ARCTIC SEA ICE –Resupply Problems–

One problem with watching sea-ice is the tendency of some people to exaggerate any shift in conditions into an event which has great political (and therefore financial) significance. You could say that, in a manner of speaking, they become emotionally involved. Or you could say that they see the world through greed-colored glasses. In either case it tends to cloud judgement, (and we all know clouds effect sea-ice.) (Ha ha)

For example, last February 26 winds surging towards the Pole pushed sea-ice away from the north coast of Greenland.


The ice later shifted back south to the coast in March, and remained against the coast through much of the summer, but strong south winds again shifted the ice north in late August.

greenland shot-greenland-breakaway.dde573

Much ado was made of these polynyas. The fuss claimed the open water indicated unprecedented melting, (when much of the ice moved without melting), but I could see much of the fuss was based around misconceptions.

1.) Some eight years ago it dawned upon some that the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift tended to pile sea-ice against the north coasts of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago every winter.  It piled up to such a degree that sea-ice only six feet thick could become a large coastal area of jumbled sea-ice 15-20 feet thick. As this happened every winter, and as it was unlikely for such thick ice to melt during short summers (especially when shaded by tall mountains, and clouds over those mountains, to the south,) it was decided by someone the Pole would never become totally “ice-free”. Therefore the definition of “ice-free” was changed. “Ice-free” would henceforth mean all sea-ice except  roughly 1 million km² along the north coasts of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. This suggested such sea-ice was permanent.  That is misconception #1.

2.) Sea-ice, even the sea-ice against the north coasts, is always in motion. A beautiful example can been seen in the time-lapse movie showing the journey of O-buoy 9, which rode the the Transpolar Drift across the North Pole and crashed up against the north coast of Greenland in 2016, before being swept east and then south through Fram Strait.

3.) For those who suggest such mobility of sea-ice is a purely modern phenomenon, it should be noted that whalers knew there was a polynya at the northern end of Baffin Bay, sometimes even daring to winter in it. The attempt of the Polaris expedition to reach the Pole in 1871 sought to exploit this polynya. An example of government bureaucratic bungling, the expedition was a fiasco, with the captain murdered.

Polaris 1 486376_498764390155509_1166219760_n

Within the fiasco was a tale of amazing human fortitude and courage. A group of sailors and their Eskimo guides, left behind on an ice floe, drifted on that ice floe for over 1800 miles, from Nares Strait on the northwest corner of Greenland to off the coast of Labrador, where they were rescued by a sealer. This defeats the misconception that Baffin Bay was frozen solid back then. The sea-ice was obviously very mobile in the winter of 1872-1873.

Polaris 2 700721377-1024x1024

3.) For those who state that such sea-ice mobility only occurred in Baffin Bay, and not on the Atlantic side, there is this,  in a report  to the British Admiralty in 1817:

“From an examination of the Greenland captains, it has been found that owing to some convulsions of nature , the sea was more open and more free from compact ice than in any former voyage they ever made: that several ships actually reached the eighty-fourth degree of latitude, in which no ice whatever was found; that for the first time for 400 years, vessels penetrated to the west coast of Greenland, and that they apprehended no obstacle to their even reaching the pole, if it had consisted with their duty to their employers to make the attempt.”

Please note that mention of “vessels penetrating to the west coast of Greenland.”  This indicates Greenland could be circumnavigated 200 years ago. The idea sea-ice was “shelf-ice” and frozen rigidly to coastlines until recently, is Misconception #3.

Only if you ignore history and accept such misconceptions does it becomes possible to make a great fuss about sea-ice moving away from the coast of Greenland, as this fellow does:

The fact of the matter is that sea-ice usually is crushed up against the coast.  The polynyas along the north coast of Greenland are so rare that animals that depend on areas of open water, such as seals and polar bears, are very uncommon in the northeast of Greenland. This made poor, old Peter Wadhams appear a little silly when he claimed last summer’s open water meant the local population of polar bears (which doesn’t exist) would starve, due to the open water.

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

A further link (which I unfortunately lost due to a computer crash, and haven’t been able to relocate), involved the US base at Nord, on the northeast corner of Greenland. The link was to a feasibility study from the early 1950’s, as I recall, and was somewhat amazing to read, because because it mentioned missions and projects that had to be canceled due blunders that occurred in terms of logistics. (Resupply is vital, when supplies determine whether or not you freeze to death.) It barely mentioned bickering between the USA (which wanted a post to watch Russia from), and Denmark (who feared they might lose sovereignty of Greenland), but you got the sense a lot was going on behind the scenes.  At times absurd care was taken not to offend the Danes, and resupply was held up as everyone dotted their “i’s” and crossed their4 “t’s”.

At that time crucial resupply of remote arctic outposts often involved gutsy pilots landing where no one had ever landed before. Ships were a far safer, preferred method of shipping supplies, and the feasibility study stated one liability of the Nord base was that it could only be reached by sea “every five to ten years.” Of course my ears perked up at that, for it suggests there was open water every five to ten years.

All in all the north coast of Greenland seems to be “usually but not always” ice-covered.

My question last summer was where the sea-ice went, when it moved north rather than being flushed south through Fram Strait, in the manner demonstrated by O-buoy 9. My hypothesis was that the north-moving sea-ice would crush up and thicken the ice in the Central Arctic, (which happened) and that some would then be carried by the Beaufort Gyre along the coast of the Canadian Archipelago towards the coast of Alaska, and therefore clog the western approaches to the Northwest passage.

