This is a little interesting, mainly because it kerpows a custard pie into the face of the overly-serious reporters who where making drama of a “low maximum”. a few weeks back.
I quiet honestly have a hard time even noticing the dire reports of shrinking sea-ice any more, because the media seems impervious to facts. I used to get all excited, and worked very hard to alert them to the data they seemed unaware of. I have since decided they could care less. They are paid to report a certain view, and their job is to seek molehills, and make mountains out of them.
I was made aware of the reports of the “unprecedented” minimum by certain people tugging on my sleeve, and yawned at the hubbub. Mostly to calm down the people tugging at my sleeve, I did post about how the “extent” measured by the “maximum” doesn’t include areas such as the Great Lakes and Chesepeke and Delaware Bays, and how when a pattern is not “Zonal” but is “Meridianal”, it is waters far from the arctic that freeze over, even as the arctic is invaded by relatively “mild” sub-zero air, and freezes less.
The fact of the matter is that the cruelest winters in sub-polar areas often involve milder-than-normal temperatures at the Pole. (By “milder” I mean they can get up as high as -15° Celsius, rather than dipping below -40°.) However winter covers a huge area of the northern hemisphere, at its peak, and the coldest temperatures are almost never on the Pole, which is “warmed” by an Arctic Sea with salt water at roughly -1.8° Celsius under the ice. The coldest temperatures are over the Tundra of Siberia, and sometimes Alaska and Canada, where temperatures can drop below -60° Celsius. There were even a few occasions last February when it was colder on my back porch, in southern New Hampshire, than it was on the North Pole, as Boston experienced its snowiest and second-coldest February since records began being kept, just after the Cival War, (1868).
In order to measure the true extent of a winter you would need to measure the totality, and allow your eyes to roam across the entirety of the northern hemisphere. Yes, Boston was very cold, but the Rocky Mountains were milder than normal. Yes, Spain was colder, but what about the Ukraine? What you usually discover, when you look at the big picture, is that everything averages out. The difference between one winter and another is measured in tenths of a degree, which is an amount so small you cannot really see it on your back-porch thermometer, and you only notice it when it is the difference between frost or no frost on your tomatoes.
The one thing you would not want to do is look at a small area, and use it to make grand pronouncements about the entire planet. Or you wouldn’t want to do it unless you were an irresponsible journalist who wanted to sell newspapers with tabloid sensationalism. In that case you would look for a molehill to make a mountain out of. For example, look at the temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, last winter. (The red line is the actual temperatures, and the green line is “normal.”)
Such a graph could provide a fine springboard for a story about how the Pole is warmer, and there is less ice, and how we should all run around freaking out like panicking chickens. However if you have any experience in such matters such a graph suggest two things.
First, it suggests that the cold air didn’t stay up at the Pole, (where it stays when the pattern is “Zonal”), but rather it was exported south to some sub-polar area, where people got a winter to tell their grandchildren about. This year it was Boston and the Northeast of North America, another year it might be Europe, another year it might be China.
Second, it suggests it was more windy at the Pole than it is during a “Zonal” pattern. The sea-ice will be stressed and crunched, split apart into leads and slammed together into pressure ridges, and howling winds may shove ice off shore and form areas of open water along the shores, even when the winds are -50°. (Called. “polynyas”, these areas of open water are notorious for appearing along the coast of the Laptev Sea and at the top of Baffin Bay even when the dark is deepest and temperatures are lowest.)
Therefore, if you are serious about reporting what is occurring at the Pole, you would be aware it is not a matter of merely figuring out how to support a preconceived view, that your boss is paying you to support. Rather than waiting like a hawk over a rabbit warren, awaiting some crumb of evidence you can use to promote the idea the arctic is in a “Death Spiral”, (which promotes the idea society should adopt a war footing, where individual liberties are suspended), you would study the situation and report what is actually going on, (and in some cases be promptly fired).
What is actually going on at this time of year is that Arctic Sea is pretty much frozen solid. The ice that goes into making the maximum “more” one year and “less” the next is outside the Arctic Sea. For example ice forms in the northern Yellow Sea (between China and North Korea) and the Sea of Okhotsk off eastern Russia, south of the Bering Strait, in the Baltic Sea, off the east coasts of Labrador and Greenland, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. This ice is outside the arctic, and with the exception of scattered bergs coming down the east coast of Greenland and off Labrador, it is fleeting in nature and will be gone by June.
Therefore, why make a big deal about it?
The first reason given is that the number represents a totality. However it doesn’t. To represent the totality you would have to include all ice, and that would include ice on the east coast of North America, in the Gulf of Maine, Massachusetts Bay, Long Island Sound, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. Late this February that was a large amount of ice.
In order for water to count as ice-covered in the “extent graph”, it only needs to be 15% ice-covered, which means that water can be 85% open, with only stray icebergs dotting the surface, As the ice broke away from the coasts and blew across Massachusetts Bay, for a few days a large area qualified for “extent” coverage, in early March.
