North Pole notes

I always find it interesting as to why some stories get traction in the mainstream media and why some don’t. In online science discussions, the fate of this years summer sea ice has been the focus of a significant betting pool, a test of expert prediction skills, and a week-by-week (almost) running commentary. However, none of these efforts made it on to the Today program. Instead, a rather casual article in the Independent showed the latest thickness data and that quoted Mark Serreze as saying that the area around the North Pole had 50/50 odds of being completely ice free this summer, has taken off across the media.

The headline on the piece “Exclusive: no ice at the North Pole” got the implied tense wrong, and I’m not sure that you can talk about a forecast as evidence (second heading), but still, the basis of the story is sound (Update: the headline was subsequently changed to the more accurate “Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer”). The key issue is that since last year’s dramatic summer ice anomaly, the winter ice that formed in that newly opened water is relatively thin (around 1 meter), compared to multi-year ice (3 meters or so). This new ice formed quite close to the Pole, and with the prevailing winds and currents (which push ice from Siberia towards Greenland) is now over the Pole itself. Given that only 30% of first year ice survives the summer, the chances that there will be significant open water at the pole itself is high.

The actuality will depend on the winds and the vagaries of Arctic weather – but it certainly bears watching. Ironically, you will be able to see what happens only if it doesn’t happen (from these web cams near the North Pole station).

This is very different from the notoriously over-excited story in the New York Times back in August 2000. In that case, the report was of the presence of some open water at the pole – which as the correction stated, is not that uncommon as ice floes and leads interact. What is being discussed here is large expanses of almost completely ice-free water. That would indeed be unprecedented since we’ve been tracking it.

So why do stories about an geographically special, but climatically unimportant, single point traditionally associated with a christianized pagan gift-giving festival garner more attention than long term statistics concerning ill-defined regions of the planet where very few people live?

I don’t really need to answer that, do I?

827 comments on this post.
  1. Timothy Chase:

    John E. Pearson (#84) wrote:

    I have no idea how people figure out how ice free the poles have been over long periods of time. How is it done? Can it be done?

    wayne davidson (#78) wrote earlier:

    [In response to MrPete’s]#52 Historic evidence may be found in the DNA of Bowhead whales. the Atlantic and Pacific Bowheads are genetically different suggesting a long long time of ice barriers, in other words, this seasonal melting of vast Arctic Ocean ice, never happenned, all the way back to when there was no Bowhead DNA distinction.

    Same story gets told by the mitochondria of three species of right whale:

    New DNA Studies Verify Existence Of Three Right Whale Species
    ScienceDaily (Mar. 1, 2005)

    … and their whale lice:

    Secrets Of The Whale R.iders: Crablike ‘Whale’ Show How Endangered Cetaceans Evolved
    ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2005)

    … which aren’t insects but are actually crustaceans closely related to the “snapping shrimp.”

    Please see the abstract:

    Right whales carry large populations of three ‘whale lice’ (Cyamus o.valis, Cyamus g.racilis, Cyamus e.rraticus) that have no other hosts. We used sequence variation in the mitochondrial COI gene to ask (i) whether cyamid population structures might reveal associations among right whale individuals and subpopulations, (ii) whether the divergences of the three nominally conspecific cyamid species on North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern right whales (Euba.laena glac.ialis, Eubal.aena jap.onica, Euba.laena aust.ralis) might indicate their times of separation, and (iii) whether the shapes of cyamid gene trees might contain information about changes in the population sizes of right whales….

    Kaliszewska ZA, et al 2005. Population histories of right whales (Cetacea: Eubalaena) inferred from mitochondrial sequence diversities and divergences of their whale (Amphipoda: Cyamus). Mol Ecol. Oct; 14(11): 3439-56.

    … and:

    The Utah research focused on genes found in mitochondria – the power plants of cells – and that mutate at a high rate, acting like a clock to reveal when evolutionary events happened. The scientists calibrated the clock by comparing genes from whale lice with related snapping shrimp.

    Secrets of the Whale R.iders
    Crablike ‘Whale Lice’ Show How Endangered Cetaceans Evolved
    Sept. 14, 2005

    Depending upon the whim of the author or the exact species, the “snapping shrimp” may be called a snapping shrimp, mantis shrimp, mantid shrimp, p.istol shrimp, etc. even though technically it isn’t even a shrimp.

