When I last posted a relatively mild (but below freezing) feeder-band was feeding the last incarnation of “Ralph” at the pole, and making a mild spike in temperatures at the Pole, for Alarmists to cheer about.
However the feeder-band stopped feeding, and the heat swiftly drained away to outer space, and the air-mass over the Pole cooled, giving the coldest temperatures of the winter, and giving Skeptics their chance to throw confetti.
The surge of air streaming north to feed Ralph pushed the edge of the sea-ice north, creating open water north of Svalbard nearly to Franz Josef Land, and there was wild cheering among Alarmists. (Note the polynya in western Kara Sea, formed by strong west winds shifting sea-ice east.)
However the winds swung around to the north and brought bitter cold to Svalbard, and the sea-ice reformed on its north coast. Skeptics looked smug, and a few were so rude as to go, “Neener-neener-neener.” (Notice the polynya in the western Kara Sea has vanished, as ice reformed and skimmed the surface.)
The sea-ice extent graph was down at levels lower than any other recorded year, when Ralph was being fed by Atlantic gales, and there was wild cheering on one side of the stadium, however the extent has since poked upwards and even surpassed last year’s, at this date, so the other side of the stadium is now raucously yelling.
All this cheering is too much for me. I can’t take it. I still haven’t recovered from the Superbowl, and any extra suspense surely can’t be good for my health. Therefore I am carefully nurturing an I-don’t-care attitude.
I have decided to have the detachment of an elderly scientist with a magnifying glass, down on my creaky hands and knees, utterly engrossed in my study of particles of dirt, and completely unconcerned with the fact I’m moving into an arena where a bullfight is going on.
Of greater interest (to me at least) is the thickness map, which is very different from last year, for the pattern has been very different. (Last year to the left; this year to the right.)
The eye immediately leaps to the yellows in the Canadian quadrant last year that are missing this year. The ice is as much as six feet thinner over a large area. However part of the reason for that thicker ice last year was because ice was crammed up there, being blown away from the coast of Canada by strong southeast gales. Big polynyas of open water repeatedly formed in the Mackenzie Delta region (and also off the north-westernmost point of Alaska) This year there have been more west winds, and ice is crunched in towards the Mackenzie Delta, and rather than six inches thick it is six feet thick.
I’ll be watching the Mackenzie Delta to see if the winds swing around to the east, and a polynya forms. Why? Because last year it was explained to me, by a person who claimed to know, that the water by the delta, barely skimmed by baby-ice, would be swift to melt and become open water early, absorbing a lot of summer sunshine and creating warmer water that would hasten the melt of sea-ice further out to sea. But that will not happen this year if current conditions persist. Rather than open water by the delta there will be six feet of ice, reflecting summer sunshine and only stubbornly melting when the Mackenzie River’s spring floods finally hold water warmer than ice-water, (which isn’t until June.) This should completely change the melting equation, (if the person explaining things to me last year wasn’t completely talking through his hat.)
Besides the NRL thickness map I like to check out the DMI thickness map, not merely because they don’t always agree, but also because the DMI map takes area and thickness and makes a crude attempt at stating the volume of the sea-ice. There are all sorts of complicated complaints about their approach, but, just taking them at their word, volume is at a very low level this winter.
It isn’t wise to use low volume at this time of year as a predictor of summer sea-ice levels, for I was one of many who made that mistake after the low-ice summer of 2012. In January, 2013, the sea-ice volume was as low as this year, and a big gale in February smashed up the ice in the Beaufort Sea, creating leads that were in a few cases a hundred miles wide, and many were certain the summer’s ice would be frail, and would swiftly melt. However, if you look at the red line in the above volume-graph, you can see that by October 2013 the volume-for-October was at the highest levels seen in recent years. (As I recall, nobody saw this “recovery” coming.) (Though “Tallbloke” suggested recovery might be possible, at his site, it was a “possibility” and not a “certainty”.)
The Russian quadrant is fascinating this year, as Ralph has kept the winds largely west along the thousands upon thousands of miles of Siberian coastline, deranging the textbook flow of sea-ice, which traditionally should look like this:
This winter Ralph has reversed the Beaufort Gyre, and robbed the Transplar Drift of a lot of its ice, instead shoving the sea-ice from west to east in the marginal Siberian Seas, creating polynyas on the west sides, as ice piled up on the east sides. On the east side of the Kara Sea ( and west side of the Laptev Sea) the piled-up ice was able to squeeze like toothpaste from a tube between islands and the mainland, creating a long train of thicker ice between the Laptev Sea and the Pole.
It is difficult to determine whether the Russian quadrant has more or less ice than last year. Theoretically it should have more, if the Transpolar Drift exported less, but all the lilac-purple areas represent polynyas that have barely skimmed over. On one hand they may represent areas that will be quick to become ice-free next summer, and on the other hand they represent sea-water that has been more exposed to arctic winds, and may be colder next summer. Of course, there is a lot of winter left, and with Siberian Rivers largely frozen solid and barely trickling, a lot more ice can be produced along the shores, and the lilac areas may thicken greatly.
