Barents Icicles 2017

A chart of Barents Ice Cycles looks a lot like the icicles above, except upside down since Barents Sea is usually all water by September. Notice the black lines in the graph below hitting bottom near zero.

Note also the anomalies in red are flat until 1998, then decline to 2007 and then flat again.

Why Barents Sea Ice Matters


Barents Sea is located at the gateway between the Arctic and North Atlantic. Previous posts (here and here) have discussed research suggesting that changes in Barents Sea Ice may signal changes in Arctic Sea Ice a few years later. As well, the studies point to changes in heat transport from the North Atlantic driving the Barents Sea Ice, along with changes in salinity of the upper layer. And, as suggested by Zakharov (here), there are associated changes in atmospheric circulations, such as the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation).

Here we look at MASIE over the last decade and other datasets over longer terms in search for such patterns.

Observed Barents Sea Ice

Below is a more detailed look at 2017 compared with recent years.


This graph shows over the last 11 years, on average Barents sea ice starts declining beginning with April and melts out almost completely in September before recovering.  Some years, like 2014, the decline started much later and stopped with 100k km2 of ice persisting, resulting in the highest annual extent in the last decade.   Last year, 2016, was the opposite anomaly with much less ice than average all year.  2007 had the least Arctic ice overall in the last decade and was close to average in Barents during the summer months.

Note how exceptional is 2017 Barents ice extent.  It began extremely low in January and grew sharply to reach average by February, then dipped in March before rising strongly again in April.  It remains to be seen how much ice will grow, how late and how much will melt this year.

North Atlantic Meteorology in 2017

From AER comes more evidence of cooling in the North Atlantic and favorable conditions for ice formation there.

Dr. Judah Cohen provides his latest Arctic Oscillation and Polar Vortex Analysis and Forecast
on April 21, 2017.

  • Currently pressure/geopotential height anomalies are mostly positive on the North Pacific side of the Arctic but mostly negative across the North Atlantic side of the Arctic with mostly negative pressure/geopotential height anomalies across the mid-latitude ocean basins. This is resulting in a negative Arctic Oscillation (AO) but a positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).
  • Despite the positive NAO, temperatures are below normal across western Eurasia including much of Europe as a strong block/high pressure has developed in the eastern North Atlantic with a cold, northerly flow downstream of the block across Europe.
  • The blocking high in the eastern North Atlantic is predicted to drift northward contributing to a negative bias to the AO and eventually the NAO over the next two weeks. Therefore, the pattern of cool temperatures across western Eurasia including Europe looks to continue into the foreseeable future.


Background on Barents from the Previous Post

Annual average BSIE (Barents Sea Ice Extent) is 315k km2, varying between 250k and 400k over the last ten years. The volatility is impressive, considering the daily Maximums and Minimums in the record. Average Max is 781k, ranging from 608k to 936k. Max occurs on day 77 (average) with a range from day 36 to 103. Average Min is 11k on day 244, ranging from 0k to 77k, and from days 210 to 278.

In fact, over this decade, there are not many average years. Five times BSIE melted to zero, two were about average, and 3 years much higher: 2006-7 were 2 and 3 times average, and 2014 was 7 times higher at 77k.

As for Maxes, only 1 year matched the 781k average. Four low years peaked at about 740k (2006,07,08 and 14), and the lowest year at 608k (2012). The four higher years start with the highest one, 936k in 2010, and include 2011, 13, and 15.

Comparing Barents Ice and NAO
Barents Masierev

This graph confirms that Barents winter extents (JFMA) correlate strongly (0.73) with annual Barents extents. And there is a slightly less strong inverse correlation with NAO index (-0.64). That means winter NAO in its negative phase is associated with larger ice extents, and vice-versa.

Comparing Barents Ice and Arctic Annual

Barents and Arctic

Arctic Annual extents correlate with Barents Annuals at a moderately strong 0.46, but have only weaker associations with winter NAO or Barents winter averages. It appears that 2012 and 2015 interrupted a pattern of slowly rising extents.

NAO and Arctic Ice Longer Term

Fortunately there are sources providing an history of Arctic ice longer term and overlapping with the satellite era. For example:

Observed sea ice extent in the Russian Arctic, 1933–2006 Andrew R. Mahoney et al (2008)

Russian Arctic Sea Ice to 2006

Mahoney et al say this about Arctic Ice oscillations:

We can therefore broadly divide the ice chart record into three periods. Period A, extending from the beginning of the record until the mid-1950s, was a period of declining summer sea ice extent over the whole Russian Arctic, though not consistently in every individual sea. . . Period B extended from the mid-1950s to the mid- 1980s and was a period of generally increasing or stable summer sea ice extent. For the Russian Arctic as a whole, this constituted a partial recovery of the sea ice lost during period A, though this is not the case in all seas. . . Period C began in the mid-1980s and continued to the end of the record (2006). It is characterized by a decrease in total and MY sea ice extent in all seas and seasons.

Comparing Arctic Ice with winter NAO index

The standardized seasonal mean NAO index during cold season (blue line) is constructed by averaging the monthly NAO index for January, February and March for each year. The black line denotes the standardized five-year running mean of the index. Both curves are standardized using 1950-2000 base period statistics.

The graph shows roughly a 60 year cycle, with a negative phase 1950-1980 and positive 1980 to 2010. As described above, Arctic ice extent grew up to 1979, the year satellite ice sensing started, and declined until 2007. The surprising NAO uptick recently coincides with the anomalous 2012 and 2015 meltings.

As of January 2016 NAO went negative for the first time in months.  There appears to be some technical difficulties with more recent readings.


If the Barents ice cycle repeats itself over the next decades, we should expect Arctic ice extents to grow as part of a natural oscillation. The NAO atmospheric circulation pattern is part of an ocean-ice-atmosphere system which is driven primarily by winter changes in the North Atlantic upper water layer.

Self-Oscillating Sea Ice System

Self-Oscillating Sea Ice System  See here.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s