Science

The polynya I saw forming in early February is still clear, and very large in the Southern Weddell Sea. At the moment it is more than than 80,000 km2, although there is clearly a lot of young sea ice covering a large part of the polynya.

The Weddell Sea 5 March 2017 in the Terra MODIS true colour image.
The Weddell Sea 5 March 2017 in the Terra MODIS true colour image.

In my original post I said this was likely formed by winds from the Ronne Ice Shelf.

Well Dr Stef Lhermitte (Delft) has put together the most amazing movie showing the development of the polynya over January and February. It shows satellite sea ice data with winds from the ECMWF overlain.

You can clearly see the winds pushing the sea ice away from the ice shelf as time progresses.

It is just as @StefLhermitte said in his tweet yesterday:

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Trying to understand the geographic nature of the very low Antarctic sea ice extent I made the following animation:

Antarctic sea ice extent on 1 March for the years 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 2017. Data from DMSP SMMI.
Antarctic sea ice extent on 1 March for the years 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 2017. Data from DMSP SMMI.

The highlight issues in the graphic are the clear lack of sea ice in the Amundsen/Ross Seas and the Southern Ocean off Dronning Maud land. (If you are not familiar with the names off the seas / locations see the map below).

The Weddell Sea is has a relatively compressed sea ice cover this year - but it's clear there is large inter-annual variability.

Off Wilkes Land the sea ice is heavier this year - and it's easy for this to get lost in the headline story around the very low extent. There are several Antarctic research stations along this coast:

The French Station Dumont d’Urville,

Two Australian Stations of Casey and Davis,

and the Russian Mirny Station.

Here is the NSDIC Antarctic sea ice extent 1 March 2017.

Antarctic sea ice extent (with greater >15% sea ice cover) 1 March 2017. From NSIDC.
Antarctic sea ice extent (with greater >15% sea ice cover) 1 March 2017. From NSIDC.

And finally the promised map from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) with regional seas and other features marked.

The oceans and regional seas around Antarctica, along with other geographical features. From NSIDC.
The oceans and regional seas around Antarctica, along with other geographical features. From NSIDC.

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I noticed yesterday that a polynya had formed in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf over the last 2 weeks.

Screengrab from NASA Worldview 17 February 2017
Screengrab from NASA Worldview 17 February 2017

In that image it is about 27,000 kmin area.

I mapped the opening of the polynya from MODIS imagery over the last two weeks. There is cloud in the images but the opening of the polynya is fairly clear.

Formation of the Ronne Polynya 30 January to 14 February 2017.
Formation of the Ronne Polynya 30 January to 14 February 2017.

On 31 January 2017 there is no open water, but then over the 16 day period it opens to the ~27,000 kmin area. If you're eagle eyed you can see that there is thin frazil ice forming in the open water in front of the ice shelf at the end of the sequence.

So what caused it?

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Watching the sea ice extent this summer in Antarctica has been a bit surprising. The Antarctic sea ice extent has been tracking at record lows virtually the whole austral summer. We are very close now to the expected sea ice minimum, and this is where we are:

Antarctic sea ice extent 12 Feb 2017 & diff from mean 1989-93 on same day. Blues imply more ice and reds imply less compared with the mean.
Antarctic sea ice extent 12 Feb 2017 & diff from mean 1989-93 on same day. Blues imply more ice and reds imply less compared with the mean.

On the left is the sea ice extent from the DMSP satellite 12 February 2017, and on the right the difference between the mean sea ice extent on 12 Feb over the period 1989-93 and 12 Feb 2017. I chose this time period as the cycle has been generally quite stable from year to year.

The current sea ice extent is:

Antarctic sea ice extent. Downloaded from NSIDC 14 February 2017.
Antarctic sea ice extent. Downloaded from NSIDC 14 February 2017.

It's clear the sea ice over the summer 2016-17 is showing historic lows. But it's also clear from the sea ice extent above that there is little sea ice left to melt out before the summer turns. Where the sea ice remains - mainly in the Weddell Sea and along the coast of Wilkes Land it is clearly densely packed. If the winds change and the remaining sea ice is decompressed then the extent may fall some more.

This is an animation of the Antarctic sea ice extent from 1 January 2017 to 12 February 2017:

The Antarctic sea ice extent 1 January to 12 February 2017. Data from DMSP SMMI
The Antarctic sea ice extent 1 January to 12 February 2017. Data from DMSP SMMI

And finally the difference between the mean sea ice extent by day for the 5-year period 1989-1993 minus the concentration from 1 Jan to 12 Feb 2017. Blue shades imply an increased sea ice extent compared with a 5-year mean, and reds imply a decreased sea ice extent.

The difference between the mean sea ice extent by day for the 5-year period 1989-1993 minus the concentration from 1 Jan to 12 Feb 2017. Blue shades imply an increased sea ice extent compared with a 5-year mean, and reds imply a decreased sea ice extent.
The difference between the mean sea ice extent by day for the 5-year period 1989-1993 minus the concentration from 1 Jan to 12 Feb 2017. Blue shades imply an increased sea ice extent compared with a 5-year mean, and reds imply a decreased sea ice extent.

Not long until the Antarctic sea ice minimum.

