Record-low 2016 Antarctic sea ice was due to a ‘perfect storm’ of tropical, polar conditions – not ‘climate change’

While winter sea ice in the Arctic is declining so dramatically that ships can now navigate those waters without any icebreaker escort, the scene in the Southern Hemisphere is very different. Sea ice area around Antarctica has actually increased slightly in winter — that is, until last year.

A dramatic drop in Antarctic sea ice almost a year ago, during the Southern Hemisphere spring, brought its maximum area down to its lowest level in 40 years of record keeping. Ocean temperatures were also unusually warm. This exceptional, sudden nosedive in Antarctica differs from the long-term decline in the Northern Hemisphere. A new University of Washington study shows that the lack of Antarctic sea ice in 2016 was in part due to a unique one-two punch from atmospheric conditions both in the tropical Pacific Ocean and around the South Pole.

After increasing slightly in recent decades, the sea ice extent around Antarctica plummeted in 2016. CREDIT Malte Stuecker/University of Washington

The study was published Aug. 24 in Geophysical Research Letters.

“This combination of factors, all these things coming together in a single year, was basically the ‘perfect storm,’ for Antarctic sea ice,” said corresponding author Malte Stuecker, a UW postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric sciences. “While we expect a slow decline in the future from global warming, we don’t expect such a rapid decline in a single year to happen very often.”

The area of sea ice around Antarctica at its peak in late 2016 was 2 million square kilometers (about 800,000 square miles) less than the average from the satellite record. Statistically, this is three standard deviations away from the average — an event that would be expected to occur randomly just once every 300 years.

The percent of ocean surface covered with sea ice in 2016 was lower than usual (brown) over many parts of the Southern Ocean. The black line shows the edge of the region with at least 15 percent ice cover. CREDIT Malte Stuecker/University of Washington

The record low was not predicted by climate scientists, so UW researchers looked at the bigger picture in ocean and atmospheric data to explain why it happened.

The previous year, 2015-16, had a very strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Nicknamed the “Godzilla El Nino,” the event was similar to other monster El Niños in 1982-83 and 1997-98. Unlike the 1997-98 event, however, it was only followed by a relatively weak La Niña in 2016.

Far away from the tropics, the tropical El Niño pattern creates a series of high- and low-pressure zones that cause unusually warm ocean temperatures in Antarctica’s eastern Ross, Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas. But in 2016, when no strong La Niña materialized, researchers found that these unusually warm surface pools lingered longer than usual and affected freeze-up of seawater the following season.

“I’ve spent many years working on tropical climate and El Niño, and it amazes me to see its far-reaching impacts,” Stuecker said.

Meanwhile, observations show that the winds circling Antarctica were unusually weak in 2016, meaning they did not push sea ice away from the Antarctic coast to make room for the formation of new ice. This affected ice formation around much of the Southern Ocean.

“This was a really rare combination of events, something that we have never seen before in the observations,” Stuecker said.

The researchers analyzed 13,000 years of climate model simulations to study how these unique conditions would affect the sea ice. Taken together, the El Niño pattern and Southern Ocean winds explain about two-thirds of the 2016 decline. The rest may be due to unusually big storms, which a previous paper suggested had broken up ice floes.

Scientists predict Antarctica’s ocean will be one of the last places on Earth to experience global warming. Eventually the Southern Ocean’s surface will begin to warm, however, and then sea ice there will begin its more long-term decline.

“Our best estimate of the Antarctic sea ice turnaround point is sometime in the next decade, but with high uncertainty because the climate signal is small compared to the large variations that can occur from one year to the next,” said co-author Cecilia Bitz, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

Stuecker noted that this type of big, rare weather event is useful to help understand the physics behind sea ice formation, and to learn how best to explain the observations.

“For understanding the climate system we must combine the atmosphere, ocean and ice, but we must focus on more than a specific region,” Stuecker said. “If we want to understand sea ice in Antarctica, we cannot just zoom in locally — we really have to take a global perspective.”

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The paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017GL074691/abstract;jsessionid=DC5E9576BD0BED17C422D0957DC8764B.f03t01

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67 thoughts on “Record-low 2016 Antarctic sea ice was due to a ‘perfect storm’ of tropical, polar conditions – not ‘climate change’

  1. Scientists predict Antarctica’s ocean will be one of the last places on Earth to experience global warming.

    Keeping with Climate Scientist norms, with this one statement expect Antarctica to be the first place on Earth to experience global warming.

