For more details on Professor Wadhams' calculations, see the earlier post Albedo change in the Arctic.
Arctic sea ice area fell by 11.33629 million square km from March 28, 2012, to September 1, 2012, as shown on the image below, edited from The Cryosphere Today. That's an 82.7 percent fall in 157 days.
The image below shows Arctic sea ice extent (total area of at least 15% ice concentration) for the last 7 years, compared to the average 1972-2011, as calculated by the Polar View team at the University of Bremen, Germany.
There still are quite a few days to go in the melting season, so the fall could be even more dramatic.
Peter Wadhams adds: “The point about summer conditions is that as long as there is SOME ice present on the sea surface, however thin the layer, then the ocean temperature below it is held to 0 degrees Celsius because the absorbed solar radiation melts the ice rather than warming the water. Also the atmospheric temperature is held to close to 0 degrees Celsius because warmer air melts the surface snow layer on top of the ice and is thereby cooled. The sea ice, even when thinned, continues to act with 100% efficiency as an air conditioning system for ocean and atmosphere alike.”
“BUT”, Prof Wadhams continues, “as soon as the sea ice layer goes, this process ceases and the sea can warm up rapidly (to typically 7 degrees Celsius by the end of summer - which is not much colder than the North Sea), as can the atmosphere (which speeds up Greenland ice sheet melt when that warmed air passes over Greenland). Latent heat is an enormously powerful buffer - the amount of heat that you have to pump in to melt 1 kg of ice will subsequently heat that same amount of melted water to 80 degrees Celsius. So once the ice goes away entirely there is a big jump in temperatures in the upper ocean and atmosphere (with dire consequences for permafrost), and it is very difficult to see how one can ever go back to an ice-covered summer ocean once this has happened.”
In the August 27, 2012, BBC article Arctic sea ice reaches record low, Nasa says, by Roger Harrabin, Professor Peter Wadhams said: “Implications are serious: the increased open water lowers the average albedo [reflectivity] of the planet, accelerating global warming; and we are also finding the open water causing seabed permafrost to melt, releasing large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.”
Indeed, there is a danger that loss of the sea ice will weaken the currents that currently cool the bottom of the sea, where huge amounts of methane may be present in the form of free gas or hydrates in sediments. This danger is illustrated by the image below by Reg Morrison.
The image below, from a study by Polyakov et al., shows temperature differences in the vertical water column at selected stretches of water in the Arctic over the years.
|[click images to enlarge]|