Skip to content

Arctic Sea Ice Update

November 21, 2016

By Paul Homewood 




Along with the brouhaha about warm weather in the Arctic, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about Arctic sea ice extent, which is just below 2012 levels at the moment.

Naturally it is easy to conflate the two, but it is not as simple as that.


For a start, the area of “super heat”, between Canada and Siberia, is still well below freezing.




Secondly, the principle area where ice is below average is not where that “super heat” is, but in the Barents and Kara Seas.




As even Mark Serreze admits:

The sea ice is at a record low right now, for this time of year, that’s one thing. And why it’s so low — again, there’s so much heat in the upper ocean in these ice-free areas, the ice just can’t form right now. The ocean’s just got to get rid of this heat somehow, and it’s having a hard time doing so.

There is actually no secret about this. Some of us have been explaining this phenomenon for the last year or so.

But what has caused it? Is it simply “global warming”, as we often told?

In fact, we need to go back to September 2007 for a clue. NSIDC, in their Arctic Sea Ice News of September 10th, had this to say about one of the reasons for the record low ice that summer:


In the August 22 report, we explained that another part of the 2007 story is “memory” of the sea ice to changes that have been unfolding over the past few decades. Our focus there was on the apparent transition to younger, thinner ice since the late 1970. As discussed, factors contributing to this thinning involve a general rise in air temperatures, and changing winds that have transported fairly thick ice out of the Arctic Ocean into the North Atlantic. An issue that we haven’t addressed, yet, is changes in ocean circulation.

One prominent researcher, Igor Polyakov at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, points out that pulses of unusually warm water have been entering the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic, which several years later are seen in the ocean north of Siberia. These pulses of water are helping to heat the upper Arctic Ocean, contributing to summer ice melt and helping to reduce winter ice growth. Another scientist, Koji Shimada of the Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology, reports evidence of changes in ocean circulation in the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean. Through a complex interaction with declining sea ice, warm water entering the Arctic Ocean through Bering Strait in summer is being shunted from the Alaskan coast into the Arctic Ocean, where it fosters further ice loss.

Many questions still remain to be answered, but these changes in ocean circulation may be important keys for understanding the observed loss of Arctic sea ice.


In short, pulses of warm water from the Atlantic had entered Arctic waters. But note the comment:

“which several years later are seen in the ocean north of Siberia”


That is precisely what we are seeing now. This warmer water does not disappear down a plughole, but will hang around in the Arctic basin for several years before it either moves back out on the gyre or simply cools down eventually.

And, of course, there is absolutely nothing new about this phenomenon. It was exactly what occurred in the 1920s:






Meanwhile, the longer this water takes to ice up, the more heat escapes from the ocean into the atmosphere, and ultimately into space.

This is actually the way the Earth works, as NASA explains:



The net heating imbalance between the equator and poles drives an atmospheric and oceanic circulation that climate scientists describe as a “heat engine.” (In our everyday experience, we associate the word engine with automobiles, but to a scientist, an engine is any device or system that converts energy into motion.) The climate is an engine that uses heat energy to keep the atmosphere and ocean moving. Evaporation, convection, rainfall, winds, and ocean currents are all part of the Earth’s heat engine.


What we are seeing is a perfectly natural event, which has nothing to do with “global warming”.

  1. November 21, 2016 3:22 pm

    I suspect we should take current sea ice figures with a healthy dose of salt. It seems very suspicious to me that global sea ice area is supposedly diverging sharply from its historical norms right after the satellites that were monitoring it have failed.

    The DMSP F17 & F19 satellites both failed earlier this year. The DMSP F18 satellite, which was pressed into service after the failures of F19 & F17, isn’t very healthy, either. As of mid-2015 it had only 10 of 24 SSMIS channels still functional. How much does that degrade it’s capabilities for measuring sea ice?

    This is a close-up of the tail end of the University of Illinois’ graph of global sea ice extent:

    That straight line, which I circled, is because of the satellite failures.

