The Most Important Event On The Planet Right Now

The most important event on the planet right now? Arctic Climate Chaos.

The state of affairs:

1. Arctic Sea Ice is currently at record lows in the Northern Hemisphere and at or near record lows within the Arctic Basin itself. Further significant sea ice losses are expected this week. The sea ice is extremely thin (one meter or less) throughout the Arctic Ocean, with anomalously large ice free areas over the Laptev, Kara, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The Bering Sea reached an ice free state very early. Also, ice free areas are growing off the north coast of Greenland and offshore the islands of the Canadian Archipelago; this is where the thickest ice of 3-6 meters used to be located. However there is now are only isolated areas with thickness of 3 meters and much of it is only 1-2 meters thick. The ice is being removed by offshore winds now capable of pushing the ice out to sea. 

North coast of Greenland, July 74-29.


Canadian Archipelago, July 14-29th.

This "detachment" of the sea ice sheet from those coastlines is unprecedented and exposes the Central Arctic sea ice to lower albedo heating with additional dark open water (running 2-8 C above normal around the Arctic Ocean where it is exposed), as well as large swells and high winds from storms as we move into August and September. In my opinion, this "detachment" phenomenon elevates the risk of major sea ice collapse and a new record low minimum for sea ice in the Arctic Basin by mid-September. 

July 29th sea surface temperature anomalies relative to 1961-1990 normals. Most of the Arctic sea ice is surrounded by sea surface temperatures 2.25-8 C/4-14 F above normal.

2. The Greenland Ice Sheet is forecast to lose 40 gigatonnes of ice in a matter of days, enough to raise global sea levels at least a tenth of a millimeter. Peak temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday over the Greenland tundra may be as high as 20-25 C (68-77 F) with the interior ice sheet in the range of 3-5 C (37-41 F), potentially higher. Darkening and resulting albedo reduction on the ice sheet is being caused by increasing meltwater, algae growth and soot from fires in the Arctic. There is the potential for this week to be the 2nd biggest melt event ever observed on Greenland.

Greenland is forecast to be 4.9 C above 1981-2010 normals or 6.7 C above pre-industrial early Wednesday morning.


3. The fires in the Arctic are reaching apocalyptic levels. According to Greenpeace of Russia 12 million hectares (over 29.6 million acres) have been burned in Russia this year, with 3.2 million hectares actively on fire in Siberia as of July 27th. In addition to burning vegetation, carbon-rich peat is burning and will likely burn for months, releasing significant carbon emissions. There were 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide released in June across the Arctic from fires, surpassing the total emissions released from the Arctic in June in 2010-2018 combined. By late-July, total emissions reached 121 megatonnes, exceeding the record emissions season for fire in the Arctic in 2004 of 110 megatonnes. Fires have not only burned in the Siberian Arctic, but also Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, and Scandinavia. There are 72 active fires in Alaska as of July 29th, with five over 40,500 hectares (100,000 acres) and one approaching 202,300 hectares (500,000 acres). As previously mentioned, much of soot from the fires will fall on snow and ice in the Arctic, reducing albedo and accelerating melting of both.

4. Large emissions of methane gas appear to be venting from the Arctic Basin. This can be seen via satellite atmospheric sounding data showing wide swaths in the middle atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean with emissions of at least 2000 parts of billion of methane (considered a large concentration). Methane is at least 150 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on timescales of 5 years or less and is growing in concentration in Earth's atmosphere.

Methane detected in the middle atmosphere July 29th. Many high concentration plumes are originating from the Arctic region.


The highest concentration methane layer in the upper-atmosphere. Global mean is near 1900 ppb and Northern Hemisphere mean likely in 2000-2200 ppb range. A "methane veil" covers much of the Northern Hemisphere, with significant area of high concentration methane over the Siberian continental shelf. 

Scientists studying that region predict more abrupt releases of methane from the continental shelf on the order of years to a few decades as the waters continue to warm because of sea ice losses. 

5. The conditions favorable for extensive melting of sea ice, Greenland ice and the production of further large fires (namely, very abnormal heat and drying of vegetation/peat) will continue over Greenland, much of Alaska and Central Siberia for at least the next two weeks.  No station in the state of Alaska has been below freezing for more than a month. Further sea ice losses and abnormal heating will further drive jet stream wave anomalies and extremes (storms and heat waves) in the Northern Hemisphere. 

---Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

PS: See my Cryosphere Updating Page daily.