Sep 28 2012

Fast Melt

Published by at 7:30 am under Weather & Sky

This month the Arctic sea ice melted to its smallest extent since satellite monitoring began.  To see the dramatic change in only 33 years, click here and drag your mouse over the map.

We are used to hearing that the ice has melted, but the surprise this year is that no one thought it would happen this fast. Scientists thought the ice was thick and needed real warmth to melt. The models said it would take years to get this bad.

Apparently not.  Apparently the ice is so thin that a strong wind can break it into slush that melts quickly.

And there was a strong wind.

The NASA animation above shows arctic wind circulation from August 1 to September 13.  The long red arrows are the fastest winds.

Play the video and you’ll see a storm blow off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and swirl into a cyclone that broke up the ice and opened a large extent of the ocean.

This dramatic melting creates a gigantic feedback loop in which the lack of ice causes temperatures to rise and that causes more ice to melt.

A churning cyclone. A feedback loop. The situation is changing rapidly and brings to mind this verse:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

— from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats


(video from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

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