ARCTIC SEA ICE –The Surge Snipped–

The Pole continues to make for interesting theater, though the drama has died down from what it was a week ago, when temperatures were soaring to 35 degrees above normal and the ice at the north edge of Barents Sea was retreating. Fueling this weather was a strong south wind from the Atlantic that at times pushed right past the Pole towards the Pacific, thus confusing everybody, because a south wind became a north wind without changing direction.  This flow achieved its peak around November 14:

By November 16 the flow was pushing an Atlantic low and its secondary up through Fram Strait, whereupon, due to the strict laws of this website, they are automatically dubbed “Ralph”. The southerly flow, while remaining southerly, had swung east, and was now coming less off the Atlantic and more off shore from Europe, but it nearly was able to push above-freezing temperatures to the Pole.

So strong was this flow that the sea-ice, which usually is expanding south as a thin sheet of ice, was pushed north by strong wind until it was briefly well north of Franz Josef Land, and unable to refreeze because temperatures were above freezing in that area. This produced a brief and unusual dip in the ice “extent”graph, which usually is rocketing upwards at this time of year. However the ice swiftly grew back down to Franz Josef Lands’s north coast as conditions began to change, and the graph resumed its upward climb.

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The surge from the south had raised eyebrows by raising temperatures to unprecedented levels (in a history that goes back 58 years).

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However my eyebrows were raised by the steep decline that followed.

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This interested me because, whereas other places can get colder air from lands further north, there is no place north of the North Pole. Therefore it must get cold air imported from colder tundra to the south, but I didn’t see any strong flow from such tundras. This meant the cold must instead be home grown. Or, to put it more scientifically, the heat was lost locally, radiated upwards into the unending winter night.

Still, it seemed odd to me that the warm southerly flow should just turn off like a spigot. My curiosity sought reasons, for the cessation was obvious as early as November 17, because the first and second lows, following a storm track straight north to the Pole, (incarnations of “Ralph”), weakened with surprising speed. It was as if they were cut off from their warm inflow of mild, moist air, while the third storm in the sequence came to a dead halt and refused to head north, and just sat off the coast of Norway and twiddled its thumbs, remaining fairly strong.

I wondered if the stalled low off Norway might be consuming all the available energy, but this didn’t satisfy me, for the isobars in the above map still indicate a strong flow from the south. Why wasn’t the warmth heading out over arctic waters? The temperature anomaly map still showed the above-normal temperatures moving north in central Europe, but then being bent east at the top. What was stopping the import of heat north to the Pole?

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I’d likely still be mystified, but dawn broke on Marblehead when I visited Joseph D’Aleo’s blog over at the Weatherbell Site, and during the course of one of his elegant descriptions of complex situations he turned on the light-bulb in my noggin.

Just as a meandering stream straightens its course from time to time, cutting across the neck of a loop and leaving an oxbow lake behind

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So too can a loopy jet stream decide to straighten up its act, and the “surge” was part of a loopy jet:

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When a jet straightens up it act, the cut off part of the stream is not called an “oxbow”, but rather a “cut off”, (which shows that meteorologists are occasionally more sensible than geologists).  By November 23 the upper air maps showed the “cut off low” was sitting down over Spain. Over Spain a large part of the surge was no longer heading north, but caught up and going around and around and around, like a taxpayer caught up in a bureaucracy.

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You will notice that at the top of the above map the jet is basically zooming west to east. The surge from the south has vanished, making a mess of all my forecasts that calculated the surge would move east this far one day, and this far further east the next. The surge simply disappeared, or at the very least fell over and surged west to east. It was confusing. (Actually the same thing happens when I straighten up my own act. It confuses people who depend on me to be loopy.)  In any case, this morning’s surface map had a reflection of the cut-off-low stalled over Spain, but what about the North Atlantic low? It will plow west-to-east across Scandinavia in the jet, nothing like the lows that headed straight north, last week.uk-met-20161126-42268142

The tipped over surge can be seen giving some relief to central Asia in the temperature maps.

