New Images of the 2013 Arctic Sea Ice Mega-Fracture

By: Angela Fritz , 9:02 PM GMT on March 29, 2013


Satellite image of the large fracture in Arctic sea ice in the Beaufort Sea (north of Alaska). Image from NASA, acquired February 23, 2013.

New images of 2013's Arctic sea ice mega-fracture have been posted on NASA's website. Sea ice fractures are not uncommon, though, according to NASA, the extent of this one is. Two things have combined this year to create the mega-fracture:

1) Arctic sea ice is not what it used to be. It is becoming thin and fragile, whereas thick, multi-year ice (ice that is around for many years and is much more stable) has declined. Arctic sea ice extent has plummeted since 1979, and reached an all-time low in September 2012. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, through 2013, February sea ice extent has declined at a rate of 2.9% per decade compared to the long-term average. This represents an overall reduction of more than 606,000 square miles from 1979 to 2013, which is equivalent to more than twice the area of the state of Texas. Scientific consensus points to global warming from fossil fuel emissions as the culprit of the Arctic's decline.

2) In February and March, the weather pattern has been consistently offshore and unfavorable for the sea ice, pushing the ice away from shore. These weather patterns are not uncommon. The difference is that these days, the fragile ice cannot endure the stress, and fractures more than it would have in previous years.


The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of extensive sea-ice fracturing off the northern coast of Alaska. The event began in late-January and spread west toward Banks Island throughout February and March 2013. Source: NASA Earth OBservatory on YouTube.


Animation of the ice fracture using satellite AVHRR data, from the Arctic Sea Ice blog on NSIDC.

NASA writes:

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of extensive sea-ice fracturing off the northern coast of Alaska. The event began in late-January and spread west toward Banks Island throughout February and March 2013.

Visualizations of the Arctic often give the impression that the ice cap is a continuous sheet of stationary, floating ice. In fact, it is a collection of smaller pieces that constantly shift, crack, and grind against one another as they are jostled by winds and ocean currents. Especially during the summer—but even during the height of winter—cracks—or leads—open up between pieces of ice.

That was what was happening on the left side of the animation (below) in late January. A high-pressure weather system was parked over the region, producing warmer temperatures and winds that flowed in a southwesterly direction. That fueled the Beaufort Gyre, a wind-driven ocean current that flows clockwise. The gyre was the key force pulling pieces of ice west past Point Barrow, the northern nub of Alaska that protrudes into the Beaufort Sea.

"A fracturing event in this area is not unusual because the Beaufort Gyre tends to push ice away from Banks Island and the Canadian Archipelago," explained Walt Meier of the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). "Point Barrow can act like a 'pin point' where the ice catches and fractures to the north and east."

In February, however, a series of storms passing over central Alaska exacerbated the fracturing. Strong westerly winds prompted several large pieces of ice to break away in an arc-shaped wave that moved progressively east. By the end of February, large pieces of ice had fractured all the way to the western coast of Banks Island, a distance of about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles).

The data used to create the animation came from the longwave infrared (thermal) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, so the animation illustrates how much heat the surface was emitting as VIIRS surveyed the area. Cooler areas (sea ice) appear white, while warmer areas (open water) are dark. The light gray plume near the cracks is warmer, moister air escaping from the ocean and blowing downwind. Clouds do not show up well in the VIIRS thermal band, so the storms that fueled the fracturing are not readily visible.

While fracturing events are common, few events sprawl across such a large area or produce cracks as long and wide as those seen here. The age of the sea ice in this area was one of the key reasons this event became so widespread. “The region is covered almost completely by seasonal or first-year ice—ice that has formed since last September,” said Meier. “This ice is thinner and weaker than the older, multi-year ice, so it responds more readily to winds and is more easily broken up.”


