Despite this being the second melting season that rebounds from the spectacular sea ice loss event of 2012, there have been some notable events that characterize this melting season. We may have already become used to these events, but may do well to remember that they were much rarer before 2007.
Take for instance, the Northern Sea Route that has opened up completely yet again, for the 7th year in a row. Shipping has been increasing there from year to year, and this year will probably be no different, given the following forecast for sea ice conditions in the second half of the navigation season:
Things look less easy in the Northwest Passage, where the main passage will probably remain closed again this year (after being open in 2007 and 2009-2012), although several yachts are making it through the southern route, such as Le Manguier (hat-tip to @arcticio):
But this year's main course is the sea ice in the Laptev Sea. Literally.
In previous melting seasons we had already witnessed a pronounced retreat of sea ice in this region of the Arctic. The event was quickly dubbed 'Laptev Bite', because that's what the open water grabbing its way towards the Pole looked like. But this year it's more than a bite. It's much wider and further into the pack, further than I have ever seen it go.
Arcticio sent me this animation that shows the progression of the retreat during August:
At the top of the blog post there's a close-up of the edge of open water, but here's the overall picture that I've taken from the University of Bremen sea ice concentration map:
Last year it was also possible to sail beyond the 85N parallel, but several weeks later and a couple of degrees more towards the West.
Of course, it's difficult to tell how unprecedented this really is, as we only have satellite images of the Arctic since the 70's. Nevertheless, one would expect some sort of anecdotal evidence of the Northwest Passage and/or Northern Sea Route opening up several years in a row, or ships coming within 350 miles (500 kilometres) of the North Pole. A whaler or expedition team would probably have noticed this, or perhaps it would show up on sediment cores through the fossils of some tiny organism.
For the past couple of years, an interesting article has been posted several times on climate disinformation blogs (unfortunately) by a certain Tony Brown, that is filled to the brim with anecdotal evidence that purports to show that the recent Arctic warming and sea ice loss is not so special after all. Tony Brown posted his latest version on the WattsUpWithThat blog two weeks ago. I've skimmed through it a couple of times, but couldn't find anything that shows that people could sail past 85N in the last two centuries.
This was the best I could find:
In August, 1922, the Norwegian Department of Commerce sent an expedition to Spitsbergen and Bear Island under Dr. Adolf Hoel, lecturer on geology at the University of Christiania. The oceanographic observations (reported that) Ice conditions were exceptional. In fact, so little ice has never before been noted. The expedition all but established a record, sailing as far north as 81o29′ in ice-free water. This is the farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus…
That's a 5 degree difference. But perhaps there's more? Perhaps they were able to sail further North at some later point in the 1920-1940 Arctic warming period, although somehow I think Tony Brown would have mentioned that.
Either way, if this kind of thing happens in rebound years, one wonders what could happen if the rebound doesn't continue.