ARCTIC SEA ICE –Trapped Ships–

Whalers 2 1871_Whaling_Disaster

One great source for pre-satellite-era records of sea-ice is the logs of whaling ships. Alarmists of the sea-ice-breed are made very uncomfortable by the fact that greed, and daring, and desire-to-support-families, led whalers to seek the whales at the very edge of the sea-ice, which happened to be where plankton was prolific and life was lushest and whales tended to congregate.

When sea-ice Alarmists estimate the state of sea-ice in pre-satellite times they make some assumptions which likely are audacious and incorrect, such as that the extreme extent of 1979 was the “norm”.  The data we have, as a basis for old maps, is sparse, and sea-ice Alarmists infill areas that we have no data for with solid ice. Then they have big trouble explaining how it was sailing vessels were hunting in areas they claim were solid ice, considering a wooden whaling ship, powered by flapping sails, had none of the powers of a modern metal-prowed  icebreaker, powered by diesel or even uranium.

Whalers 1 whaling-disaster-pack-ice-300x211

The simple yet driving motivation was that back then whale-oil was a superior form of lighting a home. It was cleaner and brighter than tallow candles. Tallow was basically sheep-fat, and few purified it to lanolin. The poor burned tallow and the wealthy paid much more for whale oil. For a young man whaling was a more exciting and lucrative way to earn a living, than herding sheep.  Consequently men went to sea for whales, and the wealthy had whale oil lamps. Somewhat accidentally, in records of whaling clear back to the 1100’s, we have records of the edge of the sea-ice back to the 1500’s as whalers sought the northern seas where whales congregated, and from the old records we’ve gleaned sea-ice trivia, such as that there was open water by Svalbard in the early 1600’s.

Whale 6 1024px-Walvisvangst_bij_de_kust_van_Spitsbergen_-_Dutch_whalers_near_Spitsbergen_(Abraham_Storck,_1690)

The failure of sea-ice Alarmists to study history often gets a bit embarrassing.  They speak with supposed authority, and make asses of themselves. This has happened again, with the past summer’s Atlantic-to-Pacific flow pushing the sea ice away from the North coast of Greenland, and the media, with the help of discredited “experts” such as Peter Waldhams, blazing headlines about the open water north of Greenland being something that has never been seen before.

Whalers 6 greenland-north-open-water_13-aug-2018-nasa_nsidc-15-aug-2018-report

Peter Waldhams has garnered a lot of free publicity by, year after year, stating, in April. that the Pole would be ice free the following summer. Year after year he is proven incorrect. As people pay less and less attention to him he gets more and more desperate to attract attention, and this year he employed the emotional topic of cuddly polar bear cubs,  stating the polar bears cubs would starve, due to the ice shifting away from Greenland, (though he knows less than I do about polar bears).

Dr. Susan Crockford, who likely has scrutinized every published paper written about polar bears in English, as well as many in other languages,  promptly took him to task. Apparently polar bears simply do not live in northern Greenland, (nor do seals, nor, for that matter, do Eskimos).

Sea ice silly season: Wadhams spouts fake facts about polar bears of northern Greenland

I would like to add, to Susan’s excellent rebuttal, a few comments concerning other times the sea ice was absent on the north coast of Greenland, as was noted by Whalers of the past. (It gets a bit tiresome belaboring these old points, but the Waldhams of the world never listen, and my hammering-away never penetrates their thick skulls, so I have to be repetitive to counter their repetitive guff.)

Back around 2004 the late John Daly noted on his site that the British admiralty records of November, 1817, contain a statement that begins:

“It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate, inexplicable at present to us, must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years, greatly abated….”

I found this statement odd, for this disappearance of sea-ice occurred at the same time as very cold conditions occurred in Western Europe (though not in Eastern Europe) called “The Year Without A Summer”. I sought help in my quest for answers with this Post on “Watts Up With That” in 2013.

The comments from that post were wonderful and of great help to my continuing education. In a nutshell, what I have learned is:

Sea-ice usually piles up against northern Greenland due to the Transpolar Drift, and then either crunches west along the coast of the Canadian Archipelago or else east, where it is ordinarily flushed south through Fran Strait and down the east coast of Greenland. However this flow is by no means steady. O-buoy 9 taught us the sea-ice not only surges and retreats with every storm, but also with every tide.  In Fram Strait the  progress south is anything but regular, with “wrong-way” flows possible if the ordinary high pressure over Greenland’s icecap is replaced by low pressure. And, last but not least, there can be a major derangement of the ordinary flow, brought on (apparently) by volcanic eruptions and the onset of a “Quiet Sun”.

