ARCTIC SEA ICE –Awaiting The Break-up–

One aspect of watching ice melt is that one becomes aware of misconceptions we all have, and which the media should end but doesn’t.  For example, people tend to think certain parts of North America are arctic, when they are not. All one needs to do is trace lines of latitude from North America around to Europe, and one gets their eyebrows lifted. The southern tip of Greenland is at the latitude of Stockholm, Sweden; and the southern end of Hudson Bay is at the latitude of  Hamburg, Germany.

If course it spoils the thrill of sensationalism if you mention, showing water pour off a glacier in Greenland, that it is as far south as Stockholm. The public then would compare a picture of flowers blooming in a Swedish summer park with the craggy coast of Greenland, and it would seem less surprising that ice melts at the edge of Greenland’s icecap.

In like manner, when writing about how swiftly the ice breaks up in Hudson Bay, it spoils the element of Alarmism if you mention it is as far south as northern Germany. Rather than the melt seeming surprising it would seem surprising that ice remains in July, for people would think how surprising it would be if there was ice on the sea-coast of Germany in July.

The fact of the matter is that it thaws right up to the North Pole in July, and temperatures can be above freezing and still below normal.

DMI4 0712 meanT_2017

Once you become aware that thaw is the norm up there in July, what becomes more interesting are the places that dip below freezing. It is quite common, for temperatures only need be three degrees below normal, and the rain changes to snow.

One thing I miss very much is the cameras we used to have drifting around up there. As recently as 2014 2015 we had seven views, and could witness fresh falls of snow and brief refreezes of the melt-water pools.  These were especially interesting because the satellites tended to miss these events, perhaps because they occurred at the wrong time of day, perhaps because they happened in a very small area, perhaps because refreezes involved a very thin layer of air right at the surface, or perhaps for some other reason. In any case, they stopped funding the cameras. (Let us hope the de-funding was not because certain people didn’t approve that the cameras showed freezing where politicians claimed there was melting.)

The only camera we have this year is a tough one, O-buoy 14,  which refused to be crushed by ice, and survived the winter. It is not out in the Arctic Sea, but down in Parry Channel at a latitude of roughly 74° north.  I like having it located where it sits, still frozen fast in immobile ice, because it allows us to compare the current situation with the year 1819, when William Parry sailed HMS Helca and Griper in the same waters.

William Parry original.1770

Parry sailed further north and west of where O-buoy 14 now sits, and then, as ice reformed in September, they cut a channel for the two boats, to get close to the shore of Melville Island, where they’d be less exposed to the crushing and grinding of moving ice.

William Parry The_Crews_of_H.M.S._Hecla_&_Griper_Cutting_Into_Winter_Harbour,_Sept._26th,_1819

Then they waited for the ice to melt. It was a long, long wait; ten months in all. It is interesting to read how Parry kept his crew from going nuts, especially during the three months of winter darkness. They produced plays and published a newspaper and, as it grew light, conducted expeditions along the coast of Melville Island on foot. Also, when some of the men showed signs of scurvy, Parry planted mustard and cress seeds in his cabin and fed the sprouts to the afflicted men. The first signs of thaw were in March, but the ice remained six feet thick.

In the year 2017 our first signs of thaw were much later, but sudden, and we swiftly developed an impressive melt-water pool on June 29:

Obuoy 14 0629C webcam

Of course, the media would generate sensationalism with such a picture, crowing about how the arctic is melting. Then they would get very quiet when the water drained down through a crack in the ice, as it did by July 8:

Obuoy 14 0708B webcam

The media would get even quieter when the camera then showed signs of fresh snow, as it did on July 12:

Obuoy 14 0712 webcam

And last but not least, there was a cold spell associated with the above view, and the melt-water pools were skimmed with ice, which needed to be melted away to make a little progress on July 13:

Obuoy 14 0713 webcam

What this makes me wonder about is the fortitude of Parry’s crew. They never got moving until August 1. Can you imagine how they felt when it snowed in July? (Or did it snow, back then, when it was supposedly colder?)

Our modern buoy is at roughly 103° west longitude. Parry was able to sail as far west as 113°46’W in the late summer of 1820. Then they noticed ice starting to reform. Apparently no one was eager to spend another winter up there, so they sailed lickity-split east the entire length of Parry Channel, escaping into Baffin Bay and arriving back in England in October.

