NORTH POLE ICE MELT – WATCHING THE SUMMER THAW (June 29-July 28, 2013)

(click all graphs, maps and pictures to clarify and enlarge)

NORTH POLE ICE MELT – WATCHING THE SUMMER THAW

When the weather gets hot and muggy there are few things more refreshing than a brief jaunt to the North Pole Camera.  Watching ice melt may not be the most thrilling activity, but it does wonders for a hectic mind, breeding a sense of serenity and coolness in a hot and bothered world.

First it is wise to check to see where we stand, in terms of the yearly thaw, by checking out the DMI site at:  http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php

Polar Temps Graph meanT_2013 (1)

The straight blue line at the top of this graph represents the melting point of fresh water.  The green line represents the mean temperature north of eighty degrees latitude.  The red line represents this year’s mean, north of eighty degrees.

It can be seen that every year it gets above freezing at the pole, roughly from late May to mid August, and that by “sunset” in September everything is freezing up again. It also can be seen that temperatures have been below normal this year, though the mean is above freezing. Lastly it can be seen we are at the peak temperatures, and that ordinarily temperatures start to drift back down from now on.

Of course a mean temperature doesn’t show the variations in temperature from place to place.  Here is a DMI map of today’s (July 24) temperatures up there:Polar Temps July 24 temp_latest.big

This map shows us that even at high summer there are places where temperatures can dip below freezing, as well as places of thawing. (It is important to remember that, while the formation of ice at the pole does extract salt from the ice, we are talking about a sea of salt water that freezes at around 29 degrees (F).)

Lastly it is important to remember the North Pole Camera is drifting on ice that doesn’t stay in the same place.  It tends to drift down into the Fram Strait by fall, and last year one camera was actually rescued by a ship before it sank as the ice broke up. Currently the camera is a little north of 86 degrees latitude. Here is the drift map.North Pole Camera DriftMap

You can track the camera yourself at http://psc.apl.washington.edu/northpole/DriftTrackMap.html It is the dark green line, “Barneo 2013 Buoy Farm.”

Now let’s look at some pictures of what has been going on up there for the past month or so.  (I’ve chosen Camera 2, as it has been more interesting this year.) The first picture is from June 29:

 NP June 29 npeo_cam2_20130629141045

This picture shows snowfall has drifted and nearly covered the measuring stakes, and also, in the left background, the sun shining on what appears to be open water.  This is where a submarine could surface (if it could find it) and is called a “lead.” It is caused by winds pulling the ice in two directions.  When winds smash the ice together again it is a little like plate tetonics, and a mini-mountain range called a “pressure ridge” is formed.  One of those can be seen in the right background.

Already the mean temperatures are above freezing, and the sun never sets.  The following pictures show the snow turning to slush, until the camera looks out over a wide area of melt-water, which in the final picture has waves on it, due to strong winds.

July 10 

NP July 10 npeo_cam2_20130710015103

July 16

NP July 16 npeo_cam2_20130716073435

July 20

NP July 20 npeo_cam2_20130720012748

July 23

NP July 23 npeo_cam2_20130723072152

At this point, from a satellite above, it is difficult to see much due to low clouds and fog. So what they do is use radar to see through the clouds.  The question then becomes, would the radar see what we see?  Would it see a wide but shallow melt-water pool over ice that is still relatively thick?  Or would it see the above scene as open water?

Then the sun pops out today, July 24, for our final picture (for now.)

NP July 24 npeo_cam2_20130724073005

This final picture raises some interesting questions.  First, is the melt water refreezing, despite the bright sunshine?

And second, do you remember the sun shining off what appeared to be open water in the left distance of the first picture?  It looks like the sides of that “lead” have come crushing together and formed a small “pressure ridge.”  Remember, as you look at that pile of ice, that nine-tenths of an iceberg is under water.  What does this mean, in terms of calculating the so-called “total volume” of arctic sea ice?

Well, I suppose I’ve asked enough questions to generate some lively discussions, but I have one more.  Don’t you feel cooler?

