Arctic Sea Ice 5th smallest… and thinnest, on record.

While this years arctic sea ice picture has improved since its historic low in 2007, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado says don’t be too excited.

Expanse is only one measure, the other, which could be of even greater importance? Thickness, and the story is not a good one.

Arctic Thickness

As you can see in the above graphic available from this months NSIDC report on Arctic Ice, the ice has been getting much younger for the better of 25 years. This years season has meant a bounce back in some 2nd year ice, which should translate into multi year ice next year, but we have a major deficit to make up.

In 1985, almost 40% of the ice in the Arctic was over 2 years old… today that is down below 10%.

There is an incredible survey taking place right now called the Catlin Arctic Survey. It is being led by 3 scientist who are trekking 1000KM over the ice pack from Northern Canada to the Geographic North Pole. As if that’s not hard enough, they’re pulling massive sledges loaded with equipment including a radar that is measure the ice and and water column as they trek.

This will be the first baseline dataset ever obtained in this manner and the results will help climate modellers around the world.

You can see an incredible array of images, blogposts, and live body telemetry here.

2009 Artic Sea Ice Maximum Fifth Lowest in Satellite Era

A new entry at the National Snow and Ice Data Center out of Colorado is out and the news is that even with this years La Nina induced cold temperatures in parts of North America, the trend of diminishing Arctic sea ice shows little sign of abating.

Artic Sea Ice Feb 2009

(Emphasis Added)

On February 28, Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year, at 15.14 million square kilometers (5.85 million square miles). The maximum extent was 720,000 square kilometers (278,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), making it the fifth-lowest maximum extent in the satellite record. The six lowest maximum extents since 1979 have all occurred in the last six years (2004 to 2009).

I’m cross posting this post on my weather blog at as well.

My, unscientific opinion based on what I’ve read, is that this year was a relatively strong La Nina year, this led to a cooler, drier regime for most of North America, however it also meant that more of the warm Pacific wind was instead pushed up into the Arctic through the Bering Strait, negating some of that increased cold…

Here’s the forecast for La Nino/El Nino over the next few months:

La Niña is expected to gradually weaken with increasing chances (greater than 50%) for ENSO-neutral conditions during the Northern Hemisphere Spring.

Expected La Niña impacts during March-May 2009 include above-average precipitation over Indonesia, and below-average precipitation over the central equatorial Pacific. Compared to the Northern Hemisphere winter, La Niña impacts over the United States are typically less pronounced. For the contiguous United States, potential impacts include below-average precipitation across the southern states. Other potential impacts include below-average temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and above-average temperatures across much of the southwestern and south-central United States.

…. nearly all the model forecasts for the Niño-3.4 region show that La Niña will have dissipated by May – July 2009, the exact timing of the transition to ENSO-neutral conditions is uncertain (Fig. 5).

If things go as they did last year with similar conditions then I’d expect Artic ice to again be low, but not set a new record. I think we would be very unlucky to set another new record this year for minimum sea ice… and if we did, it would be an extremely bad sign indeed.

We will get an authoritative forecast possibly from the NSIDC in the next couple weeks.

Two Days of Melt in the Arctic

See the images below… to see how fast the ice is receding in the Arctic. The difference is quite striking.

As I blogged on the 9th, the Arctic is at a record minimum for ice cover.

Here is the image from the 9th:

Here is todays image (11th):
(click this one to see a bigger version)

Look at the difference just 2 days makes… the large hole developing in the Western Canadian Arctic… the widening of the western entrance to the NW Passage… the clearing of ice in the Canadian archipelago… and the extreme thinning of the Russian side towards the North Pole (deepest purple is thicker.. red–>yellow is thinner.) The north pole is the white dot.

(Now… would all this worry about sovereignty in the Arctic really be happening if our oil reserves really were all hunky dory?)

Oh.. and if you’re curious about where the new Canadian port at Nanisivic and expanded arctic base at Resolute Bay is… here’s a map…


North Pole ice reaches all-time low

According to “The Cryosphere Today“:

Thursday, August 9, 2007 – New historic sea ice minimum
Today, the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area broke the record for the lowest recorded ice area in recorded history. The new record came a full month before the historic summer minimum typically occurs. There is still a month or more of melt likely this year. It is therefore almost certain that the previous 2005 record will be annihilated by the final 2007 annual minima closer to the end of this summer.

In previous record sea ice minima years, ice area anomalies were confined to certain sectors (N. Atlantic, Beaufort/Bering Sea, etc). The character of 2007’s sea ice melt is unique in that it is dramatic and covers the entire Arctic sector. Atlantic, Pacific and even the central Arctic sectors are showing large negative sea ice area anomalies.

Not much else to say… you can read the rest at the site itself.

