ARCTIC SEA ICE –Archie-Ralph–

There have been some interesting developments up at the Pole, where the low pressure I dubbed “Ralph” has reappeared in a new guise. When I last posted Ralph had slumped down into the Canadian archipelago, as high pressure dominated the Pole.

I was even thinking of renaming Ralph “Archie”, ( short for “archipelago”), because he seemed different; completely cut off from the Atlantic moisture that had fed him for so long. However Ralph would not be denied. If he couldn’t be fed up the east side of Greenland, then he’d develop a sneaky flow up the west side, through Nares Strait and the islands of the Archipelago.

At first the “warm sector” of the new Archie-Ralph was hidden down in the islands of the archipelago, and further south towards Hudson Bay. Anyway, nearly all eyes were more focused on the other side of Archie-Ralph, which was starting to transport bitter cold Siberian air across Bering Strait, and develop a mean-looking pool of cold over Alaska, that glowered south towards at Canada and the USA (and eventually made such threatening faces that it even made the Drudge Report, without the cold actually doing anything.) Only truly dedicated sea-ice fanatics payed attention to the warm side of Archie-Ralph.

By November 29 the first sign of Ralph’s “signature” began to appear north of the Archipelago out on the Arctic Sea, in the temperature maps, as Archie-Ralph gnawed away at the high pressure over the Pole.

By November 30 an obvious point of milder temperatures appears in the temperature map north of the Archipelago

Today the high pressure seems to be giving up. Perhaps it is time to reassess the forecasts of a building negative Arctic Oscillation.


While the AO remains negative, it did not achieve the depths some thought it would plunge to, and I think Ralph is largely to blame. One way or another he keeps transporting mild air to the Pole, where it rises and creates low pressure at the surface. I’m not certain how much of the mild air aloft is directly attributable to Ralph and Archie-Ralph, for I’m a down-to-earth fellow, and like to stay clear of 500 mb maps, and 10 mb maps are way over my head.

To be quite honest, even the AO mystifies me, for as best as I can tell it is the average pressure north of 65° north latitude minus your postal code times the amount the home team lost by on Sunday, (though I may have gotten a few of the details wrong.) To me it blends all the interesting details away by averaging. For example, a negative AO suggests high pressure rules the Pole, but the map shows Archie-Ralph sitting there.


Furthermore, Archie-Ralph has a most definate Ralph-signature now, in the temperature maps.


Once Ralph starts slurping, the whirlpool seems to start to draw in air from other sources. Looking at the above map I wonder if a little Atlantic air might be getting sucked in north of Greenland, so I jump ahead 24 hours, to see what the model sees in its crystal ball.


At this point it looks a little like the Atlantic might be trying to join in with Hudson Bay, as a feed for Archie-Ralph,  but the headlines will all be about the south side of Archie-Ralph, towards Bering Strait. Although it looks “warm” there that is because the water is open (though rapidly freezing) or the ice is thin (though rapidly thickening) and therefore is able to warm a thin level of air right at the surface, despite it being bitter cold as it streams off Siberia. As soon as it reaches Alaska the thin layer gets mixed and the true nature of the air mass again shows its face. I wonder if all this cold air will cut Archie-Ralph off from mild sources, to I jump ahead 24 more hours:


Mild air has definitely pushed over the Pole, even as the Pacific side shudders. Check 24 hours further:


Now we are definitely seeing Ralph’s signature. 24 hours further?


And there we have it, another finger of Atlantic moisture and “mildness” (well below freezing, of course,)  again swirling on top of our planet. At this point we are out at the edge of model reliability, but the map looks like this:


Likely the news will be the cold air pouring south through Canada, or that big gale over Norway, but if you are a sea-ice fanatic like me you’ll notice Ralph again sits on the Pole. Likely there will be another spike in the DMI temperature graph, which currently has paused its plunge:


It will be interesting to watch the next spike, as I think it is indicative of how much heat our planet is squandering, even before the first day of winter. Among my fellow sea-ice watchers there will likely be some dismay, as the ice will be slower to thicken to the north, and slower to skim over in some places to the south, but it should be remembered that winter hasn’t even started, and also that mildness to the north usually means cold is displaced south. Usually we don’t get the rare pictures of the sun-baked deserts of Saudi Arabia being dusted by snow until late December or January, but here are some pictures from last week, (when it was still November:)


(I have to run to work and then a meeting, but hope to further update this post this evening.)


A quick glance at the NRL maps shows that the ice continues to grow at the Pole, despite all the fuss about warmer temperatures up there. “Warmer” is a relative term,  and, as the above maps show, “warmer” can involve temperatures that are below zero Fahrenheit, (-17° C), which can grow sea-ice in a hurry, and even faster than colder temperatures, if wind is involved.

With the cold air making Drudge Report headlines, blasting its way from Siberia to Alaska, we can expect to see Bering Strait freeze over swiftly. Further south, other cold, Siberian air spilling out over the Pacific has started growing ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. The falling temperatures over the Arctic continues to grow ice in the eastern Kara Sea. But what interests me most is not growing ice, but the lack of ice, in Hudson Bay. This shows the path of the feed of milder air north, in that area, which refueled “Ralph”.



