An interesting little storm brewed up over the Pole, and now fades.

DMI3 0404 mslp_latest.big DMI3 0404 temp_latest.big

DMI3 0404B mslp_latest.big DMI3 0404B temp_latest.big

DMI3 0405 mslp_latest.big DMI3 0405 temp_latest.big

(Two Days Of Maps Missing Here)

DMI3 0408 mslp_latest.big DMI3 0408 temp_latest.big

DMI3 0409 mslp_latest.big DMI3 0409 temp_latest.big

DMI3 0409B mslp_latest.big DMI3 0409B temp_latest.big

What interests me about this storm is The Swirl it makes in the temperature maps, over the Pole. This has been occurring on and off all winter.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that The Swirl is a reflection of the draining of heat upwards into outer space, which is accelerated, or exaggerated, by two factors that are contrary: The El Nino is adding heat, and the Quiet Sun makes the general background colder. I’ve come up with clumsy analogies, such as the El Nino being the faucet and the Pole being the drain, or the El Nino being the fireplace and the Pole being the flue with the damper wide open, but this is all sheer guess-work on my part, in an effort to explain a phenomenon I should just call “The Swirl”.

The Swirl seems to appear and then fade in a manner that the various computer models have predicted badly. I assume this is because the models are based on textbook concepts, and The Swirl is not possible, according to the textbooks. The textbooks state that the air is suppose to be descending over the Pole. There should be high pressure, not low pressure:

Polar Cell cells_mod

The Swirl is an example, it seems to me, of the actual weather disobeying the professors, and throwing a wrench in the works of computer-model-reliability, because a basic premise used to write the code for the models is being disregarded. Every time a low pressure sits on the Poles the air is rising, not sinking, and the flow is counter-clockwise rather than clockwise. In conclusion, what we have, gentlemen, is SNAFU.

High pressure at the Pole supports the slow drift of sea-ice from the East Siberian and Laptev seas across the Pole and through Fram Strait to the North Atlantic. The Swirl, however, blows wrong-way winds against the flow of that Transpolar Drift.

Transpolar Drift 360px-BrnBld_ArcticCurrents.svg

The sea-ice is extremely responsive to winds, and wrong-way winds causes ice to stop and proceed in an opposite manner, at varying rates, causing convergence in some areas to form pressure ridges, and divergence in other areas to form leads of open water. The leads swiftly freeze over, but, because their ice is thinner it is weaker, and in the next case of convergence the frozen lead is often the ice most susceptible to buckling and crunching into a pressure ridge. In any case, the ice ends up crisscrossed with pressure ridges.

.Barneo 2D 1934634_1004573596286405_5270321295161880015_n

My impression is that, because these pressure ridges are narrow, compared to the flat pans of ice between them, they are difficult to measure and include in calculations of how thick the ice is, and that in turn messes up calculations of the volume of the ice in the arctic. (Remember that 9/10th of an iceberg is under water, and therefore a very large pressure ridge that sticks up 25 feet should (in theory) have a reflection under water sticking downwards 225 feet. [And, during the Cold War, American, British and Russian submarines did play hide-and-seek behind just such sea-ice stalactites.])

The PIOMAS charts show no increase of thickness or volume,  despite what our eyes are seeing after the sun has risen in the arctic. In fact PIOMAS indicates thickness and volume are very low.

PIOMAS Thickness 20160409 Bpiomas_plot_daily_heff.2sst

BPIOMASIceVolumeAnomaly 20160409 CurrentV2.1_CY

Only the PIOMAS  volume anomaly graph gives any hint that the ice may actually be building up slightly, despite the warmth of last winter’s El Nino.

BPIOMASIceVolumeAnomaly 20160409 CurrentV2.1

Looking back to the thickness graph, it can be seen the average thickness goes on increasing until the start of June. This is partly because the thin ice at the edges of the arctic is the first to melt, and, when the thin ice is no longer included, the “average” of course goes up. However also the ice does keep growing as long as the ice remains very cold, and the data from Mass balance Buoy 2015F does seem to show the ice is still growing thicker. (Purple line at bottom)

2015F_thick.png 20160409

I should mention, at this time, that I have read some extraordinary claims that the ice is “warmer” this year. Buoy 2015F seems to show the ice nearly six feet down, touching the sea-water, is cold enough to freeze the sea-water, which means the ice above that is likely colder. In fact the ice, this time of year, can be as cold as minus-thirty at the surface, as can be seen when minus-twenty air passing over it is chilled despite the sun being up.

(I suppose the ice towards Barents Sea could be “warmer”, because The Swirl was so often fueled by plumes of Atlantic Air. During Christmas headlines were made when one plume of such air raised temperatures to just above freezing for a few hours, at a single spot near the Pole, but the newspapers failed to note how swiftly temperatures plunged afterwards, and how quickly they reached minus twenty. Newspapers didn’t dwell on huge amounts of warmth being lost up to the Arctic night and outer space, never to return. But, in any case, even if the ice is “warmer” towards Barents Sea, it still is ice that has to warm up a lot before it can even start to melt.)

The point I wish to make is that these plumes of Atlantic air, riding against the Transpolar Drift and therefore slowing and even reversing that drift, likely did more to increase the amount of sea-ice than they did to decrease it. While pushing the ice north did decrease the sea-ice in the Barents and Kara Seas, further east in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas the slow-down of the Transpolar drift kept those areas from exporting ice, and they have thicker ice on that side of the Pole, despite all the warm Pacific influences of the El Nino, “warm PDO spike”, and the “Warm Blob”.  (The best way to compare the images below is to open 2015 (left) and 2016 (right) to new tabs, and then click back and forth between the two tabs.)

