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logicman

The amount of fresh water inflow to the Arctic appears to be increasing. This could lead to some interesting* changes in patterns of air and water circulation.

IPCC AR4 made some passing references to this:
http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch5s5-3-2-2.html
(Last paragraph.)

The Alfred Wegener Institute report of March 24 2011 is also interesting*.
http://www.awi.de/en/news/press_releases/detail/item/ozeanographie/?cHash=1972cae3eeb781c54f009f7dac76980b

Also worth reading:
http://www.grida.no/files/publications/environment-times/arctic_09.pdf

I am currently writing a very long article on the ice islands from the former Ellesmere Ice Shelf. I think that some of these ice islands may have led to reports of phantom islands such as Sannikov Land.

It seems that the runoff of meltwater from Ellesmere Island has increased, which is one factor in the loss of the ice shelves. Formerly, the meltwater would add mass to the ice shelves, rather than adding to their melting.

* interesting - in the Chinese curse sense.

The heat is on. If we can't convince the world to turn down its collective fossil-fueled thermostat ...

Phil263

Neven.
Thanks for this excellent and informative post. I also salute your link to the article on the possible negative feedback from "salt clouds" posted on the "update 4" thread. This indicates a balanced and open minded approach. Many cheers! These negative feedbacks suggest that "mother nature" is benevolent and "happy" to give us a chance. Hopefully, humanity will be smart enough and humble enough to see that this only a reprieve, a bit more time to adjust our ways. I thought this might be an appropriate reflection at this time of year. Happy Easter everyone!

Andrew Xnn

Great post Neven!

I agree with your intuition. The effect of the warm river flow is probably limited to within 50miles or so. However, the surface temperature map is showing that 1000's of miles of Siberia are well above average and appear to be supporting a flow of warm air over the central arctic basin. This in turn is pushing cooler air over the Canadian Arch and Greenland.

The Laptav, Kara and East Siberian seas start to melt mid May. Too early to say if they are started melting already, but the signs seem to be pointing that way.

Phil263

I thought some of you might be interested in this website from the Australian ABC, Antarctic Summer .
The video on climate research is certainly worth a watch

Erimaassa.blogspot.com

Thanks Neven, Read Dean et al. 1994 back in 1999, but the newer research I wasn't familiar with. As this connects to the halocline, could you do a post on that too, it's terribly hard to find a simple explanation of that? That could also be informative on the aspect of thermohaline shutdown, the one phenomenon that could swing climates in E North America and here in Europe to cooler temperatures. On the Pacific side (includes Siberia and Western Canadian Arctic) I'd expect warming to present itself more uniformly, which would be nice wrt adapting foodplants and such.

idunno

Hi Neven,

Thanks for a great post, and Happy Easter everybody.

I am fairly sure that there will be no research yet published, and no journalism on the subject in English, but I would just speculate that the massive wildfires in Russia last year may have a bearing on this...

I am fairly sure I can remember tales of subterranean fires in peatlands smouldering on for years, and even decades.

I presume that this is also possible in areas of defrosting permafrost... But I don't know.

If it is so, then any small pockets of smouldering peat could be responsible for the earlier discharge of more, warmer water via the Siberian river systems.

Neven

This indicates a balanced and open minded approach. Many cheers!

Ha! I'm still quite an alarmist, but writing a blog entails certain responsibilities. The main goal here is to watch and learn together, about everything concerning the Arctic sea ice. Not just the parts we like to use to influence others.

As this connects to the halocline, could you do a post on that too, it's terribly hard to find a simple explanation of that?

I might get around to that some day, Oale. But it's pretty complex with a lot of uncertainty, which means I have to do a lot of research for which I don't always have the time. So I'm not promising anything.

Steve Mann

The first thing that pops into my mind is what effect this could be having on what appears to be an increasing rate of methane release along the Siberian continental shelf.

idunno

Hi all,

The other significant factor that occurs to me is that the Laptev, Kara and East Siberian Seas were very slow to freeze in 2010. The plots are all on "Daily Graphs" above.

In October, these three areas were about 500,000 km squared anomalously low in sea ice area. Presumably, this then means that they then have formed only 5 months worth of new sea ice, not 6 months worth as in a normal year.

This should then, in turn, mean that there is less ice available to cool inflowing fresh water from the rivers. I guess.

Rereading the original post, Neven, I think you're quite right to doubt that the river water is a significant contribution to the overall heat budget. I seem to dimly remember reading on Patrick's blog that 8 times more water flows North into the Arctic via the Fram Strait than the total amount of all of the river water flowing into all of the world's oceans, combined.

I would like to second Phil263's commendation of your fair and balanced approach, and your own views about us all looking and learning together.

To this, I'd like to add a this caveat: no human being has ever, will ever, can ever understand an ocean. Our brains are far too small.

We can learn loads, and fruitfully share what knowledge we have. But we ain't ever going to fully understand the Arctic.

In about the first ever tragedy, Aeschylus has the great villain of the piece Clytemnestra, ask her husband, the eponymous hero Agamemnon, something like:

"Wide and deep the sea, and who shall fathom her?"

This is his temptation to commit the fatal crime of hubris and mortally offend Poseidon, the Ancient Greeks' sea god...

