ARCTIC SEA ICE -Northabout Can’t Shortcut-(Updated Tuesday)

The good ship Northabout is past the New Siberian Islands and plowing east, using their engines, across the East Siberian Sea. They actually experienced an entire day without seeing sea-ice, for the first time since they left the open waters of the Kara Sea, before they came across a few unmapped bergs. The main threat they have faced, and conquered, has been engine troubles.

Northabout 20k Screen-Shot-2016-08-21-at-20.33.38-1024x680

If you look at the Bremen maps of recent years, you can see they might have formerly hoped to turn northeast and cut a corner, taking a sort of Great Circle route north of Wrangle Island.

Northabout 20a SeaIceMinimum2015-asi-AMSR2_small

No such luck this year:

Northabout 20b Arctic_AMSR2_visual_small

If you hope to see an ice-free arctic, you likely favor the Bremen maps, for they tend to be MIM. (Much Ice Missing.) However if you are a sailor you don’t want to miss ice that is actually there, and are prone to look at the Russian maps, which are prepared for actual seafaring people.  This shows the ice around Wrangle Island looks more formidable than the Bremin map shows. (Wrangle Island to right).


Northabout 20c Screen-Shot-2016-08-20-at-17.26.08-1024x751

Rather than able to turn northeast and pass north of Wrangle Island, it looks like Northabout will have to turn southeast and hug the coast. This makes their route considerably longer. Then, once they pass under Wrangle Island, their problems are not over, as the larger Russian map still shows a second barrier of ice extending from Wrangle Island to the southeast, right to the coast.

Northabout 20d Screen-Shot-2016-08-10-at-09.35.55

The green color on the Russian map indicates the ice could vary between 60% and 10%, and you can bet the crew of the Northabout is hoping for 10%. They will likely be scanning the satellite maps for a more northern gap in the ice, for hugging the coast takes them even further south, likely adding an extra day to their sail, and they are running out of time.

(There is no turning back, as it looks like the ice has been blown south in the West Laptev Sea right to the shore. Not that they’d even consider it. Pilots crossing the Atlantic in the early days of flight used to speak of a “point-of-no-return”, (where it took more gas to reach land going back than continuing forward), and the Northabout has passed that point.)

The Bering Strait should be wide open, but towards Barrow yet another protrusion of ice juts down from the north, and the Barrow webcam shows that even the water that is blue on the Russian maps holds scattered bergs.

Barrow 20160821 05_47_24_126_ABCam_20160821_134400

They are planning on spending a couple days in Barrow to re-provision, and exchange crew members. I am wondering if they might reconsider the wisdom of battling on. The Russian map shows ice touching the coast, where the Canadian Ice Service shows open water at the southwest opening to the Northwest Passage. (I would tend to trust the Canadians in their own waters.)

Northabout 20e CMMBCTCA

The satellite has very clear skies over the southern part of the Northwest passage, showing ice-free waters, but blasted clouds hide the areas of interest to the east and west. The satellite view does give us a dim view of where the Canadian Map shows some ice threatening to close the passage where it jogs north.

Northabout 20f 18

For selfish reasons I hope they continue on, so I can get first-hand reporting. However I think the good crew of the Northabout may be getting tired of discovering ice where maps, especially the Bremen map, says it isn’t.

(I’ll try to include some temperature maps in an update, later.)


O-buoy 14 has drifted slowly against the normal flow of the Beaufort Gyre, southeast to 75.9°N, 136°W. Its camera gives us an opportunity to use our eyes, rather than trusting in maps. What does it show us?

Obuoy 14 0821B webcam

As we have been seeing for several days, O-buoy 14, after a brief stint in open water, is midst a mass of pulverized ice, currently with some open water in the upper right distance, and a small patch of open water ruffled by the breeze in the mid-foreground. But what leaps out, to me at least, is the slushy water in the foreground. It is refreezing, and even rounding the sharp edges of some bergs into a formation called “pancake ice.”

This is what I love about these arctic cameras. You can’t get this information from graphs. What do graphs show us?

The temperatures have been below freezing.