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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22. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
5:25 AM GMT on April 22, 2013
angelafritz has created a new entry.
21. Skyepony (Mod)
1:50 PM GMT on April 15, 2013
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
19. oldwob
3:19 PM GMT on April 11, 2013
Angela,

First time I've seen your blog. Very interesting stuff!
Are you familiar with the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (www.ameg.me)? From their site:
"The observations taken directly from the ice and recently from satellite, support a very simple model of sea ice behaviour - that the melting, as reflected by the volume average for particular months, is closely following an exponential trend, towards zero for September 2015."
These scientists are extremely alarmed that the Arctic ice will collapse very soon, triggering cascading positive feedback loops that will release the huge quantities of methane hydrates stored along the very shallow sea shelf. Runaway warming would shoot temps possibly to the Cambrian Extinction levels (12 Degrees
C above 15 degree average now)
Do you have any opinions on this?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
18. Skyepony (Mod)
2:50 PM GMT on April 11, 2013
New Charctic Interactive Sea Ice Graph
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
17. Naga5000
1:38 AM GMT on April 11, 2013
Quoting ScottLincoln:

But Jim, this is exactly what we would expect with all the ice recovery that is going on. It has to break up so that it can freeze more thoroughly and get thicker!

But in all seriousness, I've been watching the ice situation off-and-on this winter, but really didnt start paying attention until images of the fractures started getting shared over the last month. Sure, fractures are to be expected when you are talking a solid that moves and shifts (in similar ways to the crust on the mantle), but something about this year's fractures just jumps out as me. This seems more like the imagery I recall seeing several months from now, not in March.

Unfortunately, some people - even a few claiming to have a science title after their name - don't seem to see the obvious put out in plain sight.


I'm feeling the same way. Something seems unusually dire with the ice breaking up the way it has this early. We may end up seeing a lower extent than 2012, which just seems crazy to say so soon.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
16. JohnLonergan
7:55 PM GMT on April 04, 2013
Guess I'll have to start following Neven daily, I had been waiting until May in past years.

Here's a link to the NSIDC report for March.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
15. OldLeatherneck
5:59 PM GMT on April 04, 2013
Record Daily Arctic Ice Loss for Month of April

According to IARC-JAXA, today's drop in the Arctic Sea Ice Extent was more than 200K Sq. Km. In looking at daily extent losses, for the month of April, going back to 2003, there were only three times, prior to 2012, that the daily loss was greater than 100K. In the dramatic record-breaking year of 2012, there were 7 days with 100K+ losses. The below table shows all daily losses >100K, for April, dating back to 2003.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. OldLeatherneck
5:29 PM GMT on April 01, 2013
Angela,

Thanks for keeping your readers "In-The-Loop" on the dramatic events occurring in the Arctic Ocean this year. It seems that we may be seeing another record breaking year of sea ice melting and even greater mass losses on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

I don't know of anyone who can project with any degree of confidence what the ramifications of these events will have on Extreme Weather Events in the Northern Hemisphere for 2013/2014 and beyond.

Remember one thing:

"What Happens in the Arctic
...........Doesn't Stay in the Arctic!!"
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
13. JohnLonergan
3:49 PM GMT on April 01, 2013
Posted at Eli Rabett's Run and reposted at Neven' Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

Melting Ice and Cold Weather

Great response by R. Gates at Neven's:

"There are certainly two dynamics at play in the "weirding" of this winter's weather, but before discussing them, it would probably be good to understand that we are in a new regime of climate and therefore weather patterns, and thus, the weather is only weird compared to some former regime. In other words-- weird is the new norm, and it will be weird in the future not to have blocking patterns and associated extremes that come with climate change."
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
12. ILwthrfan
3:43 PM GMT on April 01, 2013
The GFS outlook shows a continued extreme positive 2 meter temperature anomaly over the majority of the Arctic for the month of April, especially for points north of Alaska. Also Davis Strait and Baffin Bay continue with their positive anomalies as well. This will only help accelerate the ice loss.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
11. BaltimoreBrian
2:08 PM GMT on April 01, 2013
A bad sea ice poem.

