eXTENT sEP 17 N_bm_extent_hiresExtent March 18B map N_bm_extent_hires

I created my sensationalist headline to counter the headline we are likely to once again see, come this July, which will read, “North Pole Melting!!!”

When it comes to facts, neither headline is truly false. The truth in my headline can be seen in the following graph, which not only shows that the arctic sea-ice extent has tripled since last September, but has actually quadrupled since the summer of 2012.

Sea_Ice_Extent_March 18 v2

The second headline is also factual, because the ice melts at the the North Pole every summer. This happens because a day at the the North Pole is six months long, which means the “noontime heat” lasts around a month.  Temperatures nudge above freezing in early July and sink below freezing in late August. This has happened every summer since records started being kept in 1958. A summer without melting at the Pole would be a real reason for sensationalist headlines, but there has never been a summer without melting. Here is the Danish Meteorological Institute’s graph for polar temperatures in the year 1958, as opposed to last summer’s:

DMI meanT_1958DMI 2013 meanT_2013 (1)

It can be seen that even in the case of last summer, (to the right), which had below-normal summer temperatures, it would not be dishonest to have a headline proclaiming “North Pole Melting.”

The difference between the two headlines is not in their truthfulness, but in the impressions they convey.  A headline about tripled extent is more suggestive of a coming ice age than a headline about a melting North Pole. A headline about a melting North Pole is more conducive to panic about Global Warming.

I don’t see much wrong in having different impressions. Having more than one impression is a healthy thing. They balance out and produce scope and depth. This is why we have two eyes. The right eye is a thesis, the left eye is an antithesis, and between the two of them they produce a synthesis, which contains something no single view has, called “depth perception.”

In the same way a two-party system is better than the single party of a dictatorship. The allure of a dictatorship is that one faces no legal opposition, however one constantly risks getting no advice when about to step off a cliff, and history shows us, again and again, that megalomaniacs who think their own view is best view climb pinnacles of power only to plummet to ruin, often bringing entire populations with them.

Science is also most healthy when it is open to new ideas. This is not to say it isn’t afflicted with attributes of humanity: Youths tend to be undisciplined and to lack experience, while the aged tend to resist change and be set in their ways, but, in theory at least, scientists are ever hopeful they will be there at the bright dawning of a fresh and new discovery. There is no bowing and fawning among true scientists before the magic word, “Consensus,” (which is a word that assumes discovery is a thing of the past.)

You may be wondering what all this has to do with sea-ice. So am I. I originally studied sea-ice for the same reason I studied clouds: It was an escape from reality.  I can honestly say that I didn’t return to reality; reality invaded my clouds.  Where it once was a safe thing to say, “It’ll be a nice day, if it don’t rain,” it suddenly became unsafe, and you could wind up with your hair all blown back by another person’s rage. “Weather,” which was once a safe topic, has become more dangerous than discussing religion or politics.

To have weather become a dangerous topic has led me to conclude that there is no such thing as a safe social posture, on this crazy planet. It took me decades to arrive at this conclusion, which I started to understand back in the early 1970’s when it suddenly became politically incorrect to open a door for a lady.  (Before, opening a door always earned me a smile, but suddenly it got me a swift kick in the shins.) Even if I assumed silence and a disarming smile, people seemed liable to regard me as Brer Rabbit regarded the silent tar-baby.

Considering there was no safe place to withdraw any more, (and I was a master of withdrawal, avoidance, and all other forms of escapism,) and considering there were no clouds left to hide in, I had to fight back, and it turns out that once I’m cornered I can fight like a cornered hamster. I refused to be cowed any longer, and went around looking for a fight, doing dangerous things like opening doors for young women. Obviously it was successful, for now young women want nothing to do with me.

It was equally successful in terms of sea-ice. I no longer search for the politically correct way to bring up the topic. While it is politically correct to talk at great length about ice melting, it is a horrendous social gaffe to talk about ice reforming, but I did it, and now the “beautiful people” don’t invite me to their parties. Fine with me. The only ones who really thinks those people are beautiful are in their mirrors, and those mirrors sometimes have doubts.

This has left me free to do what I want. (I told you I was a master of withdrawal, avoidance and other forms of escapism.) What I want to do is watch sea-ice melt and reform. Watching ice melt and watching water refreeze is tedious, though not as boring as a party held by the politically correct, and unlike “beautiful people,” it has the redeeming quality of possessing real beauty that rivals the beauty of clouds.

Furthermore, as I watch ice melt and refreeze, I become increasingly aware we are on the verge of discovery.  We are about to see something that actually deserves the word “unprecedented,” because it has never been seen before.

It has never been seen before because the AMO has a cycle from “cold” to “warm” and then back to “cold” of roughly 60 years, and we have only had satellites viewing the sea-ice for roughly fifty years. (There are some who behave as if the earliest satellite-pictures don’t exist, but never mind that for now.) Therefore we are about to see a part of the AMO cycle humans have never witnessed before, from outer space.

Fishermen down here on earth have witnessed what we are about to witness, and have done so for centuries, and the Danish Meteorological Institute, (because Danes sail arctic seas,) labored long and hard to make maps of ice-conditions in the northern seas, for decades before we had satellites. They possess the old maps, but for some reason don’t make them public, (but never mind that for now.)  I did get to study those maps long and hard at an old Watts Up With That post, It was a was a wonderful post I returned to over and over, to study pre-satellite conditions, but the last time I went there all the maps had vanished, so I can’t refer you there.

Therefore you will have to take my word for this.  If the AMO sixty-year-cycle is a true cycle, and if history repeats itself, we are about to witness a most astonishing regrowth of ice on the Atlantic side of the Pole. We will move from “unprecedented” lows to “unprecedented” highs in only five to ten years.