Indeed this seems to have been the result of the past summer’s changed pattern. Tony Heller (at ), put together this comparison of sea-ice conditions on September 28 for the past 15 years, showing that the ice is thicker down at the western approaches to the Northwest Passage than any other year since 2003.

The above animation shows that one of the  current alarms, (the one about sea-ice retreating north from Svalbard having a drastic effect on the polar bear population), may be excessive, for there was no crash in polar bear populations when the ice retreated north of Svalbard in 2012 (to left)  (2018 to right):

Tony Heller’s animation also shows the ice retreated north of Svalbard in 2004. It apparently also retreated north of Svalbard in 1922.

1922 warm arctic 148023-1

This warm arctic interlude in 1922 puzzles me as the AMO was at the end of a “cold” cycle, and indicates some factor is involved which I don’t understand.

AMO image-20150528-31344-zr6dkt

To me this indicates a rising or falling AMO has no immediate power, determining sea-ice levels. The above 1922 article suggests the temperatures of sea’s around Svalbard dramatically warmed, by over ten degrees. (If that ocurred now some would be absolutely bug-eyed and certain we were doomed, those those folk bacck then seemed to survive just fine.) Me? I wonder what the cause was.

Currently the North Atlantic has cooled even as the AMO seems to be showing an upward blip.

One take-away I have gained from studying the arctic sea-ice is that there are few correct forecasts, in terms of sea-ice. Looking into the past, it appears that both reductions and increases in sea-ice can happen very quickly, and, when they do happen, people are usually somewhat astonished.  Until we are better at forecasting, one way of dealing with  such changes is to be very responsive to current conditions.  When we see sea-ice heading north from Greenland, we should recognize what goes up must come down somewhere else. We should have had our eyes open and should have seen the ice coming down to close the Northwest passage, and been as proactive as possible.

Apparently this was not the case when it came to resupplying three northern Canadian communities last summer. The ships could not make it, and now the lives of some three thousand are nervously awaiting shipments by air.

There perhaps the whiff of Bureaucratic bungling involved in the failure to resupply.

The stranded shipment was scheduled to be one of the last of the summer – but Holland said the territorial government, which recently took over the barge service, kept delaying the shipment.

“I just don’t understand why couldn’t bring barge in earlier in the season. They did it for other communities in the western Arctic – why not us? We want answers.”

More could be written on the subject of politics clouding ones views.  When the “results” presuppose things such as pay checks and pay raises, one is in a sense bribed to produce certain results.  This in turn can keep people from doing the simplest thing, which is to notice what is happening in the present tense. When forecasting cannot be relied upon one needs to fall back on a rapid-response system.

It seems odd that the media was so big on the sea-ice “melting” in the North of Greenland, but is so silent on the sea-ice “growing” at the western approaches of the Northwest Passage. Outside of Canada, there has been no mention I can find of the isolated Canadian communities in the mainstream media, and only the “Ice Age Now” mentioned it  in the blogosphere.

O well. Stay tuned.







6 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE –Resupply Problems–

  1. What could possibly have caused the Arctic to warm unexpectedly, AND can not be forecasted, would be a Bardarbunga like eruption “somewhere” on the Arctic sea floor. I would theorize that the mantle might be a bit thinner under the Arctic, and It might not be unreasonable to have possible small to moderate eruptions when there is a major quake, anywhere in the world or rather, when the harmonic vibrations running through the crust were just right. But an eruption pouring out on the undersea surface, like a Bardarbunga, or Kilauea would transport an enormous amount of heat into the water for the currents to circulate wherever they take it. Might even change the normal current patterns and cause significant changes in climate. Just a thought.

    • Interesting theory, Tom.

      I’ve wondered about the effect of underwater volcanoes myself. I have conflicting views. On one hand I’m always amazed by the ability of the sea to absorb lava with very little apparent warming. For example I’ve seen Hawaiian volcanoes pour rivers of lava into the sea with no noticeable blip in sea-surface-temperatures, except on an extremely local level, (Though perhaps much heat is lost as steam.) On the other hand, there have been queer holes melted in the sea-ice in the dead of winter suggestive of some sort of warm up-welling.

      In the end there is a lot of mystery surrounding the changes of the water temperature up in the arctic. The article from 1922 states the average yearly summertime water temperatures around Svalbard rose from 3 degrees to 15 degrees quite swiftly. If that happened now, can you imagine the hoopla it would generate?

      My own idea is that the northern branches of the Gulf Stream meander a lot, like a trickle of water moving over a smooth and impervious surface. Having loafed a fair amount in my time, I’ve watched such trickles, and it is not possible to predict them. (Drops from a faucet can be quite regular, and appear to stand still under a strobe light, but trickles are completely irregular and unpredictable, and sometimes stray far from a vertical shortest-distance between an up-point and a down-point.)

      I often try to guess where the currents will go by watching the winds. For example, a long period of winds from the north might discourage a current from the south. Or perhaps a long period of offshore wind could lead to upwelling of either colder or warmer water, which might then impede the ordinary flow of a current. But, at the same time, I remain aware that even without a breath of wind the Gulf Stream doesn’t follow a shortest-distance and can wiggle wildly to the left or right.

      It may be that we cannot predict when and where such tendrils of the Gulf Stream will head, but we should be able to notice where they are headed once they make up their mind, and respond to that.

      • It must be horrible to have all the knowledge and historical perspective that you have, to then be confronted by ignorant alarmists that have no intellectual curiosity and only know the inaccurate drivel that they have been spoon fed.

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