The strong El Nino that faded last year left the planet with some excess heat to get rid of, and we’ve watched as a meridional pattern sent surges of warmth to the Pole, where it fueled a persistent area of low pressure I dubbed “Ralph.” Because Ralph’s winds were counter-clockwise, it resisted and at times reversed the ordinarily clockwise flow of ice on the Pacific side of the pole, called the “Beaufort Gyre”.
This presented me with a problem, because you cannot call a gyre a gyre when it is not clockwise. (It would be like calling a sunny day a storm, which is why we have the words “highs” and “lows”, to differentiate.) Therefore I spelled the word “gyre” backwards, and came up with the word “eryg”. An eryg is a counter-clockwise spin of ice at the Pole. So now you know.
Having an eryg rather than a gyre has consequences, especially on the north coasts of Alaska and Canada. Last year’s gyre tore the ice away from the coast, creating polynyas of open water at the mouth of the Northwest Channel in the dead of winter. (March 13) (Light lilac is less than a foot thick).
Although the open water refroze, the baby-ice was thin and less protected by snow, and was swift to melt as the sun rose higher. Also the ice in the western south-entrance to the Northwest Passage was flushed out, (notice the streamer of ice moving out.) (May 5)
To the north a large crack opened up the northern entrance on May 12.
All of this was great news for people attempting the passage. Besides there being less ice to melt out of the way, open water warms more easily than ice-covered water, and the warmed water contributed to the melt.
However during the summer the gyre began to shift into a eryg. There was little ice to the south, but the northern approach to the Channel began to see ice jamming into it. Most crushed up against the south side of the channel, leaving an area of clear water to the north by Melville Island, (which may have replicated the conditions William Parry found in 1819 when he sailed from the east past 110° west up there). Yet so much ice was pouring into the north, and then taking a right and heading south, that the luxury liner Crystal Serenity hesitated, before dashing through. All in all there was only around a ten day window-of-opportunity to make the passage before things swiftly refroze. Here’s the map for September 3:
This year the ice has been pushed backwards by the eryg, right into the entrance of the channel. Rather than baby-ice six inches thick, in late March the ice was six and even nine feet thick. (March 31).
To make comparison easier, lets put 2016 and 2017 side by side.
The immediate thought might be that it has been much warmer to the north, to make the ice thinner up there, and much colder to the south, to make it so much thicker, but in actual fact what we see is the difference between a gyre and a eryg. In 2016 the ice was shifted northwest and piled up thicker to the north, and in 2017 the ice has been shifted southeast and piled up to the southeast, smack dab in the entrance of the Northwest Passage.
However things look like they may be about to change. The lagged effect of the El Nino is fading and the lagged effect of last year’s weak La Nina may be about to shift the eryg back to a gyre. The west winds at Barrow have shifted, and are currently blowing from the east at 20 mph. The ice isn’t budging yet, fozen fast to shore with temperares at 5° (-15°C).
O-buoy 14 did warm nearly to -10°C on April 2, but has since sunk back to -25°C. It too remains frozen fast and isn’t budging, southeast of Melville Island in Parry Channel.
If I can sneak away from doing my taxes I’ll update the maps below later. If I can’t, the two major features to note is the slow growth of high pressure towards Canada, and that even as “Ralph” fades, (or perhaps sinks towards Siberia), his “signature” persists as a swirl of warmer air curling towards the Pole in the temperature maps, currently coming via the Siberian coast. The maps start on March 26.
FIRST AN-74 LANDS AT BARNEO 2017 NORTH-POLE CAMP (Sea-ice looks less tortured than last year.)