    • While winter sea ice in the Arctic is declining so dramatically that ….

      … was declining. Last years sept min was indistinguishable from the 2007 sept min. That means ZERO change in a decade so the ” is declining ” is BS, it is a “was declining.

      • Seriously, is this how you judge reality. Comparing 2 time periods 10 years apart as a proof of concept.
        Then when you were 2 yrs old and when you will be 82 yrs old you pee’d your pants, therefore, no change occured in your life.
        Is this your rational argument?
        Try again to see if you can come up with an answer that more closely reflects reality.
        You know ‘reality’ is for people who no longer tolerate drugs n’ alcohol.

      • Greg whenever one takes a set of numbers say in your case 10, in order to establish a trend, one should also look at a few of immediately previous results say 2006 ,2005 and 2004 which when added to your selection indicate that your flatness is more l ikeley to be a statistical aberration.however the proof is when 2018 and 2019 follow the trend . Who knows, no one not even you.

      • The autumn Arctic ice minimum was in 2012. Every year since has been between 1/4 &1/2 greater than that. two weeks off ice minimum, this year seems to be heading towards 1/3-1/2 greater than 2012. If we take the trend line of the last 10 years ( a short period, I know) its slope is zero.

    • Well we’ll see how this southern summer turns out. Interesting that 2016 had a pretty ‘normal’ sea ice maximum, though it started it’s decline early and fair raced down to an amazing low ebb in the summer. This year’s maximum is lower and could possible have already started its decline:
      http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    • Let me translate.
      “Scientists predict the coldest place on earth will be the last to warm up”

      :D

      Scam artists, not scientists

      • I should correct my previous comment. With about a week to go to Arctic autumn ice minimum, it looks from the NSIDC data that this year’s ice could be anything up to twice times 2012. Just underscores the point that the decadal trend line is flat – the ice is not going away!

  2. But they manage to get in the “wait and see, global warming, climate change CO2 CO2 CO2 CO2!!!” disclaimers in for the future, while admitting it was nothing related.

    It’s like they can’t get funded or published if they don’t at least give the dire future warnings.

  3. The vast sheets of sea ice around Antarctica are affected by tides so you would think they are being constantly flexed. Why then do they not break apart more regularly?

  4. “that ships can now navigate those waters without any icebreaker escort”

    In the news last week there was report of the LNG tanker that could travel through the east passage delivering Russian gas to Chine. All media picked it up and it was reported as a merchant ship without icebreaker escort. The think is that this ship is built like a icebreaker and can go through ice up to 2 meters thick. To think that merchant ships now travel without icebreakers is all due to the advancement in technology and has nothing to do with climate change. The ship in question will take the eastern route until December.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/24/russian-tanker-sails-arctic-without-icebreaker-first-time

    • The question is…..why did they need an ice breaker..when the route they took is normally ice free this time of the year?
      ……because it wasn’t ice free

    • This paper deals with ANT-Arctcia, not the Arctic. Yet read the handwriting in the ice.
      There is signifcantly less Arctic sea ice (there is no land in the Central Arctic Ocean) than ever humans recorded previously. Evidenced by Forward planning Russians building especially constructed dual ice hulled ships capable of navigating a 6 1/2 day trip from Norway to Korea, for an economic money making capitalist venture to be repeated regularily, because the ice is less & less.
      In the Antarctic, with a huge land mass in the middle, a slower changing physics is beginning to be seen more substantionally each season.
      Evidence this paper, post El Nino, slower wind circulation, loss of State of Connecticut sized Ross Ice Shelf “C” in the middle of Antarctic winter, the declining habitat of Adélie penguin-
      (Pygoscelis adeliae) most southerly cold weather enduring Penguin species, subplanted by less than extreme cold weather loving Chinstrap penguin- (Pygoscelis antarctica) & Gentoo (@#$%)
      All reasons point to the tip of an iceberg whose melting points warm in an uneven path over the coming years.
      As more scientists begun adding to and attempting newer scientific studies of the extremely difficult to live in environment of deep south, they will begin to understand the physical processes of a warmer world on this Kingdom of Ice & Cold.
      Then they will verify what we already know will occur. The last holdout of Ice will melt faster and faster in an uneven rise of warmth, and it will pick up speed until one may take a stroll thru Antarctic meadows covered in mossy vegetation and look up into the mountains there to admire the few remaining glaciers still entrenched in these southern highlands.
      When that time comes, in your lifetime, please remember what the dormouse said: “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”

    • That Russian tanker was actually an icebreaker in its own right !!

