It has been a different spring this year, up at the Pole. All the adventurers have now backed out, and I am suffering withdrawal symptoms, because they supplied me with the most amazing pictures of sea-ice conditions, and also amazing examples of human courage, tenacity and endurance.
A lot depended upon “Kenn Borek Air”, and most especially the pilots willing to fly over the Arctic Ocean and land Twin Otter aircraft on its ice.
If you are an adventurer, it means a lot to have ice-pilots willing to land on a flat pan of ice in the middle of nowhere, and either deliver supplies or airlift you out. The danger is enormous, for the flat ice may be thick enough to hold a plane, or it may not. As we have recently seen with the tragic loss of the scientists Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo (See my post https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/sea-ice-report-some-sad-news/ ) even the most experienced arctic explorers can misjudge the thickness of the ice.
To be quite honest, I doubt most pilots would have the nerve to land a Twin Otter on arctic ice. The pay must be very good, and the sheer thrill of the job must beat working at a fast-food burger-joint, for there are some amazing ice pilots. However eventually even the best run out of luck, as occurred to Kenn Borek’s Air’s amazing Bob Heath in January, 2013 down in Antarctica. ( http://www.calgarysun.com/2013/01/23/kenn-borek-air-pilot-bob-heath-one-of-three-canadians-missing-in-antarctic-crash )
The loss of such an important person is bound to effect the world of ice-pilots, both on the level of heart and on the level of guts, and may be part of the reason that Kenn Borek Air decided not to run any support mission’s in the arctic this spring. The obvious and immediate result of this was that all but one adventurer called off their adventure.
The one exception was Thomas Urlich.
This fellow, after making some spending money by leading some polar tourists to the Pole (after being dropped by helicopter one degree of latitude away), was planning to continue on to Canada. It seemed a sort of madness, but he said that when he ran out of food he would hunt. He didn’t need air support. He was one of the mad trekkers of the Old School, and has apparently done this sort of crazy stunt before, though he uses a few modern devices the old timers didn’t have, such as being pulled by a kite rather than by barking huskies.
For three days he made excellent progress, and then went backwards. I assumed he was hunkering down in a blizzard that hit just then, and it was the ice that was drifting backwards, however apparently, even if he was hunkering down, he also was hit by the surprisingly sane thought, “This is crazy.” As his agent Hans Ambuhl stated in a press release:
About a week ago, Thomas started at the North Pole. Marching (respectively kiting) towards Canada. He was able to use his kite and make good progress (50 miles in 3 days), even if conditions were quite rough (white-out and stormy winds). Thomas was perfectly adopted to the conditions due to the fact that he just guided a group to the Pole. His equipment worked perfectly, the sleds proofed to be the best ever.
But then the story took an unexpected turn:
Friday night I got a call from Thomas via satellite phone and he told me that he will quit the test-expedition! I was very surprised and Thomas told me his reasons for the decision:
During the first days on his solo trip he already used up a good amount of luck to get out of several critical situations without physical injury. These critical situations (one of them was a wide crack in the ice that opened just 6 feet from his tent over night – he just accidentally discovered and moved his camp) led Thomas to rethink again.
He was always clear that both – the solo expedition from the Pole to Canada and next year’s crossing of the entire Arctic – involved an unlimited risk. On previous expeditions Thomas has accepted exactly that: full commitment and the risk to die and go ‘all in’. The joy gained from overcoming difficulties and maybe even mental boundaries did not outweigh for him the necessary physical and psychological pain inevitable.
Thomas has now changed his direction and he is walking back to Barneo ice base that he should reach in the next 1 or 2 days by himself. From Barneo he will fly back to Switzerland via Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen.
What jumped out at me was the mention of the “lead” that opened six feet from his tent. It doesn’t matter that the temperature is -20° (-4° Fahrenheit), there is suddenly open water, and you become aware you are in the middle of an ocean, and it is a mile to the bottom. Nor does it matter that such water swiftly freezes over.
