Arctic Year End: Okhotsk Surprise.

Arctic ice extent grows slowly this time of year since many regions are already covered completely.  In recent days 2017 reached 84% of the maximum last March, but dropped below the 10 year average.  As we can see, most of the action was a dramatic seesaw in Okhotsk Sea, a Siberian basin in the North Pacific.

Mid-December Okhotsk Sea on the left began growing ice steadily to reach half of 2017 March max, then inexplicably lost over 300k km2 of ice in just four days.  Meanwhile, Chukchi (upper right) froze completely, then retreated somewhat.  Bering Sea on the right has been advancing steadily but more slowly than average.

The overall effect in December is shown in the graph below:
Note that 2007 matches the 10 year average, while 2012 is well above.  Lagging behind are 2016, 2017 and SII 2017.  This year’s deficit to average appears in the last 11 days, mostly due to Bering and the Okhotsk year end surprise.
Most of the month combined Bering and Okhotsk (B&O) extents were average, until the inexplicable drop starting day 361. Except for those two seas, the month was unremarkable.
At year end, 2017 NH ice, excluding B&O, is down about 200k km2, or 2% of average.  Below is the analysis of regions on day 365.

Region 2017365 Day 365
2017-Ave. 2007364 2017-2007
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 12628187 13148939 -520752 13049737 -421550
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070445 1070225 220 1069711 734
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 943883 966001 -22118 965971 -22089
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1087120 1087134 -14 1087120 0
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897845 897841 4 897845 0
 (5) Kara_Sea 892689 888842 3848 871851 20839
 (6) Barents_Sea 331819 448769 -116950 334577 -2758
 (7) Greenland_Sea 555757 584649 -28892 666135 -110378
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 978074 1025197 -47123 1074827 -96753
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 853109 853054 55 852556 553
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1260838 1227587 33251 1260856 -19
 (11) Central_Arctic 3191526 3207659 -16133 3199726 -8200
 (12) Bering_Sea 194350 446066 -251716 373942 -179592
 (13) Baltic_Sea 13345 34329 -20984 9972 3374
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 336595 387522 -50928 371241 -34646

Most of 2017 deficit is in Bering and Barents, less so in Okhotsk with yesterday’s recovery.  Perhaps the Polar Vortex sent frigid air into the US and Canada and replaced it with warmer southern air, and ice receded as a result.  I have reported on Arctic incursions in a post Arctic Inversions and Intrusions but the speed of the effect on ice (if that is the phenomenon) is still surprising.  We shall see if it persists or not.

Background:  Winter Forecast by Dr. Judah Cohen, Dec. 25

On Christmas Day Dr. Judah Cohen published his updated Arctic Oscillation and Polar Vortex Analysis and Forecast  Excerpts below

As I have been discussing the past two blog posts I continue to believe that this is the most critical period of the winter and will ultimately determine the character of the winter. In my opinion, we have approached a fork in the road and the atmosphere can take two possible paths one is a path where the rest of the winter is relatively mild across the mid-latitudes of the NH and the second is a colder path or solution. The tropospheric polar vortex has been relatively weak for much of the month of December as illustrated by the relatively warm polar cap geopotential heights (PCHs) for the first half of December that then boomeranged off the mid-stratosphere and after a short respite with colder tropospheric PCHs, warmer PCHs in the troposphere are predicted through the end of the month and into early January.

Based on the easterly phase of the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO) I have been favoring a significant PV disruption most likely in January for much of the fall.  A significant stratospheric PV disruption would then be followed by an extended period of severe winter weather across the mid-latitudes of the NH.  However, I have to admit as of yet there are no signs of this scenario.  There is still time but not much.  However, there is another scenario that could still yield a relatively cold winter and that is one analogous to what happened in the winter of 2013/14 where no significant disruptions of the stratospheric occurred but rather repeated minor disruptions that yielded a cold winter for central and eastern North America. Though at first, I acknowledged this possibility I was hesitant to favor this scenario.  However, the longer the delay in a major disruption of the stratospheric PV the more I favor this scenario.

The Arctic Oscillation (AO) is currently slightly positive and is predicted to trend slowly negative through the end of the week towards neutral. The forecast is for the AO to remain close to neutral next week, likely a sign of uncertainty.

Figure 7. Forecasted snowfall anomalies (mm/day; shading) from 31 December 2017 – 4 January 2018. The forecasts are from the 00Z 18 December 2017 GFS ensemble. Note the new projection to provide finer resolution.

The current positive AO is reflective of mixed pressure/geopotential height anomalies across the Arctic and mostly positive pressure/geopotential height anomalies across the mid-latitudes. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is also currently slightly positive with weak pressure/geopotential height anomalies across Greenland and Iceland and positive pressure/geopotential height anomalies across the mid-latitudes of the North Atlantic.