If this ice “doesn’t count”, it is hard to get all that excited about ice that “does count” being at a lower level off the Pacific coast of Russia. The coldest winds blew down into eastern North American, from Siberia right across the Pole, rather than blowing from Siberia into the Pacific. What else would you expect to happen?
A second reason for making a big deal about non-arctic sea-ice is that it reflects the spring sunshine. This is part of the “albedo” equation that believers in the “Death Spiral” like to rant about. If there is less ice the water will absorb more sunshine, become warmer, melt more ice, until there is no ice at all, or so they say. However if this equation is to be accurate they should include all the ice, but don’t. I won’t even touch the subject of the southern hemisphere. Even in the northern hemisphere they don’t include all the sea-ice.
I suppose they don’t include the Great Lakes because the water is fresh, and not officially sea-ice, but the water is so fresh in the northern reaches of the Baltic Sea that fresh-water fish can swim in it, and it counts. The northern Yellow Sea is also fairly fresh, especially at the mouth of the Yellow River after Typhoons, and they have no qualms about counting its ice.
It seems likely to me that, to get a true measure of “albedo”, they should even include land covered with white snow, but for various reasons they only include certain areas of salt water. It is by no means an entirety, but it did provide a springboard for sensational headlines a few weeks back, because the graph seemed to hit its peak a slightly lower level, slightly earlier than usual.
Now they have become very quiet, due to the fact the graph decided not to continue down from its early peak, but rather to move back up to a second peak.
This mostly involves the drift of bergs at the very perifery of the sea-ice, and doesn’t matter a hill of beans, but it is delightful because the media stated it did matter a hill of beans, and in fact several hills. Having stated this inconsequential thing matters, you can understand why they have become quiet. They don’t want to draw attention to the egg on their faces. (Or is it custard pie?)
What has happened is that north winds have blown through Bering strait, and is transporting ice south. This ice is thin and won’t last, but has a spendid effect on the “extent-graph”. Also Europe is getting a bast of cold from the north, and ice is getting blown down into Barents Sea, which is more interesting and may be more significant, because it may last longer and mess up the summer “extent-graph” with increases that are very unwelcome, if you want to promote a “Death Spiral.”
This involves the fact the AMO is hinting at moving to its “cold” phase five years early. Perhaps the “Quiet Sun” is giving it a nudge, or perhaps this is merely a “spike” like last year’s, a sort of warning rumble before the actual shift, (which was predicted by Dr. Bill Gray something like 30-40 years ago, as part of a 60-year-cycle).
I’m not sure this is the real deal. Joseph D’Aleo had a couple of wonderful maps on his great site at Weatherbelle, (which was a great solace when I was down with pneumonia last week), and they compared the established, theoretical cold AMO with the situation that currently exists. Here is a “established AMO”:
And here is the current situation: (Sorry the scales are different.)
You can see a sort of backwards letter “C” in the Atlantic, of colder-than-normal waters on both maps, (which is the signature of a “cold” AMO) but if you look northeast of Iceland you see the current map still has some warmer-than-normal water hanging in there. That is a hang-over of the “warm” AMO. Colder water is in the pipeline, being shunted northeast by the Gulf Stream at less than a mile per hour, however that warmer water northeast of Iceland makes me unsure whether we’ll see the dramatic increase in sea-ice in Barents Sea that I’ve noticed occurs when the AMO shifts to cold.
I wish I could document my evidence, but for some reason its hard to find the old Danish pre-satellite maps of the edge of the ice, that went back all the way to the 1890’s. Also I’m unsure of the AMO graphs I used; apparently there are different ways of measuring the AMO. However what I noticed was that, even when the AMO only spiked briefly into its “cold” phase, ice came drifting down into parts of Barents Sea where it was hardly ever seen when the AMO was “warm”.
So you can bet I’m keeping my eyes peeled for signs of that, this summer.
This situation, (maps from a week ago) is perfect for pushing ice south into Barents Sea. (Click maps to enlarge.)
It also is a setup that slows the export of ice through Fram Strait and down the east coast of Greenland.
The flow from Siberia to Canada has shoved sea-ice all winter from the shores of the Laptev Sea across towards Canada. While this is similar to last year, I think the ice looks a little thicker on the Siberian side, especially between the Laptev and Kara Seas.
Despite the thickness of the ice on the Canadian side, I expect the current warm-spike of the PDO to take quite a bite out of the ice north if Bering Strait this August and early September, however the Atlantic side intrigues me. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if a little of the ice in Hudson Bay survived the entire summer, which is rare but not unheard of.
However the main point of this post is to chuckle about the second maximum for the sea-ice extent.
The Danes also have a graph for sea-ice of 30% or greater extent.
This graph in a sense excludes the inconsequential ice at the periphery, and focuses on ice that has more body and matters more. Rather than the graph seeming to demonstrate record-setting levels of lowness, it looks like we are pretty much middle-of-the-road, for recent years.
So, if you meet anyone running around like a panicking chicken, you can pat their hand and tell them they can calm down.