Second dramatic spike in thawing on the Greenland ice sheet heralds an early start to the melt season

By Tom Yulsman | May 16, 2016 2:53 pm

The Arctic will “go through hell this year,” says one prominent scientist

melting spike

Source: Greenland Today, National Snow and Ice Data Center

Note: This story was updated on 5/16/2016 at 7 p.m. EDT with comments from Ted Scambos of the National Sea and Ice Data Center. |

On April 11, a dramatic early spike in melting of snow and ice at the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet prompted a Danish climate scientist to say that she and her colleagues were “incredulous.”

Now, there has been a second bout of unusual melting.

You can see both of them in the graph above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC. It charts the percentage of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiencing surface melting. In both cases, the thaw exceeded 10 percent of the ice sheet’s area.

When I noticed the second spike, I reached out by email to Ted Scambos, lead scientist for the NSIDC science team, to get his reaction to what has been happening in the Arctic lately. Here was his reply:

The Arctic is going to go through hell this year. Both the sea ice and the Greenland surface melting. Snow cover will also set a record.

Scambos emphasized that he wasn’t basing his prediction on a rigorous analysis of data. Instead:

I’m going on ‘duck test’ here: if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…

The quacking so far this year has been rather loud all around the the high north, with unusual and persistent warmth, large-scale fracturing of Arctic sea ice, plunging sea ice extent (more about that in a minute), and the two spikes in Greenland surface melting.

The April spike was particularly unusual because of its size, and the fact that it occurred so early in the spring.

The second spike peaked on May 12 and appears to be subsiding now. It prompted scientists with the Danish Meteorological Institute, or DMI, to announce that the Greenland melt season had begun in earnest — and that this tied with 1999 as the fifth earliest start on record.

The DMI considers the melt season to have begun when there has been at least three consecutive days during which more than 5 percent of the ice sheet has seen some melting.

As extreme as the April spike was, that episode was not considered the start to the true melt season because it persisted for just shy of three days.

Even so, Ruth Mottram, a DMI climate scientist, did not hold back in her assessment of a melt event involving so much of the ice sheet, so early.

“Scientists at DMI were at first incredulous due to the early date,” she wrote in a post at the Polar Portal, a site jointly run by Danish research institutions. Then the scientists saw observational data confirming that temperatures in some places on the ice sheet were well above freezing — including as high as 50 degrees C (10 degrees C).

After that April spike, frigid temperatures returned, causing meltwater to refreeze. And new snow fell atop it.

“Since early April, a large dump of snow over the ice sheet in early May temporarily halted melting, which resumed in earnest last week,” Mottram writes in her latest post. “Ice melt this week has been driven by warm air moving over the ice sheet, as in April.” In fact, one weather station at 6,037 feet (1,840 meters) above sea level on the ice sheet “has again been measuring temperatures above freezing.”

Above freezing temperatures at such high elevations in Greenland are unusual for May.

spike

True- and false-color satellite views of a portion of Greenland’s west coast show darkening suggestive of surface melting. Also visible are tiny melt ponds. (Source: NASA Worldview)

The animation above shows what’s happening on the ice sheet now. It consists of true- and false-color images acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite over Greenland’s western coast on May 15. This is after the the second melting spike on May 12. (I chose these images because cloudiness obscured the ice sheet on May 12.)

The first image in the animation shows the edge of the ice sheet in true color. The band of grayish-blue running vertically through the middle is indicative of surface melting. I included the false-color view because the area of melting stands out a bit more clearly, at least to my eye. If you look closely, you can also see little blue dots. These are melt ponds on the surface of the ice.

What can we expect moving forward? According to Mottram, an early onset to surface melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet does not necessarily mean that ice loss in summer will be greater than average. “However, it may act to assist in the loss of ice if the right weather conditions coincide,” she says.

We’ll have to see how weather conditions evolve.

Meanwhile, all of this is happening in the broader context of extremely unusual and persistent global warmth. And the most unusually warm part of the globe for many months now has been — you guessed it — the Arctic.

SEE ALSO: April 2016 — the heat goes on

That warmth is contributing right now to a shocking drop in Arctic sea ice extent:

spike

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Note that plunging blue line. It shows the trend of Arctic sea ice extent — and it is well below the trend of 2012, which by September had seen a record loss of Arctic sea ice.

Will 2016 beat that record? And will the Greenland Ice Sheet experience record surface melting? Stay tuned.

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  • John C

    Somebody tell China and India.

    • OWilson

      Relax it’s not science, just a conversation between AGWers.

      Note the obligatory qualifier,

      “Scambos emphasized that he wasn’t basing his prediction on a rigorous analysis of data. Instead:”

      All hype, all the time!

      • Thisaintnoparty

        Are the arctic ice extent and arctic temperatures graphs just made up, let us know?