A highly unusual situation was created in 1816 by the onset of the Dalton Minimum coinciding with two of the millennium’s largest volcanic eruptions, in 1810 and 1815. The atmospheric flow, usually around the planet, was so perturbed it came right over the top and flushed a very large amount of the Pole’s sea-ice down into the Atlantic, so cooling the Atlantic’s water that Western Europe had a cold summer (sort of the opposite of this summer, when the water by Britain was warm.) Meanwhile the whalers, heading up into Fram Strait, were astonished by the lack of ice. Many parts of the North Greenland coast were first seen, explored, mapped and named, at that time. One whaler commented that, if his job was exploration and not hunting whales, he could have sailed to the Pole. Another apparently circumnavigated Greenland,  heading north through Fram Strait and then west and then south through Nare’s Strait into Baffin Bay.

In other words, two hundred years ago the sea-ice wasn’t merely nudged north from the north coast of Greenland. It was completely gone.

These reports greatly excited the British Admiralty, which had high hopes the climate was changing and a new trade route could be established over Canada to China. With the great war with Napoleon finished, they had a 600-ship-Navy sitting about doing very little, and therefore it was possible to embark upon a great 30-year period of exploration, seeking to find a Northwest Passage. Besides leading to the Franklin tragedy, it gave (and gives) us many other sea-ice observations, (which the likes of Peter Waldhams steadfastly and obstinately ignore).

Meanwhile it was getting harder and harder to find whales. One of the last places where whales were common was the North Pacific, up in Bering Strait. In 1846 the North Pacific fleet of whalers numbered 292 ships, but couldn’t supply enough oil. Prices were very high, and whaling was worth it. But so was seeking other sources of oil. Then, in 1858, a new supply became available in Pennsylvania.

Whaler 3 1862 Earlyoilfield

By 1871 the North Pacific Whaling fleet had shrunk to around 40 ships. Prices had crashed, and it simply wasn’t worth spending two years at sea getting oil, when railways had been built to Pennsylvania, and the new supply was just hours away.

In 1871 the final fleet, perhaps desperate for profits, was pressing it’s luck, north of Alaska in late August, and, on September 2, 33 of the ships were trapped by a wind shift that brought ice south against the shore of Alaska to their west, and then pressed more sea-ice in on them. A ship was crushed and a few others developed leaks, and the captains met to make a decision on whether to wait for the wind to shift, or to abandon their ships. On September 12 they chose to abandon their ships and travel 70 miles by longboat to the seven ships safe in open water, on the other side of where the ice was jammed against the Alaskan shore. (If they had waited two weeks a wind-shift would have opened a channel along the shore, but with the open water already starting to skim over with ice they were not willing to gamble.) They then enacted an amazing escape, with over a thousand people (including the wives and children of some captains), escaping to the seven surviving ships, which dumped their cargoes to make room for the people, and brought everyone safely to Hawaii in October. Not a life was lost, though whaling was basically finished, as a profitable business.

Besides being a good story, this history tells us there was open water north of Alaska in 1871, and makes sea-ice Alarmists look a little foolish when they suggest such open water on that coast is a new thing. How could it be a new thing, considering the Eskimos themselves were whalers, and went out whaling to the east of where commercial whalers dared to go? And also considering that the whales themselves need air to breathe and do not travel under solid ice? (Larger whales can break through ice that is a foot or two thick, but don’t like to trap themselves in such a predicament. When trapped by swift movements of sea-ice they remain trapped in areas of open water rather than diving under the thicker ice, even when attacked by polar bears at the edge.) (How whales know how thick the ice is, I can’t say.[sonar?])

My personal guess, judging from all I’ve read, is that the sea-ice is currently somewhat further from the coast of Alaska than “normal”, considering the PDO has been in it’s warm phase and we are still in the lagged-period after a “super El Nino” and a “noisy sun”.

People use the odd word “recovery” for the increase in sea-ice, when more sea-ice is usually related to periods of hardship for humanity. I think true “recovery” is less ice, and that we have been in a long-term “recovery” from the Little Ice Age, but I worry that the decrease in sea-ice that we have benefited from may be coming to an end, with the sun going “quiet.” The PDO has recently sunk back from its “warm” phase.

