I prefer to contemplate arctic sea-ice in July. It is my summertime escape from inland heat and humidity, because I can’t escape to the shore, as I could as a spoiled child with a father rich enough to afford a seaside summer-house. But in dark December, when the arctic is lurking outside my front door, (and sometimes even inside my drafty old house), rather than contemplating sea-ice I prefer to contemplate being young and spoiled, and wearing nothing but a bathing suit for days on end, brown as a nut because sixty years ago mothers didn’t fret about skin cancer.
What does this have to do with sea-ice? Well, as a boy I was so glad to escape the snobby suburbs I wanted nothing to do with snobs at the sea-side, and therefore had an aversion to having anything to do with sailboats. Sailboats seemed the territory of snobs. Instead my joy was rowing about in a tiny dingy, and this made me aware of the currents caused by the tides, which could make my rowing easy or difficult, depending on whether they were with me or against me. Because I was aware of whether tides were ebbing or flooding, I also became aware of a brief poise between the two states, called “slack tide”.
In the simplistic thoughts of a boy it seemed “slack tide” should be easy to calculate, because it would be the moment the tide stopped rising and started to fall. I soon realized “slack tide” wasn’t as simple as it seemed.
For example, when I desired to dip-net for blue-claw-crabs in a tidal marsh I’d row my little boat down a cove’s shore to a delta of sand, seashells and gravel, where the tidal stream was exiting the marsh through a gully that penetrated a sandbar. I’d have to hop out and drag my dingy up the braided stream to where the braids came together in a single channel under a little foot bridge. Looking back to the cove, I could see the tide was starting to rise and cover the very bottom of the delta, but looking into the marsh, I could see the water was still flowing out, and would continue to flow out for more than an hour before the tide rose to the footbridge, and “slack tide” would occur at the bridge as the water stopped flowing out and started flowing in.
I’d dip for crabs in the deeper places where the stream scoured against the outer banks of curves in the meandering channel, trying to keep in mind the tide was changing. Being a boy, such memos often were misplaced in the jumble I called thought, and as I paddled I’d suddenly notice the current becoming slack. This meant I’d have to paddle against the current on my way out, and also that, when I had to hop out and pull my boat by its painter over shoals, or through narrows where the current was strong, the water wouldn’t be sun-warmed and pleasant, but uncomfortably cold.
Interesting things happened when that slack water moved upstream. For example, if you you stood on that little footbridge after dark and shone a flashlight down, you might see a large striped bass, forty or even fifty pounds, venturing inland with the current. Out over the marsh you could hear a odd, popping sound which I was never sure whether was the striped bass, or the eels they hunted.
I was becoming a decent naturalist, for age eleven, but just then my parents decided they didn’t like having a summer house and would rather give their money to lawyers, so they got a divorce. (Not that I have anything against divorce between consenting adults, but by law the boy should get to keep the summer house.)
But now let me return from warmth, and summer, and the halcyon days of a long lost youth, to the bitter business of winter and arctic sea-ice. A sort of slack tide is seemingly occurring at the Pole.
The “tides” affecting the Pole are numerous, due to the many variables involved in the chaos called “weather”. The most obvious is the biannual shift from 24-hour sunshine to 24-hour darkness. After a slack-tide period in the summer, when temperatures flat-line for roughly two months near or just above freezing, with little variation, they abruptly plunge nearly thirty degrees (Celsius) between September 10 and November 10. Then, during the winter, they flat-line again, albeit only in the averages. In reality there are dramatic shifts in temperature during the winter, as arctic air surges south as “arctic outbreaks,” and is replaced by maritime air flowing north from the Atlantic or Pacific.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific are effected by different “tides” that last roughly sixty years, called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). In their”cold” phases both cycles cool the waters in their northern reaches, causing sea-ice to expand south, which tends to cool maritime air coming north, which in turn tends to allow the sea-ice at the Pole to grow thicker. The differences between the “tides” can be seen by comparing the polar temperature graphs of 1963 (left) with 2016 (right).
Roughly the change amounts to between a fifteen and twenty degree difference (Celsius) in winter temperatures at the Pole, which would obviously influence the amount of sea-ice that formed. However such polar temperatures should not be given the same “weight” as temperatures at the tropics, when calculating an “average” for the planet. Why not? Because winter air at the Pole is bone dry, whereas tropical air is downright juicy.