It will be fun to watch this camera’s view. We are in a race with the year 1820, to see if we can get the ice moving before August 1. (One interesting thing is that, while the Navy satellite suggests the ice in Parry Channel is moving, the GPS attached to O-buoy 14 shows no movement. Once again we see the value of having an on-the-spot witness.)

I actually want the ice to move, so the view shifts around and we can see mountains in the distance.

Stay Tuned!

(Hat tip to Stewart Pid for always keeping me abreast of O-buoy 14 news.)

ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph Rains?–

Ralph hasn’t become the gale some models were foreseeing, but is a persistent feature at the Pole, and a wrench in the works of the summer thaw.   In essence Ralph creates clouds where I expect sun. This slows the creation of melt-water pools, which are a creation that quickly changes the albedo equation, for the brilliant white of the snows (which reflects light in a highly efficient manner) is changed to the battleship gray of slush (which absorbs more sunlight and accelerates the surface melt.) Once the slush turns into an actual pool particles of soot, volcano ash, and arctic algae often create a black bottom to the pool, which hastens the melt further, and on occasion melt down and create a hole to the sea beneath, weakening the ice and contributing to the break up of floes.

This is a time I sorely miss the floating cameras, for they gave you a visual proof of what otherwise is merely modeled guess-work. The only camera we have is lodged in the ice of Parry Channel, and can’t give us a clear idea of the conditions out in the open sea. However it is better than nothing, and does show the crispness of the drifted snow softening in the thaw.

Obuoy 14 0623 webcam

O-buoy 14 is down around 74° north latitude, and away from the center of Ralph near the Pole. I have an insatiable curiosity about higher latitudes. The DMI graph shows the mean, north of 80°, as being below normal but above freezing.

DMI4 0622 meanT_2017

To look at Dr. Ryan Maue’s maps of modeled temperatures (free week trial available at Weatherbell site) isn’t exactly helpful, because the GFS tends to average it all out to a blandness, while the Canadian differentiates to a degree where it seems to make storms more intense. Which is a curious George to trust? (GFS to left; JEM to right)

 The reason this matters is because in the polar summer snow can change to rain, and this makes an enormous difference. Snow (usually a dusting to an inch, as the arctic is a desert), slows the melt by adding more brilliant white to reflect heat, while rain immediately creates slushy, gray spots and speeds the melt. As is often the case in the arctic, a half degree can make a big difference.

One of my favorite examples was the case of “Lake North Pole”, in 2013. The melt-water pool directly in front of the camera, expanded by summer rains in mid July, generated no end of media hype, complete with stories of Santa drowning and so on.

LNP 1 np-july-26-npeo_cam2_20130726072121 However no sooner had the media gotten everyone looking that way, when the water drained away down through a crack in the ice (as is often the case.)

LNP 2 np-july-28-npeo_cam2_20130728131212

The ice was still gray and capable of absorbing more heat than snow, but, rather than summer rains, summer snows followed.

LNP 5 np-july-29-npeo_cam2_20130729071817

And by August 5 all talk of “Lake North Pole” was muted. It had gone from being an Alarmist talking point on July 26 to being a Skeptic’s talking point.

LNP 3 np-aug-5-npeo_cam2_20130805065710

The camera allowed the curious to compare the August 5 view of 2012 (left) with 2013 (right).

To the dispassionate it simply looked like perhaps 2013 was a colder summer than 2012, but, in terms of getting a political message across, I fear cameras had gone from seeming like an excellent idea on July 26 to seeming like a very bad idea on August 5. This may be one reason funding dried up, and we are without their wonderful visual evidence this summer.

In any case, we now are stuck with what a satellite can see from afar. Ralph’s clouds can then present one with a bit of a problem, though there are usually plenty of interesting views further south, if you are in the mood to ruin your schedule with a wonderful form of procrastination. Here’s a nice, current view of Petermann Glacier and Nares Strait.

The problem is we are too far away to get the intimate feel for conditions the cameras gave us. We can’t see if it snowed or rained, last night. And, in cases where radar attempts to see through clouds, we are not even sure if we are looking at open water or a melt-water pool.

I sure do miss those cameras.

The best I can do is look at Ryan Maue’s “precipitation type” maps, keeping in mind they are models. The GFS seems to suggest Ralph will not rain. Ralph will continue to dust the north with snow (blue). The only rain (green) is towards the Alaska coast.

The maps below represent the GFS forecasts for 6, 72, 120 and 168 hours. Recognizing these are forecasts and not reality, Ralph looks like he will peak in 72 hours, down at 977 mb, but persist for a week. Only then are there signs Byoof (the Beaufort High) will come back.