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In the anomaly map the west-to-east surge looks like an arrow, making a layer cake out of the map (to mix my metaphors). The old cold is to the south, still capable of generating a few headlines, but likely to be slowly moderated out of existence. The new cold is along the top, and likely needs to be watched, for it seems likely to be a lasting feature. The “surge” itself seems likely to linger but weaken, but will remain interesting to watch.  At the very least it will give some Asians a break, after they have been through an autumn colder than some winters.

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But this is all off the point, which was (in case you can’t remember), that the mild air is not surging up to the Pole any more, and that the vast pool of mild air that was transported up there is slowly cooling, day by day.

I should note that Joseph D’Aleo mentioned that when a jet really gets roaring west to east it can act downright human. (After humans have straightened out their act, what tends to happen next? Answer: Their resolve buckles.) In like manner, we should be on our toes, watching for where the jet will next buckle, and get all loopy, (like a human falling off the wagon after keeping a New Year’s resolution as long as they can bear it).   However, for the time being, up at the Pole, “Ralph” has little hope of reinforcements from the Atlantic.

Not that “Ralph” has vanished completely. Largely he has retreated to the Canadian Archipelago, as high pressure dominates the Arctic. At the end of my last post there actually was a small ghost of Ralph by the Pole, and hint of Ralph’s “signature” in the temperature map, hooking mildness towards the Pole, despite the power of the expanding high pressure. (See the tiny low by the Pole?)

The next day Ralph’s ghost was just a dent in the high pressure’s isobars. Freezing temperatures had snuck down to the northeast coast of Svalabard.

 

The next dawn Ralph, like all good ghosts, was vanishing, because that is what ghosts do at dawn. (If you you squint you can still see a microscopic low under the Pole.) The only real import of air towards the Pole was from central Siberia.

The following dawn saw an odd dimple in the high pressure’s isobars, on the Canadian side. It looked like (if you use your imagination) a face, that the ghost of Ralph had punched. Freezing temperatures were engulfing Svalbard. By evening the ghost of Ralph reappeared, (as good ghosts do at dark), just north of the Canadian Archipelago.

Today saw the freezing isotherm slump well south of Svalbard, and Ralph retreat and regroup north of Canada. Models are suggesting Ralph will soon start attacking the Pole from the Canadian side, though with colder air than before. The North Atlantic flow is totally from the north, and Scandinavia looks likely to get a dose of north winds.

The north winds are allowing the sea-ice to build south again where the “surge” had forced it to retreat, in the north part of Barents Sea, and sea-ice is again touching the north coast of Franz Josef Land. There was also a slight reduction on the Pacific side, due to strong south winds and a brief mild inflow a week ago, but that has been more than made up for by regrowth, which has now engulfed Wrangle Island.

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A major difference from last year is that Hudson Bay was half skimmed-over last year, and the refreeze hasn’t even started this year. I think this will soon change. The Bay’s waters are shallow, and it tends to freeze over with remarkable speed, which contributes to the speed of the growth of the “extent” graph.  I’ll bet a nickle the Bay is entirely frozen by Christmas.

Even though the flow from central Siberia has been weak, it appears to have nudged the thicker ice just off shore, in the Laptev Sea. Watch for the formation of polynyas along the shore there, for that is indicative of the export of ice into the Central Arctic Basin.

Baffin Bay is swiftly icing over, but remains behind last year’s rate of growth..

The Kara Sea’s sea-ice shrank back before the “surge”, but that sea has since swiftly grown sea-ice on its eastern side.

The reversing winds have seen multi-year ice start down through Fram Strait, along the east coast of Greenland, but the ice down towards the coast opposite Iceland in Denmark Strait is largely home grown.

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I’m not sure how it is possible, but some models see a colder version of Ralph moving up from Canada to regain complete control of the Pole in a week to ten days. Stay tuned.

