ARCTIC SEA ICE –Summer Crack-ups–

At this point in the summer the Alarmist contingent, who are heavily invested in seeing the Arctic ice-free, tends to raise an uproar at any patches of open water seen by the Satellite. This forces me to once again go through my spiel, to educate the uneducated. I actually did this with a certain amount of zest back in 2007, but ten years have gone by, and saying the same thing over and over and over has gotten a bit old.

In any case, in a nutshell the spiel is this:

The Arctic Sea is not an icecap. It is an ocean, and the sea-ice on it is in constant motion, shifted by currents, tides and gales.  Winds are especially prone to tear at the ice and crash it together, for at times a pressure gradient with a fetch of hundreds of miles is replaced by a different gradient with a different fetch of hundreds of miles. Sea-ice moving at differing directions at different speeds either piles up in heaps, (called “pressure ridges”), or pulls apart leaving open water, (called “leads”.) In the winter the open waters swiftly refreeze, but in the summer the patches of open water remain open for a while. Even if no sea-ice melts at all, the open patches tend to grow, for the sea-ice is not as flexible as an accordion. When you crunch it together you can not pull it apart and expect the sea-ice to rebound to its original shape.

For this reason submarines found it possible to surface at the Pole even in May, when sea-ice was at its end-of-winter thickest and had hardly begun its summer melt.

Sub at Pole 1987 3-subs-north-pole-1987

Or in March of 1959

Sub at Pole 1959 download

Or, (if you insist upon this time of year), the meeting of the Skate and the Sea Dragon at the Pole on August 2, 1962.

Sub at Pole 1962 seadragon-and-skate-north-pole-1962

It is somewhat comical to see how zealously Alarmists have tried to deny the leads in sea ice back then. The gatekeepers at Wikipedia are notorious for only including certain notes kept by the captain and crew. For example, describing the Skate’s cruise under sea-ice in 1958, they quote the captain, “Calvert said, “Seldom had the ice seemed so heavy and so thick as it did in the immediate vicinity of the pole. For days we had searched in vain for a suitable opening to surface in.”  The gatekeepers have apparently deleted all attempts to alter the impression generated by this myopic view.

Back in 2000 the late John Daly simply emailed a member of the crew, James E. Hestor, and received this polite response:

the Skate found open water both in the summer and following winter. We surfaced near the North Pole in the winter through thin ice less than 2 feet thick. The ice moves from Alaska to Iceland and the wind and tides causes open water as the ice breaks up. The Ice at the polar ice cap is an average of 6-8 feet thick, but with the wind and tides the ice will crack and open into large polynyas (areas of open water), these areas will refreeze over with thin ice. We had sonar equipment that would find these open or thin areas to come up through, thus limiting any damage to the submarine. The ice would also close in and cover these areas crushing together making large ice ridges both above and below the water. We came up through a very large opening in 1958 that was 1/2 mile long and 200 yards wide. The wind came up and closed the opening within 2 hours. On both trips we were able to find open water. We were not able to surface through ice thicker than 3 feet.”

It is interesting to me that Wikipedia does mention the Skate was able to surface nine times during the 1958 voyage, but never mentions they could not surface through ice thicker than three feet. The intent seems to be to emphasize how thick the ice was back then, and not to give a true picture of the varying nature sea-ice exhibits .

It is interesting that the Sea Dragon in the above picture was the first Submarine to traverse the Northwest Passage, in 1960, and as it reached the western part of Parry Channel they actually used charts prepared by William Parry in 1819 and 1820, as he was the only other ship to have traveled that far. Beyond the point Parry reached they had no idea how shallow the bottom might be, and discovered and charted the depths by sonar.  As the ship continued to the Pole it did not find impressively thick ice, but rather, Wikipedia states,  “The ship surfaced through the thin ice becoming the third submarine to surface at the pole. Members of the crew laid out a softball diamond with the pitcher’s box at the pole where the captain claimed he hit a fly ball at 4:00 pm on Wednesday and it wasn’t caught until 4:00 am on Thursday.”

I don’t wish to get into a quarrel with Alarmists about the thickness of the ice back then. The data is very scant, but my impression is that the ice was actually growing thicker at that time, in a general way, to a peak it reached in 1979. However the important thing I think needs to be admitted by Alarmists involves not so much the thickness of the ice but the nature of the ice. It is far more mobile than most assume, and leads and polynyas of open water have always formed,  especially during the summer months.

This is especially true when the sea-ice is hammered by summer gales, and while the low pressure I call “Ralph” has not yet been an official Gustogale (below 970 mb), it has achieved gale force winds twice in the past two weeks, and areas of open water can be seen from the satellite’s August 13 view: (Pole at lower left corner).

This ice reminds me of 2013, when the Gales did not speed the melt of ice. In 2012 the ice dissolved with stunning rapidity when churned by winds, I suppose because the water under the ice was warmer. In 2013 the ice was churned, but nothing happened, I suppose because the water was not as warm.

