« Hot spring | Main | Cryosphere Today sea ice area: maximum reached »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Kevin McKinney

That is a remarkable shift for just a few days!


TypePad made it difficult for Philiponfire to post the following comment (this sometimes happens to people, mail me when it does, so I can post your comment):

Philiponfire wrote:

So what is happening in the Kara sea? I have been thinking about that and something does not add up. I have no answers. I have questions and some speculations.

Hudson bay shallow sea more or less surrounded by land has many sources of fresh water entering it. Low salinity. 1,230,000 square kilometres (470,000 sq mi) in area, depth an average of 100 metres (330 ft). Currently completely iced over. Air temperatures well below freezing. Only one connection to open seas no through current.
Kara sea shallow sea also largely surrounded by land also has several rivers emptying into it. low/variable salinity. 1,450 kilometres long and 970 kilometres wide with an area of around 880,000 km² and a mean depth of 110 metres (360 ft). No significant current entering sea. Such as there is appears to be the shallow and fairly narrow Kara strait. Air temperatures well below zero. Northern end is clearly much larger but opens onto the central Arctic where water is in theory colder and higher salinity.
Looking at the current satellite images it would appear reasonable to assume that the flow into the Kara through the strait is colder than the Kara itself. There is a tongue of higher concentration ice from the Kara strait bisecting the very low ice concentration area at the south end of the Kara.
In summary we seem to have a small shallow low salinity sea with a low ice cover when logic would suggest that the opposite should be true.

It makes sense that this sea would warm quickly in summer and then lose that heat quickly in winter just like the Hudson bay still does. So what is the difference? Did it really get that warm to the extent that it is still melting the ice this close to the end of the cold season? It is evident looking at the MODIS images for day 75 that the water that did melt is again freezing.
So! Is it possible that there are mechanisms at work other than climate/weather. Yamal peninsular is the home of the largest natural gas deposits in the world. An estimate of the gas reserves here is 55 trillion cubic meters

Noveya Zemlya was the location of Russian nuclear testing. 222 under ground explosions,265Million tonnes of explosive equivalent. What would that have done to the rock structure? How much heat was released into the rock? Where did that heat go? Heat rises so what was the result of that at the surface? Could the detonation effect have been similar to Fracking? Was methane released to over years to percolate to the surface?
16 or more nuclear reactors (from submarines/ships) have been dumped into the Kara sea. Some at least were damaged when dumped. How much residual heat from ongoing nuclear reactions could still be taking place. Unknown quantities of high and low level nuclear waste was also dumped into the Kara sea. How much heat is that releasing into the water? Bearing in mind the small size of the Kara sea and limited water movement how significant could that be?

Methane digesting bacteria have been found in the sea off of Norway. Chances are that similar bacteria also live in the Kara sea. Those bacteria are estimated to consume as much as 40% of the methane so that digestion process would add heat directly to the water without the need for greenhouse effect. Is it possible that the radioactivity may also have has some mutational effect on the bacteria. Survival of the fittest and enhanced ability to survive and consume more methane? Could the bacteria be so efficient that the levels of methane reaching the surface are so low that no-one has noticed a difference?

So is it possible that we have a mixture of heating effects taking place in the Kara sea that are heating the water outside of the clear climate heating taking place? Could this be the “the perfect storm?”


Very clear (and beautiful) view on Novaya Zemlya today.


the really interesting part is that triangle of what looks like fresh ultra thin ice to the right of the Kara strait.It looks as thought the whole area a has formed at the same time.


Neven wrote:

Very clear (and beautiful) view on Novaya Zemlya today.

Indeed it is.

And actually, there is more. Do have a look at the large and clear visible heat polynia at the Eastern coasts (plain Arctic) of "Severnaya Zemlya" (= Northern Land).

IMHO this is an unprecedented phenomenum in March, which leads us to the question how deep this summer the Gulf Stream will penetrate into the Arctic sea.


philiponfire, I'd say that despite their similarities, their geographical differences trump those topographical similarities.

