Researchers find the dynamics behind the remarkable August 2018 Greenland polynya formation

Peer-Reviewed Publication



A polynya is a region of open water that is surrounded by sea ice. These areas fluctuate throughout seasons, and weather events can influence their size and development. Extremely high wind in February 2018 led to a polynya that developed in the Wandel Sea off the coast of Greenland. Climatologists have never observed such a pronounced polynya since the beginning of the satellite era. Then, six months later, in August 2018, a polynya appeared again. A team of scientists, wanting to learn more about this unusual event, applied a comprehensive dataset to investigate the effects of atmosphere, sea ice, and ocean on the August polynya formation.

“We found that the thinnest sea ice cover in August since 1978 and the modest southerly wind were responsible for the formation and maintenance of this polynya.” said leading author Prof. Chang-Qing Ke. with Nanjing University.“Sea ice drift patterns have become more responsive to atmospheric forcing due to thinning of sea ice cover with climate change.”

Prof. Ke, alongside several other polynya researchers published their full results in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The study suggests that the regional wind has a profound influence on Arctic polynyas. Likewise, high wind played an essential role in the February polynya formation.

However, during the summer, thermodynamic effects are also critical to polynya formation. Understanding and predicting Arctic polynya formation requires more precise knowledge of both the dynamic (e.g., wind-induced sea ice drift) and thermodynamic (e.g., upwell heat) processes during polynya development.

This is a challenging task because Arctic regions are remote and lack plentiful surface observations. Scientists are mostly limited to applied satellite or model data. For further research, more in-situ satellite data is needed for detailed investigations into summer polynyas. This additional data should help better predict the thermodynamic effects on the time of opening and extent of the polynyas.


Advances in Atmospheric Sciences




Thinner Sea Ice Contribution to the Remarkable Polynya Formation North of Greenland in August 2018



From EurekAlert!

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September 14, 2021 2:32 am

I seriously doubt whether this analysis is correct. I suspect that they have struggled to find the reason in their models, and have been unable to look at yhe obvious reason, upwelling, simply because it isn’t in their models.

Reply to  Mike Jonas
September 14, 2021 4:45 am

As far as I can tell, the Wiki article* on polynya is reliable. In that light, the information in the above story seems unsurprising. Anyway, I don’t see any reason to doubt the accuracy of the underlying research. “It’s the wind”, is a pretty common cause of polynya.

Once again, we may have the problem that the PR hacks exaggerate and misinterpret the importance of research in their press releases. The actual scientists are unable to prevent them from doing so.

*When I was going to the arctic, lo those many years ago, the cause of at least one polynya was a complete mystery to scientists. A quick read of the Wiki page makes me think that is no longer the case.

September 14, 2021 3:08 am

These Polynya occur off the Antarctic coast when the offshore winds flow.

The southerly winds into the Arctic are the prime reason for sea ice area control.

It’s taken these people a long time to wake up.

The reason why these southerly winds are being driven into the Arctic region is a whole new discussion. And it ain’t the EPTG.

David Dibbell
September 14, 2021 4:02 am

Polynyas. At this link to Held, et al, 2019, Structure and Performance of GFDL’s CM4.0 Climate Model, search on the words “polynya” and “piControl” (Pre-Industrial Control simulation.) The piControl simulation runs hundreds of years and showed impressive temperature excursions and polynya formation.

So with atmospheric “forcing” from GHG’s set to zero, a recently updated model with a 1/4-degree ocean grid demonstrates that one should EXPECT such dynamic variations to appear from the nature of the system itself!

Reply to  David Dibbell
September 14, 2021 7:45 am

Perhaps all the loser models could become more accurate “ with atmospheric “forcing” from GHG’s set to zero”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  philincalifornia
September 14, 2021 12:35 pm

They ought to try that some time and see what they come up with.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 15, 2021 11:18 am

They have. GCMs were driven with observed SSTs instead of CO2 “forcings.” The resultant calculated historical land temperatures were closer to observed than GCMs driven with CO2. The calculations, of course, were not in the UN IPCC CliSciFi reports.

September 14, 2021 4:15 am

So, the ice is behaving exactly the way it has always behaved. Good to know.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  2hotel9
September 14, 2021 12:36 pm

Yes, nothing to see here.

September 14, 2021 4:55 am

Climatologists have never observed such a pronounced polynya since the beginning of the satellite era.

This is a challenging task because Arctic regions are remote and lack plentiful surface observations

Even in the satellite era. So how many may have been missed?

