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NOAA: Arctic Report Card:
 Update for 2010

By Arnd Bernaerts, 25 October 2010

With the message  The Arctic region continues to heat up  the NASA released (HERE)  the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2010 on the 21st October 2010 (details below), compiled by 69 scientists, and edited by J. Richter-Menge and J.E. Overland. The Arctic most relevant sections, atmosphere, ice-cover, and ocean are discussed from page 6 to 26. The same items were covered in the first report of this kind in 2006 on 19 pages, with a further section on Land (p.20-28), now on p.27-52, plus: Greenland and Biology (p.53-100), including i.a.  Arctic Char, Goose Population, and Arctic Wildlife. Does that indicates a mismatch from the onset, as the report has been released with the headline: Return to previous Arctic conditions is unlikely


The Arctic Report Card is a timely source for clear, reliable and concise environmental information on the state of the Arctic, relative to historical time series records, proclaims  NOAA (HERE), but the Report is of little help in this respect. Although the Arctic is an ocean, and the report has a section on Land, the section Atmosphere begins with the sentence: The annual mean air temperature for 2009 over Arctic land areas was cooler than in recent years, although the average temperature for the last decade remained the warmest in the record beginning in 1900, showing a Fig.A1 (mean 1961-90, CRUTEM 3v) that includes the North Atlantic from Latitude 60N to 64N, the sea area from southern Greenland to Norway. Is that a trick? At least a calculation starting north of 64N do not show a higher warming for now than around 1938/39, HERE. Instead the Arctic Ocean temperature situation is presented by a figure (A3) , which indicates merely an increase in annual temperature in 2009 for about one-third of the ocean space in the Canadian Basin. A separate analysis for winter and summer would be needed anyhow, and this report could have covered Nov.2009 to April 2010 already at least. See Fig. left, GISS DJF 2009/10.  Instead they talk globally: The first 7 months of 2010 achieved a record high level of global mean air temperature, but this could moderate for the rest of the year due to La Nia influences. The warmest temperature anomalies for the Arctic in the first half of 2010 were over northeastern Canada (Fig4), which may be relevant for January to June temperature in NE Canada, but little concerning the Arctic Ocean.  

However something interesting happened. 

__The report mention that the winter 2009-2010 showed a major new connectivity between Arctic climate and mid-latitude severe weather, compared to the past.
__The report explains that the winds tend to blow from west to east, thus separating cold arctic air masses from the regions further south, but in December 2009 (Fig. A7b) and February 2010 (Fig. A7c) we actually had a reversal of this climate pattern, with higher heights and pressures over the Arctic that eliminated the normal west-to-east jet stream winds. This allowed cold air from the Arctic to penetrate all the way into Europe, eastern China, and Washington DC. 
__The report informs that this change in wind directions is called the Warm Arctic-Cold Continents climate pattern and has happened previously only three times before in the last 160 years.
__The report explains: While individual weather extreme events cannot be directly linked to larger scale climate changes, recent data analysis and modeling suggest a link between loss of sea ice and a shift to an increased impact from the Arctic on mid-latitude climate. 

The previous sentence is certainly not an explanation of the three corresponding years in the last 160 years. Not even the years are mentioned, neither the any explanation of the historical relevance to this years. Instead the section ends with the conclusion that: 

__ Models suggest that loss of sea ice in fall favors higher geopotential heights over the Arctic. With future loss of sea ice, such conditions as winter 2009-2010 could happen more often. Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.


This kind of presentation require some comments. But first a brief review whether the sea-ice or oceans section contribute something that should be observed. Certainly not with regard to the ocean section, as the authors discuss only the time period from 2007 to 2009, not even mentioning the winter 2009/10, respectively any period or month in 2010. The editors should have ensured that section complement each other. Astonishing that the preparation of a two page long text (about 1300 words) required 15 authors from 8 institutions and 5 nations. 

On the other hand the only one text-page long section on sea ice cover starts with the remarkable sentence: Sea ice extent is the primary parameter for summarizing the state of the Arctic sea ice cover., and regards as Highlights of 2010:
___September minimum sea ice extent is third lowest recorded.
___Loss of thick multiyear ice in Beaufort Sea during summer.

