ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph’s Retirement–

Ralph is feeling neglected.  Here he has been pummeling the Pole since last Christmas, but does he get any attention? No. Some dinky little trace gas gets all the headlines. Little wonder Ralph is sulking.

Poor Ralph. I’ll give him a bit of credit here. I’ve never seen sea-ice look like this from space:

Ralph7 2 26

Or like this:

Ralph7 1 28

Usually these sweeping sand-bar-like curves of ice are only seen at the edge of the ice-pack, where it meets the open sea. They create a floating geology reminiscent of barrier islands along a sandy coast, but just in from there the sea-ice usually reverts to angular chips, squares, rectangles and triangles, that look like “chips” from outer space, but that can be larger than Connecticut or many Manhattans. This year it is harder to find such ice, and when you do you notice the ice has been rounded and is less angular :


In essence, the geology of the sea-ice is very different this September, due to Ralph’s pounding. This should clue people into the pretty simple idea that, if the ice looks so different, something different might be happening. It seems odd to me that some of the “Death Spiral” crowd keep bleating the same old stuff, (but I suppose you shouldn’t expect any new ideas from parrots in an echo chamber).

The difference is fairly clear when you compare this years low ice extent  with 2012’s extent on the same date. (2012 to left, 2016 to right.)


It can be seen that in 2012 the ice was more centralized, while this year there are long arms of ice that spread out to Barrow, Wrangle Island, The New Siberian Islands and right into the Laptev Sea. This year the ice covers a much larger area, though if you measure the pixels of white, there are many openings and gulf of open water this year that make it look, in a specific manner, as if the area is nearly the same as 2012.


I want to avoid the arguments about how extent indicates how much sunlight is reflected away into space, for now, because my focus is how extraordinarily different the ice-geology is.  In some ways comparing this September’s sea-ice with 2012’s is like comparing apples with oranges.

Although I hadn’t named Ralph yet, the storminess at the Pole began last Christmas, and cracked up the skin of ice at the Pole a lot. Each time the vast leads formed (and some were many miles across) heat was released from the Arctic Ocean from seawater which would have otherwise been protected by an igloo roof of ice. I have heard very little discussion about how this effected the DMI graph of temperatures above 80 degrees north, which showed many spikes last winter. The general assumption seems to be that these spikes were entirely due to warm surges of air from the south. (Just before Christmas in 2015, off the graph below to the left, the red line was below the green line.)


To me it seems downright naive to suggest that all of the spikes were 100% caused by atmospheric warming. Not that I didn’t note and follow surges of warmth heading north, but the mildness cooled with amazing speed once they were up there (or likely rose up in the atmosphere), and meanwhile big leads were ripped open in the ice. (The scars were very apparent when the sun returned in late March, and the area close to the Pole was so crisscrossed with pressure-ridges and leads that the Barneo base had to be located far from the Pole, to find ice flat enough for a blue-ice jet-port.) I would like to suggest that, besides the atmospheric warming from the south,  the open water contributed to the warmth at the Pole.

Now consider, if you will, that the warming that made this year “the warmest year evah” occurred largely at the North Pole. And also consider that, if the warming comes from the water below, it’s origin has nothing to do with CO2 bouncing back warming from above. Can you not see the potential for a delicious irony here? “The warmest year evah” might have nothing to do with CO2 and little to do with the residual warmth of an El Nino, and might largely be due to good old Ralph!

(Please do not think that I dignify the above idea by calling it a “hypothesis”. It is my understanding that to even qualify as a hypothesis some data must be offered, which can be tested to see if it can be replicated. And I’m not too good, when it comes to data. Fact of the matter is, when my bank teller sees me coming she rolls up her sleeves even when she’s sleeveless, and she always cocks an eyebrow in a querulous manner when I hand her the deposit slip, for she knows she is about to embark upon adventures in arithmetic.)

Instead I am simply an observer, and a witness, who wonders a lot. When I see Ralph creating a completely new ice-geology, I wonder what is different. Something must be different to create a different geology.

Also to create a different quasi-biennial oscillation. (IE: The winds up in the stratosphere, that shift from west to east and back in a regular manner, roughly every 28 months, and did so 27 straight times since 1953 (when they began measuring it,) and then recently decided to try something new:)


When things behave differently I look around for a culprit, and the only culprit obvious to me is not CO2, whose tiny change didn’t start behaving differently recently, but rather is the sun, which is the opposite of tiny, and has changed dramatically from a “Noisy Sun” to a “Quiet Sun.”