PDO June pdo_short

Also there are more obstructions to those seeking to complete the Northwest Passage this year than last year. Forgive me if I sound like a Global Cooling Alarmist, but there is thick sea-ice against the coast east of Barrow, thinner ice along the coast by the Mackenzie Delta, and a major plug of ice in Franklin Channel, preventing the use of a favorite shortcut.


Whalers 4 FullSizeRender

At this point we turn to our on-the-scene reporters, such as the family aboard the “Dogbark” (Hat tip to Nigel for supplying the link.) They found mostly ice-free water as far as Barrow. (Notice fresh snow on the roof, and ice on the distant horizon.) (Note: I  was unaware when posting that this picture automatically updates.)

Barrow Webcam

However east of Barrow they started to see more ice.

And then they received news Franklin Strait was starting to refreeze already, and also that a small boat, further east than they, was trapped.  So they chose to head back. They had discovered the arctic was not as “ice-free” as they supposed.

Meanwhile the three adventurers in the iceboat-catamaran we’ve been following are making excellent time, now that they chose to head back. The wind that opposed them is now with them. They are also moving into an area with scattered ice and much open water. They actually don’t want too much open water, as that allows seas to build and their craft is small. But the ice is drifting the right direction now, and they made nearly ten miles of progress one night, hauled up onto ice and sleeping. However the nights are swiftly getting longer and the cross-polar-flow puts them on the cold side of the Pole. They still face the danger old whalers faced, of being frozen to a standstill, and faced with a long hike.

This brings up an interesting point about the “extended summer” at the Pole, as seen by the DMI temperature graph.

This mildness at the Pole is largely due to the Atlantic air flowing that way, displacing the colder air towards Alaska and south of 80º north latitude (which is south of what the DMI graph measures.) The map below shows the sub-freezing temperatures displaced towards Bering Strait. (You should remember warm “noon” is up, in the map below, and cold “midnight” is down, towards Svalbard.)

The above shifting-of-cold-off-the-Pole made me wonder if a warmer Pole might be a sign of a colder autumn and winter, in places further south, because cold air wasn’t hanging around up at the Pole, and instead was exiting south. So I decided to compare the DMI gtraphs for one of the warmest autumns I recall, when there was no frost (in my garden) until mid-November (on the coast of Maine), to the following year, when it was so cold there was already sea-smoke in late November. The two autumns were 1975 (left) and 1976 (right).



In this example, when it was colder at the Pole it was a warm autumn on the coast of Maine, while, when it was warmer at the Pole, Maine experienced an early onset to winter.

While this is admittedly a single example, it does suggest (to me at least) that we are better off further south when the cold stays up at the Pole. However this August the cross-polar-flow is continuing on, past the Pole and past Alaska, all the way south through Montana to Texas, which creates a reactionary flow up the east coast of the USA, and makes it amazingly wet and muggy here in New Hampshire, in the summer, (but suggests coastal snowstorms for our winter). For summertime, when the storm-tracks usually stay quietly demure to the north, the current storm-track seems loopy and winter-like,

Of course this pattern can change. I should leave the long-range stuff to the masters like D’Aleo and Bastardi.  In fact there already seems to be a shift in the cross polar flow, from Atlantic-to-Pacific to Siberia-to-Alaska. Not that we haven’t seen some Siberia-to-Alaska stuff all summer, in the form of weak versions of “Ralph” (low pressure) swinging across in a fight with the Siberian”Igor” (high pressure), for domination of the Pole.  What has been most striking (to me) is that things don’t travel around the Pole, and the flows seem far more meridional (loopy) than zonal.

Most recently we saw a shift. Rather than high pressure from Siberia we saw a Scandinavian high “Sven” head north behind the last Siberia-to-Alaska”Ralph”. Incidentally Sven’s appearance was what convinced our three adventurers that headwinds would defeat their effort to reach the Pole.  However Sven was followed by an Atlantic version of Ralph, and this sneak-attack-from-the-rear bumped Sven off the Pole into the Beaufort Sea, right over our sailors.

Let’s look at the maps.

On August 17 Sven expanded north as the last Siberian “Ralph” retreated down into Canada. (Ironically, Sven’s expansion briefly gave our sailors southern headwinds just when they turned south to escape northerly headwinds.)

