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Scientists studying the Arctic are stunned at the rapid disappearance of sea ice and prolonged record high temperatures on the Atlantic side of the Arctic ocean which have occurred simultaneously with a brutal cold wave in Europe. Temperatures at the Svalbard airport have averaged 24.8°F (13.8°C) above normal for the past 30 days.

Svalbard Airport observation station
The station was established in August 1975. Last 30 days: Average temperature was -1.9 °C (28.6°F), 13.8 °C (24.8°F) above the normal. Highest temperature was 7.0 °C (44.6°F) on 08 February, and the lowest was -15.0 °C (5°F) on 25 January.

Storms have moved from the north Atlantic into the Arctic transporting warm air with them. Moreover, the storms generate strong southerly winds along the coast of Norway that increases the rate of flow of warm, salty water into the Arctic.

February 9 composite satellite photo from University of Wisconsin's SSEC shows an intense storm carrying heat and moisture from the Atlantic deep into the Arctic.

A leading climate scientist links the deadly European cold wave to the loss of sea ice.

"The current weather pattern fits earlier predictions of computer models for how the atmosphere responds to the loss of sea ice due to global warming," said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "The ice-free areas of the ocean act like a heater as the water is warmer than the Arctic air above it. This favours the formation of a high-pressure system near the Barents Sea, which steers cold air into Europe."

What goes up must come down. Warm air which rose up in storms over open water in the Arctic formed a dome over northwestern Siberia. The air subsided over Siberia enhancing the huge Siberian high. Clear cold conditions under that high pressure area radiated heat efficiently out of the atmosphere producing very low surface temperatures during the dark Siberian mid-winter. Easterly winds developed at low levels south of the high pressure dome driving cold air from western Siberia into Europe.

A vast expanse of open ocean in an area that was recently covered by thick sea ice is changing the weather and the climate. Sea Ice Average for January 1976 - 2006

Sea Ice February 9, 2012

Professor Rahmstorf said the Alfred Wegener study confirms earlier predictions from computer models by Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute, who forecast colder winters in western Europe as a result of melting sea ice.

Dr Petoukhov and his colleague Vladimir Semenov were among the first scientists to suggest a link between the loss of sea ice and colder winters in Europe. Their 2009 study simulated the effects of disappearing sea ice and found that for some years to come the loss will increase the chances of colder winters.

"Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far-away sea ice won't bother him could be wrong. There are complex interconnections in the climate system, and in the Barents-Kara Sea we might have discovered a powerful feedback mechanism," Dr Petoukhov said.

Over the past 30 days sea ice area has declined to the lowest level measured in winter in the Kara Sea

That initial study has been followed by additional studies that have found that the loss of Arctic sea ice changes the northern hemisphere's atmospheric circulation. A recent study using numerical models predicted that increasing storminess over the area of newly opened waters of the Arctic ocean would start a feed-back loop that would further reduce sea ice cover. That is exactly what we are observing now from summer 2011 into January and February of 2012. The lack of reflective sea ice in summer begins a positive feedback loop. Less heat is reflected back to space over open water than over ice. That heat is stored in the upper ocean. In the fall and winter that heat tends to bring more storminess between Norway and Greenland which speeds up the currents bringing warm water along the coast of Norway into the Arctic ocean and along the coast of Greenland taking sea ice out of the Arctic ocean.

The reduced sea ice concentration at the end of the Arctic summer has the potential to change the large scale circulation in the following winter that could feed back on the sea ice concentration. This sea ice-atmosphere relationship suggests a potential for use in operational Northern Hemisphere seasonal forecasts. Sea ice cover loss has the potential to preferentially shift the probability density function of the AO/NAO to the negative phase, in agreement with the investigations by Overland and Wang (2010).
Measurements of the east Greenland current by synthetic aperature Doppler radar found that the rate of transport of sea ice from the Arctic ocean through the Fram strait to the Atlantic ocean has increased by 25% since the 1960's. When the Arctic was covered with thick multi-year sea ice the changes were hard to distinguish from normal variability. Over the past 2 decades this increasing speed has significantly contributed to the feedback loop which is causing the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice.

We found a robust trend for 1957–2010 with a magnitude of 5% per decade, and similar trends onwards from 1970, 1980 and 1990. This indicates a gradually increasing ice export over the last 50 years, and is a direct change in boundary conditions to the Arctic sea ice. The positive trend is produced by a trend in the local pressure gradient, related to intensification of cyclones over the Nordic Seas.
This positive feedback loop is causing the collapse of sea ice cover in the Arctic, which will irreversibly change the atmospheric circulation patterns and the world's weather.

A study of the "Little Ice Age" just published by the American Geophysical Union found that the changed to a cold climate was triggered by 4 large volcanic eruptions over a 50 year period. The eruptions caused the climate to cross a threshold or "tipping point". The sea ice that built up after the volcanic eruptions reflected solar radiation back to space, keeping the climate cold. Large volcanic eruptions triggered the Little Ice Age.  Once it started, sea ice feedbacks maintained it.

Here we present precisely dated records of ice-cap growth from Arctic Canada and Iceland showing that LIA summer cold and ice growth began abruptly between 1275 and 1300 AD, followed by a substantial intensification 1430–1455 AD.

Intervals of sudden ice growth coincide with two of the most volcanically perturbed half centuries of the past millennium. A transient climate model simulation shows that
explosive volcanism produces abrupt summer cooling at these times, and that cold summers can be maintained by sea-ice/ocean feedbacks long after volcanic aerosols are removed. Our results suggest that the onset of the LIA can be linked to an
unusual 50-year-long episode with four large sulfur-rich explosive eruptions, each with global sulfate loading >60 Tg.

The persistence of cold summers is best explained by consequent sea-ice/ocean feedbacks during a hemispheric summer insolation minimum; large changes in solar irradiance are not required.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere have warmed the climate and melted sea ice for the past 50 years, just like the 50 years of intense volcanism in reverse. Just as the 50 years of volcanic activity caused hundreds of years of cold we have triggered feedback loops that will maintain and increase hundreds of years of warmth. And we are now emitting more greenhouse gases than ever.

There is no reversing it. We will have to deal with the consequences. The first rule of holes is to stop digging. More feedback loops with even more severe consequences kick in as greenhouse gas levels and temperatures rise higher.

If humanity has ever faced a more serious threat, I do not know of it.

Kudos to Neven and the amazing people who comment on his blog. One of Neven's commenters provided the link to the detailed video below. Other commenters have linked to key papers that show the connections between sea ice loss to climate change.

This recent hour-long talk explains the climate-weather-sea ice connections.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Fri Feb 10, 2012 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Climate Change News Roundup, Astro Kos, and SciTech.

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