ARCTIC SEA ICE –The Mystery Of Drifting Salt–

Photo Credit for picture below: Matthias Wietz. From:  (Ice in this picture is only 1/16th of an inch thick)


The above picture of “ice flowers” has given me a lot of pleasure, as, first, it is beautiful, and second, it illustrates the complexity of sea-ice, which is beautiful in its own right, even if it can give our small minds a headache.

In the above picture a lead has opened close to shore, and the sea is exposed to bitterly cold air that is flash-freezing it. The very thin ice is actually wet on the top, because as salt-water freezes it exudes salt, which then melts the ice it is closest to, forming brine. This wetness eventually is pulled downwards by gravity, forming channels down through the ice and even “brinicles”, as seen in the cool clip below:

However when the salt is first exuded, before gravity can pull it down, it makes the surface of the ice wet with brine, and this brine evaporates, quickening the cooling of the surface, but also making the air just above the surface of the ice be super-saturated or super-cooled or whatever it is that makes ice-flowers form.

These ice-flowers turn out to be suburb wicks.  They defy gravity, by sucking the brine up, and not allowing it to sink down. In some cases I suppose the brine promptly melts the ice-flower, but in other cases the brine is pulled up into a region, sometimes only a distance as thick as a sheet of cardboard, which is so much colder that salt loses its ability to melt ice. And at that point, rather than melting the ice-flower, the brine freezes, and becomes part of the ice flower. This can continue until the ice-flower holds two or three times as much salt as sea-water.

Meanwhile very dry winds start to blow by, and then the H2O in the ice-flower starts to “sublimate”, which means it skips the liquid phase, and turns from solid directly into gas. The wind also can crumble these ice flowers, and they wind up as dust in the wind. As the water in the dust sublimates the dust increasingly becomes a fine powder of sea-salt, drifting across the surface of the ice.

Back in the late 1970’s I lived on the coast of Maine during some very cold winters, and actually  witnessed such dust blowing over the flash-frozen waters of the tidal Harraseeket River. The sea-ice was actually black ice and smooth enough to skate upon, which I think is rare for sea-ice, and I saw white dust blowing across the black ice, and making cracks in the ice stand out, because the white dust collected in those cracks. I dabbed a finger down and then tentatively licked it. It was salt, all right. I suppose I was being remotely scientific, but I just thought I was curious, and never thought my observation might mean something all these years later.

It may mean many things, and even contribute to the dreaded “Ozone Holes” at the poles, as I explained in this old post (towards the end):

However one thing I didn’t consider in that old post is what it means when you have drifting salt along with your drifting snow.

If you have ever lived in the north during very cold winters you know there are times salt works and there are times it does nothing, when you cast it on an icy driveway. Below a certain temperature salt has no effect on ice. Zip zero. Zilch. At the Pole this means the salt can blow around with the snow as just another white substance, up until temperatures reach a certain point.

The past winter saw many more leads form, due to the meridenal winds and the formation of more leads and pressure ridges than occur in calmer and more zonal flows. This created more salt to blow around with the snow, but it also may have created more temperature spikes, where the salt could start to melt the snow. Such spikes are due to Atlantic, (and less often Pacific), air being sucked north, and also are caused by the exposed water itself, which is far warmer than the air and warms the air until it is lidded by new ice. However these spikes are short-lived.

Because of this the snow starts to melt but then refreezes as the temperatures plunge and the salt stops having the ability to make snow sticky. The result is a starchy sort of snow called “(Insert word when I remember it)” that adventurers actually prefer to drifted powder, as it is easier to ski across.

What I have not seen discussed is the effect that the salt has around now, when temperatures rise to a point where the salt starts to melt the snow.

I can think of two differences right off the bat. First, the pools of melt-water would be more salty when they formed, and more able to melt downwards. Second, as everyone who has made ice-cream knows, adding salt to crushed ice drops the temperature.

In other words, heat was added to the air during the winter, as the salt was removed from the water, and as the water went through the phase changes from liquid to solid. Now those processes are reversed, and heat may be subtracted from the air.

So far there are only a couple slight dips slowing the rise of temperatures, which may or may not be indicative of the above-mentioned cooling occurring.

