Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.

This phenomenon – which has never been recorded before – has occurred twice this year due to warm winds and a climate-change driven heatwave in the northern hemisphere.

One meteorologist described the loss of ice as “scary”. Others said it could force scientists to revise their theories about which part of the Arctic will withstand warming the longest.

The sea off the north coast of Greenland is normally so frozen that it was referred to, until recently, as “the last ice area” because it was assumed that this would be the final northern holdout against the melting effects of a hotter planet.

But abnormal temperature spikes in February and earlier this month have left it vulnerable to winds, which have pushed the ice further away from the coast than at any time since satellite records began in the 1970s.

“Almost all of the ice to the north of Greenland is quite shattered and broken up and therefore more mobile,” said Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute. “Open water off the north coast of Greenland is unusual. This area has often been called ‘the last ice area’ as it has been suggested that the last perennial sea ice in the Arctic will occur here. The events of the last week suggest that, actually, the last ice area may be further west.”

Ice to the north of Greenland is usually particularly compacted due to the Transpolar Drift Stream, one of two major weather patterns that push ice from Siberia across the Arctic to the coastline, where it packs.

Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, said: “The ice there has nowhere else to go so it piles up. On average, it’s over four metres thick and can be piled up into ridges 20 metres thick or more. This thick, compacted ice is generally not easily moved around.

"Usually frozen waters open up twice this year in phenomenon scientists described as scary," via @NatObserver

“However, that was not the case this past winter (in February and March) and now. The ice is being pushed away from the coast by the winds.”

Ice is easier to blow around as a result of a warming trend, which has accelerated over the past 15 years. “The thinning is reaching even the coldest part of the Arctic with the thickest ice. So it’s a pretty dramatic indication of the transformation of the Arctic sea ice and Arctic climate.”

“Scary,” wrote Thomas Lavergne, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, in a retweet of a satellite-gif of the blue water penetrating white ice and exposing hundreds of miles of the Greenland coastline.

He said this would flush chunks of thicker ice out through the Fram or Nares Straits into warmer southern waters.

“I cannot tell how long this open water patch will remain open, but even if it closes in few days from now, the harm will be done: the thick old sea ice will have been pushed away from the coast, to an area where it will melt more easily,” he added.

This year’s openings are driven more by wind than melting but they have occurred during two temperature spikes. In February, the Kap Morris Jesup weather station in the region is usually below -20C, but earlier this year there were 10 days above freezing and warm winds, which unlocked the ice from the coast.

Last week, the crack opened again after Kap Morris Jesup briefly registered a record high of 17C and strong southerly winds picked up to 11 knots. Experts predict that coastal seas will freeze again but probably later than normal.

“I think that solar heating of the water column will increase during this opening and this will delay freeze-up and ice formation,” said Rasmus Tage Tonboe, a sea ice expert at the the Danish Meteorological Institute.

The latest readings by the Norwegian Ice Service show that Arctic ice cover in the Svalbard area this week is 40% below the average for this time of year since 1981. In the past month, at least 14 days in the past month have hit record lows in this region. Although thinner ice elsewhere in the Arctic means this is unlikely to be a record low year overall, they are in line with predictions that there will be no summer ice in the Arctic Ocean at some point between 2030 and 2050.

Keld Qvistgaard, the ice service coordinator in Denmark, said this was not the first time a gap had appeared between the shore and the main ice pack but the one formed from 1 to 5 August was different in its extent. “This event is a pretty big one going all the way to west of Kap Morris Jesup. This is unusual,” he said.

As well as reducing ice cover, the ocean intrusion raises concerns of feedbacks, which could tip the Earth towards a hothouse state.

Freakish Arctic temperatures have alarmed climate scientists since the beginning of the year. During the sunless winter, a heatwave raised concerns that the polar vortex may be eroding.

This includes the Gulf Stream, which is at its weakest level in 1,600 years due to melting Greenland ice and ocean warming. With lower circulation of water and air, weather systems tend to linger longer.

A dormant hot front has been blamed for record temperatures in Lapland and forest fires in Siberia, much of Scandinavia and elsewhere in the Arctic circle.

Keep reading

This is scary no doubt. Climate scientists have been overly cautious but most know that all our politicians are literally playing with fire, not to mention floods, hurricanes, drought and intolerable heat waves. It is time they spoke up and help us confront our short sighted leaders. Climate disaster and extinction are not decades away they are coming now and we must act to mitigate and prepare. Our leaders look only so far as the next election. Their attitude can be changed if the voters recognize the need to act. Scientists can and must educate us.

Thanks, I think, for this. Yikes! I can't bear to share it - especially with that bite in there from the Conservative scientist who says he believes, with a cute scrunch of his shoulders, that it will all go away. But I'm going to share it anyway.

The same "alarmist" hysteria was in force in 2007 and 2012 when strong windstorms broke up part of the main ice pack. The ice recovered and thickened, but the Guardian and other alarmist media said nothing. Neither are they mentioning new research showing the importance of seabed volcanism in glacier melt at both poles:

The world has been held hostage to what will go down in history as the greatest scientific deception of all time: AGW. The global climate is now on the verge of another cooling phase after having warmed from 1976 due to the final decades of a solar grand maximum. Solar outputs began dimming from 2015 and are poised to drop to values last seen during the Little Ice Age. Global temperatures will soon follow and toss the AGW narrative on the dustbin of failed scientific theories. We can see the oscillating trend more clearly on NASA's temperature graph going back to the late 1800s.

In a few years the public will realize they were conned by the AGW fraudsters to the tune of trillions of dollars wasted on shoddy research and for intermittent and unreliable renewable energy. They will have their revenge against all who helped perpetrate the fraud, especially governments and the media who used it to acquire more wealth at the expense of the gullible public. Arctic ice extent will continue to wax and wane, as it has over thousands of years, and independent of the amount of CO2 in the air.

In another 10 to 15 years we can look forward to alarmists complaining about how cold the climate is getting and the rapid increase of glacial ice. Perhaps some brilliant scientists of the day will put forward the idea of spreading soot on the ice to make it melt faster, just like some of their colleagues suggested in the 1970s. History does repeat.

Nicely done Patrick, Climate Change dispatch and the world renowned scientists at Armstrong Economics! They are much more credible than some goof from the Norwegian Meterological Service and virtually every other credible scientist on the planet.

"Unprecedented" eh? Since the 1970s. Gasp. What about 1922 though. IOW within the last 100 years there has been big ice melts that had nothing to do with human industrial activity.