Ralph B3 gfs_ptype_slp_arctic_2

Ralph B4 gfs_ptype_slp_arctic_13

Ralph B5 gfs_ptype_slp_arctic_21

Ralph B6 gfs_ptype_slp_arctic_29

To me it seems Ralph is being a real spoil sport to the melt-season. Right when the sun is at its highest he is murking up the sky and dusting everything with snow. Of course, most of the melt comes from below, but we won’t be setting any records unless Ralph takes a hike.

I should confess I blew a forecast, for I did not expect Ralph to show up much this summer. My assumption was that the lagged effects of the weak La Nina would reduce the difference in temperatures between the tropics and the arctic, and that it was that difference that fueled the anomaly I call “Ralph”.

This is merely my wondering, and likely should not be dignified with the word “hypothesis”, but the persistence of “Ralph” intrigues me and calls for an explanation, and what I wonder is this:

If the “Quiet Sun” does deliver less energy to the earth in various ways, could it be that less energy warms the Equator while cooling the Pole? At the Equator less energy would produce less wind,  indirectly leading to warming, by stirring up less cold water, and therefore intensifying El Ninos while weakening La Ninas. Meanwhile, up at the Pole, less energy has a more direct effect during the summer, making it colder. During the winter there is no sun so no effect, but the import of warm surges makes the winter’s milder. All year long the tropics are generally warmer (so far) and this fuels a more meridional jet, which is what creates the “feeder bands” that fuel Ralph.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Before Ralph reappeared Byoof did manage to push the ice away from the western entrance to the Northwest Passage, (lower right) but the ice is still fast against the shore at Barrow (top right).

Daytime sea-breeze shifted to a light land-breeze during Barrow’s “night”, and warm inland temperatures wafted over them, lifting them to a balmy 41°F.

Barrow 20170623 05_27_09_508_ABCam_20170623_132400

Here’s the Navy thickness map. (Ice-out starting in Hudson Bay):

Thickness 20170623 Attachment-1

And here’s the “extent” graph everyone likes to watch:

DMI4 0622 osisaf_nh_iceextent_daily_5years_en

Stay tuned!

ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ralph’s Back!–

After a period of relative calm, when Byoof (The Beaufort High) ruled the roost and sun could get to work on the yearly thaw, low pressure has loop-de-looped north from the Siberian coast, and Ralph (anomalous low pressure) has retaken the Pole. (Maps created by Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site [week free trial available.])

Ralph 2017 1 gfs_precip_mslp_arctic_2

Ralph will tend to slow the melting, for two reasons. First, the clouds block the sunshine. Second, summer storms at the Pole seem to create cold, perhaps utilizing evaporative cooling in the manner of a summer thunderstorm. Even when the precipitation largely evaporates (or sublimates) before reaching the ground, temperatures can be lowered a degree or two, and at the Pole that is the difference between temperatures just above freezing and temperatures just below.

Ralph will meander weakly about the Pole for the next few days, and then the GFS model sees Ralph reinvigorated by a sort of secondary moving north from east Siberia, and becoming our first gale of the summer.  Of course, we will have to wait and see if the computer is correct, but the current forecast is impressive, with pressures dropping to 966 mb in five days.

Ralph 2017 2 gfs_precip_mslp_arctic_20


If such a gale manifests we will not merely be talking about a dusting of snow, but several inches, and also the winds will increase:

Ralph 2017 3 gfs_mslp_uv10m_arctic_20

Once the winds get over gale force the ice tends to be crunched and broken. This will be our first opportunity to see if the water under the ice holds enough mildness to melt ice, as occurred in the summer gale of 2012, or is so cold it melts little ice, as occurred in the summer gale of 2013.

The Canadian JEM model also shows the gale. As usual it sees a stronger storm, though it takes longer to develop.

Ralph 2017 4 cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_24

The Jem model also sees colder resultant temperatures associated with the the gale, (again as is usually the case.)

Ralph 2017 5 cmc_t2m_arctic_27

Stay tuned!

Heavy ice off East Coast 2017 caused by winds, cold temperatures, and icebergs

A typically insightful post by Susan Crockford. If this field of icebergs persist it seems likely to chill the SST in that part of the Atlantic. Watch to see if the cold water encourages high pressure of a “Newfoundland Wheel” sort. Joe Bastardi suggests high pressure to the north can lead to stronger hurricanes to the south.