Humidity needs to be included, in any honest calculation of how much energy (and therefore “warming”) a unit of air holds. Unfortunately Alarmists calculate our planet’s temperature giving arctic air the same weight as tropical air, and much of the “Global Warming” we have witnessed since 1963 has been caused by bone dry air getting moister at the Pole during the depth of winter. This creates a false narrative, for the addition of the slightest amount of moisture to such bone dry air causes temperatures to rocket upwards the fifteen to twenty degrees which is so significant to Alarmist calculations. The same amount of moisture would make almost no difference to temperatures at the equator.
That being said, 2016 seems to represent a sort of “high tide” in the oscillation of such temperatures, and we may now be in a sort of “slack tide”, but just starting to edge downwards. (2016 left; 2019 right)
A third “tide” affecting sea-ice is the Sunspot Cycle.
We are currently at a sort of “low tide” between solar cycles 24 and 25, involving a cycle of roughly 11 years. We also may well be at a different “low tide” involving a period of roughly 200 years, with the last “low tide” being The Dalton Minimum, 200 years ago.
There is currently a lot of discussion about what the effect of low sunspot numbers actually means, and my conclusion is that the jury is still out. Alarmists like to state that the effect of the sun is minimal, for the radiance of the sun apparently only varies a tenth of a percent. However this variation is far larger than the variation of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is not one or two parts per thousand but one or two parts per million. I tend to feel that, in their eagerness to blame CO2, Alarmist ignore the changes in TSI (Total Solar Irradiance) in the same manner they ignore the huge difference in moisture in the air between the tropics and the arctic, and how that affects temperature.
While Alarmists agree a small thing can have a huge effect when talking about CO2, they dislike thinking a small change in the intensity of sunlight can have equally huge or perhaps greater consequences. This is especially true concerning situations that apparently are balanced on a hair, such as the alterations between El Nino conditions and La Nina conditions in the equatorial Pacific. A shift between an El Nino and a La Nina can have worldwide repercussions, yet are caused by changes so subtle they are very difficult to predict. Just as a small pebble may cause a huge avalanche, a slight change in the intensity of Trade Winds could shift an El Nino to a La Nada, or vice-versa. I often wonder if the slight decrease in energy reaching the earth when the TSI is at “low tide” could slightly decrease the Trade Winds, which could precipitate an El Nino, or prevent the development of a La Nina.
This would create a counter-intuitive result, namely that slightly less energy reaching the earth would not create slightly less heat, but rather would create warming, because El Ninos are associated with warming.
This solar-caused warming could in turn explain the failure of the PDO to turn to its “cold” phase in the expected manner, five years ago. The “rising tide” of the PDO is being masked by the “sinking tide” of the sunspot cycle. However the sunspot cycle is bottoming out, and soon it too will be rising. Perhaps the mask will soon be taken off.
This makes me a little nervous, for in certain situations a “slack tide” is anything but slack. For example, sometimes a rising tide at the mouth of a river is “masked” by a sandbar or jetty or jutting reef of rock, and water is kept back from entering the river except through a narrow channel. Then, as the tide keeps rising, the water starts to pour over the obstruction, and abruptly much more water enters the river and pushes upstream. If this surge is funneled by narrowing banks it can become a “tidal bore”, which is anything but boring. It can be a wall of water six feet high, and nothing you want to face in a small dingy. Yet all a tidal bore actually amounts to is a changing of the tide, and a very quick and condensed version of “slack water”.
I sometimes wonder if certain dramatic shifts in temperature seen in climatic history could involve similar dynamics. Various proxies derived from cores taken in icecaps and sea-bottoms indicate fairly stable temperatures which abruptly show a large rise or fall, without any visible rhyme or reason to explain the drama of the shift. Perhaps, just as a tidal bore resembles a tsunami yet requires no earthquake, sudden shifts in temperature require no earth-shaking event, but rather the slow rising of a “tide” to overcome whatever was resisting and “masking” it.
The expansion and decrease of sea-ice involves multiple variables. I’ve clumsily described the seasons, the AMO and PDO, and sunspot cycles, but likely there are many more. There are multiple “tides”, sometimes working in conjunction and sometimes opposing each other. It seems to me the most dramatic changes would involve “tides” that were formerly opposed starting to work in conjunction. In such a situation opposition might create a calm, but it might be the calm before a storm.
