At this time of year there tends to be an increase of interest in the Sea-ice at the Pole, largely because some believe the Arctic sea-ice is in a “Death Spiral”, and when the ice up north goes the world will lose its ability to reflect sunlight, and we’ll all fry. The people who have this idea seem strangely happy at any sign there is less ice. I should think the end of the world might be depressing, but they are gleeful.
They are likely gleeful now, as there is less ice in the Arctic, as we approach the peak levels of ice in the first weeks of March. (Click all images and pictures to clarify and enlarge)
In actual fact the levels of ice this time of year are not indicative of that the levels will be at when the sun is at its highest, and the most sunlight can be reflected. For example, in the above graph, in April, the green line is highest and the red is lowest, but by September their positions are reversed.
But never mind that. Let us play the game, and worry about sunlight being reflected. The word to use is “albedo”. This makes you look scientific, even if you only have a crumb of information.
One reason there is less ice up at the Pole is that during this past winter the winds have been “merdianal”, and air has often assumed a cross-polar-flow across from Siberia, and then down to the USA. This creates what might be called back-eddys, swirling milder air in from both the Atlantic and Pacific sides. One Atlantic eddy formed a little gale on the Pole itself a week ago, and right now a swirl of milder air is forming a storm on the Pacific side. Between the two, a glob of cold Siberian high-pressure is being transplanted to North America.
Temperatures on both the Pacific and Atlantic side are milder than normal, though often below the freezing point of salt water.
The thing to remember is that the sun hasn’t risen at the Pole, and even down by the arctic circle, where it has risen, it is so close to the horizon that it tends to bounce off any open water it strikes. Water, especially when glassy, can reflect the sun as well as ice can, when the sun sits on the horizon.
Another thing to remember is that the cold air also freezes water down south in the USA. In fact the Great Lakes are now frozen at record-setting levels for the date.
This ice is not included in the above graph of sea-ice extent, but it does reflect sunlight. In fact, because the sun is so much higher in the south, it is reflecting more sunlight than the entire North Pole. This should be added to “albedo” calculations.
Also not included in most graphs of sea-ice extent is the ice forming on the east coast of the USA. The satellite picture below shows ice in Long Island Sound, and off the New Jersey north coast, and down in Delaware Bay, and even in the upper reaches of Chesapeake Bay.
The sun is high and bright down in Virginia. In 1947 the cherry trees were already budding in Washington, before a bloom in March. The amount of sunlight being reflected is substantial, and it too should be included in “albedo” equations. Boston Harbor and New York Harbor are reflecting heat, rather than absorbing it.
With all this heat being reflected, should not we start to be alarmed? I mean, for Pete’s sake, look at Niagara Falls!
It may not be a sight you are longing to see, if you are longing for spring, but I think we can avoid being alarmed and skip talking about some sort of anti-death-spiral. As is the case with most extreme weather, the media is wrong when they call it “unprecedented”. For example, here is Niagara Falls in 1911:
In the same manner I myself get nostalgic when I see current pictures of Lobster boats frozen in, up in the harbors of Maine.
What is alarming about the above pictures is what it may suggest will happen to the price of lobsters, and the income of lobstermen. However back in the late 1970’s I lived up there and walked the ice on those harbors.
The following old post has a couple pictures from that time, and also points out the fun you can have. After all, if believers in the “death spiral” can get glee from the world ending, the rest of us ought be allowed to have some fun when it doesn’t end.
The only thing sure to end is winter, though I’ll admit it looks like it may take its sweet time ending, this year.