We have been watching the travels of the Northabout, which is attempting to circumnavigate the Pole this summer, with interest because it will act as our on-the-scene reporter of ice-conditions on the Siberian side of the Pole.
The Northabout is tucked into a cove to the west of Vilkitskogo Strait, which is the western entrance of the Laptev Sea. They are waiting for the sea-ice conditions to improve, and south winds may be helping them out. Skies have cleared, and you can peer down from outer space by using: http://www.arctic.io/explorer/4Xa5A//4-N90-E0
I’m going to try to zoom in, copy, and paste the image here.
Drat. For some reason it clipped off the edges. Anyway, the Northabout is off the picture to the right. South winds have cleared a tentative channel right along the coast to thicker sea-ice on the right side of the picture. That thicker ice is broken up, and a gutsy captain might try to pole and poke his way through, with a steel hulled boat made for such conditions. On the other hand, one can sip vodka and wait.
During August the Siberian rivers reach their peak levels of flood, as all last winter’s snow is melted by the long days and is rushing downstream. The floods are unreal. The Lena River (world’s tenth largest) can rise sixty feet from its January levels. All that water pours into the Arctic Sea and creates a “freshwater lens” along the coast, especially in the Laptev Sea. Though the river water is very cold it can melt Sea Ice, and create a brief channel. Interestingly, because it is fresher, it freezes at a higher temperature, and the “freshwater lens” in the Laptev Sea doesn’t need much of an excuse to re-freeze. (Watch how quickly the Laptev Sea freezes in the fall.)
My guess is that they will bide their time and wait for melting. The problem is that they’ll be falling behind schedule.
They are tucked into a bay in an island that is near the center of the satellite shot below. (South to the top.)You can see that the north winds behind the last storm pushed a lot of ice south to the east of their refuge.
Below is a picture posted by “Colorado Wellington” over at http://realclimatescience.com/2016/08/vodka-and-wine-and-vodka/
(South to the bottom. Location of Northabout marked by the red dot.)
It does look like the last low pressure system pushed the ice southeast, but I’m not concerned about them being blocked in at this point, as winds are shifting to the south as a ridge of high pressure slides over. Then the next low will give them some south winds ahead of it, and may be helpful because it may pull a loop-de-loop in the Kara Sea, keeping them in the south winds and pushing the ice away from shore. The lows center broadens in the Canadian JEM model, giving them a period of calm if they want to attempt to motor through Vilkitskogo Strait, 72 hours from now.
Hopefully this post will include updates. They are well worth watching.
They are still waiting. Some ice blew into their anchorage. “At 4am Constance woke me, bits of floating ice all around. I thought she was pissed, so got up in my boxers. She was right, with the change of direction of wind, we had lots of bits of loose ice all around the boat, and worryingly, congregating around the anchor chain.”
I wish they’d post some pictures. Also describe how the water temperatures changed as the ice moved in. Maybe they will, later. I sent an inquiry to their blog site.
The blogger “AndyG55” produced this good picture of how the ice blew south, and where they anchored. (South is to the top.) He marked a potential escape route with the yellow arrow, though I think the ice will stay scattered. Winds have since shifted to the west, and it looks like our good satellite view will be obscured by clouds.
Now AndyG55 has posted a picture of the clouds moving in today.
I would not blame the captain for being cautious. One thing the satellites do not show very well is the smaller bergs, and last summer I could watch O-buoy 9 go from being in water that seemed utterly ice-free to a scene of jammed ice in a matter of mere hours.
I’ll continue to update, as this is interesting to me.
Below is a picture of the ice that blew down the harbor and gave them a rude awakening.
Looks like they have to hunker down and wait out a bit of a blow that blew up right on top them. The winds may be clearing the coast of the Laptev Sea but it looks like Vilkitskogo Strait could be jammed up. The storm will fade by Sunday, and then they’ll have to appraise the situation.