This in turn can make a calm that might seem boring become very exciting. It might seem a bit cynical to distrust peace and quiet, like the sentries at night in a movie, who stand in the dark with the background music intensely suspenseful and ominous. The first sentry states, “It’s quiet…too quiet”. The second sentry states, “I agree. Trouble’s a-brewing, when they play this music.” (However rather than cynical and pessimistic, I prefer to see myself as possessing a certain enthusiastic zest for life).
The old-timers used to speak of a yearly “equatorial storm” which tended to occur around the fall and spring equinox. On these dates the Poles are shifting back and forth between six months of complete sunlight to six months of complete darkness, and it makes a sort of sense that the greatest flood and ebb tides should be occurring around these dates, creating the greatest contrasts between tropical and polar air, gross imbalances which must be balanced, creating hurricanes, typhoons, and monster North-Atlantic and North-Pacific gales. Once this imbalance is corrected things can quiet down into a sort of “slack tide”.
In my admittedly simplistic way of viewing things, a sign of imbalance is a loopy or “meridional” jet stream, which transports arctic air far south and tropical air far north. A sign that things are temporarily in balance is a “zonal” jet stream, which circles the planet in a flat manner, as cold air seemingly has no need to head south, nor does warm air need to head north.
Besides the jet stream being knocked out of balance by the fickle seasonality of the sun, other events can knock things out of kilter. For example, huge volcano eruptions apparently vomit so much ash into the atmosphere that the jet stream can become very loopy, attempting to balance things out. After two enormous eruptions between 1810 and 1815 (seen as ash in ice-cores in both Greenland and Antarctica) the jet stream became so wildly erratic that it apparently surged right across the Pole, from the Pacific into the Atlantic, in the process shoving an unprecedented amount of arctic sea-ice down into the North Atlantic. This caused the whalers up by Svalbard and northern Greenland to speak of Global Warming, as they saw no sea-ice to their north, while the people of Ireland shivered and spoke of Global Cooling, as icebergs grounded on their coasts, an event old-timers stated had never been seen before (nor since).
In terms of increasing the levels of sea-ice, a zonal flow that keeps the cold air up at the Pole is preferable. This not only allows the sea-ice to thicken, but also tends to flush less sea-ice south into the Atlantic. Unfortunately for those who hope to silence yakking, “sea-ice-Death-Spiral” Alarmists (by having a great growth of sea-ice manifest), the current quasi-zonal flow may mean we are now seeing the “calm before the storm”.
If you enjoy worry, most worrisome is the fact we are roughly fifteen years into a “Quiet Sun” period, and it was roughly fifteen years into the last Quiet Sun, (the Dalton Minimum), that volcanoes began popping off; (not merely the two super-volcanoes I mentioned, but many smaller ones as well.) While I myself cannot claim to comprehend how something as gentle as a sunbeam can erupt volcanoes, scientists I respect suggest there is some correlation we don’t yet understand. Therefore, worry if you will.
Another worry you may enjoy is the fact the “rising tide” of the “cold” PDO has been opposed by the “falling tide” of a sunspot-cycle, creating a precarious sort of balance. Now, even though the next sunspot-cycle may be weak, the sunspot-tide will start rising, and it will start working in conjunction with the PDO. Meanwhile, across the arctic, the AMO is expected to be a tide that will stop falling and start rising, as a “warm” phase gives way to a “cold” one. Having these three variables all shift and begin working in conjunction may be factors in some longer-term balancing act, but in the short term I suspect they will knock things very much out-of-balance, and cause some atmospheric reaction I certainly don’t dare forecast, but very much hope I live to see.
This is very dramatic talk, considering the current situation is rather dull. To be frank, the Pole is more zonal than I recall ever seeing during winter, in recent years. It’s Dullsville, Baby, Dullsville…….unless you are like me and suspect it is sort of calm before a storm.
What maps show is that high pressure basically parked at the Pole, and though it has wobbled about a bit it has refused to be knocked off the top of the planet by some rude “Ralph” (area of anomalous low pressure) attempting to be king-of-the-mountain. It has been a traditional “Polar Cell” and has behaved in a traditional manner, with lows about its edges.
I lost some maps due to a vile virus invading my computer, but here are the Danish Meteorology Institute maps of the recent past. When I last posted on December 10 this was the situation:
At that point things were still fairly mobile, and the high pressure north of Canada represented a blob of cross-polar Siberian cold I expected would move south into North America. Some of it did, but not as a mighty high, but more as sneaky cold, bleeding south through Eastern Canada even as Pacific air fought its way into Western Canada. Over North America occurred a sort of state of confusion, with neither the warm Pacific Chinooks nor the Arctic Outbreaks winning, but both sides fighting to various standstills, and making life very hard but interesting for full-time weathermen. No so-called “pattern” would establish itself. Then my computer crashed, which explains six days of missing maps. When I staggered back to functioning on December 16 the maps show you didn’t miss much.
