ARCTIC SEA ICE –Barents Bounce-back–

Over at Tony Heller’s site at I spotted an interesting map which emphasizes the growth in sea-ice in Barents Sea since 2006. (more ice than 2006 shows as green.)

Ice gain 0513 FullSizeRender

With the sun up close to 24 hours a day now, at those high latitudes, the increase in ice represents a significant area where sunlight is reflected back to space, as opposed to 2006, where the reduced extent allowed darker waters to embrace the sunlight and suck it into the sea and….and…and eventually result in the highest September ice extent in recent years?

Hmm. Some sort of flaw is boldly rearing its head here, in terms of the simplistic “albedo” theory of how the Pole is to become as ice-free as it was in prior optimums. If we were comparing apples to apples, the above map should mean we would have more sea-ice this September than in 2006. I think we will have more than last year, but more than 2006 would surprise me (though it is not outside of the range of possibility.)

I only bring this up because I think the “albedo” idea is way, way too simple, and the above map should make that obvious. The “albedo” theory is an idea concocted for the simple, in the manner Santa Claus was conceived to explain Christmas to little children.  It needs to be discarded, in the manner serious Christians discard Santa Claus. The reality is far more wonderful.

Let’s just compare last year on May 16 to May 16 this year; (2016 to left, 2017 to right):


Last year there was open water north of Svalbard, where this year ice piles against the north coast. However, before you leap to any conclusions, lets compare May 16 last year (left) with March 1 this year (right):

The polynya northeast of Svalbard should leap out at you. 45 days ago all the sea-ice between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land was slush and pancake ice, in places only inches thick. One could leap to different conclusions two months ago, and indeed some did.

Some concluded that, if the ice was so thin on March 1, it could only get thinner as the sun rose and temperatures moderated between March 1 and May 16, but compare the maps: (March 1 to left, May 16 to right.)

Hmm. Abruptly the waters between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land are filled with ice 4-7 feet thick. What the heck happened?

Well, a little is due to temperatures being below normal, but largely the change was due to winds.  Earlier in the winter south winds shoved the ice north and created polynyas north of Svalbard (and even north of Franz Josef Land at times) but then that pattern reversed and more northerly winds brought all the ice crunching and crashing back south.

Conclusion? The thickness of sea-ice often has little to do with air temperatures, and with any slight effect CO2 may have on that air. Rather it is largely effected by winds.

I should add it is also effected by the temperature of the waters below the ice. And this is another reason the area shown by the above maps is important, for it is the area where Atlantic water enters the arctic.

Atlantic water has a component brought north by the Gulf Stream, and Gulf Stream water has been subjected to warmth that has evaporated enough water to increase the salinity of the sea-water. Gulf Stream water is therefore more warm and more salty than the arctic water it moves into. The warmth makes it want to rise but the salinity makes it want to sink. For a time the warmth holds Gulf Stream water up at the surface, but after a while it cools to a degree where it’s salinity makes it take a dive, and it then flows as warmer but more salty water beneath the cooler but less salty water just beneath the ice. (At this point it is usually referred to as “Atlantic” water rather than “Gulf Stream” water.) In a very general sense, the cooler water just beneath the ice is the “mixed” layer, the Atlantic (and/or Pacific) water is the “pycnocline” layer, and the deeps are, with amazing creativity, called the “deep” layer.

As an aside, I should mention that some don’t think such stratification exists at the Pole. NASA states,  “At high latitudes, the pycnocline and mixed layer are absent“, and proves it with this lovely graphic:

Sea layers ocean-vertical-structure_clip_image002

I suppose they assume the water is so cold at the Pole the variations of temperature don’t matter, especially as the northern waters that head south are so chilled they take a dive and become part of the “deep layer.”

In truth, slight variations of cold temperatures matter a lot, in the world of sea-ice. A tenth of a degree can be the difference between water being liquid or solid, and that can be the difference between cold water sinking from sight or cold water bobbing as ice at the surface.  Therefore sea-ice scientists, while not telling NASA to go to hell (due to funding concerns) are so rude as to ignore NASA graphics and to speak of the arctic’s “mixed”, “pycnocline” and “deep” layers, and some even may divide the pycnocline into “Atlantic”, “Pacific”, and “Preexistent” layers.

