Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog : Four invests in the Atlantic; fair weather in Arctic to drive rapid sea ice loss : Weather Underground
|Figure 2. Arctic sea ice extent on August 11, 2011, was the 2nd lowest on record for the date. The Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage (southern route) were both ice-free. Image credit: UIUC Cryosphere Today.|
A strong high pressure system with a central pressure of 1035 mb has developed over the Arctic north of Alaska, and will bring clear skies and warm southerly winds to northeast Siberia and the Arctic during the coming week, accelerating Arctic sea ice loss. Widespread areas of northeastern Siberia are expected to see air temperatures 4 - 12°C (7 - 22°F) above average during the coming week, and the clockwise flow of air around the high pressure system centered north of Alaska will pump this warm air into the Arctic. Arctic sea ice extent, currently slightly higher than the record low values set in 2007, should fall to to its lowest extent for the date by the third week of August as the clear skies and warm southerly winds melt ice and push it away from the coast of Siberia. This weather pattern, known as the Arctic Dipole, was also responsible for the record sea ice loss in 2007, but was stronger that year. The weather conditions that led to the 2007 record were quite extreme--one 2008 study led by Jennifer Kay of the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that 2007's combination of high pressure and sunny skies in the Arctic occur, on average, only once every 10 - 20 years. The 2011 summer weather pattern in the Arctic has not been nearly as extreme as in 2007, but the total sea ice volume has declined significantly since 2007, leading to much loss of old, thick, multi-year ice, making it easier to set a new low extent record with less extreme weather conditions. The GFS model is predicting that the Arctic Dipole will weaken by 8 - 15 days from now, with cloudier weather and weaker high pressure over the Arctic. This should slow down the rate of Arctic sea ice loss to very near the record low values observed in 2007. It remains to be seen if 2011 Arctic sea ice extent will surpass the all-time low set in September 2007; it will be close, and will depend on the weather conditions of late August and early September, which are not predictable at this time. It is already possible to sail completely around the North Pole in ice-free waters through the Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage, according to sea ice maps maintained by the UIUC Cryosphere Today website. This marks the fourth consecutive year--and the fourth time in recorded history--both of these Arctic shipping routes have melted free. Mariners have been attempting to sail these passages since 1497. This year, the Northeast Passage along the north coast of Russia melted free several weeks earlier than its previous record early opening.