Typically the media reports such a shift to the south of sea-ice as a loss of ice to the north. It seldom reports the chilling of the water to the south. Sea-ice can achieve such chilling where a cold current can’t, because a cold current, being denser than the milder water it moves into, tends to sink. Icebergs bob merrily onward, refusing to sink, and greatly chill the waters they move into. This can allow colder currents to move further south at the surface, because they are no longer moving into milder waters. I sometimes wonder if it is such a shift in a field of ice that causes a “flip” from a warm AMO to a cold one.


Heavy sea ice off Newfoundland and southern Labrador has been an issue for months: it brought record-breaking numbers of polar bear visitors onshore in early March and April and since then has hampered the efforts of fisherman to get out to sea.

Newfoundland fishing boats stuck in ice_DFO_May 26 2017 CBC

Let’s look back in time at how the ice built up, from early January to today, using ice maps and charts I’ve downloaded from the Canadian Ice Service and news reports published over the last few months.

The tour is illuminating because it shows the development of the thick ice over time and shows how strong winds from a May storm combined with an extensive iceberg field contributed to the current situation.

Bottom line: I can only conclude that climate change researcher David Barber was grandstanding today when he told the media that global warming is to blame for Newfoundland’s record thick sea ice conditions this year. …

View original post 1,867 more words

ARCTIC SEA ICE —2017 Thaw Begins–

We have reached the short window of opportunity in the arctic when the sun is high (by arctic standards) and relentless. It never sets.  In fact, if the arctic was a flat, snowless desert of dry sand at sea level, the constant heating of the sun would make it hot, and warm fronts would head south. As it is the heat is used up warming the sea-ice from roughly -30°C to zero, and in melting the snow atop the ice (which involves turning a lot of the available heat into latent heat, as the water goes through the phase change from solid to liquid.)  For roughly three weeks before and after the summer solstice the Pole receives more heat than it loses, and we can expect to see temperatures zoom up to just above freezing, at which point they flatten, as all the heat is consumed by the process of turning solid water to liquid water. There are only slight variations from this pattern, summer after summer, but these variations are interesting.

One interesting fact is that during the depth of winter temperatures drop so low that salt loses its ability to melt snow. Above that temperature (roughly -10°C [+14°F]) the salt forms brine which bores down through the ice, but below those temperatures the salt is exuded from the ice and blows about as a powder. Under certain conditions there can be minute drifts of powdered salt at the sides of fresh, flat frozen leads, during the dead of winter. This salt is mixed in with the powdered snow, and any time a surge of southern air invades the arctic in the winter and temperatures are briefly raised above -10°C, the snow softens due to the salt; then it refreezes, which gives the snow atop the ice a starchy quality, and makes the wind unable to drift it. Then, when temperatures finally rise in the spring, the “melt” begins well before temperatures get back up to freezing (and available heat is consumed, becoming latent heat, before you would think.)

Another thing that has to happen is that the ice itself must warm. There are fascinating charts produced by dedicated scientists that show a cross section of the ice, and temperatures at various depths. At the end of winter the ice is coldest at the top and warmest at the very bottom, but when the ice starts gaining heat from above, there is a period when the ice is coldest in the middle. Then, towards the end of the summer, the ice is at zero where it is melting from above and at -1.7° where it is melting from below. At the start of September the ice can be refreezing from above, at zero, even as it is still melting away from below at -1.7°C (which has fooled me many a time, as I think the thaw is over when it isn’t).

Currently there is little visual evidence the ice is melting, but the air temperatures nudge above freezing at times. Down at lower latitudes, such as at Barrow at 70° north, there is enough of a diurnal variation so that, even though the sun is still up at midnight, it drops low enough to the horizon for frost to form. It touched 40°F a week ago, but was cold enough for snow a day later. The ice is still frozen fast to the shore, and shows no sign of budging despite tides and strong winds, as it is apparently over 20 feet thick. (Double error: First, this is the 2016 graph, and second, I misread the bottom as the bottom-of-the ice. The ice is thicker this year. I don’t know why they haven’t updated. Funding? But no use blaming them for my mistake. [Too rushed.])

Barrow 20170609 535eaa087abc4df83c000179

I like to google “Barrow Webcam” and then watch the ten-day-animation from the roof of the bank building, for one gets a feeling for the diurnal variation, just watching the snow and frost form and then melt away on the bank building’s roof, at the very bottom of the picture. (Bit of snow left, just to right of vent in midnight picture below.) (Temperature 28°F [-2.2°C] with a strong north breeze of 22 mph.)