It was a good thing they were in a safe anchorage, as the storm gave them gale force winds gusting up to 38 knits, and near white-out conditions of fog, rain, and some wet snow. Air temperatures were around +2°.
The storm is now filling and fading to the west.
By Sunday morning their north winds should have slackened, and they will be able to appraise how much ice blew south to block their route.
By Monday morning a very small low will develop in the wake of the departing storm, and they may see winds shift to the south as it approaches.
It is more of a test than you would imagine to be trapped in a boat with the same people day after day, especially when you can’t even go out onto the deck to see the sky. Until the strait clears there is nothing they can do but be patient and wait.
Here was the ice-situation before the storm (from Ron Clutz’s site). I’ll have to figure out how he gets these maps.
SUNDAY UPDATE –STILL WAITING–
We are getting our first glimpses through the clouds as the storm fades, and it looks like their is still ice in the strait, though it may be less concentrated in places. There is a sort of geology to sea-ice, and I can see what I call “ice bars”, for they remind me of the sand bars that form along the sandier parts of the east coast. They shift fairly swiftly, and I doubt one would seek to plow through them in a sailboat the way one can do with an icebreaker.
If they do attempt a run along the coast they will be keeping an anxious eye to the north, for the ice can return. A very good example was seen up in Barrow Alaska last week. The ice was gone, and none could be seen on the horizon, for over two weeks, and then it returned abruptly, and crunched up against the shore. At low tide it could be seen that the bergs were fairly thick; definitely not slush. Briefly there was a second mass of ice visible on the horizon. Hopefully a link to the webcam (atop a bank building) can be seen here:
(I’d hoped to preserve the above video for posterity, but unfortunately it stopped working when it was replaced by a updated 10-day video. You can still see the sea-ice (for a few more days) by going to the website and hitting the ten-day-animation, but when the event recedes more than ten days into the past it will be harder to find a record of it. The website is here:
Once the visual record is unavailable you’ll just have to take my word for it that what happened happened.)
If a sailboat was coasting along the shore and a mass of ice like that came south the captain would be in for some difficult maneuvering, and the crew busy pushing the bergs from the boat with poles. In a worst case scenario they might be driven ashore with the ice. So I can see why a captain would wait in a safe anchorage, even if the vodka ran out.
I should note that the satellite didn’t show the ice at Barrow as anything worse than milky-looking water. The ice is more impressive when you meet it face-to-face. (Also note that, although Barrow is well north of the Arctic Circle, the sun dips so low to the north at midnight that it briefly sets. The time of 24-hour sunlight has past, and the chill will start building.)
High clouds continue to make it difficult to get a clear picture of the ice conditions in the strait.
They now have been biding their time for a solid week, and are likely suffering a small-craft equivalent of cabin fever. Fortunately conditions grew calm enough to test out the dingy, and they got to walk a bit on solid ground, before a mother polar bear with two cubs gave them an adrenaline rush, and caused a hasty retreat.
The bears look rather healthy, and seem to cast doubt on Al Gore’s suggestion that polar bears starve without sea-ice. A good reference, if you want to learn more about this subject, is Susan J. Crockford’s site:
Apparently polar bears do most of their eating in the spring, when new-born seal pups spend their first week helpless, by air-holes in the ice. By the time the ice melts the bears are obese, and quite able to get through the summer only nibbling a bit, subsisting on body fat. Susan points out that what really reduces the bear population is too much ice, for thick ice means there are no air-holes for seals, and the seal population takes a dive, which means the bears go hungry, and few cubs survive. (Al Gore’s weepy movie was wrong, in this respect, among its other errors.)
In any case, our sailors got some excitement, which is just the tonic needed to alleviate boredom, as they wait. They also received a another real-life lesson. Misconceptions, whether they be about sea-ice or about polar bears, tend to be self-correcting, provided you keep your eyes open and seek the Truth.
ANCHORS AWEIGH. Monday afternoon.
They’ve finally headed east toward the strait. Best wishes.