Obuoy 14 0821B temperature-1week

It is still breezy, though winds have slacked off some.

Obuoy 14 0821B windspeed-1week

One thing I have witnessed too often is how Alarmists and Skeptics can look at the exact same graphs and come to very different conclusions, and paint very different pictures. The camera frees us from that. The picture is painted by an Artist far greater than any of us. The Truth is there, for eyes that see.

With my weak vision I see the yearly battle between basal melting and surface freezing underway. The surface freezing always wins in the end, but right now we exist in a marvelous equipoise, even as the daylight dwindles and the big chill gains strength. For a time the refreeze makes inroads, and then a thaw fights back and basal melting can eat surprising holes.

If you are the captain of a ship your eyes must be constant assessing the situation. In the old days the whaling ships dared sail far north, seeking the un-hunted whaling grounds, but they had to time their escape south right, or their ship would be trapped. Now the captain of the Northabout sails the same seas, scans the same situation, and wears the same shoes. The responsibility is not small, when you are not sitting in an armchair far away, making excuses for the fact the Pole isn’t as ice-free as you thought it would be. You face a sea that doesn’t care about excuses.


I promiced I’d look at the temperatures the Northabout may face, so I’ve gone to the Weatherbell Site and poured through some of the thousands of maps Ryan Maue makes available. I prefer the Canadian maps in the short term, for they know their business up north, [but I have to shake my head at the “JEM” model’s habit of foreseeing fabulous storms in the long term. I have learned not to panic, for the major hurricanes roaring up the east coast of the USA haven’t happened (so far.)]

The days are still longer than the nights, and one thing the midday maps show in any arctic area is how toasty warm the Tundra gets. Look how nice and warm it is in inland Alaska today.

Northabout 20g cmc_t2m_arctic_3

However look at inland Alaska only 12 hours later. Much colder. This doesn’t happen in high summer, and what it shows is that the nights are swiftly growing longer, and starting to have a definite chilling effect.

Northabout 20h cmc_t2m_arctic_5

The above maps also show that the storm I dubbed “Ralph” is sitting north of Greenland, keeping a lot of cold air wrapped up and trapped in its circulation. It also shows a sort of “feeder band” of juicy air poking north through westernmost Siberia, to fuel further mischief and perhaps keep “Ralph” going. Likely a secondary storm will brew in the Laptev, and the Northabout, being well to the east, will be blessed by southerly winds that push the ice away from shore.

However when I glace at the winds shown by the JEM modle for Tuesday, the south winds look fairly strong at Wrangle Island. Once winds get above 20 mph they can actually slow you down, because you have to reef your sails.

Northabout 20j cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_13

Also I should say the map looks messy. Chaos is rearing its head, and computer models like things nice and neat. So I’m not sure I trust the forecast.

Check out the temperature map for five days from now. Remember, days are still longer than nights, and at noon in Siberia it should be nice and toasty over the Tundra.

Northabout 20l cmc_t2m_arctic_21 (1)

For goodness sake! That ridiculous model is showing an arctic outbreak of freezing temperatures blasting south nearly to China! And it is only August!

This could get me off into a  long digression about a loopy ( or “meridional”) jet stream, but I am fairly certain the good ship Northabout is not overly concerned about the weather in China. They only look ahead to Barrow. And things do look a bit warmer there.

One fun thing to do with these maps is to open them on new tabs, and click between them. When I do this, and compare the 24-hour temperature map with the 120-hour temperature map,  the warming at Barrow is plain, but when you head further east to the Northwest Passage, you see the big chill sneaking south. The outbreak may be far smaller than the one blasting towards China, but it is there.

“Polar Challenge” indeed.  The Northabout has quite the battle ahead.

The thing of it is: Even to complete the Northeast passage is quite an achievement, in a small boat. I won’t mock or shame the Northabout if they haul out at Barrow, and say, “Wait until next year!”

After all, that is what certain “Climate Scientists” do. Year after year they say “this summer the Pole will be ice-free.” Year after year they are dead wrong, yet the government showers them with money. Surely the Northabout deserves the same, if they too say “wait until next year.”