Arctic Sea Ice —The Beaufort Switcheroo—(May 31, 2015)

The blogger “Chris PT” mentioned me in a YouTube video,

In the process he mentioned how watching sea-ice shrink and grow in the Arctic can be a bit like a sporting event, in that Alarmists all cheer wildly when more-than-expected melts, and Skeptics all cheer wildly when less-than-expected melts. I’m not sure I approve, considering billions of dollars are at stake, not to mention the fate of the planet (if you believe Alarmists.)  Also the arguing tends to disintegrate into discussions of the mental state and sanity of opponents, which has little to do with sea-ice, to put it mildly. Therefore I’m going to try to steer clear of such debate, when possible, and if I ridicule anyone it will be myself.

I will expose myself to ridicule by making a guess at what I think will happen. Then I will be wrong. Then I can have all the fun of ridiculing someone, by ridiculing myself.

One forecast sure to be correct this time of year is, “Warmer.”  Temperatures shoot upwards at the Pole, under the 24-hour-a-day sunshine, until they get above freezing and level off in late June. (The average climb in temperature is the green line in the graph below, and you can see how steep the climb is, from April through June.)

What is more difficult to forecast is whether the red line in the graph below will be above or below the green line. For some reason this is the third straight year that temperatures dipped below normal in May. It remains to be seen if they stay below normal for the rest of the summer, as they did the past two summers. I forecast that they will.

Switcher 4 meanT_2015

One way to get an idea how thick the ice is, which gives you a hint about how enduring it might be, is to study the NRL ice-thickness map.

Switch 6 arcticictnowcast If you watch this over a period of time some events become obvious. For example, all winter the ice was pushed from the northwest to the southeast across Hudson Bay, and by April the ice was piled up and thick to the southeast, and newly-formed and thin to the northwest. Therefore it is obvious ice will melt away first in the northwest. I forecast there will be some ice still left in the southeast of Hudson Bay in August.

In the like manner, a lot of ice was pushed out of the Kara Sea, so I expect it will melt more swiftly in the Kare Sea this year.  The Laptev Sea, on the other hand, did not export as much ice as last year. Last year the cross-polar-flow was so extreme that ice was pushed far from shore, leaving so much newly-formed, thin ice that, once melting began, an area of open water I dubbed “The Laptev Notch” formed during the summer, and stabbed north of 80 degrees latitude for a time. I forcast that notch to be far smaller this summer, and to have trouble melting north of 80 degrees.

If you don’t have the time to study the thickness-laps on a regular basis, you can watch a whole year be animated here:

What impresses me most in that animation is the bite the Pacific takes out ice north of the Bering Strait. That ice is solid and thick, at the start, but the influx of milder, Pacific water at the surface melts the ice from underneath, and ice that is ten feet thick in April can be gone by September.

I am expecting quite a bite to be taken from that ice this year, because the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) is going through a “warm spike”, and the water coming in through the Bering Strait ought be especially warm. However already I’ve blown my forecast in some ways. For one thing, to the south of Bering Strait the water on the Siberian side has become much colder than normal, and that makes me nervous. If it becomes involved, the water coming in through Bering Strait won’t be so mild.

Also the nice, mild breezes that have been rushing up from the south, and affirming my forecast, are putting me through the old switcheroo. They are swinging to the east and becoming colder.

The coldest air is currently parked over the Pole, and along the north coast of Greenland.

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However a high pressure is parked north of Bering Strait,

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In three days the cold air will be pulled off the Pole, and it seems the yearly warm-up will be well underway.

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The problem with the above map is that it shows the Beaufort Sea during the warmest part of the day. Even under 24-hour-sunshine the sun is higher at noon, and a diurnal variation does occur. Therefore, to play it safe, we look at the situation under the midnight sun,

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Now the situation north of Bering Strait and in the Beaufort Sea suddenly looks much colder. This does not bode well, in the short term, for my forecast of melting in that area.

