“During the first half of August, Arctic ice extent declined more slowly than during the same period in 2007 and 2008. The slower decline is primarily due to a recent atmospheric circulation pattern, which transported ice toward the Siberian coast and discouraged export of ice out of the Arctic Ocean. It is now unlikely that 2009 will see a record low extent …
Ice motion changes in August
A recent atmospheric circulation pattern, which led to a change in ice motion, caused the ice loss rate to slow down significantly in the first two weeks of August. As discussed in the August 4 post, during much of June and July, a strong Beaufort Sea high-pressure pattern promoted winds that helped push ice out of the Siberian coastal seas, and also brought clear skies and warm temperatures that helped induce melt.
Toward the end of July, the atmospheric pattern changed. Averaged over the past two weeks, a high-pressure system has been centered over the Barents Sea, with low pressure centered over the Laptev Sea. In accordance with Buys Ballot’s Law, this pattern led to winds that redirected the motion of the ice cover, pushing the ice edge outward toward the Siberian coast and discouraging ice from exiting the Arctic Ocean through Fram Strait.
The Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route
So far this year, neither the Northwest Passage nor the Northern Sea Route has opened. The Northern Sea Route appears likely to open soon, but ice still clogs many of the channels in the Northwest Passage.
Whether or not the navigational passages through the Arctic Ocean will open in a given summer depends on atmospheric circulation and ice thickness. For example, although 2007 was a record low extent in the Arctic and the Northwest Passage was nearly completely open, the Northern Sea Route was still choked with ice because of a circulation pattern that pushed a tongue of ice against the Siberian coast. Recent research by Stephen Howell at the University of Waterloo in Canada shows that whether the Northwest Passage clears depends less on how much melt occurs, and more on whether multi-year sea ice is pushed into the channels. Counterintuitively, as the ice cover thins, ice may flow more easily into the channels, preventing the Northwest Passage from regularly opening in coming decades.
Comment on atmospheric circulation patterns
James Overland of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington has taken a close look at patterns of atmospheric circulation in recent summers. Overland notes that the periods June through August 2007 and June and July 2009 both saw an unusual atmospheric pattern of sea level pressure, with higher pressure on the Alaskan side of the Arctic and lower pressure on the Eurasian side. This pressure difference brought warm air into the central Arctic and transported sea ice towards the Atlantic. Historically, such a pattern is a rare event—before 2007, it only occurred twice in 30 years. Normally there is little difference in pressure across the Arctic during summer, and winds are slack.” “A change in ice motion slows seasonal decline” Prior post here