Although the sea-ice ended the summer thicker than normal up at the Pole, “Ralph’s” appetite for streams of milder air has slowed the thickening of ice to a point where the sea-ice up there is much thinner than normal.


However thinner ice, and even ice-free waters, are not warmed by sunshine, for the sun doesn’t even rise above the 70° N latitude circle in the above map. (The second circle out from the Pole.) The DMI temperature graph (see above) only includes temperatures within the 80° N latitude circle, (the smallest circle), and by referring to above maps you’ll see the coldest temperatures along both the Alaskan and Siberian coasts are completely missed by that DMI graph.

Considering all areas north of 70° N experience noontime starlight, and will continue to do so until February, the issue of “albedo” doesn’t apply. In fact Saudi Arabia will reflect more sunshine, (with the albedo of snow covered sands), in the six hours it takes for the snow to melt, than the Pole will reflect in the next 60 days.

What thinner ice (and ice free waters, until they skim over), will allow is for the waters of the Arctic Sea to lose more heat than they would, if they were sheltered by a thicker igloo of sea-ice.  Consequently, because the water has lost more heat, the water should become colder. Then, because ice largely melts from beneath, it may not matter that the ice is thinner above, if the melting is slower below, next summer. But that is a long way ahead, and we still don’t even know how much thicker the ice will get once winter actually begins. We may be witnessing the water being chilled in the fall, before the ice gets thicker in the winter.

Stay tuned.



12 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Archie-Ralph–

  1. Looks based on the weather models that much of the US is going to be in for a cold shock by late next week, especially after such a mild Autumn.

    • It does, but there are still some “ifs”. One thing Joe Bastardi pointed out is that the Canadian Model is coming up with some very different solutions. Not that the Canadian isn’t often wrong, but it does make you think twice, and not just assume that what the GFS model sees is a done deal.

      In any case, it looks like the cold will crash into the west first. In the east we’ll have some time to panic before it gets to our coast towards the end of next week. I’ve got a lot to get done. One we get snow cover this far north we can go three months or more before we see bare ground again.

  2. I really appreciate your down to earth and logical analysis. Your view of milder than common temperatures in the Arctic as squandering heat makes far more sense than other suggestions I’ve read. With 24hour darkness it is not even possible for open sea to absorb more sunshine and the low angle even in summer is more likely to reflect from open water.
    In NZ we are hoping we might get summer this year. Not a good start so far with heating on again at home and office.

    • Thanks. I appreciate your report from down under. I hope you get summer, and fewer earthquakes.

      You really seem to see the weakness of the albedo arguments, concerning the lack of sea-ice at the North Pole. By the time the water is open, the sun is low or even setting. By the time the sun comes up again, the ice is all back. (This year it will be covered with more snow, due to “Ralph”, and snow-covered ice has a higher albedo than blue ice.)

  3. See what happens when politics gets involved in “weather?” We have been sanctioning the Russian economy, so they decided to export frigid air to us for free. Darn politics!

  4. Dumb question … do u know how many stations / data points go into the DMI 80 graph and where they are?
    Hudson Bay is getting interesting with Churchill at -18C this AM and so a rapid freeze may be underway. Especially since all the forecasts are for even colder temps in central N America over the next several weeks. I even saw some of the dreaded -40’s in an article that was talking about the Alaska cold (Fairbanks at -29F) … interesting stuff.

    • I don’t how many ground stations give data for the maps. I always wonder about that, not just with the DMI maps, but also the “intitial” maps that go into the GFS, European, Canadian JEM and other models. I know they have some buoys up there, but not all that many. I assume some data is from satellites high above the sea-ice. But I’ve been troubled by doubts, especially when the O-buoys gave reading that differed from maps. (One somewhat amusing thing is that the models move on to creating maps for the future that are very detailed, and involve tiny eddies and swirls. I strongly doubt the veracity of such detail, when it is founded on such a lack of detail.)

      It does look like some monster cold could be sliding down the east side of the Rockies. I’ll be watching to see if one of those Chinook fronts develops along the spine of the mountains, and which side of it you are on.

      • No chinook for us for a while as old man winter has western Canada by the short and curlies for the next week. The temperature is to fall like a head shot duck tonight and then it is all -20s at night and maybe into the – teens in the daytime. Snowfall warning and puking snow as I type …. let the wintertime fun / playing in the snow begin. I am off to my Fernie shack tomorrow to resume this seasons gravity research 😉

        May the force be with me!

        Once these heavy, cold arctic air masses get established they are hard to displace and so I wouldn’t be surprised to be in the deep freeze for the next month or more. But hey, its Canada & cold is what we do best.

        re the swirls etc we would have got beaten like rented mules for creating maps with more detail than the data base it is based on but those rules are cancelled for the imaginings of computer mapping programs which seem to specialize in fantasy.

  5. What, no “Ralphetta”? To be PC, aren’t you supposed to alternate between genders?


    And, I caught your latent humor again, “…and 10 mb maps are way over my head.”

    Keep it up!

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