If you keep an eye on the SST anomalies, it has looked suspiciously as though the Gulf Stream has delivered a whole heap of warm water to that western area of the Arctic. I presume it's the Gulf Stream or some associated ocean feature, because all through the last few weeks, the anomalies have been super high around Kara and normal or below around the Hudson Strait.

I suppose the geographical difference should come into play there also. Hudson Bay has the Strait on one side and the Archipelago above. It'd take a seriously hardworking warm water current from any direction to get past (through, under, whatever) all that midwinter ice and still be able to weaken or melt significant areas of the Bay itself.


I agree that the gulf stream has been dumping monumental quantities of heat into the western Arctic. but the currents cannot and do not directly effect the Kara. Look at the current situation. the only way for gulf stream water to get into the Kara is through the Kara strait (small and shallow). If that water was doing the warming then surely there would be a tongue of warm water and no ice in the mouth of the strait. The reverse is true in the current images. there is a tongue of thicker ice extending into the Kara from the Barentsz. Based on the satellite images the water in the Southern Kara is warmer than the Barentsz. That to me is the anomaly.


Philip and Adelady, Dibalobanquisa just posted an excellent article (in Spanish) on the Atlantic Heat Flux: El agua atlántica y la banquisa ártica (con datos actualizados a 2011). It's based on this presentation at the recent ASOF ISSG Meeting in Bergen.

I might do a post on it, but I'm a bit busy atm.


>"the only way for gulf stream water to get into the Kara is through the Kara strait (small and shallow). If that water was doing the warming"

The water could be doing the warming indirectly; warming air above it and it is only a short trip across NZ; unlike Hudson which has a lot of cold land surrounding it. The melting seems to be from the West the direction of warmer water on the other side of NZ.

Sub surface atlantic water could also have entered from North and spread out providing upward heat flux. This upward heat flux could be close to threshold where no ice forms if the winds bring warm air but ice does form if winds bring cold air.

I am no expert; this is just speculation.


Maybe the Ob and Pechora also delivered some (extra) heat to the region?


The current air temperatures on the coast of the souther Kara are well below zero.


It seems unlikely that rivers are making any significant heat input at this time of year.

There are two currents working in the Kara both are anticlockwise gyres. one in south and one in north. At this time of year the prevailing wind is from the south/south-west which is causing the ice to drift north. But where is it going? there is no evidence of high concentration ice in the Northern Kara.The open water has appeared so fast that the obvious implication is that the water temperature is high enough for significant melting. But balanced by the cold air refreezing.


All that open water has now gone again.


The mountains of Novaya Zemlya reach a height of 1,547 metres (5,075 ft).[12] The northern island contains many glaciers, while the southern one has a tundra landscape.

It seems unlikely that any air travelling over 55 miles of this kind of landscape would still be warm enough at sea level to have a significant extended effect on the sea temperatures.


If it has to rise 1000m then it certainly cools by adiabatic process. Is there then much reason for it to lose much heat over a mere 55 miles? Then when/if it descends again, it warms adiabatically. Or am I misunderstanding/taking rubbish?


Despite keeping a regular eye on it, I didn't save any screenshots of SST anomalies from weeks ago. But if you go to the usual
http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/satellite/index.uk.php you can have a look at anomalies on the 30 days ago selection, then 20 days.

Then let the animation run from 30 days back, you can see just how much warmish water was running around. (And out of the corner of your eye you'll notice that around the south of Greenland and across Nares to Hudson Straits there's some deep, deep bluey purple below average anomalies.)


Philiponfire fired:

Based on the satellite images the water in the Southern Kara is warmer than the Barentsz. That to me is the anomaly.

Of course.

But is's rather easy to explain. Don't forget during the last "hotspell" the ice shield had been washed away by warm rains. Much of warm precipitation.

