Happy start to the Arctic summer! Well, the official melt season anyways. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the annual maximum Arctic sea-ice extent was set on 6 March 2023 at 14.62 million square kilometers (5.64 million square miles). This occurred about 6 days earlier than the 1981-2010 average. Since the maximum (read more here), Arctic sea ice has quickly declined due to recent weather conditions, and current levels are actually close to the lowest on record for the date. Yikes! While there is very low predictability (correlation) between the March sea ice maximum and the September sea ice minimum, it’s certainly a busy start to the melt season.
Anyways, more on that later. My next ‘climate viz of the month’ is an animation showing daily Arctic sea-ice concentration in February across the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean. This animation uses high-resolution data (approximately 3 kilometers) derived from an algorithm associated with the ASMR2 satellite instrument.
Long-term trends in winter are smaller than summer for sea ice in the Arctic. The entire Arctic Ocean is actually ice-covered in February, and therefore, the variability and long-term declines are found at the sea-ice edge. The Barents Sea has observed the largest declines in February, which are due to both atmospheric and oceanic processes. For this reason, I keep a close eye on weather conditions in the Barents Sea throughout much of the year.
The animation speed is intentionally sped up to highlight the large amount of daily variability in this part of the Arctic. A lot of this sea-ice variability is due to local weather conditions, especially as storms from the North Atlantic begin to move poleward. Although these storms usually start to weaken and fizzle out, they still are a source of warmth and moisture from the lower latitudes into the high Arctic. In addition to the warmth and precipitation, there is also plenty of wind and wave activity that can drive the movement of sea ice drift along the ice edge. This region is often referred to as the marginal ice zone. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also strong ocean currents to deal with in this region, which are an important source of heat transport/exchange at the boundary of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Quantifying changes in the influx of deep ocean heat and salinity from the North Atlantic Current (e.g., Atlantification – warm and salty waters from the Atlantic to the Arctic) is a key research topic for understanding Arctic climate change. In other words, sea ice can melt from both above and below! All these processes and interactions result in a very turbulent region across the Greenland and Barents Seas, especially during winter.
This data visualization is particularly striking for highlighting the effects of a strong storm near Svalbard that coincided with southerly winds pushing sea ice well northward in the middle of winter. Watch closely as the ice pack moves back and forth over the course of a week, especially the opening near Franz Josef Land.
Notably, sea ice in the Barents Sea set a record for the lowest daily measurement in the entire month of February (since satellite records have been kept (from 1978/1979)) during this period. As a result of this southerly flow and the wide-open ocean waters (typically sea-ice covered), surface air temperatures were also more than 5°C above the 1981-2010 average around Svalbard for the monthly mean. This is concerning, but unsurprising, since long-term temperature trends near Svalbard are warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. It’s a striking regional example of Arctic amplification.
My advice to those monitoring climate change in the Arctic – keep a close eye on the Fram Strait and Barents Sea and always appreciate the importance of synoptic meteorology (i.e., the chaotic noise of our atmosphere).
Elsewhere, a strong dipole in temperature anomalies was evident in February. This included regions of anomalous warmth over western Siberia compared with brutally cold temperatures stretching from the Canadian Arctic to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Relative to recent months (and since 2021 to be honest), sea-ice extent was particularly low for its monthly ranking. With El Niño just around the corner (check out sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific lately!!) after a rare triple La Niña, it will be ‘interesting’ to see how (quickly) the large-scale circulation responds in the Arctic and Northern Hemisphere. Stay tuned…
Archive of Page:
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My research related to data visualization:
Witt, J.K., Z.M. Labe, and B.A. Clegg (2022). Comparisons of perceptions of risk for visualizations using animated risk trajectories versus cones of uncertainty. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, DOI:10.1177/1071181322661308
[Plain Language Summary][CNN]
The views presented here only reflect my own. These figures may be freely distributed (with credit). Information about the data can be found on my references page and methods page.