Crack is bad for you /
And sea ice too!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
10. ScottLincoln
2:47 PM GMT on March 31, 2013
Quoting Neapolitan:
Thanks for the excellent write-up. The text is dire enough, but those images and animations really drive the point home in a very dramatic way.

Based on every piece of observational data I've seen over the past few months, the Arctic is in for another wild summer--possibly even more wild than last year, which was one for the ages. The sea ice thickness maps such as the one in comment #6 make it abundantly clear that there isn't much if anything that's going to be able to prevent another Really Bad Year. Everything in that map colored white, magenta, blue, or cyan is going to be gone come September, and much of that colored green, yellow, and red will shift to a different shade. That will be a sight as alarming as it is fascinating.

But Jim, this is exactly what we would expect with all the ice recovery that is going on. It has to break up so that it can freeze more thoroughly and get thicker!

But in all seriousness, I've been watching the ice situation off-and-on this winter, but really didnt start paying attention until images of the fractures started getting shared over the last month. Sure, fractures are to be expected when you are talking a solid that moves and shifts (in similar ways to the crust on the mantle), but something about this year's fractures just jumps out as me. This seems more like the imagery I recall seeing several months from now, not in March.

Unfortunately, some people - even a few claiming to have a science title after their name - don't seem to see the obvious put out in plain sight.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. Neapolitan
2:30 PM GMT on March 31, 2013
Thanks for the excellent write-up. The text is dire enough, but those images and animations really drive the point home in a very dramatic way.

Based on every piece of observational data I've seen over the past few months, the Arctic is in for another wild summer--possibly even more wild than last year, which was one for the ages. The sea ice thickness maps such as the one in comment #6 make it abundantly clear that there isn't much if anything that's going to be able to prevent another Really Bad Year. Everything in that map colored white, magenta, blue, or cyan is going to be gone come September, and much of that colored green, yellow, and red will shift to a different shade. That will be a sight as alarming as it is fascinating.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
8. barbamz
3:32 PM GMT on March 30, 2013
Amazing and scary. Thanks for the impressive videos, Angela.

The following news aren't extraordinary, concerning the actual temperatures in these parts of northern Europe, but somehow nevertheless related to the topic:

29 March 2013 Last updated at 15:15 GMT
Beachgoers stranded on Latvia ice floes
Latvian journalist Torms Pastors says anglers often go on the ice in spring
Two ice floes drifted off the Latvian coast on Friday, trapping 220 people at sea for much of the afternoon.
Emergency boats and helicopters quickly reached the scene in the Gulf of Riga, in an operation to rescue the stranded group of ice anglers and families.
Whole article with video
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
7. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
11:37 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Quoting JohnLonergan:


Here is an ice thickness animtion from the US Navy.


Thanks! That's pretty dire looking...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. JohnLonergan
9:31 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Quoting angelafritz:


I know that the best way is using the AVHRR instrument (the same one that they use for things like SST) but I've actually never seen a map of satellite estimated thickness. There are a lot out there of extent and concentration, of course.


Here is an ice thickness animtion from the US Navy.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:23 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
9:19 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Quoting whitewabit:
Angela .. How thick is the first year ice in that area? is there a way to find out .. TKS ...


I know that the best way is using the AVHRR instrument (the same one that they use for things like SST) but I've actually never seen a map of satellite estimated thickness. There are a lot out there of extent and concentration, of course.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:16 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. Some1Has2BtheRookie
9:11 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Angela, that video is, well, a rather scary graphic. Being able to visualize something in this way sure does bring it home as to what is happening. The short time span for that much ice to crack and to start drifting is really a good indicator of how thin that ice must be.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. whitewabit
9:10 PM GMT on March 29, 2013
Angela .. How thick is the first year ice in that area? is there a way to find out .. TKS ...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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