However let us assume the worst. I know from experience that those who refuse to learn from history attempt to erase the past, and let us assume they have succeeded, and we only have the current situation to forecast the future with.  Have we any indications we are about to see a dramatic shift, in the world of arctic sea-ice?

First, besides the AMO there is a thing called the PDO, and it shifted from a “warm” phase to a “cold” phase a few years back, and, and in steps and stages, the sea-ice has made a remarkable “recovery” on the Pacific side.  Ice north and south of Bering Strait was at record levels last winter, and this winter, despite a slow start and despite above-normal temperatures in Alaska, it has achieved an above-normal extent. However the ice in the Strait is thin ice that will be gone by June. What is really impressive, on the Pacific side, is the increase of thicker multi-year ice.  That ice has buckled and built, heaped-up in multiple pressure ridges, and expanded slowly west along the North American arctic coast, starting from a last-hold-out northeast of Greenland, and creeping along the entire Canadian and Alaskan coasts, until it is now invading waters north of the Bering Strait itself.

This means a great deal, in terms of the measure people make a big deal about::  “Sea Ice Extent”, because ice-free waters north of Bering Strait added a lot to the decrease in sea-ice totals seen over the past decade.  Because those waters are now less likely to be ice-free, sea-ice-extent could rebound a million, or even two million km2, on the Pacific side.

To some that does not matter, because Pacific waters are minor contributors to the Arctic Ocean, compared to Atlantic waters, which include the northern tendrils of the Gulf Stream. These people will focus on the dregs of a warm AMO, which has greatly reduced the ice on the Atlantic side.  How greatly? Well, the past winter has seen so little ice regrow in the Barents Sea that its ice cover is at levels so low that they are “unprecedented” for this time of year, in the satellite era.

This open water is largely due to a lack of cold air to freeze the sea, because of a surge of warmth up through Europe towards the Pole this past winter. This air had to surge north to replace all the arctic air heading the other way, south down to freeze my socks off, and even reaching Texas and Northern Mexico, in North America.  The warm air, surging north as cold air surged south, defied a simpler idea seen in textbooks: The idea of a “Polar Cell.”

A “Polar Cell” is much like a “Hadley Cell” down at the equator.  Warm air rises in the warmer south, flows north aloft, and then sinks in the colder north. When this happens the flow around the Pole is “zonal.”  Cold is kept up at the Pole by winds flowing around the Pole.  That sure didn’t happen this past winter. The flow was “meidianal,” .with the jet stream describing such loops that warm air was brought to the Pole itself, as cold air was brought to Mexico. Often it was colder in Minnesota than at the North Pole, and in east Siberia (away from the warm inflow surging north over Europe,) it was even fifty degrees colder than at the Pole.  (Minus-seventy when the Pole was “only” minus-twenty.)

Things were out of balance. What caused the imbalance? My guess is that the Altlantic AMO and Pacific PDO are out of Phase. The Pacific is “cold” while the Atlantic is “warm”. Until the Atlantic AMO becomes “cold” we are unlikely to see a return of a zonal flow, where the cold air stays north where it belongs.

But how does the Pacific, being so much bigger, bully the Atlantic into becoming “cold”?

I have no idea.  I think that is what satellites are about to show us, over the next five to ten years. I hope very much to live long enough to witness the entire process, as (and if) it happens.

However I do have a hunch that open water is a better way for the Arctic Ocean to lose heat than ice-covered water. The open water of the Barents Sea may be losing heat and be part of what prompts the “cold” AMO.  Also, as light again reveals the sea-ice, removing darkness like wrapping paper removed on a Christmas morning, my lying eyes can again scan the ice up at the Pole, and I see evidence that it was very windy up there in the dark of the last arctic night.  Where a zonal flow would keep things calm and very cold, the meridianal flow had winds roaring north and roaring south in a way that stressed the sea-ice, creating cracks that expanded to areas of open water over a mile wide, while in other areas crunching ice together to create pressure ridges.  The areas of open water, (now thinly frozen over but still visible), were exposed to air which, though ten degrees above normal, were still a “balmy” twenty-below, and this exposure would chill the sea more than if it was protected by thick ice. That too would be a case where open water does not indicate warming, but rather a chilling of the Arctic Ocean. It is the chilling of the ocean that will lead to the expansion of sea-ice, I theorize.

This is only a hunch, and I wrote more about my hunch at:

It would not surprise me a bit if my hunch was utterly wrong. After all, we are about to witness what has never been witnessed from above.

Being wrong doesn’t bother me all that much, because I like that which is fresh and new, especially new discoveries. And as the AMO shifts towards “cold” such freshness and newness and discovery will be available to all, just as warm sunshine is available to all, and falls on rich and poor alike. It will be a wonderful newness, just as springtime is a newness.

There are some who don’t like being wrong, and dislike newness. They prefer correctness, especially correctness of a political-correct sort, even if it means they cling to a winter and never see spring. If you really want to enjoy seeing what we’ve never seen before, as the AMO shifts to “cold,” I’d suggest avoiding that crowd….unless, of course, you prefer an echo chamber echoing ignorance, and enjoy the depth-perception of a Cyclops.

Sorry. I meant this essay to be humorous, and did not mean to end it on a bitter note, but the long, cold winter refuses to relent, and my heating bills are through the roof, and now I have to do my taxes and they will be higher.  That’s enough to wipe the smile off most anyone’s face.



  1. What I want to do is watch sea-ice melt and reform.

    Well that’s better then wanting to watch paint dry, lol. Actually, it’s important work you’re doing. Someone has to go deep. And the whole “the Arctic is melting away” is virtually all the fear mongers got in their bag of tricks to try to scare us. The Arctic (ice extent) is on its way back. Just watch.

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