The “Arctic Mission” boats apparently finally left Nome, Alaska, today (August 14) and are heading up through the mostly ice-free waters of Bering Strait. At least one gal says she hopes they can make it all the way to the Pole. Judging from the above picture, there is too much ice in the way. However their chief aim is to study wildlife at the edge of the ice, and they’ll likely be seeing a lot of whales at the edge of the ice at 75° north.

Thickness 20170814 Attachment-1


The speed and drift map shows a route north of 80° may open north of the New Siberian Islands, but that is a long way from safe harbors when the refreeze starts.

Speed and Drift 20170814 Attachment-1

High pressure has swung around from the  east west to over Bering Strait, but models show it will not last long, as a weak feeder-band of “Ralph” currently over the New Siberian Islands will follow the high pressure to north of Bering Strait and strengthen.


The last incarnation of “Ralph” is fading north of Greenland, but another “feeder-band” is north of Norway. The models haven’t done well, when it comes to resolving this sort of confused situation. (One way or another, Ralph always prevails.)  In any case, I lack confidence, but not curiosity, about the next ten days.

One interesting thing is the large area of subfreezing temperatures in the arctic. The graph of mean temperatures north of 80° has dipped below freezing early, despite the mild feeder-band seen in the above temperature map, which  extends right to the Pole.

DMI4 0814 meanT_2017

At this point it does not seem we will have an extended surface-melt like we had in 1964, which extended the melt season a week:

DMI4 meanT_1964

But who knows? Maybe we’ll get a last fit of thawing. On a whole, however, surface temperatures do not indicate a thawing planet, at the Pole in the Summer.

I have been thinking up excuses for Alarmists to use for the colder temperatures, and it occurred to me that perhaps thicker ice allows the air above the ice to get warmer than it gets over open water. The ice has exuded most of its salt, so temperatures are at the melting point of fresh water, or 0°C. However the ice-water the ice sloshes in is salt water, and at a temperature around -1.8°C, which would chill the air in contact with it. In other words, open water might lower air temperatures, as long as it was ice water. Only when the water was completely ice-free, (as it is along certain arctic coasts during the summer), could the water significantly warm, and uplift air temperatures.

There, you Alarmists. Don’t say I never do anything for you. (But, of course, admitting this idea is a booby trap that explodes some of your other ideas, but never mind that. Trust me. I’m not like the others.)

This idea popped into my head as O-buoy 14 showed the ice break up south of Parry Channel, right on schedule, today.

Obuoy 14 0814 webcam Yet as soon as the ice broke up the buoy saw temperatures drop two degrees.

Obuoy 14 0814 temperature-1week

This hints at how complex the dynamics are, for the water is actually colder than the ice (and the melt-water pools atop the ice.)

As far as sailing up there, look at the view from the same camera only hours later:

Obuoy 14 0815 webcam

One moment you have clear sailing, but later…not so much.

For this reason I ignore the politics of the people who dare sail up there, and always bow my head and send a few prayers to people like the people on the “Arctic Mission” ships.

The main thing to watch for over the next month is whether the broken-up ice melts swiftly, like in 2012, or hardly at all, like in 2013.

Stay tuned.


5 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Summer Crack-ups–

  1. Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    Caleb’s latest update on Ralph (the constant low pressure systems at the pole) and the winds expected by some to decimate the ice…but that remains to be seen as the ice often had it’s own ideas.

  2. Caleb
    Thanks for posting the submariners visits to the pole. I was only thinking about them whilst watching the ITV (The BBC’s main commercial competitor in the UK) News with a report on Pen Haddow’s trip to the Pole. They seem fairly sure he’d make it. Time will tell, but it seems to me the best way would be by submarine even now.

    • I don’t think it is possible for them to make it. Once they get into the really thick ice they have to slow way down, to something like one knot, and could only travel 24 miles a day. There is too little time for that sort of creeping, because once the refreeze begins it proceeds very quickly. There are many stories of whalers getting trapped by being just a little too greedy. (The whales are able to plow south, surfacing through slushy ice over a foot thick, while the sailing ships got locked in.

      I’m fairly certain the captain of one of the boats is well aware of the dangers involved in the refreeze. Though his ship has a strengthened hull, it is not designed to winter in the crushing ice like the Fram was. (The Fram had a rounded hull designed to be lifted up by crushing ice.) Also his ship is more than a craft. It is his home, where he lives year round. I don’t expect a repeat of the ship-of-fools fiasco. Only in a worst case scenario would they require rescue from a path-plowing icebreaker, which has happened to some sailors up there. (One thing that seems to happen when ships become frozen is that polar bears become curious. I am fairly certain they don’t want to study wild-life that closely.)

      They were planning to be back before September 15 but the week delay to their start means they are now panning to be back around September 22. That is cutting things close.

      One reason for the delay is that the gale they avoided brought such strong winds south that the water was pushed out of Nome Harbor, which is notoriously shallow. It was the opposite of a high storm tide. The water level dipped around three feet. The boats had to wait for the water to come back or they might have run aground right at the start!

      It ought be a very informative voyage. The chief problem is that there is lousy internet service up there, and we might not get many pictures. It is the pictures I value most.

      • A picture truly paints a thousand words as you’ve shown many times. Even in these days of Photoshop it’s difficult to fool all the people all the time.

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