ARCTIC SEA ICE –Reinforcing Ralph–

I don’t have the time to name the individual lows and highs that ramble about the Pole this summer, let alone name the pockets of cold and warm that show up on the temperature maps, like I did three summers ago. But I do pamper my mischievous side enough to name the general area of low pressure that has been sprawling over the Pole, “Ralph.”

Ralph keeps looking like he will fill and fade away, and I’ve been expecting high pressure to regain a dominate position, as the high pressure “Igor” did a few summers ago. To my surprise Ralph keeps calling for reinforcements, and boyishly keeps his position as king-of-the-mountain atop the planet. When we last looked on June 28 he had absorbed a blurb of low pressure from east Siberia (R3, which stands for third reinforcement), and was north of the Canadian Archipelago.

Then June 30 saw R4  swing across Bering Strait from East Siberia to the Beaufort Sea, to lend Ralph a hand.

Then June 30 saw R5 move north from central Siberia to help out. There was a bit of a hubbub about this low being an ice-eater, but it wasn’t.

Some might suggest the July 1 map showed Ralph gone, and R4 in the the Canadian Archipelago with R5 north of East Siberia, but I’ve grown fond of Ralph, and I rule. I saw Ralph stand bravely in the middle, on the Pole, and fiercely prevent high pressure from ridging over the Pole. Some models impudently snubbed Ralph and kept suggesting the high pressure would reestablish itself in the long range, but when the long range became the present tense it never happened. This maps show the high pressure coming as close as it ever came to regaining the Pole.


Then July 2 showed Ralph draw R5 north, and keep control of the Pole. The high pressures were wimps, and were squeezed south in Canada and Siberia.

(Missing July 2 12Z Map)

On July 3 R6 nudges north over Norway, as Ralph remains victoriously king of the mountain.  Ralph sees no reason reinforcements shouldn’t come from the Atlantic.

On July 4 R6 slides north over Svalbard and Ralph welcomes him up at the Pole.

On July 5 they celebrate as a decent summer storm.

(12 Z July 5 map missing)

Lastly, on July 6 we see Ralph is still rocking. A low is loop-de-looping over Finland, but prevented from coming north by a high pressure ridge being pumped up between it and Ralph. Models have been suggesting this ridge would at long last regain the Pole as Ralph finally faded south into Asia, but more recent runs are starting to suggest that Ralph will not be be so meek, and instead will swing around across Bering Strait and come right back up to the Pole via the Beaufort Sea.

At the risk of being a bore, I’d like to return to something I keep harping upon, which is that in theory Ralph shouldn’t exist.  The three dimensional idea of a Polar Cell existing north of Fellel Cells envisions descending air at the Pole, but Ralph, as a low pressure system, would involve ascending air.

Polar Cell cells_mod

This involves attempting to get your mind around a three dimensional image of what exactly is going on up there.  Does the polar jet develop a branch that spirals in to the center? Is there a Fourth Cell, which should be called some yet-to-be-determined name such as “Extrapolar Cell” or (I modestly suggest) “Caleb Cell”? Or is it chaos? (Even if it was chaos, there would still be a changing chart of inflows and outflows and places air rose and air fell.)

In the end I tend to simply wonder, without answers. Even the above chart sees the Pole as a sort of doughnut, with a hole of descending air at the center.  What seems to occur is the doughnut becomes a cinnamon roll, with a spiral towards the center, and then a low moves up the spiral and becomes a low lodged at the center of the High, (a doughnut within the doughnut), at which point we  would have a short lived “Fourth Cell”, named Ralph.

If Ralph involves rising air then there would be outflow at the top, and inflow towards the bottom, and with that lower inflow at the surface one would surmise that the sea-ice would be crunched towards the Pole. This leads me to an interesting DMI chart of volume, which is attached to their thickness map.

DMI 00706 FullSize_CICE_combine_thick_SM_EN_20160705

What is interesting is that the volume has moved away from being at the same level as 2012, and now is at the mean for the period 2004-2013. Meanwhile, in terms of extent, we continue at 2012 levels.

DMI3 0706 osisaf_nh_iceextent_daily_5years_en

What one would tend to conclude is that, though the extent may be the same as 2012, the ice must be thicker, to have the volume be greater.

It is also interesting to to compare the extent with the area. Remember that the area is always less than the extent, for extent calls an area “ice-covered” even if there is open water. In fact extent can call an area ice-covered when it is 85% open water. Area graphs, on the other hand, attempt to exclude the open water, (to only include the pixels that are white).  For this comparison I use the NANSEN graphs.

EXTENTNansen extent 0706 ssmi_ice_ext

AREANansen area 0706 ssmi_ice_area

Here again we see that, while extent is as low as 2012, area is greater now than in 2012. This would suggest 2012 involved more leads of open water, and the sea-ice is packed more tightly this year. Conclusion? The ice has more volume and is packed more tightly. One would surmise this would cause it to melt more slowly, but, as always, all depends on the water swooshing beneath the ice.

My guess is that the water beneath the ice began colder than last year, because the storms of last winter broke up the ice a lot and exposed a lot of the water to bitter cold winds before it could refreeze. Now I am wondering whether Ralph may be bringing any milder waters north, by sucking inflow at the surface. (It is a pity the SST maps up at the Pole are so unreliable.)

The NRL maps show a quicker melt of Beaufort Sea this year, but the major melt of last year occurred over along the Siberian coast, and the ice is thicker and hanging tough there, this year. 2016 is to the left and 2015 to the right.


I would think that the inflow into Ralph would make the Pole warmer than normal, but, perhaps due to Ralph’s clouds, they have been slightly colder than usual.

DMI3 0706 meanT_2016

Our lone camera, O-buoy 14, is down close to the melt of the Beaufort Sea, so I would not be surprised to see the ice break up this month. It did see a bit of sun during a cold snap a day ago, after a long spell of gray clouds.

Obuoy 14 0705 webcamObuoy 14 0705 temperature-1week

Temperatures have since recovered, as have the dreary grays of a cloudy summer. It looks like wet snow and perhaps rain may be falling.

Obuoy 14 0706 webcam

Obuoy 14 0706 temperature-1week

O-buoy 14 has been drifting back to the east, which suggests Ralph has also reversed the movement of the Beaufort Gyre from clockwise to counterclockwise. (What a troublemaker.) Once again we see that the motion of Sea-ice is greatly influenced by the air above, even as the melt of Sea-ice is greatly influenced by the water below. The influence of CO2 is a runt in comparison, and may even be so small it is invisible.