The low pressure north of Finland had moved to the Laptev Sea, as the gale by Iceland had weakened greatly and existed over the Kara Sea. Most interesting was the high pressure over the Pole. Some of it moved south into Canada, but the body stayed behind and, if anything can be called a “pattern”, it was the stubbornness of this high, so let’s call it “Stub.”
Stub stays stubborn, with lows wavering indecisively around it.
More of the same. “Feeder bands” from Pacific and Atlantic failing to fuel any sort of “Ralph”.
More of the same.
More of the same, but the first hints of “CC”, a low developing over the Canadian Archipelago.
Stub over Pole. CC very disconcerting, as it is a cold-core low with no obvious feeder-bands.
High pressure over Hudson Bay perhaps feeding CC, but, if so, feeder-bands are not very obvious in isotherm map. Stub remains stubborn.
Three days later, and Stub is getting nudged off the Pole. What I find hard to explain is how CC can have colder air than Stub. (Because highs are suppose to be cold air sinking and pressing down, and lows are suppose to be warm air lifting up.) Elsewhere, note Atlantic feeder-band artificially spikes Pole’s temperature even as surrounding areas are very cold.
Note: Feeder-band are chilling and failing to form a “Ralph.”
Feeder-band perhaps growing low pressure northeast of Svalbard, pushing Stub towards East Siberia, as CC is the coldest-cored arctic low I can remember seeing.
Feeder-band chilling swiftly, but has created a pathetic “Ralph” briefly at Pole, as Stub cycles towards East Siberia. CC is very cold, but at least has the decency to develop a hint of a feeder-band.
36 hours later: Current Map; Stub seems to be exiting into East Siberia, and perhaps the slack-tide period is ending. CC is still whirling north of the Canadian Archipelago, perhaps venting arctic air down into Canada, and also into Bering Strait, which has swiftly iced-over. The feeder-bands have faded, showing how such air loses heat in the dead of winter. Perhaps the small low in Fram Strait will come north and be a “Ralph”, but for the time being the Pole has remained quiet, and has generated cold.
This quasi-zonal pattern has allowed sea-ice to grow without undue interruptions, especially in Bering Strait and Hudson Bay. (Thanks to Ron Clutz for animation).
This growth of sea-ice has allowed the “extent” graph to show levels zoom up from “the lowest in recent years” to “the highest in recent years”.
But that ice isn’t coming south. What should concern us people-just-south-of-tundra is the cold air freezing that ice, kept north by the “slack tide” of a Quasi-zonal pattern. If things go a certain way, that building cold could rush south as a sort of “tidal bore”, and then it can be colder in southern locales than it is at the Pole, right into February.
If “historic” arctic outbreaks occur, you can expect to hear an uniquely backwards (but clever) argument from Alarmists. Rather than stating a zonal pattern creates more ice at the Pole, they will state more ice at the Pole creates a zonal pattern. (Never mind that we have just seen the opposite occur.) They state this because it allows them to state that, when a zonal pattern gives way to a meridional pattern, and cold air charges south, that the arctic outbreak is caused by less ice at the Pole. This allows them to say Global Warming makes us colder, even though only a decade ago they were saying our children would not know what snow looked like.
In actual fact we could be on the verge of dramatic cooling.
For example, suppose the Quiet Sun did slow the Trade Winds at the Equator, and suppress the up-welling of cold water, but then, as the Quiet Sun became more “noisy”, that suppression became less. And also suppose that the former suppression was opposing the PDO and keeping it from flipping to its “cold” phase.
Furthermore, suppose that the oppression of the PDO was not stopping its development, but rather was masking it on a superficial level. Even though the way we measure the PDO, with sea-surface-temperatures, showed the shift to from cold to warm wasn’t happening, suppose it was happening on levels we don’t measure, perhaps down in the deeps of the sea. If this was the case, then, when the Quiet Sun stopped opposing the PDO, the PDO would not need to start from scratch. Rather it would explode to its fullest magnitude, like a tidal bore charging a six foot wall of water up a river, even though no tide ever actually rises six feet all at once.