Friday, August 1, 2014

Next surfing hotspot - the Arctic Ocean, plus record drought in California

Sou | 4:02 PM Go to the first of 16 comments. Add a comment

A couple of items to whet your appetite for the end of week fare.

Big waves in the Arctic

Off to surf the Arctic
There have been record high waves in the Arctic, which will probably make the ice disappear more quickly in coming years. Back in September 2012, scientists measured waves of five metres or 16 feet. Maybe that's not quite enough to attract surfers from Bell's Beach, yet it's a lot more wave action than there used to be.

With the ice retreating further and further from the shores, the waves are able to grow bigger and bigger. It's suggested that these bigger waves will churn up ice and hasten its demise. Less ice means more waves - a feedback loop. While bigger waves might be great news for surfers, it will make it harder for shipping and will also exacerbate shoreline erosion. From ScienceDaily.com:
Arctic ice used to retreat less than 100 miles from the shore. In 2012, it retreated more than 1,000 miles. Wind blowing across an expanse of water for a long time creates whitecaps, then small waves, which then slowly consolidate into big swells that carry huge amounts of energy in a single punch.
The size of the waves increases with the fetch, or travel distance over open water. So more open water means bigger waves. As waves grow bigger they also catch more wind, driving them faster and with more energy.
Shipping and oil companies have been eyeing the opportunity of an ice-free season in the Arctic Ocean. The emergence of big waves in the Arctic could be bad news for operating in newly ice-free Northern waters.
"Almost all of the casualties and losses at sea are because of stormy conditions, and breaking waves are often the culprit," Thomson said.
It also could be a new feedback loop leading to more open water as bigger waves break up the remaining summer ice floes.
"The melting has been going on for decades. What we're talking about with the waves is potentially a new process, a mechanical process, in which the waves can push and pull and crash to break up the ice," Thomson said.
Waves breaking on the shore could also affect the coastlines, where melting permafrost is already making shores more vulnerable to erosion.
The observations were made as part of a bigger project by a sensor anchored to the seafloor and sitting 50 meters (more than 150 feet) below the surface in the middle of the Beaufort Sea, about 350 miles off Alaska's north slope and at the middle of the ice-free summer water. It measured wave height from mid-August until late October 2012.

Jim Thomson and Erick Rogers have written a paper about this (open access). You can read it here, or read about it at ScienceDaily.com.

Extreme drought in California

The other bit of news this week was that while drought conditions are improving in some parts of the USA, they are getting much worse in California. 58.4% of California is now in extreme drought.

Source: The National Drought Mitigation Centre

Funnily enough Anthony Watts, who hails from California, hasn't written about it on his blog. In fact for all his moaning about manners, he is scorning the suffering that the drought is bringing to farmers and others in his home state. He tweeted "and that's nothing that the state has not experienced before".

By some measures the state may not have experienced a drought like this one before, at least not as part of the USA. The megadroughts happened well before there ever was a US state of California. It only formally became part of the United States in 1850.

Back in Australia, Queensland isn't faring too well at the moment, either. This is the latest map I could find, from May this year:

Source: The Long Paddock, Qld Government

Meanwhile south of the Queensland border, fires have been busting out early in NSW.

Jim Thomson, W. Erick Rogers. "Swell and sea in the emerging Arctic Ocean". Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; 41 (9): 3136 DOI: 10.1002/2014GL059983


  1. I think we can assume the arctic will be ice free within a few years and much earlier than expected. After all, climate scientists have been telling us for over a decade now to expect an ice free arctic within a few years. Its always gunna be ice free within a few years, irrespective of when the prediction is made.

    1. I could send a list of peer-reviewed papers or citations from the IPCC report indicating that your statement is not true: would you read them? Best estimate for summer "ice-free" (meaning, <one million square km at summer minimum in September) is ~2030-2100.

    2. Yes I know. There are a myriad guesses about when/if the ice will be gone. Some are sober, some are sensationalist, some are designed to meet Schneider's call for "scary scenarios [that]...little mention of any doubts."

      Guess which ones garner the press and are presented to the public as 'the science'?

    3. PL - I could send you a link to a recording of a lot of experts in such matters quoting shorter timescales than the IPCC. Before that though, here's the US Navy's Arctic roadmap out to 2030:


      Are you aware that the existing climate models are proving to be unable to keep up with the thinner, flatter, more mobile sea ice to be found in the Arctic these days?

    4. Misrepresentation of Schneider - check.

      Another notch for the denial bingo by hazym.

    5. @Jim: (1) I agree that Arctic ice is clearly declining, clear in observed area and scary in observed thickness. So, from the point of view of access, it has already become much more navigable. My point really, was that the community "consensus" on a very specific metric, "summer ice free", is still for ~2030 onward.

      I know that Maslowski, Serreze and Wadhams have all made "predictions" of very early "summer ice free". However, their actual predictions have generally been caveated with words like "if the decline we saw from 2006 to 2007 continues, then ..." The pseudo-skeptics like hazym never track down the orignal quote, but rely on what they get from Watts, Goddard etc.

    6. PL - Having now cleared it with the US Navy, here's the recording I mentioned earlier:


      It seems their official forecast has backed off from 2023 since the summer of 2013!

    7. Jim, interesting recording, although not the first four people I'd ask for an assessment of onset of ice-free. I'd also expect that the Navy, with a need to be ready when a risk needs to be mitigated, will err on the side of caution (in this case, being ready early) with regard to be the onset of "ice-free" and the practical definition. In their case, you don't need ice-free to have navigational conflicts; a workable sea route from the Atlantic to Bering Strait is enough.

    8. Who would be on your short list then PL? At the very least Jan-Gunnar Winther ought to know his Arctic onions?


    9. Jim, I didn't say these people were ignorant or naive, but even Winther is not a sea-ice physics expert. Some names that come to mind, ranging from "alarmist" to "probably unwilling to state an opinion", are

      Wadhams, Overland, Stroeve, Kwok, Perovich, Marika Holland, Ola Johannessen; maybe Parkinson, Serreze, Hibler.

    10. Maslowski couched his definition of "nearly ice-free" in terms of volume - and by that he meant an 80% reduction from the 1979-2000 baseline.

      By that measure 2012 was almost nearly ice-free - though 2013 saw a significant backslide.

      You can find this in a 2010 article at thinkprogress:

    11. Kevin - Some more recent denier debunking of my own. Another recording, this time of what Maslowski actually said back in early 2008:


      "If this trend persists the Arctic Ocean will become ice-free by around 2013"

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  3. As a "silver" surfer myself I thought you and your readers might like to know that we have been chatting about "Surfing the Arctic" for quite some time now over on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum

    There's even a "Surfing Alaska" video, which may reveal what's on it's way the other side of the Bering Strait in the not too distant future?

  4. Shock News Bulletin!

    Over in the Arctic aquatic denialosphere, a big fish has taken the bait!

    Even though I'm universally acknowledged as the world's leading expert in surfing the Arctic, the Daily Telegraph has absent-mindedly misplaced my helpful Arctic surfing tips :(


  5. The ice of the Arctic is not going anywhere too soon. Yes, it is true that global warming is harming the ice cap but it is not enough yet to melt it totally.


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