    It is a fascinating creature:

    Mantis shrimp

    … noted for its hyperspectral color vision:

    “Weird Beastie” Shrimp Have Super-Vision
    Anne Minard
    for National Geographic News
    May 19, 2008

    … and ability to see circular polarization:

    Mantis shrimp vision reveals new way that animals can see
    Public release date: 20-Mar-2008

    … among other things:

    Pistol Shrimp

    YouTube – Mantis Shrimp Attack (emerald crab)

    … and at least one species of mantid shrimp has had its entire mitochondrial genome sequenced:

    A.D. Miller and C.M. Austin, The complete mitochondrial genome of the mantid shrimp Harpiosquilla harpax, and a phylogenetic investigation of the Decapoda using mitochondrial sequences
    Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
    Volume 38, Issue 3, March 2006, Pages 565-574

    Mitochondria are of course endosymbionts of the eukaryotic cell — and would appear to be most closely related to rickettsia, the bacteria responsible for typhoid:

    Michael W. Gray, News and Views: Rickettsia, typhus and the mitochondrial connection
    Nature 396, 109-110 (12 November 1998)

    For more on rickettsia, please see:

    So to make a long story short, it appears that there has been sea ice in the Arctic Ocean pretty much constantly for the past six or so million years. But don’t you just love how its all related!?

  2. Timothy Chase:

    Incidentally, there are a few extraneous “.”s in my post above. Turns out that the spam catcher doesn’t like Latin.

  3. CobblyWorlds:

    #59, Dr Bitz/anyone less busy who knows,

    Do the CCSM3 models show the same trend in perennial ice area as shown in figure 3 of Nghiem 2007 “Rapid reduction of Arctic perennial sea ice”? GRL Vol 34, doi:10.1029/2007GL031138

    I hope you’re right about the models, but I’m not convinced 2007 was just a blip from which the ice will rebound.

    #65 Eric Swanson,

    Thanks for pointing that out, indeed Meir/Serreze/Stroeve (ARCUS) noted angle of incidence as a reason why the overall first year ice melt may not be as much as expected for first year. However the predominance of the impact of sunlight is supported by the fact that during maximum insolation (May – Aug) the rate of loss is typically at its greatest. If modellers don’t take this factor into account, I agree they should.

    I second your question in post 28, about climatic impacts outside the Arctic.

  4. sean egan:

    We keep seeing the same graph showing current ice cover is at least up to now, June 2008 no worse than this time last year. The winter levels were better than 12 months before. Then we get comments that there is a lot of new ice. Clearly if extent increases is increasing it has to start with more new ice. We know new thin ice is more vunerable to weather than older thicker ice. So reduced sea ice in the summer is not a good indicator of continued decline OR absence of decline. More interesting is winter levels and the volumes. Does anyone have an url showing volume and thickness showing 2007 compared to 2008? I can not remember seeing thickness after 2004 at which point it showed a rising thickness trend showing historic around 1998 – a half or third of 1950s levels.
    If the ice loss trend halted in 2007, this is what it would look like. There are claimed 60 year cycles in ice cover which could mask global warming for a time.

    Imagine that Sept 2008 had favourable winds and the new ice did not break up. It would still prove nothing.

  5. CobblyWorlds:

    #64 T Siefferman

    What you see on Cryosphere Today is the percentage of ice cover on the ocean, and at this time of year you won’t see anything really notable. Try September:

    If you were buying a car would you just look at how shiny the paint is, or would you have a closer look?

    Try ice thickness as measured by submarine, note the non linear time axis. Zhang’s using that to show the long term accuracy of the PIOMAS model, you can use it to see the changes in typical thickness, the British Navy measurements (Wadhams) done on different tracks at different time convey the same general message, Wadhams states over 40% thinning. Or you could try the figure in the Nghiem paper to which I referred Dr Bitz.

    Harold Pierce jr.

    If you are correct, your suggested increased CO2 uptake will be countering what looks like a much more massive release of stored carbon.

    I’ve recently been persuaded by Gareth Renowden and Steve Bloom over at “Hot Topic” that methane releases are potentially disastrous on policy/human timescales. (Er… thanks a lot guys)

    In “Methane hydrate stability and anthropogenic climate change”, David Archer argues that methane release is likely to be “chronic rather than catastrophic”.

    However Shakhova 2008
    Seems to argue that there is nonetheless the potential for substantial short term release.

    The total value of ESS [East Siberian Shelf] carbon pool is, thus, not less than 1,400 Gt of carbon. Since the area of geological disjunctives (fault zones, tectonically and seismically active areas) within the Siberian Arctic shelf composes not less than 1-2% of the total area and area of open taliks (area of melt through permafrost), acting as a pathway for methane escape within the Siberian Arctic shelf reaches up to 5-10% of the total area, we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.

    Then there’s the land permafrost;

    So whilst talk of Methane release in terms of all of it going quickly is overstated. It seems there’s still the potential for a rapid enough release to cause serious impacts within decades (if we are in a rapid transition to a seasonally ice free Arctic – I think we are).