Considering a lot of the melt of summer ice comes from beneath, it pays to attend to any news you can find about what is going on under the ice. It turns out the antics of these layers is insidiously complex. It is not enough to merely get a little data from the north and then flee south to a computer, and attempt to model the antics, for there are too many variables and too much chaos-theory involved. What we really need are real-time measurements from real buoys put in place by real scientists with real guts.

Most of what we know about the antics of waters under the ice was discovered by just such gutsy  scientists, and often what was discovered was things that were not suspected beforehand, and therefore were not included in computer models.

For example, the “mixed” layer is assumed to be mixed by waves, as explained by this simple diagram:


Therefore, when ice forms, there can be no waves, and therefore no mixing, right?

Wrong. It turns out there are at least two mixings that occur even when the waters are seemingly still, under the ice. The first is that the ice, as it freezes, exudes salt as brine, and a steady rain of these brine-droplets wormhole down through the new ice and then rain down into the less-salty mixed layer, making it both colder and more salty, and therefore to differentiate differently from the pycnocline. The second is called “Ekman Spirals”, and is caused by Ekman Transport.

Allow me to pretend I understand this Ekman stuff:  Basically floating ice has a keel, which creates drag, which allows the Coriolis force to influence motion. Even in 1897 Nansen noted that the sea-ice drifted at an angle to the direction the wind blew, and in the 1960’s real scientists with real guts were out on the sea-ice noting strange stuff in the waters beneath,

It should be noted that this does not merely mix waters in the “mixed” layer, but pulls up water from the pycnocline as an upwelling:

Conclusion? Well, the ruckus that has been going on all winter and into the spring, in Barents Sea, has had to have had an effect on the Atlantic water moving north into the Arctic. What might that effect be?

How are we to know, without gutsy scientists heading up there to place real buoys that give us real-time data? I sure don’t trust any model, because a model depends on real-time data. If you put guesses in you will get guesses coming out.

My own guess is that the arctic pycnocline has been effected, and in the future this will effect the sub-surface measurements of the layer of “Atlantic” water in other parts of the Arctic Sea.

How? I think there will be less slightly-warmer-slightly-more-saline water to be stirred up by summer arctic storms, to hurry the summer melt. But this is just a guess. How can I know without real-time data?  And how can that data be gathered, if funding is cut at the Pole, so frantic beltway bureaucrats can line their nests?





19 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Barents Bounce-back–

    • You’re right. I forgot about the tides. The course of O-buoy 12 was a zig-zag northeast of Fram Strait, and that meant all the ice was crunching to and fro as well. However I didn’t think about the interaction of those tides with the sea-bottom. (Another thing to cause model mayhem.)

      Thanks for the link.

  1. Interesting write up!

    One thing I enjoy following is the melt out of Hudson Bay. It is not of any importance with respect to sea ice melt, as it always melts out sooner or later. But I recall a couple years ago it did not melt out until September. I suppose if we were going to have real climate change (toward a colder climate), the first sign would be if the ice in Hudson Bay stayed around all year. Of course, the alarmists would no doubt blame humans for that as well.

    At least until the end of May, the models have very little thawing for Hudson Bay.

    • “suppose if we were going to have real climate change (toward a colder climate), the first sign would be if the ice in Hudson Bay stayed around all year.”

      That could also result from more meandering jet stream getting “stuck” in a warming climate. I would track changes is mass loss from mountain glaciers, sea ice and ice caps/sheets as climate indicators, a colder climate should stop the mass-loss soon.

      • Have you done your homework yet? You are not suppose to darken my door, reiterating your same old points from the same old sources. Rather you are suppose to be broadening your mind by looking at some new sources.

        I know you are hooked on certain mass-balance graphics because they reaffirm your bias, but you need to see they are imperfect. There is a real problem with isostatic rebound screwing up their hard work.