        • Bruce Boelter

          Yes.

          • Thisaintnoparty

            Thanks, I will assume that humans only do good for the environment.

          • OWilson

            Yeah.

            Things like record longevity for the the human species, record world food production, record clean air and clean water.

            THAT sort of stuff?

          • Thisaintnoparty

            Oh, everyone knows that humans are successful in survival. I would like to see your data on record clean water and record clean air (or is this just your FEELINGS).

          • OWilson

            Tell us, do you take a sample of your local water to the local shaman, medicine man or witch doctor to make it safe for you.

            (I know you guys rely on Al Gore, Michael Moore and Lady Gaga for your long range weather forecast)

            When was the last time YOU had typhoid? :)

          • Thisaintnoparty

            I, of course, don’t listen to Al Gore, Michael Moore, or Lady Gaga (who does).

            Oh, so you only consider the water that you drink from your mom’s basement sink. I am glad it is finally cleaned up to your standards.

          • OWilson

            Some folk lack the human ingenuity to deal with even the most mundane problems in life.

            It’s OK. For them there is government, more government and even the U.N.

          • Bruce Boelter

            Don’t forget in the most capitalist country in the world, the US we produce enough food for half the planet, have more trees, more forests, and more acres of forests than before we got here.

          • Thisaintnoparty

            More trees, wow, that proves what. Oh that there are more trees.

            More trees, less ice. Even.

    • Calamity_Jean

      China, India, and many other developing nations are installing solar and wind power because renewable energy is the most economical way toward getting Western levels of comfort.

      Nukes are too expensive to compete with solar and wind. Solar costs about $0.05 or $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, wind costs around $0.03 or $0.04 per kilowatt-hour. Can nuclear or fracked gas beat those prices?

  • Birdfish

    THIS IS A GLOBAL RED ALERT!!!!!!!

    THIS IS A PLANETARY EMERGENCY!!!!!!

    THE PRESIDENT MUST ACT NOW BY EXECUTIVE ORDER!!!!!!

    YES, EXECUTIVE ORDER!!!!!!

    THIS IS AN EMERGENCY AND THE DO NOTHING CONGRESS HAS ITS HEAD IN THE SAND!

    WE MUST:
    -BAN OIL, GAS, COAL AND NUCLEAR AT ONCE.
    -BAN CARS: PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR ALL
    -BAN UN NEEDED AIR TRAVEL: NO WASTEFUL VACATIONS
    -GO GREEN!!!! SAFE WIND AND SAFE SOLAR ONLY!!!!!

    WE MUST HEAVILY TAX THE RICH TO PAY FOR THIS!!!!!!!

    WE MUST ACT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    RED ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    NOTE: I HAVE A HORRIBLE CYBER STALKER. HE SOMEHOW POSTS WITH MY VERY SAME NAME. HE WILL MOCK MY WEIGHT, MY POVERTY AND EVEN MY TOLIET. PLEASE IGNORE HIM.

    • Birdfish

      AND YES SO YOU READERS KNOW, I HAVE NEVER WORKED A JOB IN MY LIFE OR PAID ANY TAXES

      SO REALLY ALL I CARE ABOUT IS HANDOUTS

      IN JAIL I MET MY CELL MATE RUFUS WHO TAUGHT ME THAT OBESITY CAN EQUAL A LIFETIME OF WELFARE.

      TODAY I AM 492LBS AND I GET EVERY KIND OF WELFARE THERE IS

      THIS IS MY BUSINESS

      • Birdfish

        HERE ARE THE FACTS FAKE BIRDFISH:

        FACT SET ONE:

        I SUFFER THE TEN DISCRIMINATIONS:

        -RACISM

        -AGEISM

        -ELITISM

        -EX CON DISCRIMINATION

        -HOUSING DISCRIMINATION

        -FOOD DISCRIMINATION

        -UNION SUPPORTER DISCRIMINATION

        -MEDICAL DISCRIMINATION

        -MOBILITY DISCRIMINATION

        -JOB ACCOMODATION DISCRIMINATION

        -EDUCATION DISCRIMINATION

        -OBESITY DISCRIMINATION

        -DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION

        -MEDICAL CARD/MEDICADE DISCRIMINATION

        -POVERTY DISCRIMINATION

        AND YES THERE ARE MORE THAN TEN! THE LIST GOES ON AND ON!!!!!!

        FACT SET TWO:

        I DO NOT GET “WELFARE”

        -I DO NOT GET FREE HOUSING: I PAY $38 A MONTH!

        -I DO NOT GET FREE FOOD: LINK IS ONLY A LITTLE OVER $200 A MONTH

        -I DO NOT GET FREE UTILITIES: I ONLY GET MY HEAT BILL PAID IN THE WINTERTIME; I ONLY GET PART OF MY LIGHT BILL PAID

        -I DO NOT GET A FREE PHONE. IT’S JUST A PLAIN OLD PHONE NOT A SMART PHONE.