But…..(and forgive me for pouting just a little here)….what about me? Year after year I am dead right. What do I get?

(Sigh)…….nothing but abuse.


They continue to slog east-southeast. Making decent time, but the winds are starting to turn against them, and the going may be a bit rough tomorrow, I fear.

Northabout 21 Screen-Shot-2016-08-22-at-23.45.06-1024x824.png

From their blog:

“N71 13 E161 12 Pressure 1007, Water 6, air 0, UTC 20:30, 22 Aug, East Siberian Sea

Wind against us, so choppy seas. We also got the latest sat photo this morning and having to go further south even more to avoid the ice.

BUT slowly going East. Ice tomorrow I think.  The Irish in 2004 had a torrid time around here with the ice, so hoping we get better luck…”

Strong southeast breezes start blowing south of Wrangle Island tomorrow night and persist several days.

Northabout 21b gfs_mslp_uv10m_arctic_6


Yesterday the good ship had to assume a heading of due south and even southwest to avoid the southern edge of a tongue of ice. They got all the way down to latitude 70° north before turning east, and successfully negotiating the southern edge. Now they are plugging east at 9-10 kmh.

Finding ice so far south doesn’t further the assertion we are close to having an ice-free Pole this summer, but it does further my statement last spring that the ice had been pushed over to the Russian side. They hope to find smoother sailing on the North American side.

Coming so far south puts them further away from the tail end of the six months of “midnight sun” at the Pole, and they experienced actual night and saw their first stars in months. They also shared a truly marvelous photograph, with northern lights:

Northabout 23 сияние-1024x682

This picture, besides being beautiful, demonstrates how all the arguements about how the low “albedo” of September’s open waters means the water absorbs sunlight are hollow. The waters in the picture are losing heat, and warming the moonlight.

It looks to me as if south winds should push the ice ahead of them north, and clear their path to Barrow, though I’m sure they’ll take extra care at night to be on watch for stray bergs.

“Yesterday was very interesting, we plodded south to avoid the ice. I came up early to get ice on my watch. Oddly, with the sun in the right direction you get a thing called ‘Fata Morgana’ and the ice looks like towering ice cliffs. You can understand why the early explorers saw these cliffs and thought the route barred.

Then Sunset. Poor Constance had a full watch of dodging ice in the dark, thank goodness eating that bird seed has helped her night vision. Then our first star and a dazzling first display of the Aurora Borealis. What a day.

The new ice charts showed we were right to come south, and now just skirting the southern edge. Now hopefully a straight line to Point Barrow. Get those eastings up. Amazingly, the ice charts show how lucky we are, the Laptev sea is now closed behind us.”


18 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE -Northabout Can’t Shortcut-(Updated Tuesday)

  1. What you seem to be describing and what my own looks at the model progs seem to be saying is that an early refreeze season is going to clamp down on the high Arctic in a matter of a few weeks. I could be wrong, but if these Northabout sailors have any common sense, they should be very happy to make to Barrow in one piece and not press their luck any further.

    • I agree. At the very least they should get the woman and children off the boat. If you are going to risk, you should have a crew of hard-asses, who enjoy risk, and not involve people who dislike it.

      There is a difference between the people who make port a wonderful place to return to, and the people who make wild seas wonderful places to sail upon.

      I sort of doubt the captain will haul out at Barrow. After all, he has some people showing up there who are gung-ho to sail. I think he will look for some place on the coast of Canada to haul out. I doubt very much he thinks, or plans, to complete the voyage.

      If he makes it all the way through the Northwest Passage, he is a gutsy guy and deserves kudos, even if his sanity is questioned by some.

      If if wasn’t for gutsy people, we’d still live in caves.

      • Not really knowing how to use the comment section I will try to post this query to the author of this terrific blog following arctic ice, and that is hopefully you will keep a sharp eye on the cruise ship Crystal Serenity which is even now trying to take the Northwest Passage. She is about 20 hours east of Barrow right now and according to her bridge cam no ice in sight. I am wondering if based on your research you think this ship will skate through to Greenland passage or become stuck? If she skate through the press will scream how the ice is all gone, and if she is beset, well, then it will become interesting. In fact I hope she becomes beset in the next two weeks because then the news will be about the north and not national politics…..