      Actually BUILT and CLASSED as one.

      So the whole article IS A LIE ,

      The tanker DID NOT sail without an icebreaker.. It is physically impossible for it to do so.!!

      • Sailing in the Antarctic, well this early year The cruise ship The World set the most southern navigation ever in approaching the Ross Ice shelf. An earlier record breaker in this endeavour was The Discovery in the 1901 expedition which under Cpt R F Scott reached the ice shelf at 14 in north of this point. Indeed if you plot The World’s record on Google maps it is part of the ice shelf. So there is long term evidence in the decline of the Antartic ice and recent decline. Now the slowness of the decline in the sea ice in Antarctica is expected from an increased flow of freshwater from the Antartic continent, raising the point at which ice is formed.

        For the Antartic it is not the sea ice that is the indicator but the decline in the ice shelves. Again this is not a 10 year process. It is such a huge expanse of ice with the temperatures well below zero the thermal inertia is much greater than the Arctic, however using this shipping data the Ross Ice shelf has retreated

  5. One of the consequences of record low Antarctic sea ice, is greater ice and snow accumulation on the land surface of the continent. Storms circling Antarctica, end up closer to the continent as a result. Sea-Level rise will be affected as this “ocean-effect” process increases!

  6. It is the continued nature of humans to ascribe some powerfully evil entity to be the cause of natural phenomenon, especially one not seen before. This is no different. Yes, we try to be objective but cannot help our subconscious propensity to blame and offer sacrifice. I would hazard a guess that any anthropologist would admit to this but dare not publish it in connection to climate warming hysteria.

    • I am not hysterical about the truth.
      It makes me sad that so many people argue about the facts, as if they could stop the inevitable from happening.
      I am saddened not so much by the prospect of my own death caused by old age or climate change, but by the assured probability that my and all peoples grand children will never live long enough to die from old age.
      And that will be the end of humanity as we know it.
      God may have to begin again with Adam 1.2 & Eva 2.1 to see if maybe these people are not so selfish and self centered as to argue til they all die.

      • What is an “assured probability”?

        It is highly likely that your grandkids will live longer on average than people alive today.

        The world is far better off now than it has ever been. And most likely it will only get better.

      • Wow Neil, you took a rather big swig of the koolaid. I’d suggest hanging around here and doing some reading. Your comments are infected with propaganda and you don’t appear to be able to apply logic.

  7. There will be interesting studies of literature (that won’t be done) over the Global Warming scare now that its over, except for the back peddling. The genuflexion to AGW without data is a precautionary addition in each of recent papers now venturing forth to discuss climate without being a CAGW rant.

    I think it an interesting study to look at the papers, say, on continental drift during the transition away from the diatribes against it. Plate tectonics got its dental mechanic’s-like new name because they wanted a clean break away from the terrible embarrassment of prominent geologists who hounded and vilified Wegener (continental drift) until his death plus another couple of decades. South African and South American geologists supported the theory (they had the best evidence).

  8. A confluence of events that is unpredictable (i.e. incompletely or insufficiently characterized and unwieldy) in the scientific domain.

  9. After Wegener, Tuzo Wilson kept the story going. A friend completed a degree in Geological Engineering in 1962. At the U of Saskatchewan. In that year Wilson presented the story in a large lecture room. Those in the faculty of geology sat in a block at the back of the room. Lecture over, they did not ask any questions, but altogether stood up and, in a huff, made a show of walking out.

      • “isostacy caused mountains to form. ”

        That’s what I was taught at high school. There was something about sediment weight leading to sideways pressure on rock strata. I never could figure out how that was supposed to work.

  10. “While winter sea ice in the Arctic is declining so dramatically that ships can now navigate those waters without any icebreaker escort, ”

    Should that read “summer”?

      • And how much Arctic ice was melting? At least half was flushed out through the Fram Strait, and the other half was dissolved in sea water, not melted.

        (Dissolved, because that was the way our great-grandmothers made ice-cream, with a bucket of ice and salt.)