Again without a decent hypothesis, I wonder if Ralph, and the loopy, “meridional” circulation that fuels Ralph, might not be due to an imbalance created by the southern oceans still remembering the “Noisy Sun” as the Pole swiftly adjusts to the “Quiet Sun”.

I can wonder all I want; without data it is just speculation. However I do wonder why those with scientific backgrounds seem so oblivious. They ought be jumping on these differences and running with the new data like a football player who has scooped up a fumble. (And someone did fumble, because no one seems to have seen these differences coming.)

Before I get into the duller details of the daily maps, I should note that even where the water is officially “ice-free” (IE; less than 10%, 15% or 30% ice-covered, depending on the source),  there seems to be a fair number of stray chunks of sea-ice drifting about. These are not the huge bergs that break off glaciers, but hunks of sea-ice, and they surprise me by not being the flat pans that barely poke above the water, but rather large, which means something when you consider 9/10th of a berg is under water.

These stray bergs tend to be too small to be seen by satellite, but I’ve seen them often in “ice-free” waters. I’ve seen them grounding off shore with the Barrow webcam, (August 21)


I’ve seen them from the deck of the good ship “Northabout”, (Coastal East Siberian Sea, August 24)


And most especially I’ve seen them from the only surviving drifting buoy, the durable O-buoy 14.

(It should tell you something about the wrath of Ralph, that so many drifting buoys have been crunched by the ice. The Mass Balance Buoys made a brave attempt at recovering lost data during the calmer part of the summer, but all are out of action now, and O-buoys 8b, 13 and 15 all bit the dust early.)

O-buoy 14 currently reports from the entrance of Parry Sound, so I expect a lot more views of ice, and perhaps even land, if it survives, (it has already staggered back from two knock-outs). But back when it was further west and reporting from “ice-free waters” it sent us this lovely shot of what I am talking about.

Obuoy 14 0831C webcam

That is the sort of beauty that originally attracted me to arctic sea ice, but the sun has been rare this summer, with Ralph on the rampage. To be honest, fair and balanced, I should also add that winds picked up and O-buoy 14 was showing ice-free waters three days later:

Obuoy 14 0903B webcam

Is that land, beyond the distant ice? Couldn’t be sure, as we were knocked off the air for a while by this brute:

Obuoy 14 0904 webcam

However now the view is this:


And if we push east any further into Parry Sound I suspect we’ll soon be frozen fast. The summer thaw is over.

I am wondering if all these big bergs drifting about will speed the refreeze, acting as sort of seed-crystals for surface refreezing, even while resisting basal melt with their sheer size. Also the water must be churned and chilled by all Ralph’s roaring, and by how much water has been exposed to the wind.

When we last were looking, Ralph was fed by a plume of milder air from central Siberia, as he resumed his stance as king-of-the-mountain on the Pole. R19 advanced north from the Atlantic.

As Ralph began to weaken towards the Canadian Archipelago R20 began to move north from the Kara Sea as R19 strengthened east of Svalbard. Ralph could see how things were headed, so he hopped in a lifeboat to make R19 the new flagship and new Ralph.


Missed some maps here. The new Ralph has moved over to the Pole, and the -5°C isotherm has appeared north of Greenland.

By the 4th the -5°C isotherm was growing north of Greenland, and Ralph was growing tired of everyone neglecting him. He saw a luxtury liner down in the Northwest Passage and, because the wealthy folk on board were talking about a trace gas and not him, Ralph snowed on its decks. Then he decided, “If I can’t beat them I’ll join them.” The last report we got from Ralph was, “I’ve got a berth on the Fistula Surgery.” (Ralph may have gotten the name of the ship wrong.) (I have no idea where Ralph got the $15,000.00 for the berth.)



I am fairly certain the crew of the good ship Northabout is not going to be happy to find Ralph sulking down there, when they head north towards the eastern mouth of Parry Sound. The -5°C isotherm is getting extensive, and Ralph seems to be wrapping it up in the Canadian Archipelago. It was 21°F (-6.1°C) up in Eureka this morning, and 23°F (-5°C) in Alert. Summer is past, at the Pole.