Barrow 20170609 23_27_10_908_ABCam_20170609_072400

The further north you go the less the diurnal variation is, until at the Pole it is absent. O-buoy 14 is still far enough south, at 74° north, for the diurnal effect to be clear. It experienced its first thaw May 25-27

Obuoy 14 0601 temperature-1week

And another June 3

Obuoy 14 0609 temperature-1week

(The little peaks in temperature are caused by what I’ve dubbed BHI (Buoy Heat Islands). In the summer buoys can actually form their own little melt-water pools.)

The milder temperatures often bring north moisture, and fog.

Obuoy 14 0601 webcam

(Fog is interesting, for rather than using up the available heat, it releases available heat in the phase change from vapor to liquid, as it condenses on the side of the cold ice like water on the side of a summertime drink.)

This far south on often sees the counter-intuitive phenomenon of temperatures dropping as the sun comes out. (The landscape has a more rounded look where there had been peaks and sharper features, indicative of the first effects of thaw.)

Obuoy 14 0607 webcam

Further north there are fewer signs of any diurnal effect, and the warming is more usually (but not always) a sign the sun is out. Up at 87° north, across the Pole at Army buoy 2017B, we are seeing a more general slow rise in temperatures, with the ups and downs more due to local conditions than time of day, (and we are sorely missing the visual confirmations of a North Pole Camera). (A plague on those who cut their funding.)

2017B 20170609 2017B_temp

Incidentally, at 2017B the ice has stopped growing thicker, but hasn’t yet started to thin.

Lastly we come to the DMI graph of air temperatures north of 80° latitude. While soaring upwards, it displayed a an interesting blip. First temperatures approached normal, but then sank back below normal, before approaching normal again.

DMI4 0609 meanT_2017

This blip was caused by Byoof (The Beaufort High) being shoved away from Canada and over the Pole, giving the Pole sunny weather, followed by a reappearance of the low “Ralph” at the Pole, creating cloudy weather, followed by Byoof returning.

Obviously there is more to be said about this, but as usual I am strapped for time. I’ll just stick the daily maps below (apologizing for some missing maps.) Hopefully I’ll find time to comment on some ideas I glean from the maps, later.










































For those interested in the yearly decent of ice “extent” towards its minimum, the decent is slower than last year and resembles 2014.

DMI4 0609 osisaf_nh_iceextent_daily_5years_en


This is just a brief observation, demonstrating how my lying eyes get me in trouble with the hard-working, code-apt, computer-savvy geeks who have eyes glued to computer terminals that produce wonderful models.

Please understand,  I avoid Math when possible, and I am very grateful to those who do the Math for me, such as my tax accountant. However I do not allow my accountant to mind my business.

How does this involve sea-ice?

Well, there are certain “accountants” who at times seem to want to run my business, and by that I mean they seem to want me to deny my lying eyes. By “accountants” I of course am referring to computer models. In this particular case I am referring to a model I often refer to, and in some ways very much like, called PIOMAS. In my opinion it is in many ways a wonderful model, and represents the hard work of fellows who have worked their butts to the bone and deserve respect. I cannot tell you how much it pains me to suggest they might have gotten something wrong.

In this manner I’m like my Dad. He was a surgeon, and sometimes people came to him asking for a second opinion, and sometimes he had to inform not the patient, but the first-opinion surgeon, that their diagnosis was wrong.

I felt my Dad should have just told the first bozo they were an idiot, for advocating a needless amputation, but instead Dad walked on eggs and only differed from the first quack in a most cringing, ingratiating manner. Maybe Dad was kind and polite, but it was sort of embarrassing to watch. He was sort of apologizing for being correct. The boy in me felt he should just have chopped off the first quack’s head. (That is what a true Tolkien warrior would have done.) (But pretty soon we would not have many doctors left alive, I suppose.)

I have no wish to chop off the head of PIOMAS, but my lying eyes are begging to differ with their diagnosis.

I have just used my lying eyes to watch what the arctic isobars did, and  have surmised what the winds were, and have watched to see how the sea-ice responded, and it has seemed fairly obvious the low pressure I dubbed “Ralph”  caused a counterclockwise flow to effect the Pole.  However the PIOMAS only shows a counterclockwise “anomaly”, and suggests the ordinary clockwise flow (the ordinary Beaufort Gyre and ordinary Transpolar Drift), persisted.