The GFS model makes it look like the high pressure will remain parked roughly where it is, and an easterly flow will move a lot of the cold air north of Greenland to the west, along the Canadian coast and finally to the Alaskan coast. Yesterday I noticed Buoy 2015B: had dropped from above freezing to -3.19° C, and while it has rebounded to -1.33° in the “noontime” heating, the water its camera shows in a nearby lead looks suspiciously like it is skimming over with ice.

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O-buoy #12 (which is due north of Bering Strait and most likely to first feel the effects of the “warm” PDO), has fallen from above freezing to -5°.

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To the east across the Beaufort Sea, our old friend Obuoy 10 also shows an abrupt temperature drop

Obuoy 10 0531 temperature-1week Obuoy 10 0531 webcam

The buoy I’ll be watching is Buoy Buoy 2015A: , which is right on the coast of Alaska and effected by the sun-baked tundra just to its south. It’s camera is currently showing a lot of melt-water pools and temperatures are at +0.66°. If the camera starts to show the melt-water pools freezing over, then we’ll know the cold air has really backed west.

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Of course, the cold will have to come from somewhere, and if the Pole is robbed of all its sub-freezing air, temperatures will likely rise up that way. They may even get their first thaw of the year. As it is, it is currently -8.42° C up at Buoy 2015D: , which is hard to see but is to the left of this picture, taken by North Pole Camera 1.

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In conclusion, what is really fun about watching ice melt is seeing surprises occur, and what you don’t expect. I did not expect this cold shot into the Beaufort Sea.

What happened last summer, and I expect to happen again this summer, is for there to be some of these cold spells that come right out of the blue, with their origins more or less a mystery. After all, you reach a point where there is no more cold air left at the Pole. In the current situation the Beaufort cold can be explained-away as a case of Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul, but later in the summer Peter is broke, so you can’t rob him. It is when there are suddenly temperatures below freezing in July, without any apparent “source reason,” that your sense of wonder starts to come into play.

I’m looking forward to that.

ARCTIC SEA-ICE RECOVERY –Sneak Attack onto Europe–

The last two weeks has been interesting to watch, though the growth and extent of the ice is fairly normal. Here are the extent maps from December 12 (to the left) and December 27 (to the right).

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As Hudson Bay and the Bering Strait have frozen up, most of the growth in ice from now on has little to do with the Arctic. You could almost call it cosmetic. It will be occurring in the Pacific, or the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, or the Baltic Sea, and therefore will be fleeting, and have little to do with the Arctic Sea itself, which is what all the fuss is about in the summer.

I tend to watch the arctic ice-thickness maps, which can give you an idea where the ice is moving. It moves far more than many imagine. For example, hundreds of square miles of thicker ice that had been lodged north of Franz Josef Land was shifted west by storms and crashed into the north coast of Svalbard, over the past month. This created a sort of polynya of open water where the ice had been by Franz Josef Land, which swiftly froze over and became thin ice.

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If this large body of ice continued to move west it might be flushed south through Fram Strait, which could create a situation much like occurred in 2007, when the thick ice was flushed south of the Pole, leaving the Pole with a thin skim of ice as summer approached, and, because the thin ice melted easily, the people who assume the icecap is in a “Death Spiral” had something to hype. (The main difference between now and 2007 is that there is much more thick ice north of Canada now.)

Watching the thickness maps allows you to see where the ice is piling up and where it is thinning, and gives you a rough idea on the total volume of ice up there.  There are many interesting processes occurring that you seldom read about.  For example, the same strong winds that blew the ice away from Franz Josef Land also blew the ice away from the south coast of the Kara Sea, and you can see that ice as thin blue lines of thicker ice now out in the middle of the Kara Sea.

Ice really piles up on the west coast of Baffin Bay, and grinds southeast along that coast and then along the coast of Labrador towards the North Atlantic. Ice also can pile up on the south and east coast of Hudson Bay, while the north coast can see polnyas form, so that even though the north was the first to freeze and the south was the last to freeze, by spring the south has thicker ice than the north. Lastly, ice can be seen piling up just west of the Bering Strait on the north coast of Russia; last year this ice was piled up 20 feet thick there by spring.

