Being interested in the Weddell Polynya I plotted some time series data from 1 September 2017 to 23 November 2017. On the left-hand panel, you can see the see the sea ice concentration, on the right-hand panel, the anomaly of the concentration each day compared with a mean from 1989-93.
The Weddell Polynya is the low concentration region at approximately 12:00 in the movies below.
You can see the Weddell Polynya isn’t stationary.
You can also see the sea ice is still relatively low compared to the historic record. We should expect this after the extreme low sea ice from ~October 2016 onward.
I will write some more about this next week but for interest here is the Antarctic sea ice extent anomaly for 2017.
Antarctic sea ice extent remains low compared with the 1981-2010 median extent. This image shows the mean from 1989-93, the extent on 20 November 2017 and the difference between the two. Red colours imply that there is a decreased sea ice extent compared with the mean.
Last month, SOCCOM scientists were astonished to discover that a float in the Weddell Sea had surfaced inside the polynya, making contact with satellites in the dead of winter. Its new ocean measurements, transmitted when it surfaced, are being analyzed as part of a study in preparation on Weddell Sea polynyas. With these new observations comes the possibility that the polynya’s secrets may finally be revealed.
We should expect some exciting research articles soon.
Sea ice extent currently ~1.2 million km2 low
The overall sea ice extent is currently ~1.2 million km2 below 1981-2010 median extent. This sounds a lot.
But at this time of the year the Antarctic sea ice is about to dramatically fall as spring develops. If spring "arrives" early then the extent will - as we see, be relatively low.
Whilst the full on development and opening of the Weddell / Maud Rise Polynya is unusual, if you compare the sea ice on 18 November 2017 with the extent from the same day on 1989-1995 it is clear that the extent is often lower over Maud Rise, at this time.
I will keep watching the sea ice as the summer season develops
** UPDATED 20th November 2017 replacing the first figure from 17 November to 20 November.
As daylight has returned to Antarctica it is straightforward to pick out polynya forming on the edge of the Antarctic continent.
This one by the Stange Ice Shelf and Rydberg Peninsula caught my eye. It is a latent heat polynya formed as the winds push the sea ice away from the land to reveal the ocean that appears black beneath.
The wispy trails of grey which appear in the black are new sea ice forming as frazil ice.
This is the location of the peninsula.
I visited that area in 2007 and took this picture. You can a thin skim of young nilas ice in front of the ice shelf, and sea smoke too.
The Weddell Sea polynya is an area of open water that sometimes appears in the Weddell Sea over a relatively shallow region called Maud Rise.
In the latest satellite imagery from the DMSP satellite you can see the lower concentration sea ice as the darker blue colour. If you look at the MODIS imagery for the same date you can clear see black which indicates open water in the pack ice.
This is the Antarctic Peninsula and the outline of A68 from the satellite image on 14 July 2017 shown in black. The ice front is from the Bedmap2 data set (so a little out of date), and the bathymetry from the IBCSO data set.
In the map below, the shaded colour is the distance of any point on the sea bed to the closest actual depth measurement.
So the dark blue stripes labelled in the Weddell Sea are actually ship tracks - and the dark colours are good depth data. These measurements will have been made by icebreaker.
Just in front of A68 there is a very large area where no ship has been within ~80 km.
One small note on the size. I digitized the iceberg from a satellite image (a KML File can be downloaded). On twitter today there were satellite images showing fractures already.
But Martin O'Leary of the MIDAS team posted today on twitter that to the untrained eye looks like iceberg, is very likely fast ice (so thick sea ice that is "fast" to A68 - but only a few metres thick.)
There is not a consistent trend in Antarctic sea ice extent, and much regional interannual variability. The plot below shows the sea ice extent on 13 May for each of the years 1989-95, and 13 May 2017.
The image above shows the sort of variability we expect in the Antarctic sea ice extent. It is helpful too to see where the sea is currently is and isn't compared with the mean from 1989-93.
The regions in May 2017 with the greatest deficit of sea ice remain the Amundsen and Ross Sea, and the Eastern Weddell Sea and off the coast of Dronning Maud land. As I said in my last Antarctic sea ice post it is likely the freeze up is delayed because of the heat gained by the ocean in the Antarctic summer of 2016/17.
You can also see in the South West Weddell Sea the Ronne Polynya I wrote about in March 2017 is still seen in the sea ice concentration data. In the visible satellite data you can also see this open water.
In the Sentinel 1 SAR data from the 15 May (From PolarView), the growth of the sea ice in the polynya is clear.
This ice growth is important for the ocean as it means the salinity of the waters just beneath the sea ice will be increasing.
I'll keep watching the polynya to see if and when it closes up. And I will also keep looking at the sea ice.
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.
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.
Trying to understand the geographic nature of the very low Antarctic sea ice extent I made the following animation:
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: