ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph Roars Back–

The persistence of low pressure, which I have dubbed “Ralph”, up at the Pole is starting to amaze me. I am wondering if I am the only one noticing it, as no one else seems to be fussing about it much. Or perhaps it is a pattern that meteorologists who have more experience than I have seen before. I can only observe what I observe, which is that I have seen lows roll up to the Pole before, but they seemed more like exceptions to the rule, whereas Ralph behaves like he owns the place.

I have been thinking we might see a change in the pattern as the midnight sun sinks to the horizon and gives way to noontime darkness, and for a time it did seem Ralph was fading away. After two remarkable gales in August, the low pressure faded and sulked down in the Canadian Archipelago, and it seemed Siberian monster high pressure might start to dominate, bulging north as low pressure resumed its usual stance in the North Atlantic, with weak pieces moving  east along the Siberian coast like dimples in the Siberian High Pressure. To my surprise the Siberian high pressure didn’t bulge north very far, and a weaker version of Ralph drifted about in Beaufort Sea. When we last left off, Ralph was being reinforced by R21 up through Hudson Bay, and R22, an Icelandic low escaping up the east coast of Greenland, sucking a sort of feeder-band of milder Atlantic air north over Svalbard. Even through Ralph was very weak, north of the Canadian Archipelago, he still owned the Pole more than Siberian high pressure did.

Although R21 developed lower pressure north of Baffin Bay, R22 brought above-freezing temperatures nearly to the Pole, and seemed to be the predominate feeder of Ralph, who one again reincarnated right on top of the North Pole.

As the reinvigorated Ralph drifted away from the Pole towards Beaufort Sea he grew surprisingly strong. In essence his winds were twisting the sea-ice in a manner exactly the opposite of the way the Beaufort Gyre is suppose to turn. It looked like high pressure north of Scandinavia might build behind Ralph, but then yet more Atlantic juice came up the east coast of Greenland as R23, yet another wrong-way-flow up through Fram Strait.  (It is still early, but usually north Atlantic Gales combined with high pressure on Greenland’s icecap create strong north winds and flush sea-ice south through Fran Strait in the autumn.)

(Missing AM map)

(Missing PM Map) At this point there is a cross-polar flow from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Above-freezing temperatures again have nearly reached the Pole.

(Missing PM Map) The next temperature map is of interest, for it shows a curl of milder temperatures right at the Pole. This sort of curl or whirl is very much associated with Ralph. Call it a Ralphism, if you will. To me it seems a sort of bathtub-drain is wide open at the Pole, and the planet’s heat is being sucked up into a cold black hole in space. Poetic, but not very scientific. Mostly an impression, as I keep observing it, over and over again.

As R23 headed over the Pole to fuel yet another reincarnation of Ralph, the usual suspects observed what supported their bias, and utterly ignored other evidence. For example, feeder-band flow of R22 and R23 created two warm spikes in polar temperatures, so of course that got noted. Also the wrong-way-flow meant that, rather than sea-ice crunching up against the north coasts of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, where it can form pressure ridges 15-20 feet thick, all that heaped-up ice was pushed away from shore and polynyas of open water appeared right along those coasts, so of course open water where ice is usually 15-20 feet thick was noted. But there was dead silence about the situation over in Barrow.

In Barrow the wrong-way-flow meant the usual east winds turned to west winds, which should be Pacific winds and mild, and should not bring sea-ice, because the maps the usual suspects like to use showed those waters to the north and west of Barrow were “ice-free.” The maps the usual suspects don’t like to look at did show there was ice in those waters, and sure enough the sea-ice came grinding up to the beaches and sand bars of Barrow. Nor was it new “baby-ice,” but rather the big bergs of multi-year-ice.


It should be noted that the above picture also shows Barrow’s first snowfall melting away, for R24 is starting to develop as the next reinforcement of Ralph, coming from the Pacific this time, somewhat moderated by some of it passing over Alaskan mountains. Ralph needs to turn to the Pacific for fuel, for he has moved so far away from the Atlantic that the Atlantic feed is gradually getting pinched off.

Somewhat amazingly, some computer models are showing that R24 will bring enough juice to allow Ralph to again be a sub 975 mb gale crossing over the pole. We’ll see about that. I should also say that the same models see Ralph fading down into Siberia, and in Ralph’s wake, around September 30, there may actually be high pressure at the Pole. (!) We’ll see about that, as well.

For the time being, Ralph is back in the news, and looks like he will be the headline for another week. He seems to be a sign our planet is in a hurry to get rid of heat. You can see R22 and R23 surging past the Pole in the temperature graph.


It might seem that the planet’s hurry to get rid of heat suggests it is in a hurry to be rid of Global Warming’s effects. It has occurred to me that is not what the planet would try to do. What the planet would try to do is even things out. If the planet was milder, it would be less inclined to even out that mildness by getting rid of heat. But if the planet was colder (perhaps due to the “Quiet Sun”), then there would be a greater urgency to get rid of leftover heat from past conditions, (perhaps a “Noisy Sun”.) What this would mean is that, once the planet gets rid of the heat, Ralph will lose his reason for being, and fade from the scene.

Just an idea.

In terms of the “Death Spiral” this past summer has been, at best, a “Death Flat Line”, for it hasn’t fed upon itself and resulted in ever-decreasing ice. Despite all the events that should have reduced the ice, (El Nino, Polar Gales, etc.), it is about what it was last year.


In any case, this is the last day of summer. Tomorrow the sun sets at the Pole. There is no way for open water to gain heat once the sun sets. It can only lose its heat, both through evaporation and through radiation, and also through having snow fall into the water, as long as the snow melts. (Sometimes snow just sits on the water, because the flakes are fresh water and the salt water can be chilled below the freezing point of fresh water. Obvious this creates treacherous conditions for unwary explorers.)


For six months now, the only way the Pole can get heat will be feeder bands of warm, moist air, which would be just the thing to keep Ralph spinning. So that is what I’ll sit back and watch for.

Rarely will these feeder bands be above freezing, so the best those-who-hope-the-ice-will-melt can hope for is that the feeder-bands will keep the ice from getting as thick as it otherwise would. The problem is that a continuation of Ralph would continue to smash and crash the ice, which builds more and thicker pressure ridges, and also rips open leads, which allows open water to freeze where it otherwise would be sheltered by a roof of ice.


Besides the thawing of snow in Barrow, the Pacific “feeder-bands” of R23 can also be seen as an after dark  blip of thaw (fairly rare) in O-buoy 14’s thermometer-graph.


The mass of sea-ice O-buoy 14 is with continues to be pushed east through Parry Channel. We even could see some distant mountains to the northeast around September 17-19.obuoy-14-0919-webcamobuoy-14-0919b-webcam

Since then the camera has swung around to look to the southwest, tilting and risking destruction in the process. We are lucky this sturdy buoy still survives. We apparently have lost the anemometer, but I give credit to the builder all the same.



10 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph Roars Back–

  1. The Arctic temp chart is interesting. With the almost constant hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions now occurring, I wonder if the little Arctic temp spikes can be traced to specific storms?

    Each tropical depression acts as a “mini El Niño”, extracting heat from the ocean and moving it to the atmosphere, and then to space, via the poles.

    • Geran the DMI Arctic temp chart is for north of 80 degrees so the far north and so u have to be careful when considering what forces / storms may effect it.
      I think most of the warm inflows are sourced around Svalbard and Russia / Siberia but that is just from watching and wondering … Caleb likely has more observational experience than I.

  2. I don’t know what your thoughts are for the upcoming winter around your way. In terms of my area of the mid-Atlantic, I had given up on our next winter, based on the forecasts of strong LaNina for next winter, plus the fact that the “warm blob” south of Alaska was weakening.

    LaNina generally means no southern storm track able to tap Gulf/south Atlantic moisture. The lack of the warm blob would inhibit ridging over NW Canada, and thus not allow the build up of massive, cold high pressure systems over central Canada that provide sufficient cold air for snow rather than rain in our region.

    In our area we have experienced above normal snowfall during the last 3 winters with that warm blob in place, so I believe it is important for us in the mid-Atlantic.

    But the warm blob has returned and now instead of strong LaNina, most winter forecasts have a worst a weak LaNina and at best, neutral conditions. So now I believe that normal to above normal snowfall is the Mid Atlantic is a more likely scenario.

  3. This is really interesting. After reading many of your Ralph posts I’m starting to get why this is unusual. Before I wasn’t used to looking at the pole in terms of changing lows and highs. To me it seemed like the weather was supposed to always be the same up there and that is how it seems to be reported. What are the links to those maps you use?
    Also enjoyed your post at WUWT ( well, same post as here but with more ‘colorful’ comments shall we we say).

    • I am now studying the Arctic Oscillation, “AO”, which is what I have been noticing with “Ralph”. (Ralph is a wrench in the works of the “Arctic Vortex” which people go on about, without understanding all that much.)

      I wish I could get a grant and just study this stuff to my heart’s content, but it is actually a hobby for my spare time, and spare time looks like it will be in short supply around here for a while.

      One thing I have seemed to notice is that much of the discussion of the atmosphere is in terms of a sort of grand macrocosm, and at times the nuts and bolts are occurring at the level of a microcosm. Rather than “can’t see the forest for the trees” it is a case of “can’t see the trees for the forest.”

      I know that is a very vauge impression, but its the best I can do right now.

      • I just looked at AO and it’s very interesting. Also it’s funny because the ‘polar vortex’ has just started being bandied about the last few years. Seems that a gross generality would be that we are in a positive AO right now which might explain the rapid sea ice gain of the last few weeks. If I had time I might look at the history of the AO vs. ice extent. 😉

      • “If I had time.” We, alas, don’t. But our young scientists do. We should nudge them away from political nonsense which leads up a blind alley, and towards the frontiers of obvious interest.

        AO versus ice extent is a good beginning. (Likely it has been done and sits, ignored, somewhere.)

        What I think is that we have a very incomplete understanding of the AO. What is understood to be the “positive” AO may in fact be a neutral AO. A truly “positive” AO cannot be understood until we observe one.

        In a tongue-in-cheek manner that is what I’m suggesting “Ralph” may be: Something we haven’t seen before.

        I’m currently working on a tongue-in-cheek rant to express this idea better. It is so silly I’m not sure I’ll dare print it, but may do it just for the fun of it.

  4. Hey Caleb, quick question for you. In addition to tracking DMI’s daily ice extent, I also watch their daily volume graph. I noticed this year that volume hit its minimum late this time, whereas it normally is climbing back up in advance of the extent minimum. You watch the ice more than I do – can you think of a reason why that happened this year? Any connection to the Ralph pattern?

    • Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I hadn’t thought about it, but bet it has to do with the ice being so shattered by storms. That makes it all the harder to measure the volume, because there are not nice, neat expanses of ice to measure.

      We haven’t had many good ground-level views of the situation up there with the O-buoys taking such a beating this year, but the views we have had seem to see thicker bergs, scattered more. I’ll bet is harder than heck to get a good average volume when some of the volume is spread out in an area that registers as “ice free”. Yet we have seen that. (One of the reason the sea-ice has made such a swift recovery is some of the “ice-free” area actually had ice, and thick ice at that, albeit widely spread.)

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