Facts About the Arctic in May 2020

Let us begin this month’s report from the far north with the high resolution Arctic sea ice area and extent graphs based on the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration maps:

Area is currently lowest for the date in the AMSR2 record. After briefly occupying that position extent has increased over the last few days of April due to winds causing sea ice to move in the direction of the far North Atlantic:



The Alfred Wegener Institute has now finished reanalysing their CryoSat-2/SMOS thickness data, and the resulting volume graph looks like this:

“Measured” Arctic sea ice volume is the lowest in the CryoSat-2 era as we head towards the main 2020 melting season, which in my calendar at least begins on June 1st. The PIOMAS modelled volume numbers should be released shortly.

[Edit – May 5th]

The April 30th PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been released, and Wipneus has worked his usual magic. By way of comparison with the AWI metric:

Obviously differing from CryoSat-2/SMOS, PIOMAS has 2020 volume a long way above 2017, in amongst a gaggle of other years.

[Edit – May 13th]

The middle of May is rapidly approaching, so let’s start to set the scene for the forthcoming melting season. First off here are the hi res AMSR2 area and extent graphs:

Extent is currently significantly above 2016 due to the recent “dispersion” mentioned above, but area is very close to an all time low for the date. According to the Environment Canada synopsis for 18:00 UTC yesterday there was an 958 hPa central pressure cyclone blowing sea ice out of the Central Arctic through the Fram Strait, which will add to that effect in the short term:

Next let’s take a look at the current northern hemisphere snow cover anomalies from the Rutgers University Snow Lab:

Whilst there is a positive anomaly near Hudson Bay, there are significant negative anomalies across Siberia and Alaska. This does not augur well for sea ice retention along both the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage by September 2020.

Finally, for the moment at least, here’s a “false colour” view of the Central Arctic from the Terra satellite yesterday:

Notice how little cloud there is over the sea ice across the Arctic at present? Note also how dark the ice is off the Siberian coast. An indication that surface melt is starting and hence albedo is already dropping. Things do not look good good for ice retention at present.

[Edit – May 18th]

High resolution AMSR2 area is now lowest for the date, and extent is rapidly closing the gap with 2016:

[Edit – May 28th]

Melt water from the Lena and is now flowing out across the fast ice of the Laptev Sea:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Lena Delta on May 28th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite
NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Lena Delta on May 28th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

As is the Mackenzie River across the Beaufort Sea:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Mackenzie Delta on May 30th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

The 2020 melting season story continues at:

21 thoughts on “Facts About the Arctic in May 2020

  1. Not commenting for a while,
    Stuck on ice.

    “Obviously differing from CryoSat-2/SMOS, PIOMAS has 2020 volume a long way above 2017, in amongst a gaggle of other year“

    The Polar Science Centre presents a new pause

    A new pause. Interesting.

    “ The time series for CryoSat/SMOS total volume shows April 2020 a lower relative to the 2011-2020 period while PIOMAS shows a bit of an uptick. Neither time series indicates a trend over the past 10 years contrasting the drastic thinning over the last 40-years.”

    1. Which as I apparently need to keep on repeating, should not come as a big surprise to anybody who follows Arctic sea ice science closely.

      See “The Slow Transition” thread on the ASIF from 2014

      However what about the trend in sea ice age over the last ten years or so?

      1. Here partly as I was reading your comments on PIOMAS elsewhere.

        I find the the trend in sea ice age over the last ten years or so a conceptually difficult metric.
        Ine of the problems as I have mentioned before is that the less ice you have to start with the less the percentage of multi year ice appears to be in a good recovery year.

        Counter intuitively this means that years with low percentage multi year ice are actually making good recoveries.

        This might help explain the contradiction between a 10 year pause in ice volumes, sought of a recovery in a way from the previous high falls and a downwards trend in multi year ice for 10 years which also fits in with recovering, not diminishing ice in the Arctic?

        If course I am probably wrong again but it is an interesting concept.

  2. A tweet from Zack Labe reveals an anomalously warm Arctic in April 2020:

  3. You can’t see that kind of anomaly and expect it not to have consequences. DMI temp doesn’t normally go AWOL at this time of year but this appears to be the case.

      1. This is getting interesting. Thickness must be to blame and theres been a lot of talk about fast ice.

          1. Zak’s Tweet that you mentioned:

            Zak’s point would seem to be that the hottest Aprils in this century and the last have all occurred in the last 5 years?

