ARCTIC SEA ICE –Midwinter (updated)

January is completed, and though the heart of the winter has past, and the days are getting longer in a way one can notice (as opposed the dark days when they only seem to be getting longer in theory), winter grows grimmer. The blows have had their effect. It is like the late rounds of a brutal boxing match. Early on, the champion laughed at the jabs, and mocked, “Is that the best you’ve got?” Now those same jabs are starting to make the champ’s head spin, and he staggers.

The lakes that once remembered summer’s warmth have frozen over, and the snow sifts over thick ice.  The Arctic Sea is choked with thick floes, squealing and grinding and piling up in the stormy darkness. To the south the open seas, lashed by bitter winds, are far colder.

I have to remind myself that the SST anomaly maps show cherry red even when sea temperatures are steadily sinking. It is helpful to compare the current map with the map of last July.  (July to left, January to right.)


It is not only that the sea-ice has expanded in places like Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, Bering Straight, and down the east coast of Greenland. The northern waters are far colder, especially in the North Pacific, but also in the Atlantic. Even the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the USA has been reduced from a tendril colored tangerine to a shadow of its summer self, colored lime-yellow.

The north has lost all the strength summer imparted, and is being turned from an entity that remembers summer to an entity that knows the power of cold, like a boxer in the 15th round.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains,

In a sense the north has been converted. It has turned from an entity that resisted the onslaught of winter into an entity that resists the return of spring.

I try to keep this in mind, when I turn to the SST anomaly maps, to note where waters are above normal. For example, when I notice the waters have “warmed” (in terms of anomalies) off the east coast of the USA in the past month, I keep in mind they are actually cooler, (in terms of actual temperatures.)  (January 2 to left, January 30 to right)

There have been a series of warm blobs or surges of air transported up from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico clear past Iceland and Svalbard to the North Pole, interfering with the chilling of the Gulf Stream, giving Greenland unprecedented snows,  and the Pole subfreezing temperatures far less cold than normal.

At the same time the above-normal water is fading in Bering Strait and along the south coast of Alaska, as the so-called “Warm Blob” fades, and the cold PDO struggles to reestablish itself. I say “struggles” because I hypothesize the “Quiet Sun” is slowing the Trade Winds, and henceforth the northern part of the cold PDO can’t link up with a strong La Nina (which I was expecting) for the La Nina looks like it is fading and another El Nino may be attempting to form (which one might expect, with weaker Trade Winds, but I failed to foresee it).

In any case, we are arriving at a sort of lull of ebb-tide between the onrush of winter and the onrush of spring. Down where I live in New Hampshire the temperatures bottom out around January 19, but further north it is later, as the sunless dark lasts longer.  In the upper atmosphere I recall reading temperatures tend to bottom out in early February, but down on the sea-ice it isn’t until the end of the month. (Green line in Graph below.)


The red line shows temperatures remain well above normal, as the meridional pattern sends milder air north to be squandered to the depths of dark outer space. It demonstrates that all the sub-freezing “mildness” of the last Atlantic surge was just as swiftly “disappeared.” A new surge is now developing, less impressive as it had to squeeze through Bering Strait and is largely Pacific in origin, (And Pacific waters are colder, as we’ve seen.)

When I last posted on January 20 a huge surge had come north right over Greenland, giving them amazing snows, and fueled the phenomenon of low pressure I call “Ralph” at the Pole.  Ralph was a sub 960 mb storm, but looked like he was fading, as a sort of secondary stole his energy and collapsed south towards Russia.


Some maps are missing here, as I was busy at work, and when I returned to look I was surprised to see Ralph had retained his identity, and was even strengthening. I cursed the fact I was too busy to see how this happened. It seemed that Ralph’s secondary, even while sinking and fading into western Siberia, still fed his father. Also a high built over Scandinavia in that low’s wake, and the west side of that high began a new feed of Atlantic air north.

That new feed of Altantic air sent a new series of blobs of low pressure north to Ralph


I was busy at work again, and missed saving the maps that show how this new feed blew up into yet another sub-960 mb gale. The winds were so strong on the south side of this gale that a lot of sea-ice was not only crushed to the east side of the Kara Sea, but squeezed between the islands and the mainland, as a streamer of thick sea ice crossing the thin ice skimming the polynya the powerful winds created on the west side of the Laptev Sea.