        -I DO NOT GET FREE INTERNET MY KIDS PAY FOR IT

        -I DO NOT GET FREE COMPUTERS ONLY LEFT OVERS FROM THE CHURCH

        -AND I DID NOT GET A FREE TOLIET. YES A CHARITY PUT IN A HANDICAP ACCESSABLE BATHROOM AS THE LAW REQUIRES IN A RENTAL-THE LAW!-BUT IT IS THE LANDLORD WHO GOT IT FREE NOT ME! I DONT OWN THE PLACE! (SO THERE!)

        FACT SET THREE:

        I AM DISABLED! I NOW GET SSI BECAUSE I AM SERIOUSLY DISABLED!

        -HEART FAILINGS

        -KIDNEY FAILINGS . AND NOW DIALYSIS 3 TIMES A WEEK!

        -REQUIRED WHIRLPOOL BATHS FOR OPEN WOUNDS ON LEGS FROM WATERY BUILDUPS!

        -DIABETES WITH A SUGAR TO 800

        -WATER BUILDUP

        -OBESITY A MEDICAL CONDITION FROM THE GOITERS

        -BAD KNEES

        -BAD BACK

        -THE SLEEP APNEAS WHICH CAUSES SNORING AND REQUIRES NAPS. IT ALSO REQUIRES A SPECIAL MACHINE CALLED A SEAPAPS THAT PUMPS AIR IN YOUR LUNGS WHEN YOU ARE SLEEPING. IF YOU GET IT THE ELECTRIC COMPANY CANT TURN OFF YOUR POWER EVEN IF YOU ARE POOR AND DO NOT PAY YOUR BILL!

        -CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME WHICH MAKES YOU VERY TIRED

        -DUCK STONES: FROM THE GALL BLADDER STONES COME DOWN INTO THE DUCKS OF YOUR STOMACH AND BLOCK IT UP. THEY EVEN HAD TO SEND A SPECIAL EXPERT TO GO INSIDE TO REMOVE THE STONES!!!!

        YES, A SPECIAL EXPERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        FACT SET FOUR:

        I WORK AND HAVE ALWAYS-YES ALWAYS-WORKED.

        FOR YEARS I CLEANED UP AROUND THE CHURCH AS A JOB. NOW I CANT GET AROUND TO DO THAT BUT I BABY SIT ACROSS THE WAY.

        THESE ARE FACTS FAKE BIRDFISH!

        SO THERE!!!!!

        • Birdfish

          AND I ALMOST FORGOT FATISM, LAZYSIM AND HOGISM.

          AND THE DOCTOR SAYS MY FATSORES GIVE ME THE STINKISMS TOO!!!!

          • Birdfish

            THOSE ARE NOT PROPER ISMS

            AND NO I DO NOT HAVE STINKIES OR STINKISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
            THERE IS NO SUCH OF AN ISM

          • Birdfish

            BUT TRUE MY LANDLORD CALLS ME STINKY

  • David

    We need to tax Bigfoot and flying unicorns!!!!!

  • Mike Richardson

    All part of a pretty obvious pattern by now, and particularly worrisome given the amount of ice sitting on top of Greenland. Average sea and air temperatures are warmer earlier than in the past, with the predictable result of increased ice melt in Greenland. Relax, though, you can see no science, but a conversation between AGW deniers in the comments section of this blog if you like. It’ll make you feel better, if you’re not inclined to want the truth of the mater. Otherwise, you might want to actually listen to the scientists studying Greenland.

  • PaulFelixSchott

    If you live in Florida time to move.
    If you live by the coast line time to move .

    The Lord’s Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott

  • Don_in_Odessa

    A paragraph from the same story on the Washington Post website, explains the physics of the warming … hint … it ain’t man made: “John Cappelen, a senior climatologist at the DMI, told The Washington Post that the warm weather was brought on by winds from the east that set up between high pressure over northeast Greenland and low pressure south of Greenland. When winds come from the east over Nuuk, they blow downhill, which leads to an increase in temperature. This is the result of adiabatic warming, where air is compressed from low pressure (at the top of a mountain) to high pressure (at sea level). It’s the same kind of dry warmth that occurs as a result of Santa Ana winds in Southern California.”

    Judging from some of the comments, many are swallowing the “man made” explanation for global warming. For those, I offer the following very obvious fact: Many so called “scientist will tell you that the ice age that began about 1.8 million years ago and flash froze animals in their tracks some with still fresh greens and flowers in their mouths, ended about 11 thousand years ago. Tell me something … if these animals are still in ice covered areas how is the ice age over yet. Idiots! … the ice age is still ending. Of course the planet is warming!

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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