  6. Barton Paul Levenson:

    fred writes:

    Including, they could melt ice at the Pole, if they were big enough. I have no idea whether these particular explosions are big enough, and suspect BPL doesn’t either.

    You suspect wrong, pal. They are not large enough. Go look up the size of the lava flow from a volcano. A big one might be two miles long. Now consider the size of Antarctica.

    Volcanoes are not melting the ice.

  7. Henning:

    I tried to find statistics detailing the coverage AGW gets in the press but couldn’t really find anything useful. Here in Germany it “feels” rather unbalanced and unscientific. Interviews with scientists are cut down to the question of what the worst possible scenario might be and sometimes it seems like the media is explicitly pushing in the general direction of climate change even if the matter has nothing to with it. I remember a lengthy interview with a scientist from a NGO in one of the major news journals on TV concerning the wildfires in Greece last summer. When asked about the cause of these fires, the scientist said it was in part real estate speculation and in part the lumber industy which first planted the wrong trees and then basically gave up on the woods alltogether when the market collapsed (or something like that). When pressed for other possibilities, she blamed the government for reacting too slowly and only half-heartedly. But this was not what the anchor man wanted to hear, so he asked her explicitly about global warming. When she said that there was no relation she could see, he asked whether she could rule out the possibility and she said of course she could not. Finally satisfied, he moved on. We see this a lot. I think it gets to the point where people get fed up with hearing about one possible katastrophe and rather want to be afraid of something else. We saw the same thing with terrorism, the famous “waldsterben” (death of the woods) and other threats. Last year it got so far, that the socienty for the german language (GfdS) voted the term “Klimakatastrophe” as the official “Word of the year”, the term that dominated media and public discussion. The danger in that is that people tend to forget about it and probably even oppose it reflexively once a critical amount of coverage has been reached and nobody wants to hear about it any more and people roll their eyes when the subject comes up. Everything about AGW that gets into the media hyped for something it isn’t and quickly destroying itself simply by not reappearing next year or by being obviously wrong (like the link between earthquakes and AGW which made it into CBS and MSNBC recently), leads to less awareness in the public, not more. It may help getting into the headlines but in the long run, I think it is counterproductive – and the long run is what we need here.

  8. pete best:

    Re #74. The Athabasca tar/oil sands are expanding at an alarming rate to 3 mbpd come 2012. As heavy oil as it is called has not had much attention lavished onto it by now the economics of energy will come down. New In Situ techniques will lower the over all energy costs associated with this type of oil mining but hydrogen is needed as it water and they are in short supply so who knows how much of the 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels of this type of oil will see the light of day.

    CTL projects are worrying though and the USA, China and Australia are planning these types of plants. Plenty of coal means use some for oil.

  9. Mitch Lyle:

    I was interested to see that no one had put a link to the only long term sedimentary record in the Arctic, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program ACEX drilling in 2004 ( They drilled on Lomonosov Ridge at about 88degN. In the 2006 Nature paper (Moran et al., 2006, The Cenozoic Palaeoenvironment of the Arctic Ocean, vol 441, 601-605), they revisited their initial results and suggest that perennial ice cover was present in the Arctic for at least the last 14 million years. Further publications from this expedition are in Nature in subsequent years.

    This does not mean that there were not periods of ice-free ocean. I have participated in drilling near Svalbard, where the ice exits, (Ocean Drilling Program Leg 151,1993; see The drilling showed a warming in the Pliocene ca 3 million years ago (see the Thiede and Myhre summary), but good indications of sea ice both before and since then.

    A seasonally ice-free Arctic is a big deal.

  10. LG Norton:

    I believe the psychological effect on the masses of the main ice pack retreating past the North Pole will be much greater than the last bit of mulityear ice melting along the Greenland-Elesemere Islands in the next 20 years or so.

    Statistically it looks like its going to happen sooner or later. It may happen this year, it may not.

    For those who are hooked on watching the retreat of the ice pack, I prefer the following site.

    AMSR-E Daily Ice Map

    I prefer this over Cryosphere today, as it have better resolution, however it does appear to under-report open drift conditions (3 tenths and below)

  11. Phil. Felton:

    Re #49 & #82
    The limitations on the growth of algae in the arctic varies with the season, the effect of sea-ice melting is not as certain as Harold would have us believe:

  12. Chris:

    re #60 Brian Dodge,

    very nice calculation… however there is a teeny error here:

    volume erupted 4 km3
    = 4e+9 m3
    = 4e+16 cm3
    heat released = 5.4e+19 cal (about 17 years worth of Hawaii hotspot heat output, if my math is correct)]

    however, according to my reckoning, 4e+9 m3 = 4e+15 cm3

    so heat released = 5.4e+18 cal

    and so unfortunately your puny volcano only managed a miserable sub-1% contribution to the summer 2007 melt (assuming all that heat found its way 4000 metres to the surface)

    unless someone can find a compensating error in your maths, I’m afraid we’re not too impressed with your volcano!