34 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph’s Retirement–

  1. The melt combined with strong winds (because of ‘Ralph’) meant a mixing of the upper layer that (1) melted the ice but in the same time (2) cooled the water which can be seen at today’s Nullschool image:,90.88,466/loc=176.278,84.264
    The cooled water in combination with the scattered ice can lead to a more rapid recovery of the ice this winter season as soon as temperatures drop.

    As you explained, ‘Ralph’ has everything to do with the above. But I want to point at a more general pattern: the seas surrounding the South Pole show exactly the opposite. All the seas surrounding the South Pole have a pattern of a cold anomaly, already during months. The reverse of what is seen in the seas surrounding the North Pole ice area. They are all highly anomalous warm.

    Low pressure area’s (as ‘Ralph’) suck up air from the surface, the most in the centre. They get that surface air from somewhere outside the centre of the depression. This means an inward flow of air in the pole region, stimulating warm surface waters to centre around the North Pole area’s: the warming you see in today’s Nullschool image. Because of the warm water they attracted to the surroundings of the pole, pole depressions also import warmer surface air to the pole region which stimulated this year’s ice melt. The ice melt was relatively lowering the surface temperature during the summer melt because melting requires energy, making summer temperatures being not to high. Ralph’ clouds prevented surface warming by the sun as well. I don’t know when ‘Ralph’ started, but in the temperature graph shown above from day 100 temperatures are warmer as usual untill the summer.

    During the last months I saw at the South Pole a continuing high pressure system with at the surface outward cold winds, cooling the seas around. Exactly the reverse from the north. What’s happening? Is this pattern part of a ‘warm wave north’, possibly followed by a ‘warm wave south’? Part of an oscillation? Or is it part of a longer term change? Or just the ever changing ‘weather’?

    • Some of the SST maps of the Pole are based on models and have a definite warm bias. I’ve seen ice-choked waters be a couple degrees “above normal”, which always makes me wonder, as ice-water is, by definition, as cold as it can be. Also measurements from yachts don’t match the maps.

      One irony is that scientists labored long doing dangerous work, to get buoys in place on the sea-ice, including buoys that had ingenious gizmos underneath running up and down cables to measure the temperature and salinity at various levels. After all this effort, which showed that the water was stratified differently than other oceans, with a “freshwater lens”, along comes “Ralph” and basically messes everything up. Not only were buoys bashed, but the water was churned, and I have little doubt the “freshwater lens” is greatly altered.

      That Ralph! What a rascal!

      Thanks for sharing.

      • “Some of the SST maps of the Pole are based on models and have a definite warm bias.”

        WR: Which maps do you think give the most realistic view?

      • To be honest, I am a terrible cynic, and have problems with all the maps. I do look at the NRL and DMI maps, because I figure the Navy and Denmark have actual people involved on ships and therefore have a reason not to stray too far into pure theory and politics. However best is actual data from buoys and boats. The buoys deserve funding, even if they did all get bashed this year.

        My vote for absolute worst SST map is this one from NOAA:

  2. Caleb – note that on a mid day update the Naughtyboat is surprised that it is 0 C in the arctic in September … although they report 7.8 C water temp.
    I checked and the temps are close to average for the time of year (30 year average).

    How are u making out with the back to school madness? Just up the meds 😉

    • That water temperature is a surprise. Likely it is a thin layer atop colder water; perhaps a “freshwater lens”.

      They are still along the southern route. It is when they turn north that things should get interesting.

      There is one narrow channel they might be able to sneak through only half way up to Parry Sound. That would avoid a lot of ice and save time.

      They are in a real race with the refreeze.

      Looks like you rubbed Tony Heller’s fur the wrong way. Don’t worry. I’ve done it too. He works very hard, and likely deserves more honey than he gets. He’s sick of criticism, and I don’t blame him. So I walk on eggs when I think I see a mistake.

      The farm-daycare is doing fine, and the kids are great, but the state regulators came by and found all sorts of “i”s we didn’t dot and “t”s we didn’t cross.

      Is this why I pay taxes? To hire people to come and annoy me? Grrrr.

    • Yes, of course. I should have thought of that word.

      I have an amateur interest in geology, the same way I have an interest in meteorology, and I cannot help but notice the similarity in the way the ice moves and creates formations, compared to various formations you see in geology. So my mind just jumped to the word “ice-geology.”