The main discussion is about the difference between 2007 and 2010, culminating in the information that:

___ Winter 2010 was characterized by a very strong atmospheric circulation pattern that led to warmer than normal temperatures.

___ A strong atmospheric circulation pattern during winter 2010 kept most of the 2-3 year old ice in the central Arctic, and during June helped push the ice edge away from the coast.

Not less informative was a post by one of the four authors, Dr. Walt Meier, at the climate blog WUWT (21. Oct.): Summer 2010 in the Arctic and other Sea Ice topics, i.a. mentioning the importance of bottom and lateral melt, which depends on the ocean temperatures. 


The report could have been of some value, at least with a basic analysis and explanation concerning the phenomenal change of wind direction during winter 2009/2010. While it may be risky to guess about three events, I can bet on one without any hesitation, namely winter 1939/40, the first World War II winter, which is a subject of considerable research for some time (  See Fig. GISS DJF 1939/40. At the end of the 1930s the NH temperature had been very high, but suddenly Europe was confronted with the coldest winter since the LIA. This included an interesting change in wind direction, for example in Great Britain (see Fig) during the winter seasons 1814, 1841, and 1939/40. One of the leading German meteorologists at that time, R. Scherhag;  explained the sudden change few years later in this way: 

___The temperature anomalies which were observed in the northern hemisphere in January 1940 can easily be explained by the occurrence of the pressure deviations. (Richard Scherhag, 1951, Die groe Zirkulationsstrung im Jahr 1940; Annalen der Meteorologie, Vol. 7-9, pp. 327-328). In the same way he tried to explain the Arctic warming (1919 to 1939) in the 1930s.. C.E.P. Brooks  (1938) required to name the reason: "Attributing the recent period of warm winters to an increase in the strength of the atmospheric circulation only pushes the problem one stage further back, for we should still have to account for the change of circulation."  (in: The Warming Arctic, The Meteorological Magazine, 1938, p.29-32.). The next answer was not far: Its the ocean that matter. 

And here we are, 70 years later. NASA presents a report with fanfare. Few new facts. Meagre explanation. Claims that scare. No wonder, who is not able to explain the early Arctic warming since 1919, and the onset of the global cooling since winter 1939/40, is unlikely to explain convincingly the mechanisms that drives the conditions in the polar region today. The oceans should be the prime factor, instead the NASA Report puts the atmosphere and sea ice cover first. 


__NOAA: Arctic Report Card 2010,
Arctic Report Card: Update for 2010 -
Tracking recent environmental changes

Richter-Menge, J., and J.E. Overland, Eds.: Arctic Report Card 2010, (Full report)
The various essays shall cite the mentioned authors (In total about 69) (in PDF: 7,5 MB)


NOTE: The Table of Content is only available by titles, subtitle, pages and other info added.
____Atmosphere: Arctic climate is impacting mid-latitude weather, as seen in Winter 2009-2010 , p.6-13.
____Sea Ice: Summer sea ice conditions for previous four years well below 1980s and 1990s, p.14-18.
____Ocean: Upper ocean showing year-to-year variability without significant trends, p.  19-26. 
____Land : Low winter snow accumulation, warm spring temperatures lead to record low snow cover duration ; p. 27 (Vegetation 28-32), Permafrost (33-37), River Discharge (38-40), Terrestrial Snow (41-45), Glaciers outside Greenland (46-52).
___Greenland: Record setting high temperatures, ice melt, and glacier area loss , p. 53-62.
___Biology: Rapid environmental change threatens to disrupt current natural cycles, p. 63 (Summary);
___Biology Essays (p.64-101): State of Reindeer herds; Marine Mammals ; Murres; Fisheries in the Bering Sea; Fisheries in the Barents Sea; Arctic Char; Goose Populations; Arctic Wildlife

 Figures on Global Temperature: 

__NASA: GHCN_GISS_HR2SST_1200km _Anom D/J/F_2009/10 & 1939/40 vs 1920-1939