Watching the thickness maps brings many surprises, especially when storms wrack the ice. In the dead of winter, with temperatures at -40°, I have seen leads of open water form that are scores of miles across and hundreds of miles across. The open water freezes to thin ice almost immediately, but sometimes you can still see signs of that thinner ice months later. In a similar manner storms had a lot to do with the build up of thicker ice north of Canada.

At times the thick ice can crumble and be spread out into open waters, and mess up all sorts of neat calculations in the process. Where a cold current often sinks when it meets a warmer current, and more saline waters want to sink beneath more brackish waters, it is physically impossible for the ice to sink, and it bobs merrily onwards on top, often significantly chilling both the temperatures of the surface waters and the air, until it melts away. Therefore a strong wind transporting ice south can alter temperature maps with startling speed.

I imagine there are times when such alterations make a difference in the forecasts generated by computer models. They may even explain why the models utterly failed to foresee the cold that slumped south onto Europe recently. Just as it only takes a single pebble to start an avalanche, a single miscalculation can mess up a computer model.

Although the models did not see the cold coming, Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi on their blogs at the Weatherbell site did say we should be on guard for cold waves to hit Europe, as the autumnal patterns were similar to years in the past that saw cold waves hit Europe. They didn’t explain how it was going to happen in a step-by-step way, so I watched very carefully to see if I could see the steps as they occurred.

Back on December 12 we were seeing south winds bring warm air flooding north over Scandinavia, as the Atlantic storms veered north towards the Pole. A lot of Barents Sea was above freezing. Cold air was exiting the Arctic down the east coast of Greenland.

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This pattern continued on December 14

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And peaked around December 17

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By December 19 the storms were no longer heading up to the Pole, but were moving east along the north coast of Russia. Barents Sea was cooling down, and to the east of the storm cold Siberian air was drawn up over the Arctic Sea and then dragged back west, and the milder Atlantic air lost its influence over the Pole.

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By December 21 the new storm track had the east winds to its north starting to drag cold air back towards Scandinavia. The following Atlantic Gale didn’t bring such a flood of warmth north.

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By December 24 the new storm track had penetrated weakly to the Pacific side of the Pole, and chilled Pacific air was being drawn over the Pole, but was too cold to warm the Pole much, and the cold air over the Pole was heading south to Scandinavia, and below freezing temperatures seeped down the coast of Norway.

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By the 26th of December the cold was building over the Pole, and the strongest low pressure was east of Scandinavia, transporting Siberian air back west over its top towards a Barents Sea that was now far colder, especially to its north. The Pole was as cold as it ever gets, except on rare occasions, and the weight of that dense air was spreading out, including down towards Europe.

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Today we see the following North Atlantic low is weak, without a surge of southerly winds, and the isobars hint of a discharge straight from the Pole to Scandinavia and areas further south.

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This afternoon’s map shows the weak low bringing snow to Britain and the cold continuing to press south over Europe.

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The computer models didn’t see this cold coming, even a few days ago, but now much of western Europe is below normal. As this cold continues to press south it is likely create elongated high pressure west to east. There may be a warm-up over Scandinavia as winds turn west to the north of the high pressure, but east winds to the south of the cold high pressure will bring very cold Siberian air further and further towards the Mediterranean, and a southern storm track will bring snows to Italy and perhaps even the north coast of Africa, before the cold is moderated.

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However I have no business talking about Africa in a post about the Arctic, so I’ll just show the graph of temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, which informs us the arctic is loaded with midwinter cold, and has plenty to spare.

DMI2 1227B meanT_2014

Besides dumping cold down on Europe, some is being dumped south into Canada and the western USA.  The thing to remember is that not only the Pole creates cold, but all areas of Tundra and Taiga generate cold as well, during these shortest of days. Better look for where you left your mittens.

DMI2 1227B gfs_t2m_noram_1

(These maps are created by Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site.)