      Also I have a negative association with the word “cryosphere”, which is foolish and which I should get over. Cryology itself is fascinating, whatever I may think of certain individuals involved in the subject, who are like rotten apples in a barrel full of good ones.

      • Understandably given the tendency of those terms to be glommed on to by people trying to scare others, but I’ve never been one to give up a good word because some jerk decided they wanted to use it.

      • Amen to that. But words do change. “Fantastic” used to mean weird, freaky, and unnatural, and still does in parts of India. Not to mention the change in the word “gay” since I was young. There must be word-wars going on behind the scenes, as people battle over what means what. (Hmm. Does “what” still mean “what”, this week?)

        I am getting pretty conservative in my old age, and stand by my dictionary and thump it. If liberals allow “freedom of definition” a situation like the Tower of Babel will develop. So fight the good fight.

        ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
        All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.

        ‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
        The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
        Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
        The frumious Bandersnatch!’

        He took his vorpal sword in hand:
        Long time the manxome foe he sought —
        So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
        And stood a while in thought.

        And, as in uffish thought he stood,
        The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
        Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
        And burbled as it came!

        One two! One two! And through and through
        The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
        He left it dead, and with its head
        He went galumphing back.

        ‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
        Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
        Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
        He chortled in his joy.

        ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
        All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.

  3. Are there any other Arctic summers you know of, so dominated by low pressure?

    It makes me less concerned about the summer ice mins, if it is just a big game related to a given weather pattern. Just a chance for alarmists to mindlessly beat their chests because the summer has been unusually stormy. I don’t see how cold, stormy weather and out of season snowfall is indicative of global warming.

    • That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer. I need to look through old maps, but of course maps don’t go back all that far, and even the maps we have now involve an element of guess-work. We’d enter the world of proxies, and we have seen how dangerous that can be, as wish-fulfillment can make it like reading tea-leaves.

      All I can say is that I have never seen the likes of the current situation, speculating from my armchair.

      Of course, one could say the same thing about each and every snowflake. And each and every fingerprint. Weather is full of what someone once called “sumptuous variety.”

      Entering the landscape of conjecture, I am fairly certain similar patterns did occur in the past, during other times the sun went “Quiet.” Even during the Little Ice Age there are reports of patterns that flushed a lot of ice from the Pole and gave whalers ice-free waters to venture out into, and reports of mild summers in the midst of cold decades.

      My sense is that the factors that lead to more or less ice at the Pole have very little to do with CO2, and, if we had satellite records back to the time of the Vikings, there would be certain recognizable patterns. A person might be able to look at the state of the cryology (or the ice-geology) the same way one looks at a weather map, and be able to say what likely came before, and what was likely to come after. However we, at this point in time, lack that knowledge, and that means we stand on a frontier. We are seeing things for the first time, which is very cool.

  4. Nice post as usual! Ralph reminds me of a giant version of the stone polisher I had as a kid. You put in jagged stones and out came smooth rounded versions a few months later after they had been beaten up with the grit and other stones. Ralph was much more exciting to watch than my old stone polisher though.

    • Glad you liked it!

      What I’d be curious to see is what the “stone-polisher” did to the water temperatures, as it stirred the ice. Too bad Ralph wrecked so many buoys.

      When the ice is stable and the buoys have a platform to work upon they are able to learn some fascinating things about how the Arctic Ocean functions, and how it stratifies in ways like no other ocean.

      When the ocean is stirred greatly by strong winds I imagine that stratification is changed, and perhaps an entirely different pattern of circulation is established.

      Much to wonder about.

  5. Looking at your best buddy Ralph this AM it looks like he will chill the Naughtyboat but push them along nicely on their route through the arctic archipelago. Interesting stuff and I think we are right at the bottom of ice melt and it is all increasing from here. Been wrong about that before though 😉
    Weird … heard tapping at my window just now and there are a bunch of wasps walking on the glass and intermittently flying at it …. like a Hitchcock or Stephen King story with the beasties trying to break through the window and strip my bones clean 😦 hopefully the glass holds up. If I don’t post again u know they got me!!
    First frost in Alberta yesterday AM at places north and west of Calgary but just barely below freezing and not enough to hurt plants but it is coming soon. Warmer weather is predicted for the next week as the Pacific air masses dominate things.

