MUSINGS ON POLAR STORMS AND SEA-ICE

 Beaufort crackup Feb 2013 beaufort_vir_2013054_1

Those who have joined me as I sit back and watch ice melt at the Pole have seen how I tend to give storms and high-pressure-systems names, and also know I am more of a witness than a scientist.  All I do is observe, often without fully understanding what I am observing. Being a witness means I can testify, even without being a scientist.

Over time we have witnessed several notable storms in the arctic.  A gale in August 2012 had a lot to do with the record-setting ice minimum (“records” only going back to 1978) of that year.  Then strong storms, largely over Alaska, fractured the Beaufort Sea’s ice, as is seen the pictures above.  Third, a big gale last summer surprised people by failing to melt ice in the same manner as the 2012 summer storm.  I have publicly wondered about various things which “might” explain the different effects the two storms had, freely admitting my shortcomings and lack of authority.

While I may not be an authority, I have become an “educated voter,” when it comes to the topic of sea-ice, and this enables me to spot various statements that fail to accurately portray the truth. An example of this occurred last summer, when the North Pole Camera gazed out over a slowly growing melt-water pool, which are fairly common on the sea-ice when temperatures rise above freezing for weeks on end, under 24-hour-a-day sunshine.  Others were taking this view of a melt-water pool as a sign the North Pole was melting away, and suggesting it was uncommon and even “unprecedented.”  In the face of such shallow sensationalism I am able to step forward as a witness and testify.

I suppose in that situation I was more of an “authority” than the people making wild claims, however I insist upon retaining the distinction between an educated voter and a scientific authority.  I am not a scientific authority.  However I do know what I have seen.

Recently there was an interesting post on WUWT suggesting that storms such as the summer gale of 2012 were common.  That is not what I have seen, as a witness.  It turned out, deeper down in the body of the article, that they included storms as far south as 55 degrees north latitude, which explained the idea such storms were “common.” However there was a danger of the headline misleading people: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/16/remember-the-arctic-cyclone-that-busted-up-sea-ice-in-2012-it-seems-such-storm-are-more-common-than-previously-thought/

The article holds a very good satellite video of the sea-ice being broken up by that 2012 summer-gale, making a visit to WUWT worthwhile, however the headline prompted me to gently differ, in what I hope is a polite manner, as follows:

“I think the study’s definition of “cyclone” must include even the smallest low pressure system. I have a hobby of watching arctic weather, and full fledged gales are not all that common. I should have taken better notes, but my guess would be that, at most, you might get one decent storm every two months, out on the Arctic Sea proper. If you include gales at the very edge of the Arctic Sea you would have a higher number, especially at the boundary with the North Atlantic.

Gales tend to ride along the edge of the ice, and to weaken once they are not over “warm” water. (During the winter there is big difference between surface temperatures over water and over ice, at times as much as sixty degrees; minus thirty versus plus thirty.)

At the end of a warm summer there is a strip of open water along the Siberian coast, and as the winter darkness descends storms ride along that open water along the coast. Then, as the coastal waters freeze over from east to west, you notice the storms loose their strength earlier and earlier as they travel east. Once the Laptev Sea is frozen over, that is where they weaken. Once the Kara Sea is frozen over, that is where they weaken. I imagine during a cold AMO, when a lot of the Barents Sea is frozen over, they would weaken even further east.

The storms that remain strong as they veer north over the Pole itself are more rare, and need to bring along a large pocket of warm and moist air to fuel themselves, while clashing with cold air. It would be interesting to study such storms in detail. One occurred last February, causing some major cracking of the sea ice in the Beaufort Gyre, at the time the air temperatures over the Pole were at their absolute lowest. Rather than “melting” the Arctic Sea it seemingly cooled it significantly.

It would also be interesting to have better data on the temperatures at various levels under the ice. I think it varies quite a bit. The largest inflow is northern tendrils of the Gulf Stream, which is salty water, however some of the world’s largest rivers discharge into the Arctic Ocean, (Mackenzie River in Canada, and the Ob, Yenisei and Lena Rivers of Russia,) which discharge fresh water. I imagine when we read of heat waves in Russia the water in such rivers is warmer, (and even a few tenths of a degree matters, in terms of melting sea ice.) Also, when we read of milder winters as opposed to severe winters in Alaska and Canada, the river waters would be effected. (Some of the largest temperature variations on earth occur in those northern lands that swing between 24-hour-daylight and 24-hour-darkness; in eastern Siberia the swing is between as high as hundred above and as low as eighty below.)

In the end, I think ice-melt is determined more by the water under the ice than by the air above the ice. The reason the summer gale of 2012 melted more ice than the gale during the summer of 2013 was because the water under the ice was warmer, in 2012. Or that is my opinion. In actual fact we have a great scarcity of data, concerning temperatures at various levels under the ice, and how those temperatures change.”

 

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4 thoughts on “MUSINGS ON POLAR STORMS AND SEA-ICE

  1. Re: Up a tree at age sixty. I wonder if I’ll ever grow up and act my age.
    When asked what should be on his gravestone Arthur C Clarke replied “He never grew up but he never stopped growing”. Words to live by IMHO.

    • I’m glad you spotted that aside, on the other post.

      Actually I have always loved climbing trees, especially the views from the very tops. I’ll keep doing it as long as I can, and don’t care if it embarrasses the grandchildren.

      I like Clarke’s motto.

  2. I would just like to confirm that here in the midlands of the uk we had our first snowfall of the winter last night , just enough to slightly whiten grass but it vanished in the morning as the ground has no residual cold . i promised I would let you know when winter starts here , well we had a bit of it last night , you can tell its really straining itself just to produce a few snowflakes but i suppose that at least it has tried .

    • Sorry to take so long to respond. I’ve been busy writing the thing that appeared on WUWT. I saw your kind comment on that site. Thanks.

      So far this winter has chosen to clobber this side of the Pond. Last winter it was the opposite. Our winter never really got started until mid January. It looks like Siberian air has made it as far as Scandinavia, but is having to fight to get across the North Sea. I’ll be thinking of you, as I watch this new “Battle of the Bulge.”

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