        All that was needed to dissolved the Antarctic sea ice was more salty sea water. Could surface salinity of the Southern Ocean have increased?

      • ” At least half was flushed out through the Fram Strait…”

        And then it melted, of course.

        “… and the other half was dissolved in sea water, not melted.”
        This makes no sense at all. No, the reduction in ice is not caused by increasing salinity. It happens every summer and is caused by higher temperatures. The ice melts.

      • Yes, the sensor malfunction was due to a polar bear sitting on it while it waited its turn feeding at the dump by the airport.

  11. It seems they missed a blindingly obvious detail: Most of the ice deficit in 2016 occurred during a 2 week interval at the beginning of September. Clearly this was weather, not climate.
    In the weeks just preceding normal maximum ice extent for 2016, which normally would add nearly 1 million sq.km of ice, the ice extent instead was reduced by nearly 1 million sq.km.. This explains almost the entire change in ice extent, with periods both before and after following the general trend of normal increase and decrease. No long term evaluation is needed to explain this one time event.
    We have no idea what caused the event as far as I have seen. Perhaps somebody could investigate that, but then it obviously would not support the theory of CAGW (no funds available for that). A good guess would be a combination of El Nino water and a wind storm. Currently the ice appears to be slowly recovering back to “normal”, with rates of freezing and melting comparable to past records, reflecting an offset of 1-2 million sq.km. Last week, it was about 1/2 M sq.km below average.
    Data: https://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/S_stddev_timeseries.png
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/sea-ice-page/
    And meanwhile on the other pole, the temperature has been slightly below average for nearly 3 months straight, until about a week ago, and Arctic ice minimum looks like it will come early. Maybe next week.
    http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php
    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/

    • From these referred figures it is clear that:

      2016 winter lower than 2012 and continued into 2017
      2017 summer is more than 2012

      That means in 2017, relatively more ice was accumulated

      Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

      • Harry, from my observations over the past two years there is an element of circular “ground hog day” to certain aspects of atmospheric science. Considering there are more unproven theories and assumptions, than proven facts, one would think that all avenues of thought would be suitably discussed in a pragmatic way. I spent many years leading corporate restructure and the most difficult of task was changing peoples thinking and approach. Usually it was easier to replace them. That is why the CAGW theory will remain dominant for some time.
        Regards

    • Harry I’be read through your website. There is one sentence that got me “All oxygen is paramagnetic” Don’t you know that there was a paper on this site that disputed that an stated that at 20 -30 km oxygen polymerises to give a paramagnetic compound,. The colour of this compound is red!

      On the other hand the sky is blue so possibly its a red herring.

      • Thanks for reading my website and challenging. I am not atmospherically qualified to recognize the red herring joke. Mainly I am trying to generate a scientific discussion of the possibilities opened up by the general thesis and the Brewer-Dobson challenge.

  12. The opening sentence asserts that the Arctic is safe for shipping without icebreakers.
    That appears to be at best a misleading claim.

  13. Wait. A few years back when Antarctica sea ice was at record highs we were told it was because global warming was melting land ice, which in turn was lowering the salinity of the ocean which raised it’s melting/freezing point.

    So, now that Antarctica ice is below normal that means global warming is over and land ice is growing leaving the ocean saltier and lowering it’s freezing point. Right?

    • Of course not. It means that Global Warming has now reached the point at which it melts sea ice as well as land ice.

      You simply have not understood the basic principle:

      All Phenomena Are Caused By And Are Proof Of Global Warming.

      So if it snows in summer, or if it doesn’t snow in summer, that is caused by GW.
      Wind and calm are caused by GW.
      If a raindrop falls where you expected, that is proof of GW.
      If it falls two inches to the right of where you expected, that is proof of GW.
      More clouds than usual? GW.
      Fewer clouds than usual? GW.
      The usual number of clouds? It’s worse than we thought!

      It’s a great theory. Explains everything, proved by everything.

  14. i see one thing not mentioned in the article: that the warm El nino pool veered more south then north displacing the cold waters more north so that the 2016-2017 tropical cyclone season was a record low one.

  15. The Nov and Dec low Antarctic sea ice were because of WX events back in Sept, as is plainly obvious in NOAA’s interactive Charctic graph.

  16. To the extent that the ebb and flow of the polar ice caps seem to be inversely related, maybe there will be a noticeable increase in arctic ice over the next decade or two.

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