Polar Ice 2016 | Arctic Max | Antarctic Min

The Arctic and Antarctic regions have reached their respective 2016 maximum and minimum polar ice extents. See the blue graph lines. The Arctic winter ice maximum extent was the smallest on record. The Antarctic summer ice minimum was slightly less than the recent 30 year average.


Lesson on Arctic Albedo

The situation in the Arctic continues a trend toward decreasing amounts of sea ice as the albedo of the Arctic decreases. Albedo is a measure of how well a surface reflects solar energy. It is a ratio of outgoing to incoming energy. If a surface reflects 100% of the incoming energy, we say the albedo is 1.0 with no units. In this case, the reflecting surface retains none of the solar energy and does not heat up. If a surface reflects 0% of the energy, it has an albedo of 0.0. In this case, the absorbed energy heats up the surface.

Open ocean does not reflect solar energy effectively. It reflects about 6% and absorbs 94% heating the water. The albedo is 0.06 for open ocean surface. A sheet of bare ice over water reflects over 50% of the solar energy for an albedo of over 0.5. Snow covered ice over water is a very reflective surface with an albedo of up to 0.9 which means a small 10% of the solar energy gets absorbed. It doesn’t heat the reflecting surface very much.

In the Arctic and Greenland, melt ponds form on the surface of the snow covered ice as the solar energy increases toward summer months. The melt ponds are darker and have a lower albedo than snow and allow greater absorption of energy. The warming at the ponds causes greater extents of water. As the larger bodies of ice and snow melt away, this exposes more open ocean water to the incoming solar energy. Because of global warming, we seem to have passed a tipping point balance that regulated the extent of sea ice in the past in the Arctic. It is rapidly decreasing.

The result of this increased melting of the Arctic waters correlates strongly with the atmospheric warming of the far northern latitudes. It is greater there than anywhere else on Earth. What long term effects this will have on the future weather patterns and climate of the lower latitudes is not known. But, it will likely have some effects.

Melting of Greenland Ice

Large expanses of melt water accumulate on the deep Greenland ice surface during warmer months. The ponds of water find cracks and crevasses where it flows downward as in this video example. These grow in volume of flow to significant size. Where they go is not well know. It is suspected that they contribute to the forward speed of the glaciers near the coast line. The water decreases the friction of the glacier ice on the bedrock below.

When ice on land melts, it flows to the sea and raises sea level. Ice in the Arctic Ocean is already in the water. When it melts, the sea level does not rise.

Antarctic Ice

The huge expanse of ice and snow covering Antarctica is half the size of Africa. It flows slowly toward the surrounding sea. In some places, thick shelves of ice hundreds of meters thick extend out over the sea water for hundreds of miles. These extensions of the outflowing glaciers act as a sort of brake to slow down the progress of the glaciers. If the ice shelves are gone, the glaciers gain speed and deposit more ice into the ocean. It melts and raises sea level faster. The International Panel on Climate Change predict up to 1 meter (3.3 ft) by 2100.

There have been observations of increased ice shelf break up in recent years. These increases have triggered warnings by climate scientists about the potential for larger sea level than the IPCC predicts in the decades ahead. Such rises would inundate large areas of highly populated cities and countries. Another warning was issued after a March 2016 publication in Nature. It stated that additional factors need to be considered concerning the ice shelf melting scenarios. Their projections state that sea level rise could be double what was originally forecast.


19 thoughts on “Polar Ice 2016 | Arctic Max | Antarctic Min

  1. The link you provided from the IPCC plays a little lose with “water storage on land”. They do not even say what this is. What it is, is a lot of things. It is the “dimpling” of wells. It is the draining of the Aral Sea – but mostly it is the drawing down of ancient aquifers, like the Ogallala. Similar major aquifers in Russia, Pakistan and other places in the world have been drawn down to the point of depletion.

    Anyone who is familiar with the hydrology cycle knows where the water goes.

    Fully one-third of sea level rise since the 1940’s is attributed to aquifer depletion – but the IPCC prefers to ignore this contribution because it runs counter their narrative of thermal expansion and ice-loss.

