Ordinarily this is a fairly quiet time of the year, in the world of ice-watchers, which is a world far less stressful than the world of bird-watchers, if you can avoid the politics. The temperatures tend to slowly edge up towards freezing, with only an occasional thawing spike that barely softens the crisper drifts of snow, despite 24-hour sunshine.
Even though the snow at the very top of the ice warms (at this point to around -4°C) it is still colder than the sea-water under the ice, which is around -1.8°C. What is even more interesting is that the ice between the top and the bottom “remembers” the cold of winter, and in places is around -20°C. Though this colder ice is being warmed from both above and below, it supplies a sort of drag or delay to the warming. It also makes sure that, rather than the ice melting and thinning, sea-ice in the Central Arctic keeps right on getting thicker, despite the fact temperatures are warming, and despite the fact ice way down south at the periphery of the sea-ice is melting away. This thickening can be seen in Mass Balance Buoy 2015F.
It came as a surprise to me, years and years ago, when I was still wet behind the ears as a ice-watcher, that the ice was still getting thicker in May. After all, the ice-extent graph is plunging, and there tends to be a certain degree of hoopla about ice melting away. Who would ever dream it was thickening?
Scientists would, for they are the ones who, through considerable effort and some degree of risk, installed the buoys that gave us the actual data, including the above chart.
Now that I am an older and wiser ice-watcher, I have learned a thing or two from the genuine scientists who actually study the ice, and know this is a pretty boring time of year. The really important melt, in terms of theories such as the “Ice Free Pole” and the “Death Spiral”, involves the Central Arctic, and that melt hasn’t even started yet. I even feel a little embarrassed about how excited I used to get about the melting away at the edges, in April and May.
People who do get excited tend to be rookies, like I once was, or the sensationalist media (who sadly are too often more interested in titillating readers, and too often know diddlysquat about science,) and politicians who are, too often, even worse than the media, and (with blessed exceptions) primarily out for themselves.
Not that I don’t pay attention to the retreat of the ice at the edges, as it can tell you things about the sea-surface temperatures. In the end, the ice at the edges will all be gone by September, and is gone every year, but how it retreats can be interesting. This year I have been watching Bering Strait, because earlier the seawater was a full two degrees colder than 2015, and even though the sea-surface temperatures have now equalized I am watching to see if the earlier, colder waters had an effect. (This may or may not have an effect later in the melt-season, as those waters move under the ice and melt from below.)
I like to compare the NRL “thickness” maps from the same dates in 2015 and 2016, and to see what changes the passage of a year has brought about.
The best way to compare these maps is to hope the blogger Max™ drops by and does it right in the comments, but in the meantime what I do is open the two maps in two new tabs and then click back and forth between them.
2016 has been different from 2015. In 2015 a cross-polar-flow brought Siberia to Canada and later to Boston, and lots of ice was exported from the Siberian side of the Pole and crunched up against Canada. In 2016 the cross-polar-flow was far less and actually reversed at times, and as a consequence there is less ice towards Canada but much more towards Siberia. I doubt very much the melt along the Siberian coast will be as swift and extensive as it was last year, especially if any of the two-degrees-colder water got sucked north through Bering Strait.
I think that is what serious ice-watchers are focused on and are debating, but I am increasingly concerned that the media and politicians are screwing everything up. How? Well, because they are so concerned about how they look, rather than how things are down deep, they are more interested in superficial things rather than the deeper truths scientists are after. Scientists often are so focused on their study they forget to comb their hair and are a bit disheveled, while politicians have every hair in place.
You really don’t want politicians pressuring scientists, threatening to withhold funding if scientists don’t promote some superficial political policy. No wise king would ask that either of his wizards or of his jesters. A wise king wants the Truth, but a fool tells his wizards and jesters what to say. This is foolish because kings cannot control the powers of nature, King Canute could not control the tides. You want honest scientists who report what is actually happening, not rump swabs who tell you what you want.
There is an old saying that “fish rots (or stinks) from the head down”, which insinuates a bad leader will make those beneath him bad, or at least less good. Hopefully those good scientists beneath a bad leader will push back, and resist the corruption. Increasingly there are signs there is trouble in paradise, and all is not well in the back corridors of academia, especially in the world of sea-ice. Cameras are poorly placed, the “North Pole Camera” wasn’t even funded this year, only a single O-buoy camera still works, only a single Mass Balance Buoy still functions, and the satellites that determine sea-ice-extent are all out of whack.
Things simply are not as well-run as they once were. The site,
http://realclimatescience.com/2016/05/more-arctic-monkey-business/ pointed out a seemingly glaring discrepancy today, basically showing that, to quasi-quote Shakespeare, “Something stinks in Denmark”, because things don’t add up. The DMI extent graph shows ice-extent plunging like this:
But the host of that Realclimatescience site, well aware of all the problems going on with satellites malfunctioning and so forth, decided to use the DMI maps to do a simple thing. Compare the map from May 12 with May 16, show where sea-ice increased as green and where ice decreased with red, and he came up with this:
When some eyeball this DMI-extent-map, it does not look like it matches the DMI-extent-graph. I myself don’t want to join this argument, for, as I said earlier, the ice-loss at the edges in May doesn’t really matter that much, as ice-gain at the center is still going on. However, considering this time of year is usually dull for ice-watchers, I must confess the bickering makes for an interesting scientific sit-com.
In the theater in France back in the 1500’s the audience liked it to be made plain who the good-guys were and who the bad-guys were. Therefore, when a member of the clergy was actually doing the work of Satan, he made a sound that let the audience know he was crooked to the core. The noise was, “Brouhaha.” (In my mind’s eye I see an officious and pompous person, clearing their throat.)
That seems to be the noise we are getting from sea-ice-scientists. A brouhaha is going on, behind the scenes, even to the point where the equipment is not properly maintained and is breaking down. In their meek and inhibited way, scientists are having some sort of full fledged brawl.
Meanwhile, up at the Pole, the weather is indifferent to our human Perils Of Pauline. Truth is what Truth does.
High Pressure over the Pole weakened to a ridge and then finally collapsed over to the Canadian side, as Siberian and North Atlantic lows joined forces. Now we have a Pacific-to Atlantic cross-polar-flow, with temperatures close to normal.
Besides the fact the flow at the Pole looks more meridienal than zonal, things look fairly dull. But when the media has no news to report, it, in a seeming desperation, makes itself the news. And when politicians join this foolishness, things can become exciting.