ARCTIC SEA ICE –Lag Time–(Jan 31-Feb 12, 2016)

My last post (which flattered me by getting posted on Watts Up With That),  took a week to write, but I haven’t been ignoring the arctic. The “nudge” provided by the invasion of Atlantic air has ended, and it has been somewhat boring up there, though more interesting further south as the “nudged” arctic headed south.

The “nudged” air is nothing I can look at my watch and time like the arrival of a train, but it has seemed apparent that after a lag of about a week the “nudged” air gets down here in New Hampshire. Therefore, as the “nudging” has ceased at the Pole, I should expect winter weather to relent to some degree down here, in about a week. Meanwhile the cold is building up at the Pole, so of course I am watching for any sign of the next “nudge”.

However, besides the lag in the time between the nudge and the arrival of the nudged air, there is another lag I have to grind up in my hopper of thought, and that is the fact the days are getting longer, but it isn’t getting immediately warmer due to another “lag”.

Winter has been hard at work erasing traces of last summer. It removes the warmth from the waters of northern lakes, bays, and seas, and then covers those waters with ice. Then those waters, and huge expanses of northern land, are covered with white snow, which is the best thing there is for reflecting the day’s sunshine, and chilling the nights with radiational cooling. Though the sun may be as high as it was last fall, and the area is the same, the effect is utterly different. Last autumn the lakes “remembered” the summer’s warmth. Now they suffer complete “amnesia”. The exact same lakes and landscape that once resisted cold now perpetuates it, which creates a lag between the time the sun rises higher in the frozen north, and the time the winter surrenders, and the snows retreat north. In fact, though northern temperatures tend to start to creep up now, the snows can continue to creep south.Snowcover 20150207 cursnow

(I’m not entirely sure the snow melts as quickly as the above map suggests. For example there is no sign in the above map of a bit of snow being left from the Washington DC Blizzard.)

Besides this lag there is yet another lag we are in the midst of, as the El Nino has peaked in the Pacific. Though Pacific waters have started to cool, there is a lag before the planet’s air temperatures will start to respond.  Though the El Nino is collapsing and we may see a La Nina by fall, temperatures as measured by satellite are at their peak. Temperatures in the lower troposphere may even creep a bit higher, due to the lag, before the La Nina crash sets in.Temperatures UAH_LT_1979_thru_January_2016_v6-768x443This is actually the warmest January we have seen since the Satellites began watching, however it is occurring at a time when the sun is a “Quiet Sun”, and becoming a quieter sun after its sunspot-peak. Sunspot wolfmmsIt can be seen in the above graph that Old Sol is more reserved than any recent year. In fact, we are competing with “Cycle 5”, way back at the start of the record-keeping 200 years ago, to see who will be the champion of silence.Sunspots 201601 sc5_sc24_1There is a lot of debate about whether the dips in the number of sunspots can be seen as a “cause” of cooler weather. The debate seems to revolve around the fact no one can figure out how it works. I confess I have no idea how it works, however simply looking at the past it seems it works. Don’t ask me why, but when the sun gets quiet it gets cooler. And this involves yet another, fourth, “lag”, I imagine.

I really admire the people who try to figure out the timing of all these lags. Me? I’m just guessing. And my guess is that the cooling of the Quiet Sun is clashing with the warming of the current El Nino, causing things to be a bit out of whack.

Think of it as salad dressing. The oil wants to stay at the top and the vinegar at the bottom, but if you give the bottle a whack, the oil heads down and the vinegar heads up. In like manner, the mild air heads to the Pole and cold air snows on the camels of the Sahara, when earth gets a whack.

There. If that isn’t scientific enough for you, you are at the wrong blog.

This winter has seen some out-of-whack cold to the south, even as it is warmer to the north. Mexico City saw its first snow since 1967.

Even as milder Atlantic air pushed across Europe the cold was nudged down to Saudi Arabia, which got more snows.

Trying to figure it all out, counting on my fingers, I actually think the cold air down in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam dates from the “nudge” before the last “nudge.” However it does demonstrate the power and tenacity of cold air masses in January and early February, especially when they are over snow-covered landscapes. They don’t “moderate” the way cold air masses are warmed when they move south, other times of the year.

That will all be soon coming to an end, as the sun marches north. However the question now is where the final shots of cold will be delivered, as the Pole is slowly gathering quite an army of bitter blue. Here are the DMI maps for the past week showing the cold slowly building, under a Polar high, despite slight invasions of Pacific air.

The Pacific nudge in the above maps may have surged some of the bitter cold of East Siberian air back south towards China, and explain some of the headlines down that way, but Pacific surges seems to lack the power of Atlantic surges.

Although temperatures remain above normal up at the Pole, the building cold air is dragging them back down towards normal.DMI3 0207B meanT_2016

Lastly, as this post is suppose to be about sea-ice, I guess I should mention the “extent” graph shows that ice levels are below normal, primarily due to big storms chewing away at the edges.DMI3 0207B icecover_current_new (1)The very slight up-tick in the above graph is likely caused by a slacking of the big storms at the edges, but the up-tick likely will cause consternation among those who think above-normal temperatures at the Pole should always lead to a down-tick on the graph. Things are not so simple.

Hopefully I’ll find time tomorrow for an update on other aspects of the sea-ice situation.

UPDATE  —Fabootoo sees the light—

The second North Pole Camera, which I have dubbed Fabootoo, has amazingly survived the winter and, when it got around to sending us a picture at noon rather than midnight, actually showed some featureless daylight. There is no way of knowing if it is flat on its face, in deep snow, or in thick fog, but there at least is hope of a springtime picture from well down the east coast of Greenland. NP3 2 0208 2015cam2_3

The mass balance buoy 2015D was once co-located with Fabootoo, but I’m nit sure it is still on the same piece of ice. Since I last reported its location on Thursday, Jamuary 28, it has moved another 177.27 miles SSW, to 68.49 N, 23.05 W. It is reporting a snow depth of four feet. Despite being so far south it has reported temperatures below the freezing point of salt water after a thaw week ago, and currently reports -6.25° C. (Update. The last report was February 1.)

As we get down towards Denmark Strait we reach an area where vast amounts of cold water sink. It is described as an “undersea waterfall”. There also are tendrils of milder water that move north, leading to dense fog and surprising changes in water temperature. The two survivors of the Hood, in the Battle of Denmark Strait, survived for hours in water that usually kills a man in five to ten minutes, so they must have been in one of those warm tendrils.

(The best map I could find comes from a discussion of Tom Swift Sr. books, which explains the charted “giant iceburg.”)Denmark Strait fboat3

Across the Pole the O-buoys are all reporting very cold temperatures of around -30°C, which shows the growing pool of cold air. O-buoys 13 and 14 are showing daylight through snow-covered lenses, at noonObuoy 13 0208 webcamObuoy 14 0205 webcamHang in there. Spring isn’t all that far away..


Milder air has snuck north both from the Pacific along the coast of East Siberia, and from the Atlantic due to a storm stalling between Svalbard and Norway. It shows in the DMI temperature maps.

I suppose this is a chicken-or-the-egg type situation.  Did the cold high pressure get nudged into Canada by the influx of mild air, or did the movement of the high pressure create a weakness that drew the mild air in?

I hope to  find time later to steal some Dr.  Ryan Maue maps from the Weatherbell site, to show the nudges moving in North America and Asia. If you are impatient, you can go to that site, click “models”, and get a week’s free trial.  I have to pay the cost of of a cup of coffee, but that means I now have to go to work.


A more careful examination of time-stamps made me realize that both Fabootoo and the Mass Balance Buoy 2015D haven’t reported since February 1.

FRIDAY UPDATE  –Nudge was brief–

(For some reason DMI didn’t update anything but the time-stamp on the temperature map.)

The “nudge” seems to have ended already, and the cold seems again building over the Pole rather than being exported down my way, which may explain why the current charge of cold air down into North America is of limited volume and only is in the east. To the west there seems to be Chinook conditions and milder, Pacific air. This is not to say we are not going to get our socks knocked off by one heck of a shot of cold air this weekend; it might even approach zero Fahrenheit in New York City Sunday Morning. Cold Shot 1 gfs_t2m_noram_13Rather than a steady flow from the north, people are likely to suffer from temperature whip-lash, as it could be raining in New York City by Tuesday evening. A low spinning up in Hudson Bay will interrupt the arctic flow, even as another storm zips up the east coast. Cold Shot 2 gfs_t2m_noram_19Then the GFS model shows the various low pressures building a sprawling area of low pressure centered over Greenland, with the winds to the north pulling milder air and low pressure from the Atlantic over the Pole, which would be a major “nudge”. I’m not sure I trust the GFS so far into the future, nor trust the fact it doesn’t show much cold air being “nudged south” by the invasion of milder air over the Pole. However it is something to watch for next weekend. Cold Shot 3 gfs_t2m_arctic_29If this extended view is correct, you’ll notice quite a storm is swirling to the left of the above map, in Russia, on February 19. This would be the long term consequence of a spear of milder air currently stabbing east into the heart of Siberia, much like the “Javelin” of last autumn, though it cannot penetrate right through the center of cold in East Siberia to the Pacific as the “Javelin” did. Rather there is a sort of back-wash of cold air back to the west, over the Arctic Sea. That needs to be watched, as sometimes such back-washes make it all the way back to Scandinavia.Cold Shot 4 gfs_t2m_asia_11Cold Shot 5 gfs_t2m_asia_28I’m starting to notice a hint of spring in these temperature maps, that I get via the Weatherbell site. Dr. Ryan Maue makes all the model-runs available, so you basically see what the computer imagines every six hours, (roughly at midnight, sunrise, noon and sunset). In December it is so dark up over the tundra, and the sun is so low (even if you are south of the Arctic Circle and it actually rises), that temperatures don’t rise at noon, and there is little diurnal variation. Now we are starting to see temperatures rise at noon, up over the frozen wastes. The nights are still longer than the days, and create cold that can invade the south, but the power of the north is not quite so massive as it was. Winter’s on the wane, though it won’t give up without a fight.

The sea-ice extent remains low, especially in Barents Sea. This is likely due to so many invasions of milder, Atlantic  air “nudging” the cold south. (The orange line indicates where the ice “should” be.) Extent 0212 N_bm_extent_hiresAt this point the ice that has formed this winter is concentrated, with little signs of being broken up with the wide leads that form some windy winters. (They would appear as hairlines of yellow in the red of the concentration map below.)Concentration 20160211 arcticicennowcastThe thickness of the ice seems less than last year, which makes sense with so many invasions of milder Atlantic and Pacific air. Thickness 20160211 arcticictnowcastThe swift increase of ice in the Pacific, south of Bering Strait and off the east coast of Russia, is all relatively thin ice, and unless it thickens substantially it will vanish swiftly in the spring, or even in the face of a powerful gale.  The ice that really matters is in the Arctic Sea, away from the coasts. If you are an Alarmist rooting for a “Death Spiral” this is the ice you want to see weaker, but the old DMI graph that measures such ice (30% extent, with the shorelines masked and not included) continues to be totally unlike all other extent graphs, and show this ice above normal. It really does make me scratch my head, because I can’t see where there would be more ice than normal, as the Arctic Sea is always completely frozen at this time of year.DMI3 0212 icecover_current (1)

I’ll comment more about this later.  Here is the more usual extent graph.DMI3 0212 icecover_current_new (1)LATER—I was thinking about the 30% DMI graph, and decided it may have simply reached the maximum extent possible earlier, this year. If it stays flat, the other years will catch up at the time of the yearly maximum.

It is interesting to watch the surface temperatures as reported by the four O-buoys drifting in the Arctic Sea. O-buoy 8b, which is over towards the Siberian side, seems to notice the intrusions of Pacific air that is “milder”, (meaning it nearly gets up to minus 20 Celsius, which isn’t exactly balmy.)Obuoy 8b 0212 temperature-1week Meanwhile O-buoy 14, over towards Canada, seems to indicate the “milder” air never really arrives, down at the surface.Obuoy 14 0212 temperature-1weekThe constant cold has chilled the ice down to the bottom, and is freezing the sea-water despite the fact the sea-water is insulated by more than four feet itself. The ice itself is chilled to around minus thirty several feet down. It is for this reason the first mild spells of the spring have absolutely no effect on the ice. The ice has to warm thirty degrees before it can even begin to think of melting. In actual fact, the ice tends to go getting thicker right into May.

This will be an interesting summer to watch, for the ice is thinner north of Alaska. There is not the same body of “multi-year ice”. It seems a smaller area, and displaced towards the Pole. However the so-called “Blob” of warm water in the North Pacific is greatly diminished at this point, which may mean the water sneaking in through Bering Strait will not be as warm, and will not melt the ice from underneath as much. That water, and also the water in Barents Sea, has been exposed to wind much of the winter, so the water will be more churned and less stratified. I can’t say whether it is colder than normal, (because I have lost confidence in the water-temperature maps, after it showed water full of small bergs as more than a degree “above normal” last summer, when it is physically impossible for ice-water to be any colder).



16 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Lag Time–(Jan 31-Feb 12, 2016)

  1. “My last post (which flattered me by getting posted on Watts Up With That), took a week to write…”

    Well, write faster!


  2. The snow in the DC area is indeed gone, except for dirty human created piles. It never was truly cold after the storm, with max temperatures in the 40’s. Then we had several days where it stayed well above freezing continuously, even at night. Finally, a nice warm rain with temperatures in the 50’s followed. The blizzard now all seems like a dream, though we are expecting snow tonight.

    The models seem to be indicating an extremely cold outbreak for next weekend. Your temps should drop well below 0 with a strong wind. Even we should make single digits. Not at all typical for an El Nino winter.

  3. Thanks for the post!
    DMI 15% graph is low, but note DMI 30% graph is already at a 10 year high, with 90 days to go before the previous high. I think this confirms your notion that storms are compressing the ice. It will be interesting to see if this shows up as higher ice volume, but frankly I’m a bit suspicious of PIOMAS, they seem to rely on NSDIC, which is notorious for underestimating ice extent, even when compared to their own MASIE data.

    • I just worry they have some intern in charge of the 30% graph now, and it will turn out to be flawed.

      Piomas has its flaws, but has shown more volume. We’ll also have to watch the NRL thickness map.

      This is really the last chance for thin ice and low extents, with the El Nino fading and both the AMO and PDO likely to turn cold.

    • Totally cool. That was last spring, I see.

      I think the Russians really want to open up the Northeast Passage. The Suez Canal can be skipped. As long as the ice doesn’t get over 4 feet thick, and they can afford building at least ten of these ice-breakers, they likely can pull it off.

      The main danger would be strong winds closing the channels like a bear trap, and gripping freighters. This sort of icebreaker would need to rush to the rescue. Maybe they’d suspend travel in the depth of winter.

      Little wonder they told Greenpeace to get lost.

    • Yes, we are hunkering down for that cold blast. We’ve lucked out so far this winter, getting by with one wood stove, but when it gets down below zero (F) I get three going, plus a small coal stove by my computer. Looks like it will that sort of weekend.

      • I believe that you might not be much above 0 Saturday afternoon and may drop to 10-20 below F on Sunday morning with a strong wind. Boston has not been as cold as -10 since 1957. They might take a run at that.

        In January 1957 Boston was -12 and they were -18 in February 1934, which is their all time record low temperature.

        I was in Boston for Christmas 1980. The afternoon high was -2, but the coldest they got was only -7.

  4. My way of thinking is that the DC area might get a fairly decent snowstorm on Monday, as the precip starts late Sunday night before we have much time to warm up, with temps probably in the teens. Then does not change over until late afternoon. Nothing like the blizzard in January, but possibly several inches.

    • The “change-over” is the roughest thing to predict. If the storm moves a bit farther out to sea there is a sort of back-wash formed by the surge of southern winds just out to sea, creating a front right along the coast, and north winds just west of the front allowing the snow to last longer than the poor fellows attempting such forecasts thought.

  5. “…wont give up without a fight…” Yes, we’re reaching that time of year where the snows will become more frequent, as well as variance in precip. patterns. The biggest blizzards of this winter may yet be to come. Hold on to your hat, ’cause it’s not over yet!

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