Storms caused massive Antarctic sea ice loss in 2016

June 26, 2017, British Antarctic Survey
Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio and NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen: National Snow and Ice Data Center

A series of unprecedented storms over the Southern Ocean likely caused the most dramatic decline in Antarctic sea ice seen to date, a new study finds.

Antarctic sea ice – frozen ocean water that rings the southernmost continent – has grown over the past few decades but declined sharply in late 2016. By March of 2017 – the end of the Southern Hemisphere's summer – Antarctic sea ice had reached its lowest area since records began in 1978. The results are published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

In the study, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists puzzled by the sudden ice loss matched satellite images of Antarctica with weather data from the second half of 2016 to figure out what caused so much of the ice to melt. They found that a series of remarkable storms during September, October and November brought warm air and from the north that melted 75,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) of ice per day. That's like losing a South Carolina-sized chunk of ice every 24 hours.

"Antarctic sea ice is relatively thin – on average only 1 meter (3 feet) thick – making it extremely vulnerable to strong winds, says lead author John Turner, a scientist at BAS.

He continues: "The sea ice area is an important indicator of , and sea ice loss in the Arctic has been linked to increased . But because sea ice records go back only four decades – when the satellite era began – it's difficult to attribute Antarctica's last year to human-caused climate change, Whaling records provide scientists with hints of Antarctica's past , but it's tough to compare that data to satellite records. There's no indication this is anything but just natural variability. It highlights the fact that the climate of the Antarctic is incredibly variable."

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, scientists expect there to be stronger storms in the mid-latitudes, but can't say for sure that the deep storms of late 2016 were due to human activity, Turner says.

Up until this most recent decline, the area of Antarctic sea ice had increased slightly since satellite records began in the late 1970s. But that increase doesn't mean climate change hasn't affected Antarctica, says Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not connected to the study.

"This doesn't mean that climate change isn't happening, just that, at least through 2015 for Antarctic sea ice, the climate change signal could not be distinguished from natural variability," he says.

More research is needed to determine exactly what caused Antarctic sea ice to grow over the past four decades amid a warming planet and if the low-ice conditions in 2016 and 2017 mark a turning point toward a decline in Antarctic sea ice because of climate change.

"The increase definitely does not refute global warming and may even be a feature of it," he says. "As temperatures continue to rise, the warming effect will win out and we expect Antarctic sea ice to eventually start decreasing" Meier says.

"It is tempting to think that the 2016 low ice conditions may mark this turn toward decreasing ice, but that temptation is not warranted," Meier added. "It's too soon to tell whether the low ice conditions are an ephemeral downturn or the start of something more long-term."

Explore further: Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

More information: John Turner et al. Unprecedented springtime retreat of Antarctic sea ice in 2016, Geophysical Research Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073656

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Benni
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 26, 2017
I can't wait to see the first Comment about how this melting SEA ICE will cause the ocean levels to rise. The thing is they won't even know why they're wrong even while they launch into name calling rants against the false concept that melting sea ice raises ocean levels.
UKCatFan
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2017
As long as this is true, another thing to add is that even if sea ice was lost, that did not equate to a net increase in global temperature. The warm winds that caused the melting had to be generated by some source of energy. That means that heat left a region of the planet and moved with force to another part that had built up ice. The heat and wind energy dissipated in the form of raising the temperature of the ice and causing friction which resulted in the melting of ice. It is energy transfer. It is all about the Laws of Thermodynamics, conservation of energy and entropy. Basically, this melting of ice does not provide definitive proof of anything other than energy shifted from one place to another and became disorganized as a result.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 26, 2017
is all about the Laws of Thermodynamics, conservation of energy and entropy

You don't know a thing about thermodynamics, do you? (Hint: look up what a 'closed system' is and then look at what Earth is)

Basically, this melting of ice does not provide definitive proof of anything other than energy shifted from one place to another

Since no places suddenly got hugely colder - what are you blabbering about?
UKCatFan
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2017
What did your feelings get hurt that the 2016 ice loss cannot be pinned to man made climate change? Get over it! According to the Laws, energy is never created or destroyed, just changed. Even any 100% verified climate change is still just a transfer of energy. All energy on the entire planet is either originally here from the planet's formation or delivered to us from space. What matters is what happens to that energy. It can reflect back into space and not change this closed system as you say. It can be sequestered and stored for long periods. It can also immediately cause change to other forms of energy. What I am saying is that there is nothing in simply ice melting that can point to if more energy is affecting the climate. You have to trace back to the source and it is extremely difficult to prove that a season of heavy storms is caused by any man made climate change. Even the scientists involved say so! Sorry you do not understand energy very well.
UKCatFan
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2017
And the planet is in no way a closed system! The amount of energy delivered to it changes constantly. Even the amount of interstellar debris constantly changes, which is also a change in the system in both terms of mass and energy. Thinking of it as a closed system is convenient for over simplified theories.
UKCatFan
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2017
"Since no places suddenly got hugely colder - what are you blabbering about?"

So where do you propose the warm air winds came from, unicorn farts? Warm air had to leave one area and move to another unless some energy made the air warm. Any event to create the heat would be significant enough to know about, so that means the heat had to transfer from somewhere. (Well, unless you think Hydra is pulling off some world domination scheme!) Wind is created by energy as well. Energy is in everything you observe.
EmceeSquared
3 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2017
Benni:
I can't wait to see the first Comment about how this melting SEA ICE will cause the ocean levels to rise.


No, you just couldn't wait to post a strawman fallacy. Because that's all you've got, fallacies.

Also, some people say cucumbers taste better pickled.
EmceeSquared
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 26, 2017
IKCatFan:
According to the Laws, energy is never created or destroyed, just changed.


Listen, snowflake, it's tragic that you're crippled by Dunning Kruger disease. But the Antarctic ice loss shows that more energy is present in Antarctica than ever before measured. That energy is trapped by the thickening Greenhouse, made of increasing CO2 and related pollution.

Everyone knows that. Even you probably know that too. But Dunning Kruger disease makes you think you're smarter than practically all the independent climate scientists.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2017
energy is never created or destroyed, just changed

...in an isolated system. Thats a crucial part to understand about thermodynamics. Earth is not an isolated system. See first law of thermodynamics
https://en.wikipe...dynamics
(Hint: think about where Earth gets its energy input from. Second hint: It's not from within the Earth system)

If you want to argue it in thermodynamics parlance then Earth is a buffer system where the size of the buffer (ability to retain energy) is increasing (through the increasing ability of atmospheric CO2 to retain heat). Net energy is being ADDED to the Earth system. We are currently not in balance with our surroundings.


So where do you propose the warm air winds came from

See above. More energy in the Earth system means more heat and more kinetic energy in particles (wind).

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