Ice melting Arctic cyclones more common than previously thought

Remember the Arctic cyclone that chopped up the Arctic sea ice in 2012, resulting in a new record low summer extent for the satellite era? It turns out they are rather common.

From the AGU Fall Meeting and the Ohio State University

Data analysis reveals hundreds of storms — mostly smaller ones — that had previously escaped detection

SAN FRANCISCO—From 2000 to 2010, about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, leaving warm water and air in their wakes—and melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

That’s about 40 percent more than previously thought, according to a new analysis of these Arctic storms. 

A 40 percent difference in the number of cyclones could be important to anyone who lives north of 55 degrees latitude—the area of the study, which includes the northern reaches of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, along with the state of Alaska.

The finding is also important to researchers who want to get a clear picture of current weather patterns, and a better understanding of potential climate change in the future, explained David Bromwich, professor of geography at The Ohio State University and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

The study was presented Thursday, Dec. 12 at the American Geophysical Union meeting, in a poster co-authored by his colleagues Natalia Tilinina and Sergey Gulev of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University.

“We now know there were more cyclones than previously thought, simply because we’ve gotten better at detecting them,” Bromwich said.

Cyclones are zones of low atmospheric pressure that have wind circulating around them. They can form over land or water, and go by different names depending on their size and where they are located. In Columbus, Ohio, for instance, a low-pressure system in December would simply be called a winter storm. Extreme low-pressure systems formed in the tropical waters can be called hurricanes or typhoons.

How could anyone miss a storm as big as a cyclone? You might think they are easy to detect, but as it turns out, many of the cyclones that were missed were small in size and short in duration, or occurred in unpopulated areas. Yet researchers need to know about all the storms that have occurred if they are to get a complete picture of storm trends in the region.

“We can’t yet tell if the number of cyclones is increasing or decreasing, because that would take a multidecade view. We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic—Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing—so we can say that we’re capturing a good view of what’s happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes,” Bromwich said.

Bromwich leads the Arctic System Reanalysis (ASR) collaboration, which uses statistics and computer algorithms to combine and re-examine diverse sources of historical weather information, such as satellite imagery, weather balloons, buoys and weather stations on the ground.

“There is actually so much information, it’s hard to know what to do with it all. Each piece of data tells a different part of the story—temperature, air pressure, wind, precipitation—and we try to take all of these data and blend them together in a coherent way,” Bromwich said.

The actual computations happen at the Ohio Supercomputer Center, and the combined ASR data are made publicly available to scientists.

Two such scientists are cyclone experts Tilinina and Gulev, who worked with Bromwich to look for evidence of telltale changes in wind direction and air pressure in the ASR data. They compared the results to three other data re-analysis groups, all of which combine global weather data.

“We found that ASR provides new vision of the cyclone activity in high latitudes, showing that the Arctic is much more densely populated with cyclones than was suggested by the global re-analyses,” Tilinina said.

One global data set used for comparison was ERA-Interim, which is generated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Focusing on ERA-Interim data for latitudes north of 55 degrees, Tilinina and Gulev identified more than 1,200 cyclones per year between 2000 and 2010. For the same time period, ASR data yielded more than 1,900 cyclones per year.

When they narrowed their search to cyclones that occurred directly over the Arctic Ocean, they found more than 200 per year in ERA-Interim, and a little over 300 per year in ASR.

There was good agreement between all the data sets when it came to big cyclones, the researchers found, but the Arctic-centered ASR appeared to catch smaller, shorter-lived cyclones that escaped detection in the larger, global data sets. The ASR data also provided more detail on the biggest cyclones, capturing the very beginning of the storms earlier and tracking their decay longer.

Extreme Arctic cyclones are of special concern to climate scientists because they melt sea ice, Bromwich said.

“When a cyclone goes over water, it mixes the water up. In the tropical latitudes, surface water is warm, and hurricanes churn cold water from the deep up to the surface. In the Arctic, it’s the exact opposite: there’s warmer water below, and the cyclone churns that warm water up to the surface, so the ice melts.”

As an example, he cited the especially large cyclone that hit the Arctic in August 2012, which scientists believe played a significant role in the record retreat of sea ice that year.

###

ASR is a collaboration among Ohio State, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Colorado-Boulder. It is funded by the National Science Foundation as an International Polar Year project.

Poster A43C-0280, “Storm tracks in Arctic System Reanalysis – New View of Polar Cyclone Activity,” will be presented on Thursday, Dec. 12 from 1:40-6:00 p.m. PT in Hall A-C of Moscone South.