It is great fun to continue to monitor the pictures from this camera, as the summer ebbs away.  Sometimes the foundations get so slushy the camera tilts.  Sometimes a hole appears in the ice, and all the melt water drains away into it.  Then you see the freeze begin, as the sun gets low and orange on the horizon. Best of all, you get to use your own lying eyes, and not a single computer model is involved.

UPDATE JULY 26

I likely should have included the picture from Camera One, even though it is more boring. Here is today’s from camera One:

NP July 26 npeo_cam1_20130726081158

Not as interesting, aye?  And here is camera two for today (July 26):

NP July 26 npeo_cam2_20130726072121

Much more interesting!  However I think it is important to show both views to avoid the trap of being one sided.  I fear the “Mother Nature Network” may have slipped (pun) into this pitfall when they began an article using the view from Camera Two with, “If this image (above) doesn’t scare you about effects of global warming, you must have icewater in your veins. Yes, that’s the North Pole. It’s now a lake.”

The article isn’t all bad, as they go on to explain, “The North Pole has not completely melted away; there is still a layer of ice between the lake and the Arctic Ocean underneath. But that layer is thinning, and the newly formed lake is continuing to deepen.”

If I play the part of “fact checker” then I, as a person who delights in the North Pole Camera and who has watched it for years, can nod at that line.  As a writer I admire the style of what follows, but as “fact checker” I would be one of those tedious editors who spoils creative writing with the dull destruction of hyperbole, as I read what followed, “It’s a dramatic reminder that climate change is real and that the Arctic is being radically transformed. In fact, the lake– we might as well call it Lake North Pole– is now an annual occurrence. A pool of meltwater has formed at the North Pole every year now since 2002. The mythical home of Santa Claus has been officially flooded out.

(You can judge for yourself at:  http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/stories/north-pole-melts-forms-lake-at-top-of-the-world )

It is not incorrect to say that melt-water pools have been forming at the pole since 2002 (though the camera has never shown one so big, that I know of.) In fact melt-water pools were forming in 1958.  Here is the DMI chart for 1958. (click chart to see entire year.)

DMI meanT_1958

As you can see, during the spell when the sun never sets in the summer, it averaged  above freezing for weeks on end, even back in 1958.  It is only natural for melt-water pools to form, when the sun shines and shines and shines, for days and days and days.

I’ve been watching the pictures from the pole for years, and I’ve seen a wonderful variety of views. This is one of the largest melt-water pools I’ve seen, however I’ve seen deeper pools that seemed to even penetrate the ice, as the camera drifted down towards Fram Strait.

As soon as the melt finds a weakness in the ice, all the melt-water drains from the surface. Sometimes, as it does so, it makes a rather beautiful spider web of channels to the point of drainage, (seen in pictures from airplanes, and not from the North Pole Camera.) It is actually unusual for the ice to be so thick the water doesn’t drain off the surface.

I hate to be the nit-picky old crab of an editor, poking an ink-grubby finger at the sincere efforts of an idealistic, young writer.  I remember how bad that feels. However maybe that is my job, now that I look in the mirror and see a fossil.

UPDATE 2—JULY 27

Last year around this time there was a ridge of high pressure which flooded warm air right over the top of Greenland, very briefly raising temperatures over freezing even up over ten thousand feet, at the top of the ice sheet.  Judging from ice core records, this happens every fifty years or so, however the media seized upon the event as something sensational they could sell papers with, and made it sound like the entire icecap was melting, top to bottom. In actual fact the topmost skin of the snow may have become sticky enough to make a snowball with, before refreezing to a thin crust which will be noted in future ice cores.

This year a summer snowstorm is occurring in the same spot.  Joseph D’Aleo wrote a piece called, “What a difference a year makes,” about the thaw and the snowstorm, and it was printed over at “Watts Up With That.”  http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/07/25/oh-what-a-difference-a-year-makes-in-greenland-melting/

I commented over there, supplying a link to this post.

To my amazement, as of 10:22 this Saturday morning, 416 people have clicked onto this post, most coming via the link I left at Watts Up With That.  Quite often only ten or twenty will visit this site, each day.