DMI3 0509B meanT_2016

I think it would be cool if the temperatures in the above graph dipped below the “green line”, because I could then suggest drifting salt contributed to the cooling. Sheer conjecture on my part, of course, but I always figure wondering is wonderful.

It would also be cool because, just as in some ways an El Nino is author-of-its-own-demise, creating a La Nina in the Pacific, it could be seen it was author-of-its-own-demise in the Arctic, by creating more drifting and blowing salt. (And this point might be driven home with especially keen poignancy if the cooling started in the Arctic before the Pacific changes could possibly get up to the Pole.)

(On the other hand, such cooling might be blamed on the “Quiet Sun”, rather than salt.)

In more mundane matters, the sea-ice extent continues to thrill Alarmists by being below-normal as it continues its yearly decline:

DMI3 0509B icecover_current_new (1)

The maps show the conditions remain quiet at the Pole, with the high pressure refusing to budge much.

Things are changing, though all looks quiet, and the clearest sign of the change is that the poor people of Iceland are finally getting a break from low pressure that seemed it would never leave, and now are getting some genuine high pressure.

However my hunch is that the real change will not become obvious until later, in late July. Then it will come as a shock.


In the meantime the only sign is the many pressure ridges on the horizons of all pictures we’ve seen from up there.

Obuoy 14 0509 webcam





ARCTIC SEA ICE —Tundra Wonder, Methane Blunder—

Smoking HillsSometimes, as my mind’s eye wanders over the Arctic Ocean, I am drawn ashore to contemplate wonders of the Tundra. I try to avoid politics, as the wonders are more wonderful when simply appreciated in the light of Truth, but Climate Alarmism is a sort of whirlpool that sucks you in, even when it is basically a comical shtick.

For example, along the coast of the Northwest Territories are the “Smoking Hills” of Franklin Bay, which appear over and over in the Facebook images sent by sailors attempting the Northwest Passage.  The sailors always seem jarred by the image (and scent). Often they have been cluttering their log with editorial comments about how beautiful the arctic is, and what cads humans are to destroy the pristine beauty of nature with Global Warming caused by burning coal. Then they come across a stretch of coast which is in essence Mother Nature’s Strip Mine, miles and miles of exposed lignite, black stripes in the sedimentary stripes of seaside cliffs. In places the lignite has spontaneously ignited and has been burning for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, without the slightest effort on the part of Mother Nature to install smokestacks or put scrubbers in those stacks.smokinghills 2In the above picture the red areas are stone after the coal has been burned out, and the black is unburned lignite. Besides the current fires there is evidence of fires that burned long ago and went out. This is not a geologically recent occurrence, so don’t try to blame Eskimos who were careless with campfires.

In any case, even if you went to the arctic to get away from ever having to even think about the issue of coal fired power plants, the issue gets shoved in your face, and you find yourself forced to rethink some of the ideas doled out like pablum in the Alarmist shtick. In this case the simplistic idea is that man burns fossil fuels and nature doesn’t.

In another case one might think man leaks oil and nature doesn’t, and then see natural slicks in the Gulf of Mexico or tars oozing up from earthquake faults off the California coast.

Even as I type my daughter has bought a new “pink” salt, which is supposedly more healthy as it is from up in the Himalayas, and that makes me think about how that salt got way up there, and what happened to all the fossil fuels when the subcontinent of India was sent smashing into Asia by continental drift.

The problem with some people is they don’t think very deeply about the lollipop shticks they get handed and asked to suck upon. It doesn’t take much thought to realize Nature is the original recyler,  plowing the ocean floor down in geological subduction zones, and creating huge mountain ranges with fossil seashells at the tops.

Over at “Watts Up With That” there was a guest essay by Larry Kummer about the Alarmist shtick involving Methane. Initially I wasn’t interested because the alarmism involved is so soundly refuted that not even the IPCC thinks it is worth freaking out about, (and the IPCC freaks out about stuff grandmothers laugh at).  (I couldn’t ever take the Methane Fear seriously, because I have seen plenty of evidence it was much warmer in the arctic in the past, and if there weren’t uncontrollable methane releases back then I don’t see why they should occur now. )

Ordinarily I would have skipped the post, as the issue usually bores me, however the Alarmist cartoon at the start intrigued me, for it suggested that some Alarmists are so sold on the idea of a “Methane Monster” that they even see the pro-Global-Warming IPCC as “deniers.”  .