    Here’s their whole graph:

  2. 1saveenergy permalink
    November 21, 2016 3:37 pm

    In the ‘hottest year ever’….see how cold it is in the Northern Hemisphere. N pole is -20°C,84.35,408/loc=-50.876,89.635

    Dark blue = 0 to -10: Light blue = -10 & lower: Pink = -30 & colder:

    Just wait till the jet streams move it our way.
    Winter draws on ! !

  3. November 21, 2016 4:08 pm

    curiously, the september minimum extent in the arctic does not appear to be temperature related

  4. RAH permalink
    November 21, 2016 4:12 pm

    Old man winter blew into my area in central Indiana Friday evening. And I mean it blew in with strong enough winds to take down a good portion of a decorative plum tree in my daughters front yard. By Saturday morning we were getting a little sleet mixed with snow. Saturday at 11:00 AM EST I was at work with my chain saw and hauling away the residue from the tree. That night we had our first fire in the fire place for this season. Sunday I put on my under armor, heavy socks and thinsulite insulated boots and heavy Carhartt work coat and spent 5 hours on my lawn tractor doing the last mowing and mulching the heavy cover of leaves. This is nothing like last year and one doesn’t have to be a weatherman to know that we’re in for a harder, colder and probably very much whiter winter here than we have experienced in the last 3-4 years. The generator is ready to go in the event of a power outage due to freezing rain.

  5. November 21, 2016 5:36 pm

    Note also we’ve just had the biggest El Niño for many years. But no sooner is it over than…

    Date: 21/11/16

    Satellite data indicates a large fall in the temperature of the lower troposphere back to pre-El Niño levels. This decrease has reinstated the so-called “pause” in lower atmosphere temperature.

    The decrease is seen in the land only data. Data from the sea shows a decline but not as much. This is expected given the ocean’s thermal lag.

    Will this year be the last-est hottest year ever-est for a while? We shall see.

  6. AZ1971 permalink
    November 21, 2016 5:44 pm

    If heat is the source of energy for driving a heat engine, would we not expect to see stronger jet streams and storms as more heat is added to the system, even if it does shift poleward? Would this not apply to the southern hemisphere as well? And would we not see much stronger winds nearer the greatest temperature gradient?

    Does anyone know if that, in fact, is taking place or if upper level winds have become weaker, which would contraindicate the presumed physics of a heat engine?

    • A C Osborn permalink
      November 21, 2016 6:28 pm

      It appears to work in the opposite fashion as the Tropics do not get much warmer during global warming due to Evaporation & Convection, ie Thunderstorms etc.
      So when the world gets warmer it is the north & south hemispheres that warm including the the Poles, which reduces the Temperature Gradient with the Tropics.
      This is why some of the worst Storms, Hurricanes, Typhoons and Tornados occur during colder spells. TonyB has done a lot of work on Historic data showing this is what happened.
      So the Global Warming Activists have it exactly diametrically opposite to real life.
      That is why their forecasts of more & bigger Hurricanes have not transpired and it has done exactly the opposite and it is now the longest period ever without a real category 4/5 Hurricane making landfall in the USA.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      November 21, 2016 6:29 pm

      US Tornado activity is also at it’s lowest as well.

    • dave permalink
      November 21, 2016 6:40 pm

      “…a heat engine.”

      It is a very inefficient heat engine.

      For example, in the case of a hurricane, 1 part in 200 of the energy abstracted by evaporation from the sea and condensation in the air goes into accelerating the air into motion. (Most of the local high wind speeds actually arise from the concentration of the angular motion of existing wide-spread wind patterns.)

  7. Svend Ferdinandsen permalink
    November 21, 2016 8:47 pm

    It is strange that the ice has followed 2012 very close but with a very different temperature this year. It is only the later days that the ice has become lower than in 2012.
    It is far to simple just to cry Global Warming is eating the ice.

    When you look at a calving glacier one person could say, see how the ice cap is disappearing. The other person could say, there must fall a lot of snow on the cap, that it can calve those icebergs.

  8. Joe Public permalink
    November 21, 2016 8:58 pm

    Every cloud has a silver lining. Arctic sea-ice loss has been linked to drier UK winters:

  9. Bloke down the pub permalink
    November 22, 2016 12:49 pm

    Clive Best has his take on a potential cause of the pulses of warm water entering the Arctic.