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41 thoughts on “Ice melting Arctic cyclones more common than previously thought

  1. So the Arctic cyclones are a way for the Earth to bleed much more ocean heat content to space than would otherwise occur if the ice were undisturbed. Could this be a reflection of another emergent thermostat phenomena?

  2. The article is mostly about the discovery of much smaller cyclones, not ones the size of the August 2012 storm. So I think your opening line saying that cyclones like the August 2012 one are “rather common” is misleading.

  3. So low arctic ice represents a loss of energy – is that where some or all the “missing heat” left?

  4. Very interesting. Yet another weather/climate variable not included in the models that predicate policy and plunge the UK into an energy crisis.

  5. Seems the Arctic is a thermostat, less ice makes it more efficient at dumping heat. These small storms make the process more efficient.

  6. I would have thought that the storms chopped the ice up and caused the pieces to ride on top of each other, (rather than causing them to melt suddenly,) thus revealing more open water.

  7. Brian says:
    December 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

    “The article is mostly about the discovery of much smaller cyclones, not ones the size of the August 2012 storm. So I think your opening line saying that cyclones like the August 2012 one are “rather common” is misleading.”
    _____________________________

    I think that the only reason you come here is to find a way to denigrate the site.

  8. “…We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic—Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing—so we can say that we’re capturing a good view of what’s happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes,” Bromwich said.

    *

    Lost me right there. Data is no use at all if they are still running it side-by-side with assumptions of warming, melting and “rapid changes”. They are determined to see and use the meme that We Dun It.

  9. The assumption that sea ice melted in 2012 to a record low number is just that, an assumption.When you understand how they arrive at their sea ice area numbers you quickly realize there is a fault in their methodology. They might consider how the wind effects their numbers. By deleting ice below a certain % density and ignoring what happens when the wind .takes ice from one area and piles it into an area that is already 100% covered they are making it look like the ice has melted. when it has simply moved around.
    What is most annoying is the fact that they don’t measure energy gained vs energy lost in the Arctic.It is always about what happens with the sunlight never about what happens in the darkness.Exposed sea water radiates more thermal energy than ice covered water when the sun isn’t shining but where is the research regarding thermal gain vs thermal loss. When sea water warms it stays on the surface, ( mostly) when sea water cools it drops out of sight.to be replaced by warmer sea water. Why is it that so called Arctic experts seldom tell people just how hard it is to make sea water freeze when they know by comparison how easy it is to freeze fresh water? Is it because they know most people don’t know the difference?

  10. Anthony – is the phrase “north of 55 degrees latitude” correct (3rd para of article)? That’s not very far north – Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, and Copenhagen in Denmark are all north of 55 degrees.

    All the best.

  11. When there is less sea ice than normal, a storm will have more effect, as the reach of the waves will be longer and the waves therefore bigger.

    ‘When a cyclone goes over water, it mixes the water up. In the tropical latitudes, surface water is warm, and hurricanes churn cold water from the deep up to the surface. In the Arctic, it’s the exact opposite: there’s warmer water below, and the cyclone churns that warm water up to the surface, so the ice melts’.

    As Owen in GA was the first to point out, the release of energy at the poles, while reducing ice area in the short term, in the longer term will act as a thermostat and lead to a net cooling.

  12. “Data analysis reveals hundreds of [Arctic] storms — mostly smaller ones — that had previously escaped detection”

    Wait. Is this the same patch of our planet where unmeasured temperature datasets are being extrapolated? Ooops.

  13. “That’s about 40 percent more than previously thought, according to a new analysis of these Arctic storms.

    A 40 percent difference in the number of cyclones could be important to anyone who lives north of 55 degrees latitude—the area of the study, which includes the northern reaches of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, along with the state of Alaska.”
    ===============
    Anyone living north of 55 degrees saw the storms whether they were detected by satellite or not.
    There was not “A 40 percent difference in the number of cyclones…”, they were always there, but now we have detected them.
    Just because they have been detected doesn’t change their affects, which have been ongoing, or am I missing something ?

  14. While we all tend to focus on sea ice area/extent we neglect the fact that we are talking about a thin lair of ice floating on hundreds to thousands of meters of sea water It is this vast volume of sea water that we should be looking at when we consider the effects of polar cooling. While sea ice is .hard to form, cooling open sea water is easy.
    The thing about cooling sea water is that it sinks out of sight.Out of sight,out of mind, but where does it really go.We hear about all those Argo floats but how many are under the Arctic sea ice?

  15. “about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, ”

    5-6 per day? Every day? I find that very unlikely.

