihoods, as well as vastly altering natural habitats. We are living in a changing world... we are changing that world.

Martin Jeffries: "The impacts of the warming climate on the physical environment are influencing Arctic ecosystems on the land and in the sea, and multiple observations provide strong evidence of widespread sustained changes that are driving the Arctic environmental system into a new state. Some would say that this has already happened." He adds that in this new paradigm we should continue to expect regional variability and "Expect to see continued widespread and sustained changes throughout the Arctic environmental system."

Frontier Scientists: presenting scientific discovery in the Arctic and beyond

Delve deeper into the Arctic Report Card 2013:

Vistit NOAA's page Arctic Report Card: Update for 2013, tracking recent environmental changes

Check out the 2013 Arctic Report Card: Visual Highlights on

Watch a short video presenting 2013 Arctic Report Card data by NOAA

Investigate the long Arctic Report Card 2013 AGU Press Conference from the 2013 Fall Meeting

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Arctic cyclones more common than previously thought

From 2000 to 2010, about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, leaving warm water and air in their wakes—and melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

That's about 40 percent more than previously thought, according to a new analysis of these Arctic storms.

A 40 percent difference in the number of cyclones could be important to anyone who lives north of 55 degrees latitude—the area of the study, which includes the northern reaches of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, along with the state of Alaska.

The finding is also important to researchers who want to get a clear picture of current weather patterns, and a better understanding of potential climate change in the future, explained David Bromwich, professor of geography at The Ohio State University and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

The study was presented Thursday, Dec. 12 at the American Geophysical Union meeting, in a poster co-authored by his colleagues Natalia Tilinina and Sergey Gulev of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University.

"We now know there were more cyclones than previously thought, simply because we've gotten better at detecting them," Bromwich said.

Cyclones are zones of low atmospheric pressure that have wind circulating around them. They can form over land or water, and go by different names depending on their size and where they are located. In Columbus, Ohio, for instance, a low-pressure system in December would simply be called a winter storm. Extreme low-pressure systems formed in the tropical waters can be called hurricanes or typhoons.

How could anyone miss a storm as big as a cyclone? You might think they are easy to detect, but as it turns out, many of the cyclones that were missed were small in size and short in duration, or occurred in unpopulated areas. Yet researchers need to know about all the storms that have occurred if they are to get a complete picture of storm trends in the region.

"We can't yet tell if the number of cyclones is increasing or decreasing, because that would take a multidecade view. We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic—Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing—so we can say that we're capturing a good view of what's happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes," Bromwich said.

Bromwich leads the Arctic System Reanalysis (ASR) collaboration, which uses statistics and computer algorithms to combine and re-examine diverse sources of historical weather information, such as satellite imagery, weather balloons, buoys and weather stations on the ground.

"There is actually so much information, it's hard to know what to do with it all. Each piece of data tells a different part of the story—temperature, air pressure, wind, precipitation—and we try to take all of these data and blend them together in a coherent way," Bromwich said.

The actual computations happen at the Ohio Supercomputer Center, and the combined ASR data are made publicly available to scientists.

Two such scientists are cyclone experts Tilinina and Gulev, who worked with Bromwich to look for evidence of telltale changes in wind direction and air pressure in the ASR data. They compared the results to three other data re-analysis groups, all of which combine global weather data.

"We found that ASR provides new vision of the cyclone activity in high latitudes, showing that the Arctic is much more densely populated with cyclones than was suggested by the global re-analyses," Tilinina said.

One global data set used for comparison was ERA-Interim, which is generated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Focusing on ERA-Interim data for latitudes north of 55 degrees, Tilinina and Gulev identified more than 1,200 cyclones per year between 2000 and 2010. For the same time period, ASR data yielded more than 1,900 cyclones per year.

When they narrowed their search to cyclones that occurred directly over the Arctic Ocean, they found more than 200 per year in ERA-Interim, and a little over 300 per year in ASR.

There was good agreement between all the data sets when it came to big cyclones, the researchers found, but the Arctic-centered ASR appeared to catch smaller, shorter-lived cyclones that escaped detection in the larger, global data sets. The ASR data also provided more detail on the biggest cyclones, capturing the very beginning of the storms earlier and tracking their decay longer.

Extreme Arctic cyclones are of special concern to climate scientists because they melt sea ice, Bromwich said.

"When a cyclone goes over water, it mixes the water up. In the tropical latitudes, surface water is warm, and hurricanes churn cold water from the deep up to the surface. In the Arctic, it's the exact opposite: there's warmer water below, and the cyclone churns that warm water up to the surface, so the ice melts."

As an example, he cited the especially large cyclone that hit the Arctic in August 2012, which scientists believe played a significant role in the record retreat of sea ice that year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

While Most of U.S. Froze, Parts of Alaska Set Record Highs

Will the Arctic Northwest Passage continue to cool or reverse to a warm trend?