Then, by August 20, Sven had shifted across the Pole and was scooting the sailors swiftly down towards Alaska. An Atlantic low was deciding not to do the normal thing, which would be to prefer the warm waters and updrafts over the Siberian coast, but instead to counter-intuitively head north for the  downdraft-inducing cold sea-ice of the Pole. Why? Perhaps Sven deflected it, or perhaps the old remnants of the Siberian “Ralph” across Baffin Bay attracted it, (or perhaps both), but in any case a new “Ralph” was born.



By August 22 the clash between Sven and Ralph was creating a new cross-polar flow from Siberia to Canada. Ice was being pushed back towards Greenland, rather than away. (Media crickets).  Our sailors were still getting north winds that help them. Less Atlantic moisture was being drawn north.

Noon is up, in the map above, whereas noon is down, in the map below. Notice how much colder the Pacific side is, in the map below. Night is having an increasing effect in the north, as it swings around the Pole like the hand of a clock, or like a spoon stirring a pot.


This morning Ralph has conquered the Pole. (I would appreciate it very much if people forgot the forecast I made last spring, stating that we would not see Ralph reappear, due to what I thought the lagged effects of the La Nina would be, for, “Thar He blows!”) (And models suggest he will stay a while.)

For those interested, here is the sea-ice “extent” graph. (Yawn.) Due to the thickness of the remaining ice at the Pole, I think the future graph is more likely to copy the navy-blue 2014 line, than the green 2016 line, as we approach the yearly minimum.

And here is the comparison of thickness between last year (left) and this year (right):


Generally speaking, the ice has been pushed from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side. If you are a sea-ice Alarmist I suggest you focus on the Atlantic side, and how the sea-ice has been pushed north from Franz Josef Land, Svalbard and Greenland.  Pay no attention to how this push has compressed and thickened the sea-ice in the Central Arctic, nor to how the sea-ice off Eastern Siberia and Alaska has increased, where there was open water last year.

Me? I am intrigued by the cross-polar-flows, and how they feed the creation of “Ralph” at the Pole. I am mulling it over, and comparing it with the amazing cross-polar-flow of around 1816, which dumped so much ice down into the Atlantic, to a point sea-ice even was drifting up on the beaches of Ireland.  Hmm. If that happened again it would likely involve me in all sorts of squabbles, because I’d be suggesting the Quiet Sun, and not CO2, was the boss.

I think these squabbles occur because I attend to the study of the past, whereas the Waldhams of the world have no clue what happened, and are largely inventing things out of whole cloth, because it “sounds right” and “feels right”.

But at least there is one thing we can all agree upon.  It is this: Al Gore was wrong, and the arctic will not be ice-free by 2014.

Stay tuned.


9 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Trapped Ships–

  1. Nice write up, Caleb. I’ve noticed there hasn’t been much gnashing of teeth about Greenland melting so I checked the ice accumulation graph and it looks like a net gain of 500 Gigatons this year. That’s the most I’ve seen since I’ve been watching that graph the last ten years I think. Not sure how it relates to anything. I’m sure the faithful have another theory (probably the jet stream again) to blame global warming though. It would be interesting to compare quiet solar years to that graph of Greenland but I think it’s all too chaotic for a simple correlation.

    • I think the increase in accumulation and decrease in melting may be due to the AMO shifting towards it’s “cold” phase. I was not expecting the shift for another five years. When the shift takes place the Alarm will have to shift from Global Warming to Global Cooling, I think.

    • Thanks for the link. I only briefly scanned the paper. It gives me the sense the ice-cores are not easy to date, even in the relatively recent past. I’ve always wondered if those cores miss short-term peaks and valleys in CO2 concentration.

      I got a chuckle over the word “firnification”, which I’d never run across before.

      Considering that paper was written in 1998, a lot of willful ignoring has occurred, by people who suggest the dating of ice-cores is exact and precise.

  2. You wrote this sage paragraph –

    “I think these squabbles occur because I attend to the study of the past, whereas the Waldhams of the world have no clue what happened, and are largely inventing things out of whole cloth, because it “sounds right” and “feels right”.”

    It immediately brought a lyric to mind. A lot of things do trigger the mind to pull up appropriate sounding lyrics. Can’t even guess the artists, but the line says it all –

    “that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.”

    And that is how, it appears, the average climate alarmist looks at contrary data


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