Since I last focused on this subject back on November 29, the sea-ice has continued its usual amazing increase, a tripling and even quadrupling which happens every year, and in some ways is ho-hum news. I only note it because next summer, when the decrease goes the other way, sensationalist headlines may read, “Ice decreases by huge amounts! Only a third of it remains!” It sells papers. What puzzles me is why they don’t sell even more papers, in December, with headlines reading, “Ice increases by huge amounts! Extent triples!”
Here are the maps for November 29, (left), and December 12 (right).
The increase in ice is pretty much as to be expected. What I am focused on is slight differences from the norm, that may hint at changes in cycles, whether they be short term weather patterns or longer term 60 year cycles involving the AMO or PDO.
The swift freeze of Hudson Bay is ahead of normal, and of concern to me because the open waters of Hudson Bay to New Hampshire’s north is a buffer against the full brunt of arctic discharges. As soon as Hudson Bay freezes we are more susceptible to pure arctic outbreaks from due north. If the Great Lakes freeze we are more susceptible to cold from the Canadian prairie as well. To my east, even though the Atlantic does not freeze outside of the bays, its waters can be signifigantly cooled by the right conditions.
One such condition involves the discharge of ice from Baffin Bay, which is a great producer and exporter of ice. Even in the dead of winter when temperatures are down near forty below, open water can appear in the north of Baffin Bay, because so much ice is exported down the west coast of the bay that a polynya forms in the north. That ice then continues along the coast of Labrador, and icebergs continue down into the entrance of the St Lawrence or even further. The flow is far more complex than you’d think, as currents can dive down beneath milder waters, but in general there is a counter-current to the south hugging the American coast, as the Gulf Stream surges north.
A second discharge of ice comes down through Fram Strait, down the east coast of Greenland towards and past Iceland. The ice in this current cannot dive even when the current’s water does, and therefore ice floats onward and effects the temperature of the North Atlantic. In extreme cases (1815-1817) so much ice is exported that icebergs can ground on the coast of Ireland, and Europe’s summer temperatures can be cooled.
It should be noted that the ice moving down the east coast of Greenland comes from the Arctic Basin, and therefore subtracts from the amount of ice left behind up north for people to fret about next summer. Although their worry about less ice in the arctic focuses on Global Warming, the concern should be cooling. Here is a quote from the year 1817:
“We learn that a vessel is to be fitted out by Government for the purpose of attempting again the north-west passage, the season being considered as peculiarly favourable to such an expedition. Our readers need not be informed that larger masses of ice than ever were before known have this year been seen floating in the Atlantic, and that from their magnitude and solidity, they reached even the fortieth latitude before they were melted into a fluid state. From an examination of the Greenland captains, it has been found that owing to some convulsions of nature , the sea was more open and moré free from compact ice than in any former voyage they ever made: that several ships actually reached the eighty-fourth degree of latitude, in which no ice whatever was found; that for the first time for 400 years, vessels penetrated to the west coast of Greenland, and that they apprehended no obstacle to their even reaching the pole, if it had consisted with their duty to their employers to make the attempt…”
The fact this discharge of ice is concurrent with “The Year Without A Summer” is mentioned in this post, http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/07/08/1815-1816-and-1817-a-polar-puzzle/ and further information can be found in this treasure trove: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/20/historic-variation-in-arctic-ice/
While nothing as dramatic as 1815-1817 has occurred recently, I do like to keep an eye on the discharge of ice, and utilize a layman’s assumption that less discharge may make Europe warmer, while more may make Europe colder, the following summer.
This past autumn the ice-export down the coast of Greenland, and also down the west side of Baffin Bay, were below normal, but recently the extent has increased to near normal. This represents a surge or pulse of ice that bears watching, IMHO.
On the Pacific side of the Arctic there has been an impressive increase of sea-ice in the Chukchi Sea north of Bering Strait. It is still below normal, but is closer to normal. I like to watch this area for two reasons. First, once it freezes over Siberian air can remain cold when it takes the “short cut” route from Siberia to Alaska, and second, it gives hints about the current nature of the PDO. The PDO has been in a short-term “warm” spike midst a long term “cold” phase, so I would expect ice in the Bering Strait to be below normal, but ice will increase as the short-term “warm” spike ends.
There are past records of “warm” spikes during the “cold” PDO, however this is the first time we’ve been able to watch it with the detail satellites allow us, so of course I’m watching with great interest.
On the Atlantic side the exact opposite has been occurring. We saw, last spring and summer, a “cold” spike during a “warm” phase of the AMO. Right on cue there was more ice along the north coast of Svalbard, even those it was the warm season and everywhere else the ice was decreasing. Then this “cold” spike ended, and now, even though everywhere else sea-ice is increasing, the northern reaches of Barents Sea have seen a decrease in sea-ice. (Even more intriguing is the fact there are some signs the AMO may be about to go through a second “cold” spike.)