  13. Chuck Booth:

    Re #93 My comment to John E. Pierson

    Sorry to be so curt. What I should have pointed out was that Harold Pierce, Jr. was not proposing any sort of biological pump such as you described (and with which I am quite familiar, which is why I raised the point about CO2 sequestration) – rather, he was fantasizing about CO2 being sequestered by passage through a food chain. Unfortunately, his scenario was based on a complete lack of understanding of basic physiology and ecology.

  14. Goffers:

    Re 89

    According to my atlas the south pole is not an ocean.

  15. Jim Galasyn:

    Re Harold’s observation in 92:
    Fish are CO2 sinks also. If any these animals die and sink to the ocean floor, they are consumed by scavengers such as crabs and lobsters.

    Unfortunately, humans are doing their utmost to remove this carbon sink from the planet. We’re strip-mining the oceans of biomass with industrial efficiency; soon, only jellyfish and anaerobic algae will remain to sink carbon in the emptied, acidified oceans.

  16. Lowell:

    The MODID satellites provide near real-time visible/actual photos of the Artic Ocean from space (ie they are not the computer program generated graphics from the NSIDC.)

    Here is a good sat picture of the North Pole from today – June 29, 2008 (ie. there is lots of melting to go yet before the Pole is ice-free for the few weeks of the year predicted.)

    NorthWest Passage (upside down but still frozen solid.)

  17. Alexandre:

    I´ve seen meteorologists dismiss the North Polar Cape melt as some kind of natural cycle since the southern ice shows some increase. Indeed, we can see that here:

    Is this right?

  18. Brian Dodge:

    Re #92
    The carbonate compensation depth (the depth below which calcium carbonate dissolves) is shallow in polar waters, so calcium carbonate sediments are virtually absent on the arctic seabed. Any CO2 sequestered by increased bioproduction as calcium carbonate will remain dissolved in the water column.

    Organic carbon may deposit to the seabed. Massive blooms of Azolla growing in a fresh/brackish surface layer on the Arctic ocean created laminated sediments alternating with marine siliceous sediments during the early Eocene, and sequestered large amounts of CO2. These blooms may be the carbon source for North Sea oil deposits.

  19. LG Norton:

    Re: 116

    My understanding is that the visible spectrum is not the best for looking at ice. Despite this, if you display those images at 500 meter resolution, you can see where the ice in the North West Passage is a darker blue, which would indicate some level of breakup.

    What is interesting, is the McClure strait area is breaking up from west to east. The North Pole may not melt out this year, but the North West Passage should be open water definitely.

    On another note, here I sit in Nova Scotia in the rain and fog at 12 degrees celsius, and Eureka and Alert on Elesmere Island is 16 degrees C and sunny today.

  20. CobblyWorlds:

    #109 Mitch Lyle,

    Thanks for that, I wasn’t aware of it.

  21. Steve Connor:

    As the author of the “casual” article in The Independent, I’d like to point out that on the front page of the actual newspaper (as opposed to our website) the strapline above the headline says: “Scientists warn that this summer there may be….”, which I hope puts the main headline into the correct perspective. I don’t actually write headlines, but I think the editors who did made a good job of projecting a very important story with a high degree of accuracy, which is why it got such a big pick up globally. Headline writing is after all more of an art than a science. I’m only sorry that the website didn’t carry the strapline as well, but perhaps that’s the downside of getting something for free. The reason it went so big is precisely because we put it on the front page, in the starkest possible terms, and without I hope twisting the science. By the way, I’m a great fan of RealClimate and I love your headlines especially!

    [Response: Thanks for stopping by. I should probably make clear that by ‘casual’, I meant to imply that the source of the story was based on conversations with Mark and others, rather than being tied to the publication of a paper or the release of new information. I did not mean in it any derogatory sense. I agree that good headlines are tricky, but I am well aware that these are not written by the journalists. – gavin]

  22. Timothy Chase:

    Harold Pierce Jr (#92) wrote:

    As long as the algeas and polar polar bears are alive, they become CO2 sinks since they need lots of fat for insulation to keep warm. Fish are CO2 sinks also. If any these animals die and sink to the ocean floor, they are consummed by scavengers such as crabs and lobsters. The shells of these animals are CO2 sinks because these are mostly chitin.

    And here I thought fat floats!

    Sure — some of the polar bear will end up chitin left by crabs — but how much? It isn’t like the only scavengers in the ocean have shells — or are entirely made of shell.

