ARCTIC SEA ICE —The Drastic Laptev Majesty—

Of all the seas bordering the Arctic Ocean, the Laptev Sea is the most extreme, when it comes to the yearly ecological whiplash the arctic subjects its species and geology to. The water goes from nearly fresh to salty and the water temperatures swing from freezing to 60° F (16° C) near the shore. The tundra bordering it goes from sunbaked heat in the summer to one of the coldest places in the northern hemisphere in the winter.

Arctic rivers vary greatly in their flow, at a trickle in the frozen depths of winter and in a roaring flood during the height of the summer melt, and the Lena River is the tenth largest river in the world, though perhaps it is difficult to measure a river’s size when it freezes to the bottom in places, in February. The river rises sixty feet during its flood stage. Maximum discharge has exceeded 4.2 million cubic feet (120,000 cubic metres) per second, and the minimum has fallen to 39,300 cubic feet (1,100 cubic metres). In other words, a hundred times as much fresh water pours into the Laptev Sea in August as does in January.

The huge surge of fresh water into the Laptev Sea is one reason its shorelines freeze so swiftly. The ice has spread over much of the sea in only a week. (October 4 left, October 9 right.)

During calmer years the fresh water is able to stratify more, and a definite “lens”of fresh water forms at the surface, but on stormy years the mixing of the fresh water with the salty occurs more quickly. The sea is over the continental shelf and relatively shallow, so there is little exchange with the deeps, as occurs over much of the Antarctic coast. Winds tend to shift from summer sea-breezes, when the land is hotter and air rises over land, to winter land-breezes, when the sea is warmer and cold air sinks over Siberia. A dramatic change occurs during September, when days shrink shorter than nights, and the landscape shifts from sun-baked to snow-covered.

On his blog at Weatherbell, Joseph D’Aleo mentions the Siberian snows have been early this year.

Laptev 3 download

As soon as there is even a dusting of snow the tundra loses its ability to absorb heat from the shrinking daylight, and increases its ability to lose heat to the skies of the increasing nights. Although we are suppose to speak in terms of “heat-loss”, Siberia becomes a “cold-producer”.  The chilled air sinks, and builds high pressure as it presses down, and the Siberian high pressure (which I like to call “Igor”) can be the coldest and strongest in the northern hemisphere, with temperatures in the depth of winter down to -90° F.

The effect on the Laptev Sea is a quick freeze, as the winds start to flow off the land. It is all the quicker because the water is made brackish by the Lena River’s floods. However as the Lena River’s waters freeze, the flow swiftly shrinks. Also the winds start to pick up off the land, as the difference in temperature between the sea and the tundra increases. For a brief time there is a maritime airmass rubbing cheeks with an arctic high, and often this breeds storms that roll along the Siberian coast (with these storms having an oddity: Warmer winds from the north than from the south.) (Not so odd in Australia, I suppose.) These storms churn the water and can break up the ice, yet the freeze can be delayed but not denied. Eventually the Laptev is ice-covered.

However even when ice-covered, though less heat is lost, heat continues to radiate up through the ice. It may seem odd to call it “heat” when it is below freezing, but it is far “hotter” than the air pouring off Siberia. The air over the land is often below -50°F while the air over the sea-ice is “warmed” and seldom below -30°F. This difference can create “land-breezes” that in fact are roaring gales, and the gales are so strong they push the Laptiv Sea ice away from shore, creating a polynya of open water even in the depth of winter. This creates a difference in air temperature at the surface of +28°F over the water and -50°F over the land, which can only increase the gales, and the result is that large amounts of Laptev sea-ice are exported towards the North Pole. Most winters see the Laptev Sea as the largest creator and exporter of sea-ice, though the amounts vary a lot from year to year, depending on weather patterns.

Each time the polynya forms and the exposed water must be refrozen, an interesting process occurs wherein salt is exuded from the forming ice. Unlike Antarctica, where the super-cooled brine vanishes down to great depths, Laptev brine sinks in shallow water. In the delta of the Lena River the water becomes much saltier, as the summer flood turns to a winter trickle, and the “lens” of fresher water atop the Laptev Sea is constantly frozen and exported.

Just imagine a scientist trying to get his mind around all the variables we have discussed already. For a true scientist the challenge is a sheer joy, though for a person who wants a simple answer the Laptev Sea is a nightmare. Even if you could comprehend one year’s changes in temperature and salinity, the following year is likely to be completely different. One year the Lena basin may experience cold and drought as the following year sees mildness and rains, greatly altering the flow of fresh water into the Laptev Sea, and therefore altering the point at which water freezes, and changing all sorts of exchanges between water and air, all sorts of up-welling and down-welling influencing currents, and influencing evaporation rates and the formation of storms.

Just, (for the joy of it), consider this variable: In the case of fresh water, water at 32.1° F floats on top of water at 35°F, but in the case of salt water, water at 32.1°F sinks below water at 35°F. For your homework assignment, figure out the flow of fresh water from the Lena River, chilling as it flows into the Laptev Sea, and also becoming more saline, and determine the point at which it stops being more buoyant than the water it is entering, and starts to sink.

I think the true joy of a true scientist is not so much in figuring everything out, as it is in seeing how wonderful everything is. We might find some answers, but we will never comprehend the entirety of the sheer majesty and magnitude of what our Creator has achieved.


8 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE —The Drastic Laptev Majesty—

  1. I was going to comment that people who had spent a few generations living around the area might have an idea on what was likely to happen in the immediate future. Then I thought about all the instances of entire communities being overtaken by a weather related natural disaster which they didn’t see coming or didn’t realise how bad it was going to be.

    • I have a degree of respect for people who are familiar with an area, but really bad events can catch many off guard, even the old-timers. I read of a hurricane that hit New England in the 1600’s that drowned Indians with its storm surge, and that raised my eyebrow, for I figured the Indians were usually weather-wise.

  2. As we are all too aware, mainstream science does not give a rat’s royal behnid about truth and wonder, but instead is all about funding and political correctness. Namely massaging the data to conform to bogus model predictions and to keep the scary false narrative alive, regardless of the actual facts. Very sad!

    • I just hope there are enough scientists left who understand that building upon sand isn’t a wise idea.

      You are living in the so-called “swamp”, which produces “swamp science”, and tends to make much it touches filthy. If the “mainstream” becomes a swamp, the river stops flowing, and the block produces a crisis. (How’s that for a symbolic statement?)

    • Glad you appreciated this post.

      The Laptev Sea is interesting to watch, using the satellite thickness-maps, during the dark days of winter. Nearly always you’ll notice a polynya form. Of course, the new, thin ice has nothing to do with “warming”, as it is caused by amazingly bitter gales roaring and pushing the sea-ice out to sea, but equally amazing are the people who notice thin ice in the Laptev Sea in April and immediately assume it shows the winter was warm.

      • You’re welcome as ever Caleb 🙂

        I remember reading about this on an old post over at WUWT a few years back and marveled at how much affects the arctic, including river outflow (possibly made warmer by industry if I recall).

        It does make me laugh as well when they speak of heatwaves in winter up there as it’s 20 our 30 degrees above avg. yet still well below freezing. 40 degrees below to 20 is still cold(rare to get low 20s f here) and that heat gets lost to space anyway. It’s all these intricacies that make watching so much fun.


      • Yes, and I actually don’t want that heat lost up to space, now that I’m pretty much past skiing. I want the warmth to stay down here, which is what happens when there is a zonal flow. A colder Pole actually makes for a warmer winter down at my latitude, but such subtlety seems lost on those who fail to notice that a warmer Pole seems to go hand in hand with snows in the Sahara.

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