It all ends badly for poor Agamemnon.

None of which is to say that it isn't a great idea to carry on learning more and more about the Arctic. Keep up the great work. Much appreciated in this quarter.

Moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com

Interesting, Neven. I'll add a couple asides and some substance.

Aside: It's only the sea ice and sea surface temperature groups that I lead at work. NCEP itself is run by someone far up the chain from me :-)

And, of course, anything I say in blogworld is my own opinion and has nothing to do with my employers' opinions or policies.

Substantively:
The flip side question was investigated moderately extensively in the 1970s. At that time, the question was what would happen if the Soviet Union carried out its plans to divert water from the major rivers that empty into the Arctic ocean towards agriculture. The concern was that without the fresh water inflow providing a stable and cold upper layer, the warmer but salty waters that were below would be able to reach the sea ice and melt it off.

My briefest summary of the results is that it turned out the ocean circulation was likely to be sufficient to prevent such an outcome. At least that was the conclusion given the state of the science in the 1970s. One name to search google scholar for on the topic is Albert Semtner.

A warmer river outflow will make for an even more stable upper layer of the ocean, keeping the sea ice even farther away from the warmer deeper water. On the other hand, the warmer river water itself will carry heat to the ice pack. The volume of river water is vastly smaller than the volume of warm* deeper Arctic Ocean water, so my offhand guess is that there won't be a large effect on the sea ice from this.

On the other hand, this is not an area that I trust my offhand guesses very far. Should be interesting. Maybe I can pursue an experiment at work.

*Warm, in the Arctic, means even +1 C :-)

Neven

Thanks a lot for your input, Bob.

Aside: It's only the sea ice and sea surface temperature groups that I lead at work. NCEP itself is run by someone far up the chain from me :-)

I've changed the text accordingly. People might get the wrong idea. Many believe that William Connolley controls all of Wikipedia too.

A warmer river outflow will make for an even more stable upper layer of the ocean, keeping the sea ice even farther away from the warmer deeper water. On the other hand, the warmer river water itself will carry heat to the ice pack. The volume of river water is vastly smaller than the volume of warm* deeper Arctic Ocean water, so my offhand guess is that there won't be a large effect on the sea ice from this.

This is what I'm thinking as well. Overall not a big effect, but perhaps indirectly a factor in timing at the start of the melting season. And maybe at the end too, after an anomalously warm summer. Either way, something to keep an eye on right now.

BTW, is there a specific reason for an increase in river discharge? Is it increased glacier melt or increased inland precipitation?

Werther

Warm River – I worked some information on the Lena River lately. It’s an interesting river with an important wetland at its mouth. Nevens’ article inspired me to have a look whether the anomalous temps in Siberia would reflect on the sea ice sit in the Laptev Sea.
In short terms, it’s mainly weather. Compared to 2009 and 2010 there is a slight difference visible on MODIS in the state of the Lena delta. For 2009,2010 and 2011 the temps at Tiksi and MODIS are available to have a good guess. It’s nice to see how each year a sort of cauliflower structure develops through the 26000 km2 delta, while the Lena waters plough surfacing through winters’ snow and ice in the myriad of creeks. Usually the work is completed around day 160, late June. That’s when the vast tundra on the delta is available for hundreds of thousands of geese and plovers to feed and breed. The landfast ice usually breaks up late in July.
At day 114 the cauliflower was visible. The two main river outlets are drenched with water, visible in blues. The boundary of the landfast ice isn’t very far from the coast (a mere 29 km). That’s what’s to be seen. Maybe two weeks ahead of the usual pattern. Late march was 10 degrees anomalously warm for Tiksi (though still a chilly -10 maximum). The first thaw at Tiksi, last week, can be seen in 2009 and 2010 too. It is triggered by the intensifying sunlight (look at COI temps over 80 degrees last days!).
To finish; the warmer end of march may have had more impact to the south, in the vast Lena drainage basin. Precipitation is low, substantial glaciers are not to be found. So the only source of abundant Lena waters can come from snowmelt.

Peter Ellis

Temps north of 80 degrees are going, um, nuts?

http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php

Kevin McKinney

"Temps north of 80 degrees are going, um, nuts?"

Uh, yeah, see what you mean. No wonder I haven't had any denialists quote dmi to me lately. Used to happen a lot.

Actually, they haven't had a lot of focus lately, at least where I hang out. A little recycled G & T, a dash of Goddard and a fair amount of pure foolish mendacity.

Moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com

My guess would also be precipitation.

Neven

Late march was 10 degrees anomalously warm for Tiksi (though still a chilly -10 maximum). The first thaw at Tiksi, last week, can be seen in 2009 and 2010 too. It is triggered by the intensifying sunlight (look at COI temps over 80 degrees last days!).

Confirmation from the latest webcam image from Tiksi (in the Lena delta):


Neven

A little update to this post:

I noted on the DMI SST anomaly map that there is some red on the other side of the Arctic as well, right where the Mackenzie river delta is, if my eyes do not delude me:

There are some big polynyas forming there, mainly because of the Beaufort Gyre, but this river discharge could play a small role as well.

Account Deleted

Some people deem this to be out of our control why some say this is because of global warming. I will continue to do what I can.

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