The flow of these winds, Which Ralph had earlier curved north and pushed from Siberia to Canada, now curved around further. past the Pole towards Svalbard, which saw colder temperatures. The mildest Atlantic air was deflected south to the Siberian coast rather than to the Pole.

As the new Ralph faded, following lows took a more southern route along the arctic coast of Europe, as high pressure built in Canada, creating a sort of Pacific to Atlantic cross-polar flow. A storm stalled in Bering Strait pumped milder air towards the Pole over Alaska.

At this point the flow from the Pacific is clearly seen in the temperature maps. The weakening Aleutian low is pushing north through Bering Strait to become a new Hula-Ralph.  The sub-960 mb gale smashing up the ice in the Kara Sea is too far south, (I as boss arbitrarily decide), to count as a “Ralph”, and rather is a north Atlantic low taking a southern route, representing milder air that never made it north.

The situation now looks a bit confusing. The west side of the high over Alaska looks likely to attempt a new Pacific surge, while the west side of the high building over Scandinavia looks likely to bring Atlantic air north. Usually the Atlantic wins out, in these situations, but the models show a confused situation at the Pole for a while.

“Extent graphs” don’t mean much this time of year, as most of the growth and shrinkage is occurring outside the Arctic Sea.  The ice that will matter next September has already formed and is being battered, crunched, and moved hundreds of miles in the winter dark, and its shifts and changes seldom show on the extent graph at all. But, just to keep some happy, I’ll include the extent graph.


The current dip is largely due to the gale milling about in Bering Strait.

Work is keeping me more busy than usual, but if I get time I’ll update tomorrow with the Navy maps of concentration and thickness.


Here is the Navy Research Lab concentration map:


Here is the thickness map.


What is most interesting to me is how the ice has been pushed east in both the Kara and Laptev Seas, with thinly skimmed polynyas to the west and ice piled up against the eastern boundaries, (and the stripe of Kara Sea ice squeezed between islands and the mainland, making a blue stripe across the northern part of the Laptev Sea.)  This shows how “Ralph’s” counterclockwise wind is moving ice the “wrong way”, because the more typical Beaufort Gyre is clockwise. More cause for confusion!

5 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Midwinter (updated)

  1. Ha Ha…. for a few seconds I had trouble figuring out where east is when looking at Asia upside down 🙂
    -23 C in Fernie this AM … no GLO-BULL warming to be found here lately! And lately (15 days) no snow to be found either but the forecast is for a big dump the next 5 days.

    • That’s funny Stewart. I was just looking at this wondering ‘How the heck does Caleb know which way east is when you look down at the pole?’ Informative post too. Been a very unusual winter and it will be interesting to see how the satellite observations of the ice end up as it warms up, i.e. will all of the blowing around and warmer temps (albeit stil far far below freezing) translate to a lower minimum this summer.

      • I just think clockwise-is-westward and counterclockwise-is-eastward. The real challenge is looking at a southern hemisphere weather map, with lows clockwise rather than counterclockwise, and highs counterclockwise rather than clockwise. I always wind up with my eyes crossed.

        If I had a nickle to bet, I’d bet next summer will be like 2013, and the ice will stubbornly trfuse to melt as fast as usual (likely because the water beneath is colder.)

    • I actually have to pause and think which way is east at times. What makes things difficult is that when you get towards the Pole every direction is south. That should make giving directions easier, but someone will ask “which south?”

      No one wants to talk about the weather here. It is just football, football, football until you want to stuff cotton in your ears. Then, on Monday, we will see if there is such a thing as life after football.

      • Well no, there isn’t (from the land of rugby), but we make do with fishing, racing, and beer, not to mention work. That 4 letter word again….
        I am impressed by the speed of heat discharge after each spike. Interesting to figure the loss of 10degC from that volume of Atlantic air, something to play with soon in my mind.
        It is what is passing for high summer down here now, a few warm days to 29C, plenty of wind, no real rain. Drought here but more rain further south where the cold winds rule after covering 1500 miles of cold ocean. Excepting in the earthquake zone, where their mountains block the rain. Friends are going to our far south next week for the NZ/World sheepshearing champs – will quiz them on their return. I’m off to our local farming showday now with shearing, chopping, riding, roping etc competitions, the usual fun and some beer. Cheers to the rest of the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.