    Think worms:

    A plague o’ both your houses!
    They have made worms’ meat of me.

    -Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene I, Line 112

    They are as much a factor below the surface of the ocean as on dry land. And plenty of dead fish float, for a while at least. There is bacteria at work as well. Some live inside the organism itself and go to work decomposing their host as soon as it dies. What gases do you suppose are created during this process — and would you honestly expect all of that to remain in the water?

    Then there are anaerobic bacteria below the oxycline. Since your biological pump relies so heavily upon algae, you might want to check look up “dead zones” in the news. Try Oregon, for example.

    For the second time in three years, a hypoxic “dead zone” has formed off the central Oregon Coast. It’s killing fish, crabs and other marine life and leading researchers to believe that a fundamental change may be taking place in ocean conditions in the northern Pacific Ocean.

    New Hypoxic ‘Dead Zone’ Found Off Oregon Coast
    ScienceDaily (Aug. 10, 2004)

    Yes, we are having larger algae blooms. And given the fact that land warms more quickly than ocean, resulting in areas of low pressure over land, changing patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation are bringing them to the coasts — where so much life’s diversity is found. When the algae blooms die off, they decay — using up whatever oxygen is in the water.

    The most severe low-oxygen ocean conditions ever observed on the West Coast of the United States have turned parts of the seafloor off Oregon into a carpet of dead Dungeness crabs and rotting sea worms, a new survey shows. Virtually all of the fish appear to have fled the area.

    ‘Dead Zone’ Causing Wave Of Death Off Oregon Coast
    ScienceDaily (Aug. 14, 2006)

    But setting the dead zones aside, there is also the fact that the ocean water is becoming more acidic, more corrosive, making the shell-formation your biological pump depends upon another endangered species.

    Please see:

    Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is threatening to make oceans too corrosive for marine organisms to grow protective shells, according to researchers.

    If emissions continue unabated, the entire Southern Ocean, which stretches north from the Antarctic coastline, and subarctic regions of the Pacific Ocean will soon become so acidic that the shells of marine creatures will soften and dissolve making them easy targets for predators. Others will not be able to grow sufficient shells to survive.

    Ian Sample, science correspondent
    The Guardian, Thursday September 29, 2005

    … and:

    A new study by an international team of oceanographers published in the September 29, 2005 issue of Nature reports that ocean acidification could result in corrosive chemical conditions much sooner than previously thought. Within 50 to 100 years, there could be severe consequences for marine calcifying organisms, which build their external skeletal material out of calcium carbonate, the basic building block of limestone. Most threatened are cold-water calcifying organisms, including sea urchins, cold-water corals, coralline algae, and plankton known as pteropods—winged snails that swim through surface waters. These organisms provide essential food and habitat to others, so their demise could affect entire ocean ecosystems.

    News Release : Marine Organisms Threatened By Increasingly Acidic Ocean
    Corals and Plankton May Have Difficulty Making Shells
    September 29, 2005

    Yes — there is a biological pump. But judging from the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, it isn’t able to keep up with us. Judging from the rising acidity of the ocean, the prognosis for much of this biological pump doesn’t look very good. Judging from the paleoclimate record, it is limited, and it can fail catastrophically.

  23. LG Norton:

    Of another interesting note:

    The NOAA North Pole Web Cam (they should call it the Fram Strait web cam, as it has drifted from 89 North to 84.8 North in less than 3 months).

    The camera is now sitting in its own melt pool as seem from this photo:
    North Pole Web Cam in its own melt pool

    What is amazing is the ice has moved 5 degrees of latitude in less than 3 months.

    It looks like this year, we will get to see a bunch of expensive scientific gear end up in Davy Jones’ locker live via webcam :)

  24. wayne davidson:

    #101, Timothy, but of course there are all these other species, All with traceable DNA history. If they all lead to 6 million years ago, that would be interesting time to study Climate wise.

    #109 Mitch 14 million years ago resonates with the existence of Axel Heiberg silent High Arctic forest stump Red Dawn sentinels,,9171,962379,00.html

    Although Time article 45 million years number seems off, was told quite often that it was 11 to 14 million years ago.

    Now for those who think climate science is easy, consider all the disciplines involved, so Radio talk show Hosts of the Right wing money machine kind, should hit the science books not climate scientists, read the science, watch low budget science TV like PBS NOVA shows, and be a little humbled by near by University professors , without the likes of them no TV no Radio just soap boxes to stand on…… .