        I find it odd that isostatic rebound is used to increase the sea-level data, but isn’t used to increase the ice-level data. Preferential treatment?

        Anyway, we like to look at new ideas here, so if you don’t show some sign of having a new idea I may start just refusing to answer the phone when you call.

        Your homework is your job, and in the words of Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

      • During the last major glaciation, there was nearly no glaciation in Alaska, so somehow the meandering jet stream was able to get stuck without human intervention. Also milder conditions elsewhere, like in Alaska, did not prevent the glaciers from coming south and eventually crushing Illinois or what is now NYC.

  2. Glad to whet your interest, Andy! It was so hot and humid in DC that I’ll bet thinking about sea-ice was a relief. We hit 92 even up in these New Hampshire hills. Thunder last night, and refreshing breezes this morning. (I hope Canada forgives me for all the cursing I do of the north wind in January. Today Canada get nothing but praises, with the northwest wind like a fine wine.)

    I agree Hudson Bay is fun to watch. Historical records of the Hudson Bay Trading Company show big swings from less ice to so much ice that they couldn’t be resupplied.

    I think it was three summers ago the ice got jammed up on the east side, and the small east-coast ports got nervous about getting their heating oil for the following winter shipped in, so they employed an icebreaker to clear a path for the tanker. I had some fun with that, as at the same time a news item came out about how warm it was.

    Last year there was less ice on this date than we now see. My guess is that the Bay felt the lagged effect of the big El Nino last year.

    This year has been interesting, for at first the winds were generally east and the ice piled up on the west side, and then the Bay was bisected by a rippling front that gave northwest winds to the northwest, and southeast down in James Bay, so there were contrary polynyas, one up in the northwest, and the other at the southern tip. Of courser this meant ice got mushed up in the middle, and it got quite thick against the southwest coast. Fifteen feet. I’m watching there to see if it hangs tough, or just gets blown out to sea and dispersed by west winds.

    Most of the ice in Hudson Bay is sea-ice, but once in a while the winds are just right and some big Greenland glacier bergs get in there from Baffin Bay.

    I’ve noticed the satellite maps show the Bay as ice-free when the satellite picture still sees scattered ice. Also some Sea-Surface-Temperature maps read ice-water as being three degrees above normal, which is physically impossible, as ice water is right at freezing.

    Usually the ice on the Bay melts with speed in July, and the water freezes with speed in December. I’m not really expecting any serious change until the AMO turns cold.

    Cheers! Nice hearing from you!

  3. Caleb, isostatic rebound IS corrected for both satellite altimetry and satellite gravity measurements (I have done my homework regarding satellite data and am happy to explain what I understand). The correction works well for Greenland (since it’s small and has visible bedrock all around it for GPS-measurements) and less well for Antarctica. The main losses have been happening in Greenland even though WAIS has been catching up lately. Losses from Greenland have been smaller after the record year of 2012.

    BTW it’s great to look for new ideas but still looking at what is state-of-the-art in mainstream science is a very valuable exercise. This is why IPCC AR5 WG1 is a good starting point. Even if you don’t like IPCC and their “consensus” reports it’s good to know what the mainstream has been up to. I don’t fully understand why the reception here is sometimes hostile when I’m only reporting established scientific findings and not inventing things on my own..

    • First, we actually have and do look at the stuff you are glued to. But that is not the only stuff to consider. There is no such thing as a “consensus” in science. Besides the IPCC reports you need to check out the NIPCC reports.

      This is especially true concerning the Earth Sciences. They have included men who are some of the most vocal critics of concepts embraced by Climate Scientists.

      Second, isostatic rebound differs at the side of the ice from the bedrock directly beneath the ice. To measure the true bottom under an icecap requires a man on the ground, and cannot be done from satellites (or can’t be done to the fine degree their results imply.)

