Amazing, stupid, sea-ice picture

This is a totally cool picture of stage-one-sea-ice becoming stage-two-sea-ice. It belongs in a sea-ice textbook.

During stage-one the water starts to look oily, because, rather than the chilled surface saltwater sinking because (unlike fresh water) cold surface saltwater sinks, right down to the freezing point, instead microscopic icebergs start to form, and every sea-ice geek knows ice floats on water, even if it is microscopic.

During stage two these tiny particles start to coalesce into slushy islands called “pancakes,” and bunches of these join together to form “pancake ice”. This is slow-growth-ice, and different from flash-freeze-ice.

In the picture below we look at an area of salt water beyond sea-ice closest to us. The skim of ice closest to us, in that water, is lateral-growth-ice and more like flash-freeze-ice. However beyond that is water that, at first glance, seems merely dappled by ripples caused by the wind. If you look more carefully you see those are not ripples; they are little “pancakes.”

What blows me away is that this is not a picture from the very cold water north of Greenland. This is from the supposedly warmer waters of the Beaufort Sea, which according to me should not be behaving like this. According to me the water here is warmed by influxes of Pacific water up through Bering Strait. According to me this balmy water will be eroding the underside of the sea-ice in this area. However this stupid picture is telling me I might not be as smart as I think I am.

If the Beaufort Sea has been chilled more than I thought it would or could be, then its waters will not be able melt the underside of sea-ice to the degree I have come to expect. Usually a large area of ice melts away, sometimes right to the start of October. Usually this melt can boggle your mind, because it keeps right on happening even as air temperatures drop well below freezing. Usually, even as temperatures ten below freezing try to grow new ice from the top. the mild Pacific waters overwhelm it and melt from beneath.

“Usually” this and “usually” that, but the picture above is not what you “usually” see, in the first half of August, in the Beaufort Sea.

I call the above picture “amazing” because it is totally cool to see something you have never seen before, but I call it “stupid” because it might make me look like an ass, because I predicted warm PDO Pacific waters would be melting the ice like crazy, in the exact location my lying eyes are seeing otherwise.



A breeze of eleven miles per hour stirs the slush, and even though temperatures remain below freezing, (reported at -1.11°C and then -0.62°C, at a nearby Mass Balance Buoy), the temperatures are above the freezing point of salt water, and the slush dissolves back into the water, leaving little sign of either “pancakes” or “lateral growth.” I suppose I can breathe a sigh of relief, as the evidence of my being an ass is hidden.Obuoy 12 0815 webcamI suppose I could even pat my own back and state, “You see? The Pacific warmth sure did melt that new ice, didn’t it?” In which case I am a mule, stubbornly ignoring the hint given to me by nature.

Melting ice involves using up the heat available, because the phase change from solid to liquid sucks up the heat, turning it into latent heat in the liquid water. To envision this, think of an old time ice-cream maker. The ice melting due to salt in the outer bucket sucks the heat from the strawberries and cream in the inner container, freezing it into ice-cream. In like manner the melting of the slush we have witnessed in the past seven hours has sucked the heat out of the Beaufort Sea’s surface water at this location, turning it into…

Hmm. What is it turning into?

It is turning it into salt water colder than it was before, and less able to melt last year’s ice, because it has had to melt this year’s ice.  That may be a minor factoid, but I park it in the back of my brain, and then sit back to watch and see what’s next.

PS (What was next was an almost immediate plunge in temperatures to -4.0°C, and some sort of snow squall that obscured the lens. Typical. All I need to say is that it is thawing, and you see what happens? This is Natures version of slapstick comedy, and a pie-in-my-face.Obuoy 12 0815B webcam

PPS The snow shows as a down-dip at the end of the temperature graph, followed by a recovery. You can bet a nickle the snow didn’t warm the water any.Obuoy 12 0815B temperature-1week


3 thoughts on “Amazing, stupid, sea-ice picture

  1. Nothing like nature giving you a slap in the face. At least you ‘fess up. If you were a climate scientist you’d be along the the lines of Professor Brown’s (rgbatduke) comment over at WUWT yesterday: ‘Why was NCDC even looking at ocean intake temperatures? Because the global temperature wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do!. Why did Cowtan and Way look at arctic anomalies? Because temperatures there weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing!’. 🙂

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