  25. John E. Pearson:

    Re: 113 and 118

    CHuck: No worries.

    the reason I mentioned it in the first place is that I don’t think we know all that well how eco-systems will respond as the planet warms and ocean pH decreases, etc.. An ice free arctic ocean will comprise a new ecological niche. I understand that right now the carbonate compensation depth is shallow, and there are probably relatively low concentrations of carbon fixing bacteria anyway, but as the arctic warms isn’t it likely that there will be an increase in carbon sequestration there? It seems to me that ultimately this question is going to be answered by observation, although a decent model prediction might be a bit of a coup for the models.

  26. Tenney Naumer:

    Can someone tell me if this big grey spot right in the middle of Greenland is an area of melting or is it an artifact? It could be melting — even Alert went to 63F today.

    The images are from the Cryosphere and show today versus last year.

    I used a tiny url because I saved it to my harddrive, then posted it to my blog so that the enlarged image is much better:

  27. Timothy Chase:

    Alexandre (#117) wrote:

    I´ve seen meteorologists dismiss the North Polar Cape melt as some kind of natural cycle since the southern ice shows some increase. Indeed, we can see that here:

    Is this right?

    For 2007, the Arctic sea ice extent minimum was 25% below the previous minimum, whereas the sea ice extent maximum for the Antarctic was roughly 1% above the previous year. Hardly comparable. And it is worth noting that Antarctic sea ice extent still hasn’t recovered from its record losses in the 1960s-70s.

    Please see:

    Sea Ice, North and South, Then and Now
    October 8, 2007

    Some models actually show a slight cooling of the southern oceans for a while, and all show it not keeping up with the rate at which the waters to the north warm — for a somewhat longer period of time. Partly this has to do with changes in ocean circulation taking warmer water deeper and partly as the result of the southern hemisphere having less land mass and more ocean — where the ocean has a higher thermal inertia, meaning that it takes longer for those waters to warm.

  28. Jim Galasyn:

    Re John Pearson’s comment in 125:

    An ice free arctic ocean will comprise a new ecological niche.

    In fact, the loss of arctic sea ice may well annihilate an ocean entire ecosystem:

    Sea ice: a refuge for life in polar seas?
    Christopher Krembs
    Jody Deming
    University of Washington

    The ice-specific ecosystem includes bacteria, viruses, unicellular algae, diatom chains, worms and crustaceans. … Sea ice, especially during the sunlit seasons, serves as habitat for an ice-specific food web (sympagic foodweb) [1] that includes bacteria, viruses, unicellular algae, which often form chains and filaments, and invertebrates sufficiently small to traverse the brine network. The brine network is comprised of passages in the ice, with diameters ranging from micrometers to several centimeters when the temperature remains above -5°C.

    Sea ice is critical for polar marine ecosystems in at least two important ways: (1) it provides a habitat for photosynthetic algae and nursery ground for invertebrates and fish during times when the water column does not support phytoplankton growth; and (2) as the ice melts, releasing organisms into the surface water [3], a shallow mixed layer forms which fosters large ice-edge blooms important to the overall productivity of polar seas.

  29. Thomas:

    (98) Dave:
    I’m in the same (intellectual) boat as the other 90percent of the commentors here, i.e. I am not a working scientist. I think you’d need a polar biologist/ecologist to get a well formulated reply. I do know that the seasonal ice covered oceans are very highly productive biologically. I think the ice/water interface seems to concentrate certain nutrients -or some such, but again I’m not going to speculate beyond that, as I think I should let the experts do that.

  30. Peter Backes:

    Re #1, others – Volcanism at the Poles:

    New volcanoes at BOTH Poles erupt just as AGW starts receiving wide attention? What’s next for the denialists? Space aliens and their heat rays?

    Re #49:

    LOL at both the original post and Gavin’s response.

  31. David B. Benson:

    wayne davidson (124) — From 6 to 4 million years agao the Mediterranean repeatedly dessicated and refilled. During this same period the Isthmus of Panama finally closed.

  32. B Buckner:

    Tenney #126

    Average temperature in the grey spot area is -10 to -15 C per:

    Unlikely to be melting there. Other grey areas on the map are snow.

  33. Nick Barnes:

    Re 116, 119: I believe that the darker blue in the NW passage (in 7-2-1 band false-colour) is melting sea ice. It wasn’t that colour a month ago. Possibly wet slush on top of the ice?

  34. Tenney Naumer:

    Re: #132

    B Buckner,

    Thanks for the link — did you notice that on June 28 almost all of Greenland heated up substantially, and on the 29th the temperatures to the north rose into the 10s and 15s (C)?

    Let us not forget that huge melt in Antarctica in 2005.