Surprisingly the European quadrant has more ice than last year despite the surges from the south. However, though I hadn’t named Ralph “Ralph” yet, the interesting pattern was already starting to manifest last year. As I recall, I first noted it around Christmas, 2015. So if I had the time to study last years post’s, I might well see there were southern surges then as well, which might explain the lower levels last year.
The Greenland quadrant shows more thick ice along the coast than last year, and a particularly large blob of ice currently coming through Fram Strait, during the current break in the activity of Ralph, which has allowed the cold to build at the Pole and north winds in Fram Strait.
When the cold is held up at the Pole it often allows us to thaw, where I live far further south, (though home-grown cold can be created over the extensive snow-cover of Canada, even when the Arctic is stingy and won’t share). We are currently experiencing a nice midwinter thaw, after three feet of snow last week, here in New Hampshire in the USA. However the quietude makes me a little nervous. To have all that cold building up there is like winter inhaling deeply, before a big blow. Or like a boxer rearing back before delivering a hay-maker.
Also I noticed that a lot of the Atlantic feeder-bands that fed Ralph could be traced back to pleasant Gulf-of-Mexico air coming up the east coast of the USA. As it passed over New Hampshire we’d get some thawing and kindly, above-normal temperatures, and then I’d read of Iceland getting above-normal temperatures, and then Svalbard, and then I’d see Ralph swirling again, at the Pole, as our heat was squandered to the darkness of outer space.
I wondered if squandering our heat in this manner might make the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic-off-the-USA colder, but there is no sign of such a chilling. Such waters are usually chilled by cold winds pouring off the mainland, but they were protected from that, by being in the middle of a mild river of moist air heading north. However “mild” is a subjective term, and the air gets colder and colder as it heads north. Fifteen degrees above normal is a thaw, here in New Hampshire, but nothing thaws in Svalbard when air is fifteen degrees above normal. The air is losing heat all the way north, and any remaining heat is lost when it gets there. I’m not sure where and when this loss will manifest, but it is happening, even though the Gulf of Mexico and nearby Atlantic haven’t chilled as much as they usually do.
In any case, the mild river seems to be starting north again, judging from conditions here, and I would not at all be surprised to see Ralph reappear in a week or so.
Due to being so busy removing three feet of snow, and then being out of town three days, I tried a new way of saving the DMI maps, using my cell phone. FAIL. In any case, here are the maps I managed to save.
When I last posted Ralph was enjoying his most recent come-back at the Pole. The temperature map showed Ralph’s “signature”, a hook of milder temperatures poking a triangle towards the Pole. The was a thaw as far north as Svalbard, and the “mild” -10°C isotherm daggered deep into the Arctic Basin. But watch, in following maps, how this heat simply fades. Is isn’t shifted south; nor is cold air brought north from tundra. The air-mass simply cools down, like a piece of hot iron in snow.
It is possible to envision the triangular signature of Ralph as the warm sector of a storm, with a cold front on its western side, and a secondary, Ralph Jr., forming on that front.
Ralph Jr. can’t really be called a true “Ralph”, as he doesn’t head up to the Pole, but rather slumps down towards Russia and takes a more usual route east along the Siberian coast. However, even as he fades along with his father, the duo create a cross-polar-flow that sucks air from Canada towards Norway. (Norway can have that cold; our ski-areas already have enough snow, here in New Hampshire; IE: Any cold sucked out of northern Canada is cold that won’t be heading down here.) As Ralph Jr. proceeds east he cuts the feeder band of Atlantic air both to himself and to Ralph, and both weaken. The air around them steadily chills.
On February 16 a tertiary grandson of Ralph appears, Ralph the Third, but he takes the eastern route, and his small signature-hook of Atlantic air is steered east, and doesn’t penetrate north. Unfed, poor old Ralph is fading away.
Three days are missing here. Ralph the Third faded down into Russia, taking any weak isobar-remnant of Ralph with him. The actual air in Ralph has gotten so cold it no longer rises, creating a low beneath, but instead sinks, pumping high pressure beneath. The high pressure over the Canadian Archipelago will have to be watched, for if such high pressures get strong enough, they create the gales I mentioned earlier, which rip the ice away from shore and create a polynya off the Mackenzie Delta. So far the winds are weak on that side of the high, only 5-10 mph. It is the other side that has gales, and this may prove interesting, as cold air is being sucked from Siberia towards Greenland. The freezing isotherm remains south of Svalbard, and Barents Sea may form more sea-ice.
The situation doesn’t look likely to drastically change in the near future. The new low north of Norway is a garden-variety North Atlantic low performing the typical loop-de-loop, and is basically stalled. The high will persist towards the Pacific side.
In the longer range, even only a week in the future, the models begin producing a great variety of solutions, and in 14 days they range from a strongly positive AO to a strongly negative one, and this means that, if we are honest, we haven’t a clue whether Ralph will reappear or not.
The only way to know for sure is to watch, wait, and stay tuned.