    • I’m hoping the Northabout squeaks through. It would be rough to get locked in by the ice, and pretty embarrassing as well. I’m not like the folk who seemingly hope they die, for political reasons. They don’t seem too terribly political. They even point backwards at the ice slamming the door shut behind them in the west of the Laptev Sea, and mention how lucky they were to sneak through. You wouldn’t do that, if you had the mentality of the DeathSprialist. (That’s a new word I just invented.)

      Insects get odd in the fall. They know their days are numbered, I think. Around here a kind of wasp called “yellow jackets” suddenly gets an insatiable appetite for fruit. If you take a bite out of an apple and put it down, next thing you know wasps are crawling over the bitten part. I have to watch the kids, to make sure they don’t get stung. I wasn’t watching my soft drink, and one climbed inside the can. Fortunately I have a mustache, which hid how absurd my stung lip looked.

      According to Joe Bastardi the east coast is set up for a mild fall and late frosts, while the cold plunges down the Rockies at first. It could stay mild right into December here. Then it gets nasty from January on. That is fine with me. The more time I have to get ready for winter the better.


      • That has been our weather pattern down here in the DC area, that December is mild and green, that winter does not start until January. A friend of mine used to say that DC had a “two week winter”, which is correct for many years.

        I find it a bit depressing that when everyone is singing “Jingle Bells” in December and looking forward to a “Winter Wonderland”, it is 60 or even 70 degrees. Then when we are looking forward to spring in February and March, that is when we get our snow.

      • Often a winter that gets off to a fast start runs out of gas and the second half is milder. It is hard to get a pattern that can last, because if a lot of snow-cover builds in the east it tends to generate high pressure and can alter the jet stream.

        The most enduring cold I can recall was the winter of 1976-1977, which began in November and wouldn’t quit. It got ordinary in February, but by that time ordinary seemed really mild.

        The thing about snow in December is that it can last on the ground longer, because the sun is so low and has so little power. Up here people hardly bother with the April snows, because the sun is as high as it is in late August, and melts it away, even through clouds.

    • If you are a bad person, then I am one too. That Antarctic fiasco really was a “ship of fools”, in many ways. However as long as no one actually dies, I think we don’t have to feel guilty about gloating.

      My feeling about small boats is different. At some point it gets through to sailors that the ocean doesn’t give a flying flip about our politics, our race, our gender, or our bank account. Back to basics. And in such a situation BS gets dropped, and Truth matters. You get a honesty that is all too rare, in the modern world, from small craft on a Big Sea.

      • For sure! Just ask Joshua Slocum or Sir Francis Chichester.Not only a small boat ,but single handed to boot…I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of this event that takes place every four years. This will keep me pretty well glued here for three months.The coverage is usually excellent..(as if you needed something to occupy your time)

      • I did get a chance to go on a long sail as a teenager and it changed the way I thought about a lot of things.

        I have heard about the round-the-world race. I’m not in that league, but do admire from afar. I’m not sure I could stand being alone that long.

  6. “…but I suppose you shouldn’t expect any new ideas from parrots in an echo chamber.”

    Perfect description!

    Caleb, do you know the altitudes of the satellites in the first three photos? (I don’t expect you to do any extra work. If you know quickly, great. But if not, could you give me some links so I can do the research myself. I’ll be happy to report back any info I find.)

    • O-buoy 14 used to show us scattered bergs, some quite large, in an “ice-free” area, but it has drifted steadily east, (opposing the usual flow of the Beaufort Gyre), and now has moved right into the western mouth of Parry Channel….or is it Parry Sound. In any case, it is in an ice-jam now and we have to keep our fingers crossed it doesn’t get crushed in the jumbling ice of a pressure ridge.

      • For some reason my computer rejected this link. I went and looked at some stuff on YouTube.

        Bjorn Lomborg has my respect for daring to stand up to the establishment, and putting up with quite a bit of backlash, but he accepts IPPC ideas I have my doubts about. (As a social scientist he may lack some of the disciplines pure scientists and engineers demand.)

        In any case, he accepts a two degree rise in temperatures caused by man, where I feel that is more likely a half degree, and may very well be overwhelmed by natural cooling caused by the “Quiet Sun” over the next 30 years, and the threat mankind faces may very well be more like a “Little Ice Age” than a “climate optimum”.

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