Arctic Minimum August 9 2007
The Northwest Passage is open.

But it’s worth noting…. if this trend holds, then those little ice-breaking patrol boats Stephen Harper has promised the military will be all we really need to secure the waters up there, Summer or Winter. Maybe Stephen Harper isn’t being cheap… he’s just freakin’ psychic!!

(Here’s a description from the Canadian American Strategic Review at Simon Fraser University of what what this small ice breakers “should” look like)

Canada is taking the wrong road

In the past many weeks, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced over $20 billion in new military spending. It is my opinion that world leaders have woken up to what will be the true battle of the 21st century. It will not be terrorism or climate change, though those will be both sideeffects, and scapegoats… rather, it will be ever diminishing fossil fuel energy resources that will dictate where, when and how countries fight to survive and adapt.

Lee R Raymond

“We don’t have the option of saying that anything is off the table. We simply need to do everything we can,” NPC Chairman and former ExxonMobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Lee R. Raymond told reporters following the council’s July 18 meeting, where the study [Facing Hard Truths] was approved and relayed to US Sec. of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, who had requested it.

So as I said, there seem to be two distinct camps to face this challenge.

Camp #1: Those that would fight aggressively, either through military might, or political muscle, for every last remaining scrap of oil, thus propping up their doomed economies with the promise of “cheap” energy, while wasting that same energy on fighting unwinnable wars and sowing dissent and fear both at home and abroad.

Camp #2: Those that choose to move away quickly from fossil fuels, and either reduce energy consumption drastrically or dramatically expanding renewable energy resources (or both), thus diminishing their need to rely on foreign supplies in fiery lands and making the issue of political capital through control of fossil fuel resources a moot point. (They also have the added benefit of “controlling” what will inevitably be the future of energy production)

It is worth noting that only the developed or largely-developed world need bother with these “camps”, as only they can and will continue to afford the cost of oil as it becomes more dear. We are already seeing the least wealthy countries scramble to provide energy for their citizens as costs rise… and being an oil exporter does not guarantee you a privileged spot. Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, Bolivia, Argentina, Bangladesh, and many others are all feeling the effects of higher energy costs, and growing demand.

With the ongoing military buildup, and continued stubborn refusal to reevaluate our mission in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper is clearly positioning Canada to be in Camp #1 along with the US, Britain, Australia, and other war-on-terror stalwarts.

The message being sent by Stephen Harper and Defense Minister O’Connor is clear, Canada is preparing it’s military to fight wars abroad.
C17 GlobeMaster

  1. New C17 Globemasters,and associated new support structure, to get us there.
  2. New Air Expeditionary Force to clear a path.
  3. New Leopard Tanks to fight the “enemy”.

Then of course there is the plan for the new fleet of small Arctic ice breakers and Arctic deep sea port, but I will get to that later.

Canada is an oil exporting nation.. were it not for that fact, and the high price of energy, would Canada be able to afford this strategy? Would we even be able to afford our continued presence in Afghanistan?.

While I am all for the solid defense of Canadian borders and values, I cannot support a government that would jeopardize our god-given gift of vast energy resources by squandering it abroad in a fight to secure energy resources for other countries.

Should we use those Arctic ice breakers to stake out and defend our sovereingty over energy resources which may be hidden under the ice in the Canadian Arctic? Absolutely. But if we just turn around and use that energy to fuel a raging war machine, then really what are we gaining?

It is time to refocus.

The countries that win this fight for energy in the 21st Century will be the ones who successfully transition their economies AWAY from fossil fuels. If they don’t do that, no matter how many foreign oil and gas fields they control, they will be constantly threatened by ever-increasing energy prices.

Canada is in a priviledged position. We are an oil exporter, we have the largest developed unconventional reserves (the tar sands) in the world, and we are a stable, democratic country. We have the opportunity to shift the money we make from the ongoing subsidization of energy security and energy consumption… to finding alternatives and ways to conserve.

The $300 Million being spent on Bagotvilles new Air Expeditionary Wing could have been spent to set up a nationwide research and development program into all forms of renewable energy.

Alberta Wind Farm

Funds for development of transit systems, national electrified rail, wind, solar, and tidal farms as well as biomass generators should all be funded directly from the sale of our national endowment of fossil fuels. Instead, we’re fighting unwinnable wars in far away lands, and making excuses for our industries to continue consuming and emitting massive amounts of energy and waste.

Time is short, but it is not too late to switch camps. Perhaps our energy endowment has made us complacent. Perhaps we are simply being greedy. Or perhaps we are being pushed by outside influences.. but whatever it is, if Canada and Canadians wish to continue having the standard of living we’ve had over the past 60 years, then we’d better refocus on the truly Canadian values that we claim to hold so dear.