  16. Rob Dawg says:

    December 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

    “Data analysis reveals hundreds of [Arctic] storms — mostly smaller ones — that had previously escaped detection”

    Wait. Is this the same patch of our planet where unmeasured temperature datasets are being extrapolated? Ooops.
    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Yes, ooooops indeed. Now they will have to take into account the heat sucking vortices that are taking all of that extrapolated heat away from the planet. I will bet that this particular discovery disappears from view.

  17. Paul Deacon says:
    December 12, 2013 at 10:25 am
    ###

    Its a press release! Anthony did NOT write it. SHEESH.

  18. Do we know how deep the churning of cold and warm water reaches into the depths?

    I understand that submarines do not have to submerge very far to escape all surface effects from storms etc.

    Do we know the temperature gradient of the sea in this area of interest?

    Is it high enough to have an effect I wonder?

  19. How the Arctic Ocean heat actually is radiated into space. Remember that the snow and ice acts as an efficient insulator. The R factor [insulation] for ice is four times that of water. The R factor of snow on ice could be 100 times that of water.
    1) By simple analysis of the above, most heat, from the ocean to the atmosphere into space, must come from open water.
    2) Open water exists at the edges of the ice sheet and at the breaks in the ice pack.
    3) Heat from the edges or breaks forms the cyclones. Rising heat moves air up creating a low pressure that must be replaced by incoming surface air.
    4) More cyclones, more ice sheet movement and breaks.
    5) We are in a time of warm oceans, cool land/ice surface areas.
    6) More heat and moisture moving upward increases the Noctilucent Ice Crystal Clouds.
    7) More Noctilucent Clouds, more UV reflection, less heat from the Sun.
    8) More Noctilucent Clouds, greater Infrared Radiation into space.

    As the Sun ramps down in cycle 24, the difference between the warm oceans and cool lands will increase resulting in more massive polar cyclones and greater cooling at the Poles.

  20. As an example, he cited the especially large cyclone that hit the Arctic in August 2012, which scientists believe played a significant role in the record retreat of sea ice that year.

    Considering the September extent in 2013 we have interesting times ahead. Has Professor Peter Wadhams and Professor Wieslaw Maslowski factored this new finding into there excellent computer models?

  21. “When a cyclone goes over water, it mixes the water up. In the tropical latitudes, surface water is warm, and hurricanes churn cold water from the deep up to the surface. In the Arctic, it’s the exact opposite: there’s warmer water below, and the cyclone churns that warm water up to the surface, so the ice melts.”

    The satellite animation of the sea ice flow during that storm showed the ice loss was due to it breaking up and getting swept out of the Arctic basin. The culprit wasn’t warm water melting the ice.

  22. The record global low temperature was set (as far as has been recorded) but only discovered 3 years after it happened. Now we only recently notice that there are more Arctic storms that reduce the ice pack than we noticed before. What else has been going that we don’t know about?
    I don’t oppose learning more to gain a better understanding of what’s going on around us. Practical information can come from such endeavors. (Should I buy a snow blower or an umbrella?)
    But to base political policies, energy policies on a hypothesis with such gaps in knowledge and understanding? A hypothesis whose long range predictions/projections/prophesies have been so wrong in the short term? A hypothesis that scammers (Al Gore et. al.) have made millions from and others have gained political from? That I oppose.

  23. How many “small ones” can you all count in this video from last years August Arctic cyclone ?

    Warning an excersise of this nature may make you cross eyed! =-O

  24. The Arctic polar vortex is beginning to form, in fits & starts. These little cyclones are analogous to the tornadoes and waterspouts on the periphery of a hurricane. I’d love to see this cyclone detection method applied to the Antarctic, where the largest cyclone on the planet spins on, year after year.

  25. “When a cyclone goes over water, it mixes the water up. In the tropical latitudes, surface water is warm, and hurricanes churn cold water from the deep up to the surface. In the Arctic, it’s the exact opposite: there’s warmer water below, and the cyclone churns that warm water up to the surface, so the ice melts.”

    It is much more subtle and complex than this statement suggests. There is not an unlimited amount of warm water to churn up. Once it is mixed up, a totally new sort of fluid-dynamics comes into play.

    Think to yourself, “How the heck can warm water be under cold water? Doesn’t the warm water rise and the cold water sink?” The answer is “Yes, but water also layers itself in terms of salinity, so salty water sinks and fresh water rises.”

    Only when the water is still and untroubled, (as it is when protected by ice,) can you get these delicate balances between salinity and temperature that allow warm water to build up below cold water, and boundaries such as the thermocline and pycnocline to be stable. The water slides in layers like shuffled cards. Once the ice is gone, it is like someone played 52-pick-up with the cards, and flung them in the air. “Churned up” barely describes the complete derangement that occurs to the system.