Piomas piomas_ice_motion_anomaly_JanMarch2017

This troubles me, for it is a bit ludicrous to suggest an “anomaly” moves ice, if the ordinary flow is in effect. An anomaly might speed or slow the ordinary flow, but the ordinary flow would remain ordinary. In actual fact we have witnessed, with our lying eyes, the extraordinary features of an extraordinary flow.

For example, the above map shows the “mean ice motion” pushing ice away from the western entrance of the Northwest Passage, when we know that (before April) ice piled into that entrance.  In like manner, there is no suggestion of west winds forcing the Kara Sea sea-ice into Vistula Strait, so a toothpaste extrusion of thick ice crossed the polynya which the same west winds formed in the west of the Laptev Sea.

2 Laptev FullSizeRender

And so on and so forth.

I do not want to belabor this point, and want to keep this brief, however I feel a need to stress that we who use our lying eyes seemed to see the sea-ice act as if the PIOMAS “anomaly” map was in fact the “ice motion” map. It follows, therefore, that the “ice motion” map contains some sort of misdiagnosis.

I need to say this because there are some who worship the PIOMAS “ice motion” map as a sort of god, whose authority cannot be questioned. When I try to tell them what my lying eyes actually witnessed, they scoff. They say my vision cannot be correct, for PIOMAS said it did not occur, and how dare anyone dare question the divinity of such a idol?

To me this is a bit like saying you cannot go a second surgeon for a second opinion, even when the first surgeon suggests an amputation is necessary.  If we must scoff at all, I scoff at that idea. After all, as a child I saw many doomed to lose a leg come to my father for a second opinion, and saw advances in the vascular surgery of that time save the patient’s limb.

My father was able to save others limbs despite the fact he had largely lost the use of his own, because of polio. In like manner, I suffer from a different sort of polio, involving Math. And, just my father saved people of the past from amputation of legs, I might spare you from the amputation of logic, if you just step away from computer models for a bit, and use your lying eyes.

ARCTIC SEA ICE –The Laptev Enigma–

One thing I find engrossing about watching sea-ice is to see I am wrong. Sea-ice is always pulling off stunts that surprise me, and, because my income does not depend on being “right”, seeing the sea-ice do things I did not expect increases my sense of wonder.

Originally I watched the ice for the same reason I watched clouds out the window during Math classes. Science had nothing to do with it. Perhaps it was a study of Truth, but it was Truth as a poet defines Truth, and didn’t involve Math at all. It was only when pugnacious people appeared out of the blue to disagree with what I was observing, with my innocent, dreamy eyes, that I got sucked into the Climate Wars. Even then I avoided Math whenever possible. I found it was often possible to point out the simple fact sea-ice hadn’t melted because drifting buoys had cameras, and I could see it hadn’t melted. I didn’t need calipers.

Even without calipers the arctic is wondrous, full of surprises that can get you into trouble, because what you see disagrees with textbooks. Just for an example, the older textbooks described the Arctic Sea as “sterile”, once you got away from shore. It was assumed to be the same as other oceans, where life thrives near land, where seaweed can anchor on rocks and create a habitat, but life doesn’t thrive away from land, where the waters are in a sense bottomless. Using this assumption, it was assumed that when (and if) Global Warming melted ice away from shores, seals and polar bears would be forced out to sterile waters and starve. However then came the surprise; the Arctic Sea is not like the others. It was noted that the underside of sea-ice was slimed with growth, and ice-breakers far from shore saw arctic cod jumping before their plowing prows. In other words, sea-ice creates a habitat where other seas only can create micro-habitats from drifting objects (such as fouled boat-bottoms.)

Another surprise, to me at least, was how mobile the ice was. In fact this was known more than a century ago,

Wreckage from the Jeannette was found by Inuit on the southwest coast of Greenland in 1884, three years and 2900 nautical miles from where it sank. This information suggested to a young Norwegian scientist and explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, that just as the debris of the Jeannette had been transported across the Arctic Ocean by the ice, so too could a vessel if it was properly constructed to withstand the pressure of the ice. Funded by Norwegians, a specially constructed vessel, the Fram, was constructed with a rounded bottom to lift the ship under ice pressure. Nansen departed Bergen, Norway with the Fram in 1893, headed eastward along the Northeast Passage, and turned into the ice pack north of the Lena River in eastern Russia.

Fram fram_145414

Nansen’s adventures make a splendid sidetrack, if you ever have a need to escape reality for a while. But in this post I’m just using Nansen to bring you to the Lena River and the Laptev Sea.