      In March, 2012 I wrote about the varying rate of repression and rebound as follows,

      “A really neat example of this is seen in the sheer sides of Scandinavian fiords. During the tens of thousands of years the last Ice Age lasted, ice poured out from a Scandinavian ice cap (like Greenland’s) in its interior, grinding away at the rock in valleys. At any given moment the ice in these valleys weighed roughly the same, however the total weight of ice and rock did not stay the same, because you have to subtract the weight of all the rock that was ground to powder and washed out to sea. Then, because the weight of the rock was less, there was a local isostatic rebound much like the rebound you see when the weight decreases due to the melting of ice. What this means is that the rock on either side of a valley glacier is rebounding upwards even as the center of the valley is worn away and moves downwards. The more it grinds away, the higher the sides of the valley rise. In a sense a glacier builds its own retaining walls, and an icecap builds its own restraining circle of mountains.

      An elegant paper on this topic is found at

      Scandanavian scientists seem to produce the best work on this stuff. I assume it is because they have only to look around at their local landscape to see examples of isostacy.

      As far back as the late 1700’s a Swedish geologist noted the sea seemed to be sinking in Scandinavia even as it seemed to rise in parts of Greenland. (The southern tip of Greenland was actually rising as the rest of Greenland sank, because the weight of ice towards the center pushes crust down, causing a plastic movement sideways beneath, causing a rise in the edges.)

      Further north in Greenland the weight of the ice coming down the valleys, due to the Little Ice Age, was depressing the land at the foot of the valley even before the ice went that far…”

      In other words isostacy is yet another variable. It occurs at differing rates at the same place, even as rates differ from other locals. Lastly, it is ongoing and measurable and a real problem for those attempting to come up with a mass-balance figure

      • Comment deleted.

        Moderator Comment:


        I do not feel you should talk about a “Consensus” while disallowing alternative viewpoints. When you disdainfully disparage the NIPPC you are refusing to heed scientists who actually did sterling work for the IPPC.

        After refusing to heed such scientists, who once contributed the IPPC but now contribute to the NIPPC, can you not see what an ass you are making of yourself when you speak of “consensus” or say, “Greenland has been shedding mass without a doubt starting in the late 1990’s, all techniques observations including in situ agree…”

        Of course everyone will agree, if you disdain alternative views.

        You may say that by deleting your comment I am disdaining your alternative view, but actually I am sparing you from public embarrassment. You are offending scientists of high caliber you have never met nor listened to. Nor is your view truly an “alternative view”. You yourself admit it is the “consensus”, which basically makes your view the view of a parrot.

        I have been very, very, very, very patient with you, even though you constantly intrude on my site and never once thank me for the work I do. I had this hope maybe I might open your mind to new views, new vistas, and a new way of investigating the Truth. Apparently I have been a complete and utter failure. As far as I can see, you prefer to be a parrot, and think I can go -bleep-.

        OK then. Be that way. Reread the IPPC mantra over and over and over. Never, never, never sneak a peek at the NIPPC ideas.

        But doesn’t that mean you shouldn’t be sneaking a peek at this site as well?

        Shame on you! To even read my words makes you guilty of that which constitutes “consensus porn”.)

      • Styrge will be in time-out for a while.

        I apologize for allowing him to derail me.

        I have nothing against mass-balance. Truth is, I’ve never seen a mass-balance I didn’t like. But this site tends to focus on what one can see, and upon historical, eye-witness accounts, so I am going to attempt to get back on track, in that respect.

  4. Hope noone’s using GRACE results re ice as if they were real, either. Even NASA finally realised the folly of using a water gravitometer on ice. Partly for reasons Caleb has just described. The physics are so different.

    • I didn’t know that. I wonder what problems they ran into.

      The problem I saw with Grace was that it likely would miss all the small stuff, because of the resolution.

      “The theoretical resolution is in the range of 400 to 40000 km, but mass redistribution within the Earth system can be estimated reliably only up to a half-wavelength resolution (about 750 km) with an accuracy of less than 1.5 cm of equivalent water height[9]. Therefore, gravity variations caused by various geophysical sources, including terrestrial water storage change, polar ice sheet melting, sea-level change, earthquake-related deformation, and post-glacial rebound, may all be detected.”

      But I don’t blame them for trying. And data is data. It is the flying leaps that some take with data that makes me sometimes roll my eyes.

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