ARCTIC SEA ICE –Dark and Dull– (With African Update) (And updates from other lands)

This tends to be the dullest time of year for watching sea-ice, as the noontime darkness creates a black hole in the satellite pictures, and the cameras down on the ice see nothing but darkness as well, when they bother to report. Also this year some unexplained reorganization at the Danish Meteorological Institute resulted in no graphs and maps for a long period as well. Worst of all, faithful Faboo (the North Pole Camera) was apparently caught up in all the grinding and crunching east of Greenland, and ceased reporting.

A major change occurred at the end of the old year, when a surge of Atlantic air rushed up to the Pole, creating a spike in the DMI temperature map which made the news. Because a new graph hasn’t been created for 2016 yet, we are left with this impressive spike as our last available guidance. The fact such surges have happened in the past, and are always followed by equally impressive down-spikes, isn’t yet apparent.DMI3 1231 meanT_2015

Faboo actually recorded this impressive surge, with temperatures of -21.0°C at 2100Z on December 27 soaring to +2.1°C at 0600Z in December 29. A second surge again lifted temperatures from -8.3°C on December 30 to +0.5°C six hours later….and then there was silence.

The silence was likely not due to all the ice melting in a flash, but rather because the huge mass of ice grinding south was brought to a halt and shoved north by these surges. Faboo reported its location as 75.369°N, 11.941°W at 1500Z on December 28 and then 75.618°N, 11.425°W at 0300Z on December 30, which represents an abrupt shift back to the north-northeast of 19.34 miles. Then, at the final report, Faboo was back down to 75.539°N, 11.741°W 15 hours later, which represents a shift 7.69 miles the exact opposite direction, south-southwest.

In other words, the silence likely wasn’t silent, but rather was likely accompanied by the creaking, cracking, squealing, moaning, groaning and crunching of tons upon tons of ice being tortured this way and that by winds up near gale force. Eventually such ice does unkind things to cameras placed on what was, last April, smoothe and untroubled ice, but now is becoming a tumbled heap of slabs.

I was bitterly disappointed, for I had hopes Faboo might survive long enough to reach daylight further south, and give us a final few decent pictures before its demise, but the last picture of blackness was transmitted New Years Eve, and then, like a fellow who partied too much, there was silence on New Years Day.

I did keep an eye open, because in the past the GPS involved in such an array has managed to survive the mangling, and came bobbing up and, despite an antenna that likely looked like it was having a bad-hair-day, started to transmit the location of the dented buoy, even down to where (two years ago) it grounded on the North Coast of Iceland.

Therefore I wasn’t completely surprised to see the Mass Balance Bouy co-located with Faboo (Buoy 2015B) start transmitting, 17 days later, 177 miles further south-southwest. I was surprised other sensors also survived, reporting an air temperature of -16.65°C, a high barometer of 1029.81 mb, and a snow-depth of over three feet (but no ice thickness).

However I was completely flabbergasted when I saw this:NP3 2 0116 2015cam2_1

This is a picture from not Faboo, but the co-located camera at the site, Fabootoo. True, it may be laying flat on its face, but the simple fact it has survived and is still transmitting at all is something of a miracle.

In any case, the ice that started up by the North Pole is now so far south it is basically off the map.2015D_track 20160116 (1)

One important thing to keep in mind is that this ice hasn’t melted, and is drifting along in water below the freezing point of fresh water and therefore, because ice over a year old has exuded most of its salt and is largely fresh-water-ice, this ice is unlikely to melt any time soon. Keep your fingers crossed. Though we are at the edge of a grinding mass of ice in a stormy sea, there is still the slightest chance we might get a springtime picture from Fabootoo, even if it is from closer to Denmark Strait than Fram Strait. (Click map below to enlarge, and click again for detail)Fram Ice 0115 general_20160115

It is also interesting to note that, despite the surges of mild air from the south, enough freezing has occurred to create much new ice off the east coast of Greenland, which is added to the ice that has been flushed south. In fact, though the ice further east in Barents Sea is much below normal (as is the ice south of Bering Strait) the ice off the east coast of Greenland (and west of Greenland in Baffin Bay down to Newfoundland), is near normal.

Ice extent 20160115 N_bm_extent_hires

The Danish Meteorological Institute has at long last started updating its extent graphs, which can return us to the fuss about the difference between its 15% graph and it’s older 30% graph, which create very different impressions about whether there is less ice than normal (the 15% graph, from January 16) or more ice than normal (the 30% graph, from January 8).DMI3 0116 icecover_current_new (1)DMI3 0108 icecover_current (1)

I like the 30% graph because it has a longer history, though it does not include coastal areas, however I’m not certain how well the upkeep of the graph is managed, as it is deemed an “old” graph. I tend to focus on the 15% graph, if only because it does not trouble me greatly that ice is “below normal”, because I no longer think extent is the sole criterion of the so-called “health” of the arctic ice. As the years have passed I have increasingly seen other factors are involved.

For one thing, in terms of any sort of “heat budget” open water represents a loss of heat, at this time of year. The question of “albedo” doesn’t even arise when the Pole is in total darkness, and albedo will not become a variable until the sun pokes above the horizon in March. Until then the open water in Barents Sea and south of Bering Strait is a case of the ocean losing heat it might otherwise retain, if it were sheltered by a lid of ice.