  4. I thought this post from Nevens Sea Ice Forum was very useful so thought I might share it for us all to benefit:

    Glen Koehler

    Re: The 2020 melting season
    « Reply #1021 on: Today at 12:33:55 AM »

    (Quote from: Errorr on May 22, 2020, 10:45:33 PM
    Stopped being lazy and checked and the low was heavily influenced that year because of the Mackenzie. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2013GL058956)

    I haven’t given much attention to the effect of river discharge on the Arctic sea ice. While the warm outflow of a big river seemed important for impact on the ice near the river delta, it seemed too small to matter much to the big picture, e.g. heat content of the entire Arctic Ocean, or even to the entire Beaufort Sea. But these statements from the paper linked by Error refute that:
    “The Mackenzie and other large rivers can transport an enormous amount of heat across immense continental watersheds into the Arctic Ocean”

    “…the volume of the total discharge over the 3 week period is equivalent to a layer thickness of 0.19 m of warm waters across the entire open water area of 316,000 km2”
    (ed. The area of the Beaufort Sea is 178,000 km2)

    “The warmest waters were observed near the coast of the Mackenzie Delta, e.g., 13°C at 147 km, 10°C at 287 km, 8°C at 350 km, and 2°C as far as 456 km from the Mackenzie River mouth”

    “The Mackenzie River has an enormous watershed of 1.8 million km2 with the southern extent reaching to 52.2oN. This watershed is primarily within the continental climate regime, and the heat can be intense in summer when the maximum temperature may reach 32°C around latitude 53°N (e.g., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). Fresh and warm Mackenzie waters reside in the surface layer with the attendant high thermal capacity thus contributing excessive heat to melt sea ice, most effectively when the sea ice cover has been fragmented ”

    “In addition to the Mackenzie, there are a number of other large rivers that discharge into the Arctic Ocean. Notable are the Yukon, Ob, Yenisei, Lena, and Kolyma Rivers, each with its immense watershed under a continental climate regime providing massive discharge of warm waters into the Arctic Ocean or a peripheral sea to melt sea ice in spring and summer. ”

    “This massive discharge carries an enormous heating power of 1.0 × 1019 J/yr for each 1°C of the warm river waters above freezing, equivalent to 2.5 gigaton of trinitrotoluene (TNT) per °C per year. ”

    “In the summer melt season, warm river waters, for which the temperatures can be higher than 10°C, contribute directly to melting sea ice. In the fall season around the time of sea ice freezeup, surface waters cool while the halocline stratification insulates the surface from the deeper seawater, allowing more sea ice to grow. At the same time in the fall, rivers also start to freezeup, drastically reducing the river discharge. Thus, to be an effective insulator, the stratification needs to be persistent to maintain the surface layer consisting of a large mass of fresh river waters that already discharged into the Arctic Ocean earlier in the summer. Such maintenance of the stratification requires calm‐ocean conditions without significant mixing throughout the summer to fall freezeup. In summer 2012, the violent storm significantly enhanced ocean mixing that transported ocean heat upward and further contributed to sea ice melt ”

    **
    I found this an enlightening post well worth sharing because it highlights and explains more than a few of the dynamics at play in the Arctic.

    1. Sure the outflow from the Mackenzie River is important. This year’s breakup has started, and the resulting outflow over the fast ice has been visible for a few days now:

  5. Might I also note at this opportune time that the Slater forecast looks foreboding. Should we even consider the Slater forecasts, or is that just available viewing for posterities sake?

  6. …I also love the barney between Frivolous and Phoenix: this should/is sure to produce some enlightening moment(s) in my humble opinion

  7. Social distancing in Siberia. Thanks to Shawn for the heads up:

    A steady heat wave has been dominating the large part of Russia from the Ural Mountains to Tuva republic for weeks since the middle of April.

    Record-breaking air temperatures ranging from +30C to +35C were observed all around Western Siberia including Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city by population, Krasnoyarsk and nearby areas like Omsk region, Tomsk region, Kemerovo region and the Altai mountains.

    Ice on the mighty Yenisei River at its port Dudinka in the Arctic north of Krasnoyarsk region started breaking almost a month before its usual time at the beginning of June.

    Further south in Krasnoyarsk there is extreme activity of ticks, with the number of them spiking 200 times above the norm. In Siberia ticks quite often carry encephalitis and Lyme disease.

    Over a thousand people have already reported tick bites in Kuzbass region.

    Plus the latest hi res AMSR2 Kara Sea ice area:

      1. I’d say!
        I’d also say,”Jim, you may want to take a seat, but have you seen the Daily Pan/High Arctic Albedo-Warming Potentials lately?”

        (*Because my eyes lost track of them: that is literally how out of sight they are!!!!!)

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