And as you rightly point it out, the water mass in that part of the Kara sea is static, not much influenced by the Gulf Stream. And now that warm water reservoir leads to the phenomenum we are witnessing.

On top of that, sun is higher than 15 ° now there. So in a bright clear day the water is warmed up for a few houres, dispite the fact the air temperature is still at minus 10 °C or even lower.

When the night is open en clear too, there will be some refreezing, some up and downs, and that's exact the phenomenum we seeing now.

Bottom line, the ice is so thin now any solid refreezing isn't possible anymore.

And what for what matters the Kara- en Barents Sea region, me thinks "Alea iacta est".


Of course the SSTs in the Kara and Barentsz Seas have been anomalously high ever since the end of last year's melting season. A few weeks ago wrote for a guest blog on CP:

As was mentioned above it’s not just determined by the weather, but also by the sea surface temperatures. This is what the SST anomaly looked like from last year’s minimum to the start of this year (based on data from the NOAA ESRL Physical Science Division):

The anomaly in the Barents and Kara Sea regions this year is the largest on record. Nothing that happens in this final stage of the freezing season will change much about that. Under the right circumstances the Sun could melt the ice in record time in these western Siberian seas, which in turn would have cascading effects for the rest of the melting season.


Hi all,

That's a great article, Banquiso.

Following on from adelady's comment about low SSTs in South Baffin Bay; yes; and this is a significant change from 2009-2011, when there was an extremely strong positive heat anomaly in this area.

It would seem to me that it is likely that the Gulf Stream/Atlantic currents have deviated to the East, and are now delivering more marginal heat on their Eastern side, near Kara, and less near Baffin.

For me, the most interesting and alarming area remains the seas North of Svarlsbard and the Franz Joseph islands. This is where I think the main war of attrition between Arctic ice and Atlantic warmth is fought out...

All quiet on the Western Front...


Very little change in position since last September. Err, weren't we expecting a winter?

Kevin McKinney

"alea jacta est"--"the die is cast"

Chris Reynolds

The Jan-Feb 2012 Barents/Kara positive anomaly is so large it's skewed the scale, making it look like there are no anomalies elsewhere.

Give that a minute or so to load as it's direct to NCEP/NCAR.


Yes, that's a big anomaly. Maybe we should call it an 'enormaly'. ;-)

I've added March 15th and 16th to the animation. Let's see how long that newly formed ice lasts.

Chris Reynolds

Not long at all. Any ice forming at this late stage won't be a factor in the summer conditions. I can't wait till the spring is underway and we start getting the PIOMAS figures.


Look at the HYCOM/CICE ice thickness map for now and for one year ago... right now there are large areas in the Svalbard-to-Siberia region which have < 1m thickness while last year, they had > 2m.

Chris Reynolds

I had an interesting discussion with Kevin O'Neill recently about the thinning in the Atlantic sector. I was arguing that the sea-ice in the Atlantic sector is largely defined by the location of the abyssal deep poleward of the Svalbard/Josef/Zemlya chain of islands. I was also saying I'm not convinced that the sea-ice state now is informative of the final minimum in September.

The state HYCOM shows looks like it'll be an interesting test of whether I'm right or wrong.

HYCOM 14/3/2011 thickness


HYCOM 14/3/2012 thickness


Bremen extent at 2011 minimum


At present HYCOM looks like the Atlantic sea ice edge will be substantially polewards at the 2012 minimum. I'm betting that inflow of sea-ice from the rest of the Arctic will move the sea-ice edge further into the Atlantic towards the island chain. If I'm right then come the September minimum the Atlantic won't be as severely dented as HYCOM may suggest at present.

As a related aside, take the 2011 March thickness and compare to the post 2007 years.




The 2011 March spur of thick ice that could be taken to have left an impact in September 2011 has a similar spur in those years, i.e. from the Pole to the East Siberian Sea. But we lack HYCOM for those years. We do however have Quikscat for some of the years, and we can take QuikScat's resolution of MY ice as a proxy for thick ice.