  35. iceman:

    It is claimed that AGW “science” predicted that Southern Hemsiphere sea ice extent would increase as arctic sea ice would decrease. I believe that claim is incorrect. AGW “science” predicted that Antarctic continental ice would increase because of more precipitaion due to global warming, not sea ice extent. AGW has no explanation for Southern Hemisphere SEA ICE extent increase. Please provide a link to AGW prediction for increased Southern Hemisphere SEA ICE extent. Southern Hemisphere SEA ICE extent is 1,000,000 sq. Kilometers greater than the 20 year average. I hope the reference by AGW “science” to increasing Souther Hemisphere sea ice extent would be older than 5years. I beleive AGW was predicting less SEA ICE in both hemispheres. But since that did not happen AGW “science” may have changed it’s position much like the term “global warming” was changed to “climeate change” when the global temperatures stopped rising a few years ago. Over the past three or four years global temps have been flat according to NOAA data. Not coincidentally the sun has been in a prolonged state of hibernation between solar cycle 23 and solar cycle 24. Because of this lull the oceans have been giving up heat. Arctic sea ice extent will be 500000 sq kilometers greater this year than last. And each of the next 4 to 5 years will show succesively more arctic sea ice. If solar cycle 24 turns out to be a dud then expect to see a decades long increase in arctic sea ice extent. It will take a few years to see if the solar/climate connection is as strong as many scientist beleive. AGW has underestimated the affect of solar influence on climate. In few years we will know the truth.

  36. l david cooke:

    RE: 129

    Hey Thomas,

    Thanks for the reply, I suspect that Phil Felton in Posting 111 may show links that demonstrate the biology is active under the ice. The main difference appears to be the type of activity is different between an ice covered -vs- surface ice free Arctic ocean. Also, we have to note that as to insolation, that the albedo difference due to ice melt will likely only be higher for one to two months per year. At the same time the open ocean would make more radiant surface available for cooling during the periods of reduced insolation.

    As to the salinity question, the NOAA research ships had noted in earlier cruises that for the ice melt the salinity though lower then normal for open ocean demonstrate only a thin fresh/brackish water zone. This would seem to suggest that if the volume of ice melt is as great as suspected, that there had to be a greater salinity in the region that was mixing with the melt water to reduce the expanse and depth of the brackish region.

    To my layman thoughts this would seem to suggest that increased salinity could be playing a part in the total contribution as regards polar ice melt. (As the Barents build up of salinity between 2004 and 2006 was substantial.) If there was a difference when a dominant (NAO vs PDO), with the NAO ocean current carrying higher SSTs and saline ocean currents into the Arctic region had differing results in regional melt, I suspect it would be a good correlation for salinity playing a part. However, when I look at the Arctic melt record, though greater for both the PDO and NAO, it does not seem to favor one pattern over the other.

    However, it would be very useful to have a few years of extensive ice melt, as seen last summer, to try to confirm how much the salinity is involved in lowering the freezing temperature of the Arctic ocean and contributing to its melting. To me it seems sad that neither the Woodshole institute nor NOAA seem to have a plan to make a cruise into the melt zones for these observations even in this International Polar Year IPY 2008

    Dave Cooke

  37. l david cooke:

    RE: potential 134

    Hey All,

    Just a clarification in my second to the last paragraph I wrote;

    “If there was a difference when a dominant (NAO vs PDO), with the NAO ocean current carrying higher SSTs and saline ocean currents into the Arctic region had differing results in regional melt, I suspect it would be a good correlation for salinity playing a part.”

    I would like for it to have read;

    If there were a difference between which were dominant, (NAO vs PDO), there might be a hypothesis worth exploring. If the NAO were driving an ocean current that contains higher SST’s and more saline surface water into the Arctic region, I suspect it would be a possible correlation that salinity may be playing a part in the Arctic ice loss.

    The problem is I hit the Post prematurely rather then the Preview button, my apologies.

    Dave Cooke

  38. wayne davidson:

    #132 sublination occurs at these temperatures, direct snow to water vapour, especially in very strong turbulent winds.

  39. Phil. Felton:

    Re #104

    “Does anyone have an url showing volume and thickness showing 2007 compared to 2008? I can not remember seeing thickness after 2004 at which point it showed a rising thickness trend showing historic around 1998 – a half or third of 1950s levels.”

    This do?

  40. Phil. Felton:

    Re #114

    An archipelago perhaps?

  41. Phil. Felton:

    Re #123
    “The NOAA North Pole Web Cam (they should call it the Fram Strait web cam, as it has drifted from 89 North to 84.8 North in less than 3 months).

    The camera is now sitting in its own melt pool as seem from this photo:
    North Pole Web Cam in its own melt pool

    What is amazing is the ice has moved 5 degrees of latitude in less than 3 months.