The Lena River is one of the World’s ten largest, and is wonderful because its rate-of-flow varies enormously. During the winter the bitter Siberian cold freezes the water to the bottom along shallower stretches, so upstream waters must lift the ice to squeeze beneath. So little melting occurs upstream the flow shrinks to a relative trickle. Only around 3% of its yearly flow occurs in January, but then at long last spring comes, and a vast area of Siberian snow starts to soften and then melt, and the river rises, and rises, and rises, over sixty feet in places. Around 40% of the yearly flow comes roaring downstream in August, and all that fresh water goes pouring out into the Laptev Sea, creating a so-called “lens” of fresher water atop more saline waters, and creating all sorts of mathematical problems I avoid like the plauge, (except to read what others have figured out, after they have done the Math for me.)

Even as this flood is reaching its height the days are growing shorter and the first frosts are occurring, and the lens atop the Laptev is swift to freeze, (as it is less salty). Then the land cools far more swiftly than the sea, especially once there is snow-cover. The relatively warmer water causes the air-in-place to rise and make space for the Siberian air, and a persistent land-breeze develops, at times becoming a gale, as cold, sinking air rushes out over the sea. Rather than thickening the ice, the ice is pushed away from shore and a polynya of open water forms. It too freezes, and it too is pushed towards the Pole. In fact the Laptev Sea is the greatest producer and exporter of sea-ice of all the marginal seas. Much of the ice in the Transpolar Drift, that piles up against the north coast of Greenland, and then is flushed south through Fram Strait, had its origins in the Laptev.  Or so say the textbooks.

This past summer the sea-ice chose to go its own way. This was largely due to a persistent area of low pressure I dubbed “Ralph” which wandered and meandered, faded and reformed, in the general vicinity of the Pole. The Transpolar Drift and Beaufort Gyre were slowed and at times reversed by the low pressure’s counterclockwise flow. The deeper currents were effected less, but the sea-ice at the surface was more responsive to the winds.

Any storm at the Pole which is lower than 970 mb is a top-ten storm, in our short history of weather maps at high latitudes, and last summer “Ralph” twice achieved such levels. The first occurred on August 16.


And the second on August 28

These two major storms did a lot to reduce the sea-ice extent, but also likely stirred the sea a lot. One thing that slows the melt of ice is that colder water can sit on top of warmer water, when that colder water is less salty (because it is from melted bergs or the Lena River.) A Gale disturbs this stratification, in one way speeding melting by bringing up the slightly warmer water from below, but in another way cooling the water as a whole, (because melting ice uses up a lot of heat.)

In any case the Laptev Sea likely had much less of a “lens” of fresh water as the September chill began, which likely meant it was slower to freeze (because it was saltier) which in turn likely meant it remained open and exposed to cold air longer, and lost more heat to the growing arctic night. When the ice did grow last autumn it likely grew over colder water, and when it melts this summer the water beneath likely will be colder and less able to assist in the melting. Or so I theorize. (This seemed to happen after a big summer storm melted much ice in 2012. When a similar summer storm occurred in 2013 nowhere near as much ice melted, likely because no stratified, warmer water was left beneath.)

As the winter proceeded “Ralph” continued to persist, in various forms, and his counter clockwise flow meant the winds along the coast of Russia continued to often be from the west. Rather than sea-ice being pushed across the Pole in the Transpolar Drift it was pushed east. At first there was no noticeable polynya at all in the Laptev Sea, and then the ice moved from the west side to the east, creating a polynya on the shores of its western boundary, which is formed by the islands of Severnaya Zemlya.


However it was at this boundary something I’d never seen before occurred. The same west winds were doing the same thing to the sea-ice in the Kara Sea, removing it from its western shores and crushing it up against its eastern shores, however there was a gap in its eastern shores called Vilkitsky Strait, and sea-ice began to squeeze through that strait and out into the Laptev Sea like toothpaste coming out of a tube. By mid January the stripe of thicker ice in the Laptev Sea was obvious.

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The phenomenon continued through February

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The west winds slacked off a little for a bit in March, but then resumed. This view pans back a bit. Notice the ice is thin in the west of the Kara Sea as well, and even to a degree in the East Siberian Sea. “Ralph’s” circulation may not have been constant, but it was persistent enough to create west winds right around the periphery of the Arctic Sea. Notice the ice being swept off the north coast of Greenland into Fram Strait, and, to the lower left, the ice piling up against the shores north and south of the western entrance to the Northwest Passage.