    The IPCC also ignores the fact that warmer polar regions are also more humid and the accumulation of moisture in the dry deserts of the Arctic and Antarctic will offset much of the ice loss. Recent GRACE studies have confirmed this

    In many quarters, these facts would be viewed as “denialism” because they mitigate the scary scenarios that advocates work so hard to build. Unfortunately, like the day after the prophet predicted the end of the world, the public has all but turned off the message of catastrophic climate change.

    People are naturally wary of “you must act now” pitches, not because they doubt the problem – but because they distrust the solutions. When a used car salesman in a checkered sports coat tells you that you must act now, you begin to wonder about the car he is selling.

    The earth is warming, the sea is rising, we must do something but because something presents itself as a solution does not mean we must do it. Most of our “solutions” are terrible. Ethanol does not make climate sense and no one in their right mind would install a solar panel in Germany, nor would anyone who understands the economics, build a windmill.

    We have made some sensible advances, I enjoy the fact that my pickup truck gets better mileage than the old VW sedan I drove when I was a hippie . The new CAFE standards are a welcome step in the right direction. It also makes sense to convert coal plants to combined cycle natural gas as well as to increase the R & D budget for practical solar and safe nuclear.

    However, we passed peak climate communication five years ago and it is vitally important to be clearly honest about the actual risks of a warming world. Sadly, the IPCC is still in advocacy mode.


    • @Almost Iowa,

      You make some good points, such as about the aquifers. I have to note that their draw-down is an effect of human use (agriculture) and still needs addressing as a climate issue. I completely agree that ethanol is a problem posing as a solution, and that all green “solutions” need a sensible balance. But, the point remains that the anthropocene changes are real and must be managed, a fact I’m happy to see you understand.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments. Here is a more comprehensive discussion about water storage depletion. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/06/what-makes-sea-level-rise/
      I gathered from reading it that water storage depletion is an issue, but reliable data is not readily available, and its overall impact on sea level change is far from conclusive.

      I agree we need to do something. We all need to do many things to lessen our energy demands. These are lifestyle and standard of living choices many people in this country seem to have difficulty making. You highlighted several ways. As more nations strive to raise their standard of living, this will place greater demands on the environment.

      Again, I appreciate your input.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “As more nations strive to raise their standard of living, this will place greater demands on the environment.”

        You put your finger on it.

        The India’s, Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s of the world refuse to accept First World “Green” solutions.

        While I read your link to RealClimate with interest, I must say that the authors of the blog, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann and Caspar Ammann have done more than anyone else to politicize climate science and narrow the range of options.

        As for myself, I belong to the lukewarm camp. (Those who accept the science but are appalled by the hype.) I wish we could dial back to 1988 when Jim Hansen and Tim Wirth turned off the air conditioning in the Congressional hearing room on the night before they testified… and restart the climate debate without the tricks and the “Hide the [exculpatory evidence]”.

        Nations with large populations living mostly in poverty will not be bullied by Greenpeace or moral preening, the only thing they will accept is the technology to produce a whole lot more power than we can deliver today… It is something we better get started on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is where we disagree.

        In the 16 years since the turn of this century, humans have dumped into the atmosphere fully a third of all the CO2 produced since the invention of fire – and the earth’s temperature has hardly budged.

        Unlike my skeptical friends, that does not disprove global warming but it should tell my alarmist friends that their alarm might be a bit shrill.

        As clearly as we can tell from observation, we are on a lower trajectory of the IPCC predictions which pushes most of the warming risks into the later part of this century.

        Many of the IPCC’s alarmist scenarios were based on amplification factors, population and economic assumptions that simply have not panned out.

        It certainly would not hurt to put a damper on first world consumerism but expect the modernization of the third world to blow any savings by the first world into irrelevance.


      • There is a time lag between CO2 emission and global temperature rise. Most of the heat produced by the effect is deposited in the oceans. I don’t agree with the arguments that the Earth’s temperatures have hardly budged. We are off to a hot start this year. http://bit.ly/1WiJBEs

        It looks like we have some differences in our views we might not resolve. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A long time ago I learned to follow the data; emotion and desires be damned. It’s hard to persuade people to forego comfort and an affluent lifestyle. I can only hope we reach consensus before the next mass extinction wipes us out.

    Liked by 1 person

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