ARCTIC SEA ICE –Northabout Awaits Thaw–(With Monday Update)

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:

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

(South to the bottom. Location of Northabout marked by the red dot.)

Northabout 9 15139-1

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.

Tuesday Update

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.

Northabout 10 15248-1

Now AndyG55 has posted a picture of the clouds moving in today.

Northabout 11 15259-1

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.

Northabout 12 Screen-Shot-2016-08-04-at-12.11.50-1024x571

Thursday Update

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.

Northabout 13 gfs_mslp_uv10m_arctic_2

Saturday Morning

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.PS1 cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_1

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.

PS3 cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_5

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.

PS5 cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_9

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.

Northabout 14 laptev-gateway

Northabout 15 ru-legend


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.

Northabout 16 IMG_3454

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.

14 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Northabout Awaits Thaw–(With Monday Update)

  1. Am I correct in saying this whole expedition is meaningless because both the NE and NW passages were traversed over 100 years ago without the benefit of modern technology? What am I missing?

    Also, have a question about the Ice Age. We have all seen the charts that showed during the last Ice Age,that glaciers were all the way down to Illinois and Pennsylvania. My question is, did the glacier come down as a huge wall, or did it infiltrate gradually? Does anyone know the depth of the glacier?

    • I’d say you are correct. Been there; done that. However the Alarmists have a habit of “erasing” history. In my opinion it is a vile habit, because it ignores the lessons our elders learned, and learned the hard way in many cases.

      The whaling ships did some fairly stupid things. Some would say it was out of greed, but the people who say that are usually not the ones who have to bust butt to make the money, and rather are living off the hard work of others. The people who actually produce more than they consume tend to be hard-asses with a nothing-ventured-nothing-gained attitude, and those are the ones who were crazy enough to take wooden sailing ships without GPS or engines up into the arctic. They speak of some summers they ventured far north, and then fled the freeze, escaping by the skin of their teeth.

      One odd year was 1817. For whatever reason the Arctic Ocean belched, and a huge amount of ice came south through Fram Strait, leaving the Arctic Ocean so ice-free the British Admiralty got wind of it and pondered the possibilities. But heck if Alarmists want to hear that history. They want to “erase it” like they want to erase the MWP and the Dust Bowl.

      What can they think they can gain by ignoring the lessons of the past? Do they want to be stupid? Or is it merely that they want to pull the wool over others eyes? In either case it is not high minded, and bound to have consequences of a lower sort.

      Be that as it may, they have created a silly theater, and we are reluctant actors on the stage. I am sick of it, because we are proving what is already proven, and reinventing the wheel, over and over and over, summer after summer after summer. But I have a hope all our pounding may penetrate a few thick skulls, and make a difference.

      I’m not sure of the answers to your questions about the ice age. My sense is that the snows slowly built up to the north, deeper and deeper, and then began to advance south as a wall of ice. How thick the southern, advancing wall was, is a good question. Mount Washington is 6000 feet tall, and the ice rode over its top, so it was mighty thick ice. But how much it tapered off to thinner and thinner thicknesses towards its southern edge, I simply can’t say. It’s a good question to ask geologists. Maybe a visitor will wise us up.

    • The glacier pushed south as a wall of ice.

      We know this because of the marks it left in the ground, and because of the rebound of the land after they retreated.

      Huge image:

      The water was originally up at the top, as the land rose back up without the weight of the ice it left those terraced beaches orphaned higher and higher.

      The whole article is a fascinating read if you’re interested in the lesser known effects of ice ages:

      The fact that the planet is a big balloon of molten rock with a skin of cooler rock above it is really reinforced by things like isostatic depression and rebound.

      There are also features like: which includes the Finger Lakes in NY, numerous features across Canada and Europe, and so forth.

      Ice is powerful stuff:

      • Thanks Max.

        Cape Cod is actually a moraine made by the end of the glacier, out to the elbow. It used to stick out farther but the ocean ate it away, washing the sand north and making the “forearm.” But the glacier also extended further south for a while, and the moraine made by that extension made Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

        What would be interesting to see, if one could take a time machine, is whether the front of the glacier was a mile thick, as it pushed forward and then retreated backwards. Especially interesting would be the initial advance. Did this huge, towering wall come grinding south, mile after mile, year after year, obliterating everything in its path?

        When the glacier retreated it left huge chunks of ice behind that for some reason were less slushy than the rest of the ice, and as these chunks melted they left big dents in the sand of the outwash plane, which now are lakes with no inlet and no outlet, like Walden Pond.

        Glacial geography is definitely a cool subject, but it leaves some climate scientists cold, because it puts a big chill on some of their ideas.

      • Thanks guys, for some very interesting information. The last glaciation was not that long ago and there were actually human beings around to witness the show. Too bad they did not do a very good job keeping records.

        I would imagine place like DC that remained south of the glacial wall must have been warm in summer with air down sloping off the high wall of ice. God only knows what winter was like.

        If there is a human element to climate change in terms of warming, you would think a bit of warming would be a wonderful insurance policy against another glaciation. But with feedbacks, it might not be that simple.

        But I would almost get perverse thrill if the alarmists ended up taxing and spending us back to the Stone Age and all they accomplished by doing so was to trigger a major Ice Age.

        Won’t be around to see it, except maybe from the afterlife.

  2. Caleb … the waited for south winds appear to be too far east to do Northabout much good and they look to be in an area of northwest winds. Is that what u are seeing on your sources or are mine FUBAR. At least the sailors have got us to broaden our horizons and I’m looking at a chunk of the arctic that I pretty much ignored until they came along …. however I am somewhat ignoring the Canuck arctic but there is only so much time for watching ice 😉 as u know all too well.

  3. Ur last posted picture of the ice beside the boat sure reminds me of my summer up north and from Aug 12 or so on it was grey skies like you see in that photo and cool to cold. By August 15th or so the drinking water had a layer of ice on it in the morning and about 10 days later the ice was forming over night at the spots we got drinking water from the lake.
    By that time I was shack wacky from 10 weeks in a tent with either a lot, or the last month just one other geologist. The isolation was amazingly total. I will never forget how happy I was to get out of the north and reach Montreal. My coworker and I stood in the showers, enjoying the hot water for about an hour when we finally got back to something remotely civilized.
    Anyway I imagine they are about to experience what I did and that is they are in the last “warm” week and the temps up there now start a slow but steady decline in to winter. Looking at DMI this AM the temps north of 80 may be making a run for the freezing mark! That would be nice since it would stick in the craw of the alarmist swine.

    • Thanks for the input. The cold is starting to show up in the temperature maps. But a big storm up there has the Alarmists very excited, hoping for a repeat of 2012.

      • I tend to lurk with Nevin’s crowd. They actually are full of interesting information, though it is amazing how I can look at exactly the same thing they do and arrive at different deducings.

  4. It looks like they are due some favorable winds for a few days,10th-12th, which will be their window of opportunity to get through the Laptev Blockade.

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