Actually there isn’t usually much drama in watching sea-ice, especially this time of year when the cameras are shut down and the long arctic night has blacked-out our views for months. Though the first hints of spring twilight are circling around on the Arctic horizon, it isn’t until March that the adventurers start to roam the ice and send back pictures, and the Russians land jets and set up their base. Here is a link to some pictures from last year:
While we wait for human activity to resume, the best we can do is rely on satellite information, and the best site I know of is Anthony Watt’s “Sea Ice Page” http://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/sea-ice-page/
I also like the Danish Meteorological Institute Site: http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/index.uk.php
The Danish site gives us this graph: (Click to enlarge)
This graph shows the mean temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, and gives the correct impression it is warmer than usual up at the Pole this winter. However it is important to keep in mind the “warm” temperatures are at -25° Celsius. At these temperatures not only does any exposed ocean swiftly freeze, but salt is exuded by the freezing sea-water, forming “flowers” on the surface of smooth ice in calm conditions, and then, when winds howl, being blown around with the snow without any ability to melt the snow. Only in May, when temperatures rise above -10° Celsius, can the salt abruptly turn snow to slush.
However the graph does show “warm” conditions, and this has occurred because much arctic cold has been exported south. In fact, if I want to see arctic sea-ice I have only to drive eighty miles to Boston Harbor.
I am not sure whether they include Boston Harbor, when they add up the total of arctic sea ice for this graph.
This graph suggests the extent of ice is on the low side, and is used by some Global Warming Alarmists to suggest the arctic is in a “Death Spiral.” This is largely an illusion.
One can get drawn into quibbling about where there is ice and where there isn’t any ice, however such fluctuations are quite ordinary, and tend to follow a sixty-year-cycle governed by the AMO and PDO. However, if you get sucked into such quibbling, a helpful bit of ammunition is the fact the Great Lakes are not included in sea-ice-data, but represent a large area of water, and the ice-cover on the lakes may set a modern record, this winter
The fact of the matter is that rather than a “zonal” flow, which steers winds around and around the Pole and keeps the cold locked up there, we are seeing “meridianal” flow this winter, which involves a jet stream so loopy that at times air from Siberia flows across the Pole, rather than around the Pole, and then heads down to my back yard. In fact, even as I type, the thermometer on my back porch reads -10.8° Fahrenheit, which is -23.8° Celsius, which means my back porch is colder than the North Pole, where it appears to only be -20° Celsius.
The reason it is warm at the Pole this morning is because, when cold air is exported, warmer air must come north to replace it. Often this imported air comes north aloft and doesn’t show up on surface temperature maps, but when the flow is especially meridianal you can see the plume of mildness curling north, and often breeding a storm as it rises.
This plume of warmth produced a neat, tight, little gale right at the Pole, which is wandering away towards Canada.
Alarmists are coming up with various ideas that explain the meridianal flow as being due to warming, but in order to do so they have to turn a blind eye to the fact we have records that show us we have seen this all before. We may not have satellite records, but the Danes in particular kept records of where the edge of the ice was, due to their interests in Greenland and their fishermen. These records show a decrease in ice in the 1920’s and 1930’s was followed by an increase in the 1940’s (though the records become sparse during World War Two, when Nazis occupied Denmark and information about the sea-route to Russia became classified).
The interesting thing is how swiftly and immediately the ice responded to fluctuations in the PDO and AMO. The Pacific, though huge, has less direct imput via ocean water, and mostly effects the levels of ice in the Bering Strait.
One fascinating example of history repeating itself involves the fact that, the last time the Pacific PDO switched from “Warm” to “Cold,” it displayed an interesting glitch in smooth cycling, by reverting to “Warm” during a “spike” in 1958 and 1959. We have seen the exact same thing reoccur the past two years, and have seen the sea-ice in the Bering Strait immediately revert to low levels from high levels.
I was surprised to see the resemblance be so similar, because all things are not equal, during these cycle, and outside influences are throwing wrenches into the works and keeping this cycle from being a copycat of the last one. For one thing, the sun is behaving very differently, and is described as a “Quiet Sun,” and even though we are near the high point of the sunspot cycle, the past four days have shown us a “spotless” sun, (though if you magnify you can see some “specks”).
It seems to me that the current “warm” spike is stronger than the one in 1958 and 1959, and I am expecting a decrease in the ice in Bering Strait. However it is on the Atlantic side that the real drama is taking place.
The AMO is suppose to stay “warm” another five years, but last winter and spring it displayed a short spike into “cold” territory. There was an immediate response in the sea-ice, which grew along the north and east coast of Svalbard at a time of year it was shrinking back everywhere else. Then, when the AMO reverted to “warm”, that same ice shank back at a time of year it was growing everywhere else.
I assumed things had gotten back to normal, and we could expect the AMO to remain warm, but take a look at this January’s graph.
This represents a major crash, and suggests we will be seeing some major changes in where the edge of the sea-ice is this summer, on the Atlantic side. From what I could gather looking at the old Danish records, the response is far swifter than one would think it could be. Will the same thing happen again?
I haven’t a clue about the dynamics involved. To be quite honest, I doubt anyone does. We are witnessing this change for the first time since we developed the wonderful modern tools we can employ from satellites, and developed our modern buoys as well.
It is a time to buy some popcorn, and to sit back and watch. I imagine a lot of people who behave as if they are authorities and already understand everything are going be humbled.
I did offer some ideas for discussion in this “guest essay” at WUWT: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/09/author-of-its-own-demise-musings-on-the-amo/ and think the comments include some ideas better than my own. One idea I had never even thought about involved the viscosity of water at various temperatures, and how that could influence flow as much as density.
We may be about to see how Nature pulls off one of her magic tricks, and once she shows us how it is done we might shake our heads, and wonder why we couldn’t figure it out before.