The sea ice around Antarctic is currently still at an historic low. As usual I think it is good to look at a geographic perspective on the sea ice distribution. This is the sea ice concentration 22 January 2017 compared with the  1989-1993 mean on the 22 January.

RED shades = less sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 22 January.

BLUE shades = more sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 22 January.

The mean Antarctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 22 January, the sea ice concentration on 22 January 2017 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.
The mean Antarctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 22 January, the sea ice concentration on 22 January 2017 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.

The Amundsen Sea has very low sea ice

Amundsen Sea has very low sea ice in January 2017
Amundsen Sea has very low sea ice in January 2017

Probably for me the most striking feature is the extremely low sea ice concentration from Pine Island Bay through to the Ronne Ice Shelf - this is the Amundsen Sea. We are not going to see much more retreat of of the sea ice in this sector as it has already melted. I think it will stay open water until the freeze up begins some around the end of February. It would have been a great year to do ship based oceanography along that coast. I wonder if their could be an impact on ice shelf melt here. It is possible but as you can see from this article - it is water away from the surface and a few hundred metres deep that is in contact with the glacial ice in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, Overall this has to be a result of the recent El Nino, and is a follow on from the polynya events we saw hear in the late winter.

The Bellingshausen Sea has very relatively high sea ice

In contrast you can see it would not be a good year to be working in the Bellingshausen Sea.

Sea ice extent is currently relatively high in the Bellingshausen Sea.
Sea ice extent is currently relatively high in the Bellingshausen Sea.

Nevertheless, as expected, it was possible to finally relieve the British Antarctic Survey Rothera Base in January.

The Weddell Sea is a game of two halves

Sea ice in the Weddell Sea is now compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula
Sea ice in the Weddell Sea is now compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula

The Weddell Sea ice is at this stage in the summer is compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula. This means that there is heavier sea ice to the close to the Peninsula, and much lower sea ice than expected in the rest of the Weddell Sea. If you look at the MODIS Terra Image you can pick out a very sharp sea ice edge.

MODIS image from the TERRA satellite 23 January 2017. The sea ice edge in the Weddell Sea is very sharp.
MODIS image from the TERRA satellite 23 January 2017. The sea ice edge in the Weddell Sea is very sharp.

Shackleton would have been in trouble this summer if he was heading to Elephant Island.

Towards the annual Antarctic sea ice extent minimum.

We expect the sea ice to reach a minimum towards the end of February. Clearly there are places where there is no more sea ice to melt. Where sea ice is present, it is all down to winds over the next month. If they change and move the pack towards open water then - just as we have seen in the Arctic, the concentration could fall much lower. If the winds continue as they have then we could expect the extent fall to slowly as the seasonal melt continues.

Overall it is still to be likely a record breaking year in the Antarctic sea ice extent record.

Sea ice continues to be very low in the Arctic this winter. A geographical perspective always helps so here is the status of the sea ice concentration 18 January 2017 compared with the  1989-1993 mean on the 18 January.

RED shades = less sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 18 January.

BLUE shades = more sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 18 January.

The mean Arctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 18 January, the sea ice concentration on18 January 2017 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.
The mean Arctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 18 January, the sea ice concentration on18 January 2017 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.

A few interesting areas that caught my eye:

Geographic Areas in the Arctic with a strong absence of sea ice on 18 January 2017.
Geographic Areas in the Arctic with a strong absence of sea ice on 18 January 2017.

The first highlight region is the Northern Barents Sea. Sea ice has been very low here all winter, and this situation continues. Because the sea ice has been very late, the polar bears on Svalbard will be impacted, and it has been an issue in Longyearbyen....

Polar bears in Longyearbyen
Polar bears in Longyearbyen.

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Project MIDAS publicised on Friday that a huge iceberg is going to calve from the Larsen C Ice Shelf. This was written up a a great story on the BBC news website Huge Antarctic iceberg poised to break away.  I understand a little about this stuff so got drawn into the media around it. Here is a BBC News interview on 6 January 2017.

It was great to see Antarctica in the news and it was brilliant to see so many high quality interviews from so many colleagues to different outlets. I may try and collate some of these in the next few days.

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The Arctic

It's been quite a year in the Arctic. Over the winter 2015/6 we had the strongest and coldest Arctic polar vortex of the last 68 years. This contributed to a low maximum in Arctic sea ice extent. At that stage only the locals and the scientists were looking, and I wrote about this in a blog post called Arctic sea ice 2016. This was followed by the joint second lowest Arctic summer sea ice extent.

Unusual weather in the early winter led to records being broken and the sea ice the Arctic sea has been the lowest recorded in the satellite record for the time of year.

Where are we at the Northern winter solstice?

The mean Arctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 21 December, the sea ice concentration on 21 December 2016 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.
The mean Arctic sea ice for the years 1989-93 on 21 December, the sea ice concentration on 21 December 2016 and the difference between the two data sets. Blue shades imply more sea ice and reds imply decreased sea ice compared with the mean. The original data come from the DMSP SMMI data set at the NSIDC.

The ice edges have retreated compared with 1989 - but as I wrote about in Record Low Arctic Sea Ice Extent we still have the very low sea ice concentration in the Barents Sea. There is also  still a very low concentration region north of the Bering Strait but the the Chukchi Sea and Hudson Bay have mostly frozen over.

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