Arctic Sea Ice Summer Minimum in 2018 Is Sixth Lowest on Record
By Robert McSweeney
Arctic sea ice has reached its summer minimum extent for the year, clocking in at 4.59m square kilometers (sq km) (approximately 1.77m square miles), which puts it joint sixth lowest in the 40-year satellite record alongside 2008 and 2010.
The twelve smallest summer lows in the satellite record have all occurred in the last twelve years.
As the northern hemisphere summer comes to an end, the annual retreat of Arctic sea ice slows to a stop before ice starts accumulating again. This point is marked each year as the summer minimum, and used as an indicator for the health of Arctic sea ice.
The 2018 summer low is the joint sixth smallest on record, beaten only by 2015 in fifth, 2011 in fourth, 2007 and 2016 in joint second, and 2012 in first with a record low of 3.39 sq km. The 2018 figure is 1.63m sq km below the average summer minimum for 1981-2010.
The chart below shows how 2018 (blue line) compares with the previous four years, the record summer of 2012 (brown dotted line), and the long-term average (grey line).
Arctic sea ice extent up to Sept. 23 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year (2012). The 1981-2010 median is in dark grey, and the grey areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges.NSIDC
Satellite data show that Arctic sea ice hit its minimum on two dates this year—Sept. 19 and Sept. 23. The latter is one of the latest dates for the summer low in the satellite record and around five to nine days later than the 1981-2010 average.
The NSIDC said the lateness was "at least partially caused by southerly winds from the East Siberian Sea, which brought warm air into the region and prevented ice from drifting or growing southward."
While this year isn't record-breaking, it is still cause for concern, said professor Julienne Stroeve, professor of polar observation and modeling at University College London, senior research scientist at the NSIDC, and member of the Arctic Basecamp consortium. She told Carbon Brief:
"Put simply, in the last ten years the Arctic is melting faster than it ever has previously since records began. We have lost over half of the summer sea ice coverage since the late 1970's and it is realistic to expect an ice-free Arctic sea in summer in the next few decades."
Cool and Cloudy
The summer melt season kicked off at the end of March after reaching the second-lowest winter maximum on record. Sea ice extent remained low through spring, with the average extent in April tied with 2016 as the lowest on record and the average for May being the second lowest on record.
Spring saw some unusually warm temperatures in parts of the Arctic—temperatures for the month of May in Svalbard, for example, were 6°C higher than average.
However, cooler and windier conditions from June onwards saw the pace of sea ice melt slow, despite short periods of rapid decline. This is reflected in the average extents for June, July and August, which clocked in as the fourth, ninth and seventh lowest on record, respectively.
The weather over the Arctic during the summer has been dominated by low pressure, explained Zack Labe, a University of California, Irvine Ph.D. student studying sea ice. This meant a "tendency toward cooler and cloudier weather" over the summer months.
The Arctic Oscillation (AO) has also had an impact, said Labe. The AO is a natural climate pattern characterized by westerly winds circulating around the Arctic. When the AO is positive—as it predominantly has been from June to September—the winds tend to be stronger, holding cold air over the Arctic.
This "is generally a favourable weather pattern for less sea ice export and melt during the summer," said Labe. It also contributed to an unusual summer for the Atlantic side of the Arctic, he added:
"The movement of ice, due to the positive Arctic Oscillation, favoured less sea ice exporting into the Atlantic. This contributed to unusually low sea ice in this region, especially in the Greenland Sea. Also, sea ice around Svalbard has been near record lows for the last few months."
The map below shows how sea ice on Sept. 23 (shaded white) compares to the average position at that time of the year (orange line).
Arctic sea ice extent on Sept. 23, 2018. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 average extent for that day.NSIDC
Simulations of Arctic sea ice thickness from the University of Washington's PIOMAS model suggest that this summer's average thickness is also close to the long-term declining trend, said Labe:
"Sea ice is much thinner than average around Greenland, where typically the thickest ice of the Arctic is found. Overall, nearly the entire Arctic Ocean is thinner than the 1981-2010 average."
This is illustrated in the maps below, which show the estimated thickness of Arctic sea ice in August 2018 (left) and how that compares to the 1981-2010 average (right). The dark blue shading in the right-hand map shows areas where ice is as much as two meters (approximately 6.6 feet) thinner than average for this time of year.
Both Arctic sea ice thickness and extent are continuing on the steady descent seen over the last four decades, said Labe. This is down to a combination of natural variability and human-caused warming.
But even with relatively cool conditions for some of this summer, sea ice extent still dropped below 5m sq km, noted Labe:
"This is probably a result of the long-term loss of multi-year, thicker ice leaving the Arctic a very different place than 30 years ago. Unfortunately, these dramatic changes are now happening in all seasons."
As Carbon Brief reported in its "State of the Climate" analysis in August, 2018 has seen record low amounts of "multiyear ice"—ice that has survived without melting for multiple years. In the first half of 2018, multiyear ice comprised just 34 percent of Arctic sea ice, with only 2 percent at least five years old. In the 1980s, upwards of 60 percent of Arctic sea ice was multiyear ice.
The lack of multi-year ice is even affecting how scientists carry out their fieldwork, added Stroeve:
"For us to conduct our experiments and measure Arctic changes effectively, we need to be able to deploy our instruments on mature, multi-year ice so that they have a chance to survive at least one year. This sort of ice is harder and harder to find and we are moving further north to find it. For us scientists, we might need to think about redesigning our instruments to cope with the rapid changes we are witnessing."
Arctic Sea Ice Hits Second-Lowest Winter Peak on Record https://t.co/eY6Vp1ixjE @tcktcktck @envirowire— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1522202104.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
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Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
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