  10. NevenA permalink
    November 22, 2016 6:19 pm

    The pulses are obviously getting warmer. It also explains why this year’s minimum was second/third lowest on record, depending on which data set you use, even though June, July and August – the months that matter most when it comes to insolation – were pretty cloudy, relatively speaking. One melting season it won’t be so cloudy.

    I find it admirable that people can just shrug this off.

    • November 22, 2016 8:10 pm

      Warmer than the 1920s?

      • NevenA permalink
        November 22, 2016 8:32 pm

        Obviously, or else there would have been a lot of evidence of stuff happening that we see happening now. You know, things like the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route both opening almost every year for 10 years in a row. Or the Ellesmere ice shelves (which formed 5500 years ago) disintegrating. Or the Odden ice tongue not forming any longer in winter. Et cetera.

        I think it’s fairly certain that what we are witnessing now, is unprecedented since the Holocene Climatic Optimum (and maybe even beyond, more than 100K years ago). I wish it weren’t so. It’s a bit too much, too soon.

  11. November 22, 2016 8:42 pm

    Let’s see how things look after the warming effects of the recent powerful El Niño have faded away.

    • NevenA permalink
      November 22, 2016 8:45 pm

      I agree. But chances are that when the next El Niño of similar strength comes along, things will most probably go lower again. And that’s assuming everything behaves in linear fashion.

    • NevenA permalink
      November 22, 2016 9:04 pm

      I expect sea ice extent to shoot up now, as the forecast is for more cold and more favourable winds for ice expansion. The question is whether all this will mean anything for next year’s melting season. It’s much too early to tell, with four months left to go.

      But the global sea ice area/extent graph is simply insane. I’ve seen lots of spectacular sea ice-related stuff over the year, but this one might just take the cake.

  12. Gabriel permalink
    November 23, 2016 6:46 am

    There were two main different phenomena conditioning meteorological events in 2016. The first was the sudden disappearance of El Niño by March/April and the second was the growing incidence of cosmic rays starting on May/June as a result of progressive decay in Sun’s magnetic field. In the Southern Hemisphere these events happened during austral autumn leading the south polar vortex to weaken and thus enabling jet streamming of subtropical-continental parts of South America, Africa and Australia. As a result temperatures dropped to a record-low since the end of April with some regions facing temperature anomalies down to -4°C (in some places it was a record-breaking for 6 to 7 decades). Even more odd the spring season has brought fully unexpected minima of zero, frosts, cyclones, hails, and snow to mid-latitude places up to now (that means abnormal cold winter followed by abnornal cold springtime). As of Nov 22nd the SH is +0.17°C (stable for many days) above the average considering the baseline 1979-2000 (according to working upon NOAA data). But the South Pole is a continent surrounded by water and the polar vortex keeps centered even if it is heated by the cosmic radiation. Then temperature departure from average in Antarctica is just +1.16°C now. When El Niño ended and the cosmic rays intensified the NH was in the middle of boreal spring season and heating towards the summer. This has worsen conditions to dissipate the excess of heat accumulated during the El Niño. Also the North Pole is mostly a region of water surrounded (not entirely) by land. And the water is a heat reservoir much better than land. With the weaken of the north polar vortex its center splits in two, one close to Siberia and the other to Canada taking cool air to those places and leaving hotter air over the Arctic. As this hotter air is under growing cosmic rays bombardment it turns more difficult to dissipate the heat. As a result temperature departure from average in Arctic is +5.14°C now – for the NH it is 0.47°C and for the whole world it is 0.32°C (all of them are smoothly decaying everyday for many days now). So apparently the thermal inertia delayed the heat dissipation accumulated during the El Niño in the NH. In the SH it seems to have already fully dissipated. As the Sun’s magnetic field is expected to set back to normal levels in 40 years from now it is possible the phenomenum of pole heating (and the weakening of its respective polar vortex) will remain for many years in a few decades ahead.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: