ARCTIC SEA ICE –BARNEO 2016 BASE Updated –First Jet Lands–

Nothing goes easily when you plan an airstrip in the middle of a frozen ocean. After all, an ocean is an ocean, and in motion, and the notion that no commotion effects these waters is incorrect. This is especially true within a year like this one, when there has been a regular import of southerly winds and the transpolar drift has constantly been shoved backwards.

I’m sure there will be some discussion about whether the ice is weaker this year, with the southerly winds blamed for melting and contributing to the “Death Spiral” of arctic sea-ice, but the so-called “mild” winter had temperatures well below the freezing point of salt water, except for a period of a few hours just after Christmas when a tongue of Atlantic air made it it to the Pole and remained above freezing just long enough to make headlines, as it swiftly cooled in the sunless landscape. Within hours it had cooled back below zero, (Celsius), and within a day the same buoy that had been reporting the thaw was reporting ten below, and soon was reporting thirty below.

In fact, because the ice often wasn’t exported south, it was crunched and tortured and piled up in pressure ridges.

The “thickness” maps show the Atlantic-side ice is thicker in a few places, but generally thinner, especially towards Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, even as it is thicker towards East Siberia. (To compare it can be helpful to open each map below to a new tab, and then click back and forth.) 2015 is to the right, and 2016 to the left.

The problem the Russians seem to be up against is not so much that the ice is thinner as it is that the ice is not smooth. They need to find an area where the ice hasn’t been bashed and smashed, and yet is thick enough to land a jet upon. The first few pans they investigated by helicopter had problems.  Finally they found one which seemed satisfactory, more than ninety km from the Pole, and airlifted in bulldozers to start removing snow and smoothing the ice.

Barneo 1A 12923091_972698022799347_8421606544571496605_n553Barneo 1B 10400042_973591249376691_7678302404650077863_n363

The aircraft that the airstrip is being prepared for is an An-74, which can be swiftly shifted from carrying passengers to carrying freight, and can be adapted to landing on sea-ice. They are in high demand, and the usual company the Barneo Base got its aircraft from wasn’t willing to accept a certain degree of uncertainty, involving whether there would even be a base this year, and had leased its An-74 elsewhere. Therefore some six months ago the Barneo team turned to “Uktus” to supply the aircraft, but Uktus were unable to make the modifications needed, and, only days ago, confessed they couldn’t supply the An-74.  Bleep!  Gloom decended. Where are you going to find one of these on short notice?


After frantic phone-calls an aircraft was located. As I understand it the pride of Russia was evoked, and someone had a contract cancelled so the air-craft’s duties could be shifted to the Pole. The jet has made it up to Svalbard, and efficiently and swiftly cargo and people are being readied for the trip.

Barneo 1D 12924571_976630252406124_7798407233108030579_n648

It will be nice to get cargo up there, as the accommodations brought up by helicopter for the men preparing the runway are not exactly luxurious, and they have been working in temperatures between twenty and thirty-five below.

Barneo 1C 12439303_974090315993451_5371279471494089960_n828

Then,yesterday, there came this somewhat ominous report,  (translated.)

“Morning Barneo reported that the runway went crack. The meeting discussed the situation with the crew, and decided to fill small cracks and change the direction of the band a bit. This will require additional time.

Prediction is no do not do.”

Nothing is ever easy, when dealing with the arctic. I’ll update this post as reports become available, but as we wait we might as well check the weather.

Just to make life more interesting for the fellows up there, a little home-grown storm developed. The North Pole sunrise had been blessed by the hush of dawn, but then the winds picked up.  Most recently it looks like the low is filling and fading southeast into Siberia.

The GFS computer model suggests weak high pressure will build over the area. In 72 hours the map (created by Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site), may look like this, which suggests reasonably quiet conditions, for the Pole.