2008 doesn't show the spur.
Yet it was present - although muted - in Bremen for 2008.

2009 doesn't show the spur.
Although Bremen shows rather a strong spur by the minimum.

So what I am saying is that September features we might assume are due to the thickness of sea-ice in Spring might in fact be down to other processes. Which is a major reason I'm not persuaded by trying to extrapolate from the current state of the ice in Barents Kara and its possible impact on the Atlantic sector this September. This also ties in with my disagreement last year about a technique of predicting the September ice edge by satellite observations ealrier in the season. For me the rapidity of loss during the Summer tells us about the powerful forces at work in that season - they have the power when modified by weather to over-ride any suspected predictive factors this early in the season.

Now I just have to wait for the ice to prove me wrong. ;)


My personal opinion is that the weather during the summer will determine where the ice edges in September will end up. It's sea ice after all, it can be pushed through the arctic by winds and currents.

However, I also think the current thinner ice in the "Svalbard, Kara and around" area will mean more open seas earlier in the year - when the sun has more melting power - and therefore a smaller ice volume in September compared to last year.

Kevin O'Neill

Chris is correct in stating that winter extent/area has little correlation to the fall minimum. The question he and I have been considering is whether the arctic has undergone another dramatic change - one that rivals 2007.

I see the Kara and Barentz as indicators that the Atlantic may finally make dramatic inroads into the Arctic Basin. I have made the pessimistic prediction that we have a 50-50 chance of seeing open water all the way to the pole this year - though I expect that to actually come from the direction of the Laptev.

Chris' main argument, that ice will be moved into the Atlantic sector has generally been the case in the past. My pessimism comes from believing there's just not enough of it left that can survive long enough to act as a shield. The skirmish line has become so large that there simply aren't enough reserves to keep sending to the front lines. Unless there has been significant thickness growth in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and ESS - then the Russian and Atlantic sectors may be forced to fight this summer's battle without a continuous supply of reinforcements.

We see open water at 83N near Svalbard. There is lower concentration ice from there to 86N. 2006 saw a similar pattern, but the ice is now on average 20% thinner. The question is: will that reduced thickness have a significant effect?

Chris Reynolds

"My pessimism comes from believing there's just not enough of it left that can survive long enough to act as a shield. The skirmish line has become so large that there simply aren't enough reserves to keep sending to the front lines."

I suspect you could be right. But perhaps this may mean, counterintuitively, that the Siberian coast will be more strongly affected.

Why do we see the ice edge where it is at the end of Summer?

In Beaufort it's the interplay of the gyre and warming open ocean, with the gyre as a flywheel now being denuded of MY ice, so it's a less efficient flywheel stabiliser. Lacking MY ice the gyre pushes the ice to its destruction in warm waters of the open sea.

In Chucki to Siberian coast it's the shallower water who's surface warms more rapidly, although perhaps it's a greater issue of the Transpolar Drift causing divergence in ice leading to open water. During the Summer there is no replenishment of fresh ice so the ocean opens up.

The 'spur' I refer to in my earlier comment could be the result of the interaction between the Beaufort Gyre and the Transpolar Drift.

That leaves the Atlantic sector, who's position is coincident with the drop into the abyss poleward of Svalbard/Josef/Zemlya, and crucially - that position hasn't changed as much as the Siberian & Pacific sectors. I understand that this is because warmer Atlantic water comes in, but being saltier it falls into the abyss, so the ice is protected by a cap of cold water that sits above the Atlantic water.

So I could be wrong thinking that influx of ice is the issue, after all it's not like ice hitting a barrier, like off the CAA.

Finally this leaves the tonugue of ice through the Fram Strait - this is maintained by flow of ice from the Transpolar Drift pushing the ice to its destruction in warmer Atlantic water.

Comments/Critiscisms on this anyone?

Do people think there's any value in trying to break the problem down by considering the ice edge factors in different regions?

The comments to this entry are closed.