    And the result? The warm AMO switches over to the cold AMO, and a period of low-ice-extent gives way to a period of high-ice-extent. It seemingly takes roughly thirty years to swing from one extreme to the other, and thirty years to swing back again.

    I think the study of these arctic systems is quite valuable, in terms of being able to plan on (or make educated guesses at) the future warmth available for northern lands. (IE: Are we heading for a MWP or a LIA?) Unfortunately this study got all mixed up with the Global Warming balderdash. When the backlash against Global Warming rises, I fear the baby will get thrown out with the bathwater, and these arctic studies will get the ax.

  26. Gunga Din says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    December 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    I know I have a typo. (should be “gained political power from” rather than “gained political from”) And I did mention a certain almost-a-disaterous-president’s name but other than that, I can’t figure out why I’m in moderation.

  27. Looks like this is a game changer for total cyclonic energy (TCE) thingy..

    OssQss says:

    December 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm
    —–

    Quite the waves rolling off the NE Greenland side..Do they have a name..
    I’ll have to watch that again. thanks

  28. Paraphrasing Dick Lindzen…..Arctic sea ice extent has more to do with wind than temperature, this stuff used to be text book….appears as if it may become text book again?

  29. Who is doing the math wrt the mass flow and temps of the water exiting the polar regions?

    Cold water has to go somewhere, right? How much and how cold will have an impact on the global energy budget.

  30. 55 degrees? That’s just a half degree north of Edmonton, Alberta and 1.7 degrees south of Fort McMurray. That is a lot of Canada and virtually all of Alaska except a tiny piece of the panhandle. Hazelton BC on the Yellowhead Highway to Prince Rupert is north of 55. What makes north of 55 significant? North of 60 is significant to Canadians but probably no one else. The MIDDLE of the four western provinces of Canada is 54.5 N. There is a lot of land north of 55. (Including all of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a large piece of Russia)

  31. A.D. Everard says:
    December 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

    “…We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic—Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing—so we can say that we’re capturing a good view of what’s happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes,” Bromwich said.

    *

    Lost me right there. Data is no use at all if they are still running it side-by-side with assumptions of warming, melting and “rapid changes”. They are determined to see and use the meme that We Dun It.

    +1
    Greenland ice melting? Tundra thawing? Only in CAGW model dreams, &/or at a pace unchanged since the LIA.

  32. RE: Jake2 says:
    December 13, 2013 at 1:58 am

    The study suggests that in fact we do get such storms regularly. In fact we got at least two such polar gales last summer, but the ice didn’t melt nearly as much. Why not? I assume it is because the water beneath the ice was not nearly as warm in August 2013 as it was in August 2012. (This would also explain why the air temperatures north of eighty degrees were cooler as well.)

    What people fail to factor in is that once the water is “churned up,” there no longer is any warm water left below to churn up. Melting all that ice used up the heat, and the entire column of water is cooled. Further storms churn up cooler water, and the ice cannot melt to the same degree. Storms can smash up the ice, but this tends to pile the ice up more thickly in some areas while leaving patches of cooler open water between, which loses more heat and also forms new ice more quickly, once the sun sets in September.

    In terms of “volume,” the big storm of August, 2012 likely reduced volume, but the storms of 2013 likely saw volume remain roughly the same (or reduce only a little,) even though “extent” dipped.

    Last summer’s storms, and the failures of the smashed up bergs to melt, were real eye-openers to Alarmists and Skeptics alike, due to the fact the ice seemingly began the summer “in poor shape.” Not only was there a lot of “baby ice” due to the low extent of the prior summer, but that ice got smashed up by a gale in February, and wide leads were covered by ice even thinner than baby-ice, as it was formed after the February gale, in the brief tail-end of winter. Alarmists were licking their chops in anticipation of all this thin ice melting more swiftly than ice of more normal thickness, but it simply refused to do so. I confess I was amazed by how stubborn the ice proved to be. The only explanation that makes much sense to me is that the water under the ice was colder, due to being “churned up.”

    I think most of the melting at the Pole comes from beneath, and is due to the mysteries surrounding dramatic shifts in the northern tendrils of the Gulf Stream, which somehow relates to the warm and cold phases of the AMO. Please send me money in a brown paper bag so I can study this fascinating mystery further. (I have a rough idea of what is happening, but the devil is in the details.)

  33. Oceanography tells us there are currents into and out of the region. Other threads have [dealt] with this. But most studies seem to look at just a “snapshot” of time and very limited vertical region (surface upward). American and [Russian] subs have been operating in and around the arctic for how long? It is my understanding that they monitor salinity, temperature, and other factors that affect sound transmission through water as well as having an affect on navigation. How much of that data is available and added to any studies of the region for a dynamic picture of what is going on?

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