After commenting on the surge of viewers over on Watts Up With that, I concluded, “I can only suppose the lesson is that, if you are the sort of person who craves attention, you can skip wearing a lampshade and tap dancing on tables at parties. Just hang out here and talk about icebergs.”

My wife joked I should stick with what is successful, so here is the latest view from camera 2:

NP July 27 npeo_cam2_20130727072429

It looks like wind is whipping spray from the melt-water pool onto the camera lens.  I hope salt doesn’t wreck the circuits. I also hope the sloshing pool isn’t washing away the foundation of snow that camera is anchored into, and the camera doesn’t tilt.  (Last year the lean of the camera gave me a crick in my neck, as I looked at the tilted views.)

Here is the more boring view from Camera 1, looking the other way:

NP July 27 npeo_cam1_20130727081146

Lastly, here’s the DMI map of temperatures up there on July 27.

NP July Temp temp_latest.big

Hmm. Odd. This suggests an area of below freezing temperatures right where the camera is.  With a big low on the Arctic coast to the east, north of Canada, I’d expect southerly winds would make it warmer.  Maybe some cold air is getting pulled down from the Greenland Icecap.

In any case, I’m wondering how long “Lake North Pole” will last, and whether we’ll see the camera fall over with a crash, or whether the water will abruptly vanish down into a hole melted in the ice, or into a crack made by ice shifting.

UPDATE 3 — “LAKE NORTH POLE VANISHES”  July 28

The most recent picture shows the melt water lake has vanished. Likely it drained down though a hole in the ice.

NP July 28 npeo_cam2_20130728131212

(NOTE—observations continue in July 28 post, “Lake North Pole Vanishes.”  https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/lake-north-pole-vanishes/

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8 thoughts on “NORTH POLE ICE MELT – WATCHING THE SUMMER THAW (June 29-July 28, 2013)

  1. Whoa, so the ice really does melt! So let’s get on it and get that cap & trade going and cut our CO2 by 80% pronto!

    I enjoyed your discussion of the photos. In the detailed way you analyze the photos I could imagine a JPL scientist looking at Mars rover photos in a similar way.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my discussion. I am trying very hard not to get sucked into the political aspect of polar thawing, as I find it makes my veins bulge and is likely bad for my blood pressure.

      Please see my update. How am I doing?

      • Good update. Methinks that it has melted up there since time immemorial, and if the melt is slightly higher than before than that’s a regional / cyclical phenomenon, not a sign that the end is near. We see Antarctic sea ice at record levels. How does that jive with the gwarming theory? It doesn’t. It’s regional. Nothing to worry about at all.

        Except you do actually wonder what’s happened to Santa and his crew? Have they had to migrate south and thus face the danger of the burgeoning polar bear populations?

      • Eric,

        Check out my third update. The “lake” has found a way down through some crack, drained down into the sea, and has vanished.

    • I added another update.

      I think the melt must have been much greater, at least on the Atlantic side, back in the time of the Vikings. The simple fact they could gather enough hay in Greenland to feed around 2000 cows and 100,000 sheep and goats during the long winters, ( and also grow barley for beer,) and the further fact they could travel from Iceland to Greenland along a northern route without ramming icebergs or dying of hypothermia, suggests both the air and Atlantic were much warmer.

      I’ve read a number of papers that attempt to prove this was a local phenomenon, only happening in the North Atlantic, but that would involve some huge and long-lasting looping of both the Jet Stream and the Gulf Stream. If such looping is even physically possible, it would have melted the heck out of the Atlantic side of the ice cap.

      And that only involves the Medieval Warm Period. It was apparently even warmer in earlier warm periods. Therefore I think you are correct when you say, “Methinks that it has melted up there since time immemorial.”

      I think it would be a good thing to have yet another warm period, although I might not like the political fallout.

      • 74 people!! I didn’t think Goddard got that kind of traffic, plus that post was buried below several other posts. So, don’t cross Goddard off your list for posting a link back to your site.

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