A return to Ural ridging/blocking at the turn of the calendar year favors active energy transfer from the troposphere to the stratosphere. Another pulse is predicted to commence this week and peak the first few days of January. The pulse itself is likely related to relaxation of the pattern and mild temperatures across North America. However, the predicted resultant perturbation to the stratospheric polar vortex (PV) especially the building of heights over northwestern North America in my opinion could once again favor the return of cold temperatures across eastern North America later in January.

Figure 9. Forecasted snowfall anomalies (mm/day; shading) from 5 – 9 January 2018. The forecasts are from the 00Z 25 December 2017 GFS ensemble. Troughing and/or cold temperatures will support the potential of additional snowfall across Eastern Europe, Siberia, West and East Asia, Alaska, Canada and the Northwestern US. Despite below normal temperatures, temperatures warm sufficiently to support snowmelt across the Eastern US (Figure 9).

Ice did not grow this past week on the North Pacific side of the Arctic basin, still I expect the negative ice anomalies in the region to shrink.  Sea ice is below normal in the Barents-Kara Seas as well and with time the greatest negative sea ice anomalies will likely reside in this region.  As I have been writing for much of the fall I do believe that the record low sea ice anomalies in the Chukchi and Bering Seas has focused ridging/blocking in this region.  Though model forecasts do not predict a return of the blocking in the foreseeable future.

Recent research has shown that regional anomalies are important and the sea ice region most highly correlated with the winter AO is the Barents-Kara Seas region where low Arctic sea ice favors a negative winter AO and a cold Eurasia.  Below normal sea ice in this region may be contributing to more active Wave Activity Flux/poleward heat transport predicted in the models that eventually could result in a negative AO.

As we have seen, the Polar Vortex did indeed return to North America, freezing Niagara Falls in the process.

Whichever fork the ice takes, the Polar Bears had a Merry Christmas





  1. Hifast · January 1

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


  2. Sara Hall · January 2

    Is the small (but persistent) amount of ice around Iceland’s North and West coasts of any significance? I didn’t spot much ice there through last year’s growth and melt (via MASIE) apart from a small amount in April that had maybe broken away from Greenland, but this was the first season that I’d been looking so I have no images with which to compare it. I have read on various sites that ice originating in Iceland has become an infrequent event.


    • Ron Clutz · January 2

      sara. I have not studied that in detail. In 2015 I was on a cruise scheduled to make port in Ísafjörður, a town in the northwest of Iceland. The stop was canceled because of ice so we had an extra day in Reykjavík. And that was in August.


      • Sara Hall · January 2

        Thanks for your reply Ron. I’d love to go to Iceland one day, but I doubt that I’d ever get there under sail as the skipper of the boat I sail on is a warm water cruiser! Out of curiosity, I have been saving the MASIE images (daily when I can) since the beginning of September 2016 and on checking closely have noticed that there is a permanent “chunk” of ice in or near Isafjordur! Maybe it’s a very sheltered area that allows the ice to persist? The rest of the coast had remained clear until Nov.12th last year when little white specks appeared on the MASIE images, on the north and west coasts. To my untrained eye, based on the ice forming on the Greenland coast at the time, it doesn’t look too likely that this ice originated there. I could very well be wrong of course and will be waiting to see how or if it advances as winter really starts to bite.


  3. Frederick Colbourne · January 2

    The Okhotsk Sea is a bit of a mystery but the Chukch Sea is not. The northward current through the Bering Strait was probably the explanation for clearing the ice in the souther part of the Chukch Sea.


  4. angech · January 3

    Ron why is the Canadian Archipelago flat at 80.1 [thousands of kilometers squared] whereas the rest are slightly higher at 80.2 in MAISIE time series region 9?
    I would have thought they would all occupy exactly the same amount when full [flat]?
    Are we being shortchanged on ice extent due to a computer glitch??


  5. Ron Clutz · January 3

    angech, not sure at what you are looking. The table above shows 853k km2 for CAA.


  6. angech · January 4

    I find MAISIE from Arctic Sea Ice Blog Daily graphs. Clicking goes to graph 11 NSICD
    Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent – Northern Hemisphere (MASIE-NH.
    They have a time series plots
    Region 9 – Canadian Archipelago the graph shows 3 years with the current levels flat lined as presumably full so should all be the same but this year was 850.1 and the others around 850.2.
    I felt they should all be the same extent same line when full
    Obviously 2007 was not full at the comparison date but the other years should all have the same level if all iced up, surely?


  7. Ron Clutz · January 4

    Don’t know angech. Maybe it’s a case of close enough for government work. But when the standard unit for Arctic ice watching is the Wadham (1M km2), don’t get your knickers twisted over a few 100 km2. Best wishes for 2018 angech.


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