Reply to  fretslider
September 14, 2021 5:39 am

This is the cornerstone of my gripe with Al Gore’s Warming, increased info and ability to look at regions with resolution we’ve never had allows us to see incremental change that we’ve never been able to measure previously.
I am curious which satellite and on board equipment was used. I know the equipment used on the Maxar/DigitalGlobe satellites and their orbit makes it challenging to take pics above 60 degrees north and south.
Increased ability to measure change does not always equate to greater impact of change.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  fretslider
September 14, 2021 11:52 am

At a guess, most of them? They seem surprised that they found one and another opened up soon afterwards. And maybe they should stop calling everything they are unfamiliar with “unprecedented and the biggest, hottest, coldest, most amazing ever!”

Frank from NoVA
September 14, 2021 6:57 am

“Sea ice drift patterns have become more responsive to atmospheric forcing due to thinning of sea ice cover with climate change.”

I would defer to others the merit of the mechanisms described in the paper. What concerns me is the obligatory reference to “climate change” and the fact that this research is published under the auspices of the CCP – hardly a disinterested observer here.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 14, 2021 12:41 pm

The study should have said “warming” rather than “climate change”. By saying it the way he did, he implied that warming was causing climate change, which has not been shown to be the case. It was just natural warming that caused the thin ice, until proven otherwise.

September 14, 2021 8:21 am

Polynas are not necessarily open water, they also include thin spots in the ice, and they can happen anywhere in the polar ice cap, and has zero to do with global warming, or upwelling. Presumably only the open water variety can be detected by satellites.

As a veteran of US Navy nuclear submarine operations in the Arctic way back in the 1970s, I can personally vouch that polynas can occur anywhere. That’s how nuke subs surface through the polar ice cap, they find the polynas … because those are the only parts of the cap with thin enough ice (coupla feet give or take) for a sub to surface through it. They’re just a random phenomena, related to winds and the natural stresses and strains within the polar ice cap that results not only in polynas but also in ridges, both extending above the ice surface and extending underneath into the sea. The polar ice cap is a rather fluid system.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Duane
September 14, 2021 12:44 pm

The scientists who wrote this study said they had only seen two polynas and implied they were very rare.

I guess they need to talk to some submariners before they do their next study.

Reply to  Duane
September 15, 2021 12:42 am

As you correctly say and based on your personal experience there are different types of polynya.
The example here is a coastal latent heat polynya and the key to their formation are katabatic winds off the Greenland icecap to the south. These southerly winds are associated with the current 30-year meridional phase of the natural 60-year climate cycle.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
September 15, 2021 11:27 am

In response to Duane, Tom and Philip’s comments, it is obvious we need fewer PhDs and more grad students looking into historical observational data, records and personal accounts of all the phenomena supposedly studied by the CliSciFi practitioners.

September 14, 2021 8:57 am

Satellite data only became available from1979 at the end of the 1945~1979 PDO cool cycle and the middle of the AMO cool cycle (1965~1995) which caused polar ice to increase for over 40 years..

Then, from1980, the PDO reentered its warm cycle (which we’re still in) and the AMO reentered its warm cycle in 1995 and Arctic Ice started to decrease (CO2 had almost nothing to do with it), so it’s perfectly reasonable that a large polynya event occurred in 2018 when both the PDO and AMO were near the end of their warm cycles.

Now both the PDO and AMO are about to reenter their respective cool cycles, and Arctic Ice will soon begin to increase and global temps will begin to fall again as they did from 1945~1980..

Leftists will have a hard time explaining why global temps trends start to fall and Arctic sea ice starts increase, but I’m sure they’ll explain that somehow CAGW causes both global warming and global cooling, but most people will figure out CAGW is a complete scam…

We’ll see soon enough…

Reply to  SAMURAI
September 14, 2021 9:49 am

Satellite data was available before 1979 …. more like 1972 …. it is convenient to use 1979 for reasons u can see on fig 7.20 here ipcc_far_wg_I_chapter_07.pdf

Also the earlier data wasn’t nearly as good as later data but none the less the alarmists ignore the early data due to the low arctic sea ice.

Reply to  stewartpid
September 14, 2021 12:13 pm


NSIDC satellite polar ice data starts from 1979:


Dave Fair
Reply to  SAMURAI
September 15, 2021 11:38 am

Convenient for the fear-mongers.

Stephen Skinner
September 14, 2021 10:23 am

“Sea ice drift patterns have become more responsive to atmospheric forcing due to thinning of sea ice cover with climate change.”
They seem pretty certain with their assertions?

September 16, 2021 9:08 am

Oh my. This is hardly a profound insight. Everybody who knows anything at all about sea-ice knows that offshore winds is the reason for coastal polynyas.

It is so common that Swedish there is is even a special word for it “landråk“.

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