Ordinarily the Laptev Sea exports so much ice that there can be open water by the shore even when the winds roaring north and pushing the ice off-shore are the coldest the Northern hemisphere sees, (down to as low as minus seventy). This year these Polynyas of open water never formed until the last month. The Transpolar Drift was bogged down by “The Swirl.”

This introduced an element of chaos to the flat landscape of sea-ice, and we saw an unusual amount of buoys cease to report, likely because they were crushed by pressure ridges.   Among the Mass Balance buoys, only one of four still reports, and of the O-buoys, two bit the dust. However O-buoy 13 not only survived, but its camera has melted free of frost and we have our first views of what winter did to the ice over where it drifts.

Obuoy 13 0409 webcam

As you look over this landscape you are seeing pressure ridges that were not there, when the camera frosted over last fall. If you are not willing to take my word for this you can watch a brief animation of images taken last fall here:

The movie should show you the landscape starts out perfectly flat, and, though a few pressure ridges are starting to appear before the view is frosted, they are not as numerous as they are when the camera is unfrosted.

In other words, the ice did not rest quietly during the time it was hidden from scrutiny by the winter dark. Pressure ridges formed. (If you insist upon accuracy, I will assert 482,217 separate ridges formed, and dare you to prove me wrong.)

I will also assert it is insidiously difficult to include these lines in thickness and volume calculations. It is like trying to calculate the surface area of a slender spider web, with the web moving in the wind. However they do add up.

We should have deep respect, and at times pity, for the tough people who go up into these hostile environments to better understand arctic reality. Simply erecting a base of operations involves fortitude, when the winds blow at minus thirty. I can sit here and talk of “The  Swirl”, but, to work in it, is utterly beyond my comprehension.

The Russians are attempting to work in The Swirl, and build their blue-ice airstrip for their yearly Barneo camp, and are experiencing all the misery of The Swirl first hand. Usually there are pans of flat ice to build an airstrip on, but this year they find pressure ridges and cracks, with only undersized pans of ice between them. The airstrips they have attempted are so threatened by new cracks they only dare ask their bravest pilots to use them. The usual generous verbosity of their expedition diary has become so terse it is barely comprehensible (after passing through the auto-translate feature):

Resolution on the flight of AN-74 was obtained in Murmansk.

Aircraft already in Murmansk, unloaded and waiting for permission to return to Longyearbyen. Brought back the goods overnight strengthened on platforms that come from Moscow. In the evening take place landing.

It was decided to lengthen the runway. In the area of ​​Borneo returned anticyclone. Temperature -37. The expedition team continues to extend the strip to the north. Thick meter layer of snow and ice hummocks under 2 meters.

We have to protect the tractor, because after a week of intense work needed an oil change, which is delivered to Barneo evening with IL-76.

I think I might understand the terseness. Partially it may be due to sheer exhaustion, but also I imagine a case of “I don’t want to talk about it” may be setting in.

Years ago I worked a hard job with a boss breathing hotly down my neck and looking over my shoulder. I deeply desired to figure out a way to hurry him back to his office, because sometimes you simply work better without anyone watching. Even when I didn’t have to explain my every move, simply having him there seemed to overload the air with tension and unspoken disapproval, and even to make accidents happen. I was never so glad as I was when the phone rang and he left. I then worked far more efficiently, and by the time my boss returned the job was done.

I think the above words involve similar chemistry. You need to read between the lines, and understand the men up there are exhausted, working in blizzard conditions, and likely don’t want to deal with a whole lot of unhelpful questions and suggestions, nor deal with Norwegian authorities who have been less than helpful. (There is a story behind the scenes involving political relations between Norway and Russia, but that is best left for some other post.)

I’m not sure what the picture they posted is suppose to show us:


Barneo 5 12919806_979683995434083_2435924906551267527_n13

As far as I am concerned, what we are witnessing the Russians battle is “changed sea-ice.” But do not say, “Duh”, to me.  Save that expression of stupidity for those who say the Russians are facing “warm ice made thin by Global Warming”. Any who make such an assertion only display the fact they haven’t been paying attention to what has been actually happening up there. What has been happening is that the ice is tortured, due to “The Whirl” disrupting the smooth flow of the Transpolar Drift.

And what is “The Whirl”?  Ah, that is what mature people, free from immature Santa Claus preconceptions, want to know. It is a mystery. Too bad some -bleepity bleep bleeps- will never know the answer, because they think they already know the answer.

We should do our best to simply sit back and observe. However the fact I needed to put in “-bleepity bleep bleeps-” above demonstrates how difficult it is to avoid getting sucked into the politics. However the Truth doesn’t care about our politics, and is going right ahead without bothering to check with Norwegian or Russian authorities, or apply for permits from the EPA .

We are witnessing two things happen that we have never before witnessed, with the tools available in the satellite era. We are watching the AMO switch from “warm” to “cold” phases, and we are seeing the effects of the “Quiet Sun.” We can hypothesize all we want about what we will see, but those who think they know for sure are in for surprises.

What I am most interested in watching is how the Arctic changes as the El Nino, with nearly violent suddenness, switches to a La Nina.  Stay tuned.


One thought on “ARCTIC SEA ICE —The Swirl—

  1. Very educational! I’m convinced you’re on to something.

    I wondered if the term “Swirl” was your creation, or is used in Arctic science. So, I did a search on “Arctic Swirl”. This is what came up:


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