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In April Ralph faded to a degree, and we can see the Laptev ice shifting up towards the Pole more.

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While the situation is not back to the textbook illustration of a Transpolar Drift, it is more normal than it has been. My guess is that the conditions creating “Ralph” have faded, and those conditions likely had to do with the warmth released by the 2015 El Nino.  An imbalance was created that needed to be balanced, and a meridional flow brought north the mild air that fed Ralph. Now that the lagged effects of that El Nino are in a sense used up, and we are experiencing the lagged effects of a very weak La Nina, Ralph should be less obvious….unless….

Unless part of the imbalance involves the colder-than-normal summer temperatures we have been seeing at the Pole for ten years. These summer temperatures get much less press than the warmer-than-normal warmer winter temperatures, but they seem significant to me. Because they have coincided with the sun going “quiet” I assume there is some sort of connection.

This summer will be a sort of test. The lagged extra warmth of the 2015 El Nino to some degree masked the coolness last summer, but if the theory has validity it should be obviously colder this summer, and if that occurs Ralph may gain a second wind. This time it will not be fueled so much by above-normal temperatures to the south as by below-normal temperatures at the Pole.

The most recent ice-thickness map of the Pole in some ways reminds me of 2013, as the ice does not look especially thick. If you remember Alarmists began that summer very confident the ice would be swift to go, as much was first-year “baby ice”, and also it had been fractured a lot by winter storms. This year’s ice is not as fractured, but a lot is baby ice, and relatively thin.

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There is a slight formation of polynyas north and south of the western entrance to the Northwest Passage, where the ice was piled up earlier, but it is nothing like last year. Elsewhere the ice seems generally thinner than last year. (Last year to left; this year to right.)

The Laptev Sea is to the top, and a feature I dubbed “The Laptev Notch” a couple of summers ago has reformed, shown by the thinner ice of navy blue. The question is, are the waters under that ice significantly colder? It will be an area to watch, for if it melts swiftly the waters are not colder, but if the sea-ice prove stubborn and lingers we may be getting a hint about conditions under the ice. For the moment, however, that part of the arctic coast is surprisingly cold, considering the entire Siberian coast was above-normal not long ago. (The map below flips Greenland to the upper right. The Laptev Sea is to the lower left, and the gray area of the map indicates below zero temperatures. (-17°C) The New Siberian Islands are at the center of that cold, below -10°F (-23°C) which is very cold for May. )

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Less obvious is the fact Svalbard, close to freezing, is actually below-normal. The way the sea-ice has crunched down against their north coast is surprising, as a warm current usually makes a slot of open water appear along their west coast, and a bit of their north coast. It is another area to watch.

Oh what the heck. I might as well hit the Weatherbell site and get Dr. Ryan Maue’s arctic anomaly map (week free trial available.)

Arctic Anomaly 20170506 gfs_t2m_anomf_arctic_1 If you are a political Alarmist, you had better focus on the icecap of Greenland, where temperatures are thirty degrees above normal (but still below freezing), for the Arctic Sea looks very different from how it looked in the dead of winter, when Ralph was sucking north surges of Atlantic moisture and the entire Pole was 20-30 degrees above normal. Now, besides the Laptev Sea and Svalbard, the Canadian Archipelago are well below normal, and the only slightly warmer areas is a patch near the Pole and the north coast of Alaska and Bering Strait. The times they are a-changing.

One thing I think is important to keep in mind is that we should expect the unexpected, for we are entering territory we have not explored. There is no shame in it. In the old days they just were honest and left part of the map blank. National Geographic could do this, when my father was a boy in 1925.

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We are approaching two events we have never witnessed, with all our new-fangled gadgets, buoys and satellites. The first is the switch from a warm AMO to a cold AMO. And this switch may be knocked out of its ordinary 60 year cycle by an even grander change, “The Quiet Sun”. The sparsity of sunspots has dropped to levels unseen since the Dalton Minimum began at the very end of the 18th century.

These are actually times that should be full of excitement and discovery. It wasn’t until around 2008 that we realized Ultraviolet intensity rose as TSI dropped during a solar minimum.

When we see new things that astonish us we shouldn’t slump and pout that we were “wrong”, but rather we should revel in the wonder of it all.

Expect the unexpected, and stay tuned.

(If I get time I may later venture a prediction about this summer’s sea-ice melt, just to walk out on a limb. The short version is that I am expecting Alarmists to be disappointed, as they were in 2013.)