While the continental U.S. has been shivering from coast-to-coast with temperatures dropping as low as minus-40°F amid one of the most severe early December cold snaps in several years, one state bucked the trend in an historic way. The same contorted jet stream pattern that brought the brutal cold to the lower 48 states pushed a pulse of milder-than-average air into Alaska, where some spots recorded temperatures unheard of for December.

Map showing temperature anomalies in the atmosphere, including notes showing the unusually warm air over Alaska (red area) and cold air from Canada to the U.S. (dark blue area).
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Modified from via WeatherUnderground.

Along Alaska's northern coastline, which lies above the Arctic Circle, the warmest December temperatures on record in at least 70 years occurred this past week. At the airport in Deadhorse, which serves the oil production hub ofPrudhoe Bay, the temperature hit 39°F on December 7, the highest December temperature on record there since at least 1968, said Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Fairbanks in an interview. Even more notable, perhaps, was the fact that it was raining, rather than snowing. Rain there is unusual so late in the year.

Previously, the highest December temperature recorded at any of the two climate observation sites that have served Prudhoe Bay over the years was 35°F, set on Dec. 31, 1973, according to Chris Burt, a blogger at WeatherUnderground.

Thoman said it’s possible, but not likely, that other climate stations in that area — such as data collected at now defunct Cold War-era early warning radar stations — recorded slightly milder December temperatures when they were operating in the 1950s and 1960s.

December high temperature records were also set or tied at Barter Island AFB, which is a tiny airport located on a sliver of land along Alaska’s wind-whipped North Slope region, and in the small village of Wainwright, another Arctic shore location. Barter Island reached 37°F, which tied its record last set in 1973, and Wainright hit 32°F, beating the old record of 30°F last set in 2006.

Some weather stations located along the Dalton Highway south of Prudhoe Bay saw temperatures climb into the 40s, Thoman said.

Other noteworthy Alaska records included a December record high of 54°F in King Salmon, which is situated along Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. That broke the previous record of 51°F, and records there date back to World War II. Daily high temperature records were also set at Kotzebue, Bettles, and Cold Bay, Alaska, among other locations, Thoman said.

The first nine days of December ran 22.2°F above average in Barrow, and 18.5°F above average in Kotzebue, according to NWS data.

A strong ridge of high pressure was the main cause of the record warmth in Alaska. The high shunted the jet stream, which is a high speed current of winds in the upper atmosphere, to the north of the state, while simultaneously displacing cold, Arctic air southward into Canada and the continental U.S.

Thoman said such weather patterns are not uncommon during the winter months, although the extreme nature of this one was. “This kind of thing does happen with some frequency in the cold season,” Thoman said. “You get these amplified patterns, and the cold air’s gotta go somewhere, so you build up the ridge somewhere over the Gulf of Alaska . . . pump warm air into Alaska, and on the east side of that high, that cold air is going to come plunging south.”

The small northern Alaska community of Wainwright, pictured during the summer.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In recent years, studies have shown an association between extremely wavy or “amplified” jet stream patterns, with large ridges and troughs, and Arctic sea ice melt and snow cover decline during the spring and summer months. It's an active area of research, but there’s no doubt that climate change has been having profound impacts in Alaska and other areas of the Arctic region.

The 2012 Arctic Report Card depicted a region undergoing rapid and pervasive changes related to manmade global warming, including the ramifications from plummeting spring and summer sea ice cover, melting permafrost, a rapid loss of spring snow cover, and various other climate change impacts. The 2013 edition of the Report Card, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be released on Thursday.

Recent news reports from Alaska show that increasingly mild fall seasons and erratic weather patterns have had significant effects on local communities.

For example, In Wainwright, changes in weather patterns have diminished the opportunities for subsistence hunters to safely hunt whales and caribou during the fall harvest season, according to a new study published in the journal Arctic.

Alaskans have also seen a precipitous decline in the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is thought to be a result, at least in part, of an increase in fall freezing rain events. A colder atmosphere used to produce more snow events, but ice storms have become more common along the caribou’s migration routes, which is helping to thin the herd, according to reporting by the Alaska Dispatch.

Although the long-term forecast calls for continued warming during the next several decades, in the near term, the high pressure area over Alaska is weakening, allowing colder air and snowier weather to return to the Frontier State, Thoman said.

The upcoming weather pattern will be “A big change from what we’ve had, that’s for sure,” Thoman said.

Thinking of a NW Passage - US Navy predicts summer ice-free Arctic in 3 years if you trust Government

US Navy predicts summer ice-free Arctic in 3 years

The 2013 summer minimum in Arctic sea ice extent was 6 million square kilometers, 50% higher than the minimum in 2012, and Arctic sea ice has been within 1 standard deviation of the 1979-2000 mean throughout most of 2013. 

Based on this trend, according to The Guardian, the US Navy has predicted the Arctic will be summer ice free in 3 years.

US Navy predicts summer ice free Arctic by 2016

Is conventional modelling out of pace with speed and abruptness of global warming?

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Arctic sea ice anomaly

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