  2. Looks like the Crystal Serenity is getting some help on its Northwest passage cruise. Meeting them for the passage is the RRS Ernest Shackleton

    “The RRS Ernest Shackleton will carry two helicopters for real-time ice reconnaissance, emergency support and flight-seeing activities. In addition to its robust ice navigation and communications equipment, the RRS Ernest Shackleton will have on board supplemental damage control equipment, oil pollution containment equipment, and survival rations for emergency use. The expedition crew comprises of expert guides with many years’ experience transiting the Northwest Passage and also a diver and support team trained in the use of the emergency equipment carried on board.”

    • Thanks. I doubt we’ll see many out in deck chairs, or in that pool. However the waters are interesting to watch. I’m glad I’m not out there, but it does give me sea-fever, for warmer waters.

    • At another site a fellow commented to me that on the other side of the Rockies from you, at a place called “Vernon”, they had some unusually wild weather yesterday, with shingles torn from roofs and a waterspout on the lake.

      When I looked on the weather maps I could see no big low pressure causing it, and felt mystified.

      • A picture may be worth a thousand words Caleb, but in your case the opposite is true!
        The above, in your case, constitutes a terse reply!
        Best wishes to you and yours, roger

      • Much prettier sight today with the snow off the camera.
        Vernon is in the Okanagan and the interior mountain valleys have their own unique weather. A lot of Calgary folks retire there for the mild climate so I don’t think yesterdays heat is strange. There is a big ridge over the gulf of Alaska and a trough by me which then put me on the cold side of the jet stream with the weather coming from the north. Vernon’s weather was likely a result of the shift in the jet stream / front coming through. We had wild ass winds all evening and it is still blowing hard. I looked out my wind and wondered where my lawn mower disappeared to and the wind had blown it down the walk way about 15 feet …. never saw that before but it got me scheming to start it up and somehow have the wind mow the lawn 😉
        A neighbours website … the airport sez 50 kilometre winds with gust over 60 KMP and I think it is windier at my house than the weather station.

  3. Very interesting.

    Nevertheless, you should read Marcel Leroux. You will understand that low pressure, and cyclones at higher latitude are due to de departure of Mobile Polar High. As a consequence, cyclones are not rising air but just void left by departing cold air masses organizing in vortex.

    Also, the Jet Stream is nothing but the consequence (and not the cause of anything) of the dynamic behaviour of of lower level polar air masses originating from the poles.

    The faster, colder (more dense), with more meridional trajectory those Mobile Polar Highs are, and the farther south you will find the jet stream.

    • Thanks. You described his views in a eloquent and concise manner. I like them, and your grasp.

      The problem with adopting any perspective or idea-of-how-the-climate-works is that there are occasions when the concept works superbly, and then comes the times when the theory, to put it mildly, sucks.

      The problem seems to be that brilliant minds attempt put-it-all-in-a-nutshell, but the atmosphere and the oceans and the seething sun simply do not fit in a nutshell.

      Still, as long as you don’t mind being wrong now and again, ideas such as Marcel Leroux’s are a great way of honing our sense of wonder over the amazing ways our Creator fit everything together.

    • You have really got me thinking. I haven’t really noticed much high pressure at all, so the phenomenon of a departing Mobile Polar High is completely under my radar. I have been completely focused on the various reinforcements, R1 through R17, feeding Ralph.

      I haven’t yet had the time to study Marcel Leroux’s ideas, but using your Reader’s Digest version it seems to me that his idea sees the departing Mobile Polar High as an oar that leaves whirls in its wake. (Obviously I studied the water, as I rowed boats, as a youth.)

      My initial impression, without going back to study maps, is that an exception to the rule Marcel Leroux has discovered is being revealed, by Ralph. There have simply been no departing Mobile Polar Highs, and therefore Ralph cannot be created by them.

      But, as I said, that is merely an initial impression. I need to verify. And I’d like to thank you for giving me some serious stuff to think about.

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