    It looks like this year, we will get to see a bunch of expensive scientific gear end up in Davy Jones’ locker live via webcam”

    Yeah the transpolar drift is still moving rather fast, the flow of multiyear ice out of the Fram continues:

  42. R Marks:

    Erm… I know that the north pole is symbolic and such, but is it my imagination or does the NOAA wecbcam #1 show water flowing? I take it that the site is at 84.727°N 0.338°E, but the website is not that clear.

    In any case, that water was not there a week ago :(

    [Response: It’s a summer-time melt-pond – fresh water created from surface melting that sits on top of the ice. These are ubiquitous during the late summer around the Arctic until they either drain (if the ice structure weakens) or freeze over again in the fall. Note too that the web cam is now a significant distance away from the pole and is heading quite quickly towards Fram Strait (between Greenland and Svalbaard). – gavin ]

  43. Clarence:

    Re #93:

    The energy required to melt the sea ice is negligible compared to the heat that goes into the oceans. I already calculated it in comment #78 of the Antarctic ice shelf posting. It’s only a fraction of the heat that we emit directly into the atmosphere by primary energy consumption (which is also negligible compared to greenhouse gases) and compensates for a forcing of roughly 10 mW/m².

  44. Eyal Morag:

    The Change to newer ice can add to the “ice-albedo feedback” newer ice is darker
    new ice 0.05-0.15
    first year ice – 0.24-0.64
    second year ice – 0.70
    multiyear ice – 0.72
    from A classification of sea ice using its albedo-The Geophysical Institute Univ’ of Alaska

    PS at Andy Revkins Dot Earth appeared photo from Peabody Energy of huge wall of coal its fake a photomontage
    If you don’t see look at

    [Response: You are correct about the photo manipulation. The duplicated bit highlighted is a different photo of the same area (look at the shadows to the left). I wonder why they did that? – gavin]

  45. Dan Hughes:

    Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and
    Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections,
    arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely
    by the latter part of the 21st century. {10.3}

    IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

    [Response: Possibly worth pointing out that a projection for 2100 is not the same as an expectation for the last few decades. – gavin]

  46. Craig Allen:

    Looks like Australia has skipped straight through an El Nino without the rain that this would normally bring, and is in for yet another hot dry year.
    Or so predicts the Australian Bureau of Meteorology …
    * Warmer season for western and southern Australia
    * Drier conditions indicated from northwest WA to southeast Australia

    They attribute this to continuing high temperatures in the Indian Ocean (associated with the Indian Ocean dipole).

    If the Arctic ocean shifts to being largely ice free in summer, what impact will this have on Northern Hemisphere weather patterns? What do the models suggest will happen. A degree or so warming in the Indian Ocean is wreaking havoc down here. I imagine that an ice free Arctic would have massive implications.

  47. John E. Pearson:

    Re 128:

    I’m not sure what your point is.

  48. Dan Hughes:

    Observed arctic sea ice reductions can be simulated fairly well in models driven by historical circulation and temperature changes.

    When referencing the group of FAQs, please cite as:
    IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

    I understand that the comment refers to hindcast procedures, much along the lines used in this paper.

    Miller, P. A., S. W. Laxon, and D. L. Feltham (2007), Consistent and contrasting decadal Arctic sea ice thickness predictions from a highly optimized sea ice model, J. Geophys. Res., 112, C07020, doi:10.1029/2006JC003855.


    Decadal hindcast simulations of Arctic Ocean sea ice thickness made by a modern dynamic-thermodynamic sea ice model and forced independently by both the ERA-40 and NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data sets are compared for the first time. Using comprehensive data sets of observations made between 1979 and 2001 of sea ice thickness, draft, extent, and speeds, we find that it is possible to tune model parameters to give satisfactory agreement with observed data, thereby highlighting the skill of modern sea ice models, though the parameter values chosen differ according to the model forcing used. We find a consistent decreasing trend in Arctic Ocean sea ice thickness since 1979, and a steady decline in the Eastern Arctic Ocean over the full 40-year period of comparison that accelerated after 1980, but the predictions of Western Arctic Ocean sea ice thickness between 1962 and 1980 differ substantially. The origins of differing thickness trends and variability were isolated not to parameter differences but to differences in the forcing fields applied, and in how they are applied. It is argued that uncertainty, differences and errors in sea ice model forcing sets complicate the use of models to determine the exact causes of the recently reported decline in Arctic sea ice thickness, but help in the determination of robust features if the models are tuned appropriately against observations.

  49. Jim Galasyn:

    John, if I read your post 125 correctly, you’re suggesting that the loss of polar sea ice will increase Arctic Ocean biodiversity. I provided the link to suggest the opposite: permanent loss of Arctic sea ice may well cause a drastic decline in biodiversity.

  50. Jim Galasyn:

    Iceman, please see “Changing Sun, Changing Climate?” to learn why solar forcing is ruled out.