I get the distinct impression that the current weather patterns in the arctic are spoiling people’s fun. Even the Barneo base had to involve superhuman efforts, to be its usual example of people bringing a spirit of joy and celebration to one of the most inhospitable places on earth. ( See my post at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/jets-landing-gear-fails-at-pole/ ).
Because rough weather (and a rough landing strip) ruined the landing gear of one jet, the Barneo base had to be supplied by a single jet, which may not have cramped the style of the tourists, but cramped the style of the staff whose duty it was to give the tourists a pleasant experience. For example, where arctic explorers once subsisted on cold blubber, they now dine in style.
The thing of it was that, with limited space on the jet, they brought tourists, scientists, and a troop of the Russian Army north before bringing chefs, and the result was that for a time a single chef had to feed over 200 hungry people. (And sub-zero temperatures burns up a lot of calories, and makes people ravenous.)
If that didn’t make the celebration of joy difficult, Barneo was again hit by a gale this year.
It is my view that these gales are a result of the meridianal pattern, which drive arctic air far to the south to freeze places like Delaware Bay and the Great Lakes and Cape Cod,
The Alarmists like to argue that the milder temperatures at the Pole during the winter demonstrate Global Warming is occurring, and the open water created by the gales ripping at the skin of ice over the Arctic Ocean also demonstrate the ice is thinning and weakening. The problem is that, for the third straight year, once we get into the merry Month of May, the temperatures at the Pole no longer are above average:
Winters may be warmer at the Pole, due to the Meridianal Patterns, but summers also seem strangely colder. https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/the-new-normal-in-the-arctic-is-killing-the-climate-scam/
You have to be careful with the PIOMAS ice-thickness data, at this time of year, because one reason it seems thicker is because all the thin ice is melting, at the edges of the arctic. If the thin ice vanishes, of course the “average” of the ice that remains will be thicker. That is why the ice seems to be getting thicker even as the “extent” graphs show the levels dropping.
It simply doesn’t pay to get lost in the arguments of the more extreme Alarmists and Skeptics. Such discussions seem based more on political beliefs than on what is actually happening. The press, as well, seems more focused on who is paying to keep their bankrupt newspaper from going belly-up, than on the boring reality of facts. It is for this reason I like to attend to the people who are actually up there, and could die if they don’t attend to facts. Reality can rear a head on a 1600 pound body, and confront even the happy-go-lucky group at Barneo, and make them stop grinning and become grim-lipped and pragmatic:
However another reality is confronting the adventurers and scientists up in those frozen waters, and that is the simple fact the gales have made the flat ice of a “zonal pattern” less dependable. The sea-ice is crushed and torn, ripped apart and smashed together.
It is the compressing of ice that might be causing the increase in PIOMAS volume, despite the fact some say the PIOMAS model was created with a bias and intended to show the exact opposite.
In the same manner, two amazing adventurers who hiked to the Pole last spring, (and were picked up by a Ken-Borek-Air Twin Otter when they got there), were funded by Alarmists, and spoke the expected stuff about how soon others couldn’t hike the ice as they did, but sent pictures and made comments which (accidentally, I think), undermined the people funding them. They were experienced, and knew what the arctic ice “should be like”, and that was nice and flat. As they were confronted by pressure ridge after pressure ridge, they dubbed the ice they crossed “crazy ice”.
Once the thin ice around the edges of the arctic is melted, it may be harder than usual to melt the thicker, compressed ice in the middle. This may be why the NOAA CPC site is being politically incorrect, and predicting above-normal ice-extents this summer.
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to predict that much ice. It may well be one of those glitches that make models so very wrong, in the long term.
However I do believe the ice up there has been, and is, under duress, and you can’t trust it. As much as I’ll miss the first-hand-accounts of the adventurers, I don’t think this is a good time for adventurers to be up there. We can get decent pictures from the cameras floating around up there. It is time to let robots do the work, and for the flesh and blood mortals to pack up and get the heck off that ice.