I fully intended to only skim the article, but discovered a portal to another tundra wonder, found in this paper:

In a nutshell the paper states there are two sorts of arctic soil, one which is frozen ooze that is rich in carbon and might be expected to burp up some methane if warmed, but a second more-common soil which holds little carbon, as it is the sort of till one associates with glaciers and glacier-scraped landscape. (Glaciers largely transport topsoil far away to terminal moraines and out-wash streams. After a glacier departs the landscape is usually denuded of topsoil. This means it holds no organic carbon and can brew no methane. It also is devoid of compost, and can’t grow much. However a bacteria inhabits the surface of such soil that can snatch methane from the air, and enrich its own habitat.

That was what grabbed my mind’s eye. Perhaps it was because as a farmer I’m interested in enriching soils, but my mind highlighted the paper’s suggestion that, where the soil lacks carbon, nature has found a way to enrich the soil, using bacteria that gobbles methane. The paper went on to to state that the warmer it gets, the livelier that bacteria gets, and the more methane it gobbles. (IE: warmer temperatures mean less methane in the air; the exact opposite of what Methane-hysteria predicts.)

This shows how little the more hysterical Alarmists understand the Earth they claim to be the protectors of.

The old time farmers knew of two basic ways to enrich soil. The first involved sweat and toil, and lugging manure from the stables and spreading it in the fields. The second was a heck of a lot easier, because all you needed to do was give the field a rest. It was called a “fallow” field.

A fallow field shows nature’s ability to enrich a landscape without any help from humans. You’d think Alarmists would get this concept, considering they portray man as the raping, robbing bad guy, and nature as the giving good guy. However they don’t see nature will not allow a natural thing like methane to go to waste. Nor will nature allow a natural thing like crude oil seeping up from earthquake faults in California to go to waste. Nature gobbles the substances up, and they becomes part of the food chain, which involves all sorts of stuff eating, being eaten, and, in the end, turning to manure which enriches the soil.

Nature can take a most sterile landscape and make it verdant. The second a glacier recedes nature gets busy on the barren landscape, starting with lichen and progressing through tundra to taiga to the rich farmlands of Ohio.

In essence nature is guilty of altering its environment even more than man. Nature does not care a hoot about the current ecosystem. It improves upon it. However Progressives fail to understand this natural progression.

The arctic landscape is amazing, for it shows nature tested to its limits, and how nature will not stand for the status-quo of a sterile ecosystem, but enriches it. Besides the micro-critter in arctic soil that craves methane, there are some amazing micro-critters that live out on the even more hostile environment of the sea-ice. Not only is there a sort of slime that discolors the bottom of sea-ice, but there is a micro-critter that loves extremely salty brine.

When the ice flash-freezes in the fall, salt is exuded from the ice and sinks down through the ice as little teardrops of very salty water, boring wormholes downwards. Within these extremely salty down-elevators are micro-critters who are not satisfied with the brine, and adjust it to their liking. Unlike Alarmists, they do not want to make a Natural Park of the status-quo, and fundamentally alter the brine, so it is chemically different when it exits the ice at the bottom of the sea-ice.

Not all these micro-critters make it down into the sinking brine. Some are sucked up by the brine on top of the ice, which is sponged up by a phenomenon called “ice-flowers”, and then pulverized by winds and blasted to powder.  This powder is whipped about by winds so cold nothing melts or sticks, and the powder winds up as a sort of haze in dark, arctic midwinter skies, and some is swept to the top of the stratosphere. There, because the bromine in micro-critters turn into bromine-monoxide, it contributes to ozone depletion, and  to ozone holes.

Now, if an Alarmist hears of a ozone hole in the arctic, do you think they will blame micro-critters, or man?  It makes me wonder. Alarmists want to be the protectors of nature, but  if you actually don’t have a clue how nature works, how can you protect it?

I don’t want to continue down this path. It is too political. Instead I’ll turn my face to the sunrise, and contemplate some ice flowers on flash-frozen ice.Ice flowers IMG_1496.