Furthermore the surges of warmth to the pole, when the flow is meridienal rather than zonal, loses a lot of heat to the dark night skies. The only way such a flow might warm the planet is because there is increased snowfall, which might shelter the water under the ice from the very cold air masses above the ice.  Watching the thermometers of buoys such as O-buoy 8b has seen the “mild” air masses seldom get above -10°C, and often dip down to -30°C.Obuoy 8b 0117 temperature-1month

There will be an increase in interest in February, as the sea-ice extent arrives at its high point of the year, but most of the ice that counts in that peak is thin and flimsy ice that doesn’t last long, and in many cases is outside the Arctic Ocean. What seems of most interest is the temperature of the sea in the two primary entrance regions, Barents Sea and south of Bering Strait. These will be interesting areas to watch over the next few months, to see if they are protected at all by a brief ice-cover. As it is, their waters are stirred deeply by winds, and cannot stratify in the way they can when sheltered. I have a hunch this may play a part in the undulations of the PDO and AMO from warm to cold phases, but that is merely a matter of my wild surmising, at this point.

Currently the cold continues to be shunted south of the Pole, and to build over the deep snowcover of Siberia and Central Canada, as milder air swirls up to be squandered at the Pole. If I find time, I’ll talk more about this with an update.DMI3 0117 cmc_t2m_arctic_1


At least once a year I have to include the Sahara Desert in a Sea-Ice post, just to demonstrate how long the reach of the North gets in January. Even though the nights aren’t much longer than the days that close to the equator, in the dry desert air it can drop below freezing, even in the Sahara, as is shown in this Dr. Ryan Maue map of Africa during the wee hours of the morning, (Canadian JEM model) from the Weatherbell site. Below freezing is pink. It is especially cold in Iran and Afghanistan, to the upper right of the map.Africa cold Jan 17 cmc_t2m_afr_3Things really get interesting when some cold air sneaks south aloft, as occurred in Saudi Arabia last week, with the cold backing southeast through Iran from Siberia.  Then the blazing heat at the surface, once the sun arises, sends updrafts up into the cold, and even with the moisture limited in the desert environment they can get amazing hailstorms and flash floods, (just as they get in the American west).Saudi Snow 14012016h01

While I originally thought the white stuff was hail, in Saudi Arabia, further reports indicate genuine snow occurred, which appears in all sorts of Saudi social-media postings, as snow is described as rare. In one local it was described as an event that happens “once a generation”, while in an another local it was described as “the first snow in 85 years.” All I can say I would not like to walk in another mans sandals, in such a situation.

Saudi Snow 2 fotonoticia_20160116113053_1280

It might be interesting for some to compare the cold of this year with the cold of last year, which brought snow to Algeria, and which I described in a post nearly exactly a year ago:

TUESDAY’S UPDATE  –Europe’s Turn, and then Washington DC’s?–

It looks like winds have swung around to the south in Saudi Arabia, part of a general flow ahead of low pressure north and east of the Caspian. West of that low pressure cold air is being drawn down over all of Europe, with only the far west, Ireland and Portugal, missing the cold.  If that low pressure draws enough moisture and warmth north to intensify itself and persist, there is always the danger it will tap into the intense cold over Siberia, farther to its east, and the east winds on the north side of that low pressure will pull the cold back towards Europe. In the map below (with temperatures in Fahrenheit) you can see that on eastern Siberia temperatures are down aound -60°F.Eurasia Jan 19 cmc_t2m_asia_2In order to view these temperatures in some sort of context it is helpful to see if these temperatures are above or below normal,  and Dr. Ryan Maue supplies such a map over at Weaherbell Site.  It shows the milder air to the east of Europe, fueling the low pressure, and that further east the ridiculous cold in Siberia is cold even by their frigid standards.Eurasia Jan 19 cmc_t2x_anom5_asia_1As an aside, one thing I’ve noticed is that any refugees heading north from Syria through Turkey into the Balkans have had very rough sledding for well over a month. It doesn’t seem to matter if storms go north or south, Turkey gets clipped by them. (As if there isn’t enough misery already.)

Check for specific stories about Europe’s winter.

Also you should note that the very top of the above map shows temperatures “white hot”, they are so far above normal. As this post is suppose to be about sea-ice, I likely should mention that. However the “white hot” temperatures, 15 degrees above normal, are still well below the freezing point of salt water, except for Barents Sea north of Norway. In fact all along the Siberian coast they are below zero Fahrenheit, (-17°C).

What this map shows is that what a meridienal flow does is to perhaps make it “warmer” up at the Pole, but look out below!  Not only is the dislocated cold air poured down upon Europe, but a pretty cold shot is now pouring down into North America as well. Below zero Fahrenheit air (gray) is jabbing across the Canadian border west of Lake Superior, even in the daytime.North America Jan 19 cmc_t2m_noram_3One thing very neat thing shown by the above map is how the Great Lakes are warming the air, as the air roars across them, and areas east of the lakes are to some degree protected. However the lakes are starting to freeze, and enough cold is sneaking by to generate a clash between the icey arctic and that nice, orange, juicy, humid, air over the Gulf of Mexico. There is a chance a big storm could swirl up and clobber Washington DC. (The consensus outside the beltway seems to be that them being buried by snow could be a good thing.)

Unless and until this potential storm slips harmlessly out to sea, it may hold most of my attention, and updates on sea-ice may be few and far between.


3 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Dark and Dull– (With African Update) (And updates from other lands)

  1. Caleb I thought you would like this, a chinook has hit Calgary and temps popped from a very cold -18 C to just above freezing … see it on this link to a neighbours weather station
    I’m still in Fernie 300 km away and we never got very cold since this is what’s referred to as the “warm side of the Rockies” but the plains to the east were feeling the arctic influence for the past week.
    Hope your recovery is going okay.

    • Opps I should have mentioned to look at how the airport has only warmed 6 degrees (and is about 15 km east of the other two stations reporting) while the Canada Olympic Park has jumped about 20 degrees and is 13 degrees warmer than the airport. This warming will make my wife happy and help with the heating bill 🙂 since the furnace runs almost steadily at -20.

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