Barneo 1E gfs_mslp_uv10m_arctic_13

APRIL 3 UPDATE  –First jet lands at Pole–

Barneo 1E 12439464_1700439970234842_6810696378315252678_n915

This year’s base was located, this morning, 57.91 miles from the Pole, towards Russia, at N 89.16 N, and 75.48 E. Air temperatures were a balmy -27 degrees Celsius.

The ice the base is on appears to be drifting slowly southwest towards Svalbard.  (In the map below, where arrows move from a blue area to an orange area there is the possibility of leads opening, and where the arrows move from orange to blue there is the possibility of pressure ridges forming.)Speed and Drift 20160403 arcticicespddrfnowcast

The ice tends to open leads along weaknesses where leads have opened before. To build an airstrip takes a certain amount of discernment, for one doesn’t want to pick a floe of ice that will split into two foes. Two is not better than one, in this case, because a jet cannot take off from half an air strip.

The problem is that, even when a floe looks sturdy,  drifting snows can hide the old cracks. Arctic bases have faced cracks in airstrips and even right under buildings, in the past, (though buildings often are erected on slightly thicker and rougher “multi-year ice”, which tends to be more stable, though less smooth.) All in all there is always an element of danger involved.

NORTH POLE 16 “Race Against Time” expedition is underway.

This is the only team of adventurers I can find this year, attempting sea-ice crossings. They are attempting to ski from the Barneo Base to Canada.  It seems they are hindered by a late start and the fact the base is over fifty miles further from Canada than usual.

The members are Paul Vicary, Mark Langridge, and Mark Wood. It was Mark Wood who early this morning tweeted:

North Pole 16 has had the green light – were off! 

I tend to zip my lip, concerning the amount of hype and bull they need to endure, finding sponsors, and instead to focus on the actual adventure, which involves grit and stamina difficult to imagine. Also I pray a bit, for there is plenty of danger involved. Explorers 1 CfHH_cLWIAUPwo9

Hopefully they will be able to send some pictures via satellite phone. The pictures sent by prior adventurers have given us a better idea of arctic conditions than the cameras-on-buoys, in the past.

I disagree with much of their hype, but once men are out on the ice hype ceases to matter and hype cannot help, and out of respect I’ll promote their “cause” this one time:

are trekking 470 miles in 35 days temp -40 degrees to raise money for pls donate >

The ice will get thicker as they approach Canada, but also more jumbled and difficult to cross. I’m unsure what they expect to do when they reach land, as they are still hundreds of miles from anywhere. Perhaps a pilot will pick them up, though no pilots were flying last year, which is why there were no adventurers last year.


14 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –BARNEO 2016 BASE Updated –First Jet Lands–

    • Thanks, Stewart.

      It’s a cold and snowy morning here. I’m going to try to get a picture of the daffodils hunched over and moping.

      I need to think up some words that rhyme with “moping”. We are going to be doing a lot of that, this week. We may even set some records for late-season cold.

      All caused by Global Warming, of course. /sarc

      • I feel for u …. I went on a grocery run about 3 and dropped the top on the car for the trip to town and saw 18 C on the cars thermometer. Too hot for spring skiing and each day the snow becomes glue like and grabby by noon. I even got off my lazy butt and waxed the skis but not much of an improvement. Oh well 7 more days and the mountain closes. A link to the webcam for your amusement
        it looks like more snow is headed your way … good luck buddy! The children will love it.

      • I’m moping about our snow, but decided to go with the flow and wrote a whole post about contrary logic involved, wherein paying the dues allows for singing the blues.

        I just posted it. I hope you get a chuckle or two from it.

    • Hi Max,

      Last year the North Pole Camera array didn’t get set up until the middle of April, as I recall. I am not sure about prior years. (I’d never check until the weather got hot around here, and I desired a cooling view, which was usually in June.)

      The O-buoy cameras tend to have their lenses melt free of snow around now. This year it looks like only two survived the winter: O-buoy 13 and O-buoy 14. They still have obscured lenses.

      Last year the Mass Balance Buoy people set out two buoys with cameras north of Alaska, and that was at the start of April, as I recall. I have no idea if their budget includes the same, this year.


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