At this point the arctic is pretty much completely frozen over, and my attention turns to how the ice is being pushed around up there. However there are a couple of areas outside the arctic that freeze over, which are interesting to watch.
The first is the Sea of Okhotsk east of Russia and north of Japan. Extremely cold air has been pouring into the Pacific off Asia, and these waters are starting to freeze over swiftly. (Their refreeze were below-normal, earlier.) I have a hunch the variations in how these waters cool may have something to do with the end of the “warm” spike in the PDO.
The second is the northern reaches of the Baltic Sea, especially the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland. Those waters are just plain fascinating to me, because so many fresh water rivers pour into the Baltic Sea that the further north you go the fresher the water becomes, until in the very north of the Gulf of Bothnia fresh water fish can swim in the Sea. Because the water is so much fresher it freezes more easily, and the northern Baltic becomes a hypersensitive measure of Scandinavian cold. When southwest winds and the Atlantic rules, there is little freezing, but when winds shift to the brutal east, the entire Baltic can freeze.
Having discussed the extent maps, I’ll swiftly go over the daily maps. I apologize for not being able to name the individual storms like I did last year. Other areas of my life got too bossy.
One obvious difference from last year has been that storms don’t ride along the arctic coast of Eurasia from Barents Sea, through the Kara and Laptev Seas, all the way to the East Siberian Seas, and meet up with Pacific storms in the Chukchi Sea. Instead they run into a wall, and are bent north to the Pole and even Canada, or south into Russia.
Back on November 29 an Atlantic storm had crashed into the wall and devided, with half heading towards Canada and half down into Russia. In the process it brought a huge surge of Atlantic air north over the Pole. Last year this Atlantic air surged over Europe and kept them relatively warm all winter, but this time that mildness was wasted on sea ice.
At this point something ominous happened, if you live in Scandinavia. My ears perked forward in interest, for it may be a forerunner of what could become a pattern, later in the winter. This time it was quickly rebuffed, but later in the winter ic could “lock in”.
What happened is that as the low pressure was defected south into Russia high pressure extended west to its north, creating a flow of east winds along the arctic coast. Brutally cold Siberian air rolled west (last winter I called it “the snout of Igor”), and Europe chilled, though not to the degree it could have chilled if the east winds had continued.
On December 1 there is a cross-polar-flow from the Atlantic to the Pacific, drawing mild Atlantic air right across the Pole. The flow is about as non-zonal as it can be. If you are into looking for proof of Global Warming, now is the time you point out a spike in temperatures at the Pole, but the exact same spoke can be used as a disproof.
What you need to do is think of how a summer thunderstorm uplifts hot and muggy air and breeds a cooling shower, and use that as an analogy for what is occurring on a far grander scale up at the cap of the planet. Warm air is uplifted, heat is lost, and the air comes down cooler.
Of course, this is a grotesque simplification, but when debating Global Warming, who really cares? (What is actually occurring as the mild air is uplifted up at the Pole is fascinating, and I don’t claim to understand it, but have learned enough to make it a subject for an amusing post I’m working on, and may even submit to WUWT. Rather than supplying any answers, it asked questions that need to be asked.)
Europe was spared the icebox of an arctic outbreak from the east by a series of lows that pushed the high pressure (and its east winds,) north to the Pole.
However rather than this low pressure bumping the high pressure over to Canada and continuing on to the east, the low itself got deflected north as high pressure again built ahead of it. A new cross-polar-flow, this time from Asia to Canada, began to appear, and temperatures at the Pole crashed.
By December 6 the most recent pattern began to manifest, and the final seven maps showing storm after storm failing to get across the Atlantic, and instead curling around north of Norway back towards Greenland. This has created a second invasion of milder Atlantic air to pour north through Scandinavia, on the east side of storms, as frigid winds howl down the east coast of Greenland and make Iceland cold on the west side of storms.
This pattern is (I assume) self-destructive, as eventually the North Atlantic (seemingly) will get too mild to its northeast and too cold to its southwest to perpetuate the pattern. Therefore I am watching in great interest to see signs of its demise, and to see what will set up next.
As a final interesting tidbit to this post I’ll add the graph of polar temperatures, which shows the big warming spike caused by the initial invasion of Atlantic air, the crash as the Siberian cross-polar-flow developed, and the start of a second spike as the second invasion of Atlantic air begins.
All in all I would say this winter is promising to be another winter when any semblance of a zonal flow is rare, and the sea-ice will be wracked and tortured by storms. It will be interesting to watch.