ARCTIC SEA ICE –Insomnia Cure–

I was laying in bed last night contemplating customers, carrots and other things I’m suppose to consider, during the spring on a Farm-childcare, when sea-ice came drifting through my consciousness. It’s usually a sign sleep is creeping up, and worldly worries are melting away. Last night it led to some delightful, dazing dreaminess I doubt I can fully replicate, but which show the complexity of even a thing as simple as water.

Yesterday I was briefly discussing how a tendril of the Gulf Stream, coming north, for a time rides at the top of the ocean, but then takes a dive under the colder waters. For a time it is less dense than surrounding waters, but then it becomes more dense.

This occurs because there are two variables involved. First, there is temperature, and second, there is salinity. The Gulf Stream is more salty than surrounding waters, because it was subjected to a lot of evaporation down in the hot tropics before it came north. Salty water wants to sink. However the Gulf Stream is much warmer than surrounding waters. Warmer waters want to rise.

An analogy is needed. Imagine the water coming north is a bunch of hot air balloons. As long as the air in the balloons is hot, the balloons remain high, but gradually they cool, until they reach a momentous occasion where they take a dive.

It is a simple enough thing to model this on your multi-million dollar computer. First you need to loot the wallets of drained tax-payers, and then you convince the government to print up some extra money. Easy as pie, when you are falling asleep and in a dream world, but I find it easier to command the non-virtual reality in dreamland, and to model the two variables outside computers in the fresh air.

Instantly Fram Strait is experiencing complete calm. What’s more it has been doing so for weeks. The Gulf Stream, coming north, does so in a glassy stillness, and the point where it dives beneath colder water can be seen by the way sea-gull feathers drifting north in the current come to a halt.  The waters to the north are still, even stagnant.

IE:  In dreamland we have simplified things to a degree where slowly moving water is sliding beneath still water. If course we can’t have water coming in without water going out, but let’s have that happen someplace else, so it won’t mess up our dreamland model. Also, of course, you can’t have a fluid in motion moving past a still fluid without this annoying thing called “turbulence” making little whirls along the boundary, like little storms along a front. Fortunately our dreamland model has a “mute” key that dampens that stuff away. In the end we have a nice simple scenario.

Now, as we slip deeper into dreamland and our brains gain super-powers, let’s have a little fun by adding another variable or two.  Let’s reduce the amount of warming due to sunlight, as winter comes and the sun sinks  low.  Or let’s chill the air. This cools the Gulf Stream tendril coming north more quickly, so it reaches the magical point where salinity trumps heat five miles further south.

Oh oh. Problem. If the water sinks earlier, the completely static water which it is sinking under has to move, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it have to move south to fill in the space above the sinking water?

Or suppose we change the salinity of the Gulf Stream heading north. How?  How about a tropical storm dumping a foot of warm rain. Now the tendril wants to come further north before sinking. Would not it plow into the static surface water, and make it move?

But how about both chilling the water and reducing the salinity? How are we going to manage that?

What’s that you say? Why don’t we redirect all the sea-ice heading south along the east coast of Greenland, in that cold current, and push it across Fram Strait into the warm current heading north?  That will both cool the northbound tendril of the Gulf Stream, and make it less salty, you say?

Funny you should say that, for that is exactly the scenario we were looking at yesterday, as vast amounts of ice were melted just west of Svalbard. Svalfloe 3 svalbard 15

Ordinarily it is at this point I get a headache, but when I am falling asleep the implications have a nice way of knocking me over the brink into unconsciousness. Sort of like an uppercut to the jaw. As I pass out, I am usually pondering one of three things.

First, if you cool the water heading north, and lower its salinity,  how will this effect the melt from beneath to the north? In Theory, if you dumped enough ice into the northbound water, you could so cool and so dilute the current that it wouldn’t be all that different from the water to the north, and could skip the bother of sinking beneath it. What effect would that have on surface currents, and submarine currents?

Second, how many more buoys will the taxpayers allow before they come with burning torches? We don’t need a mere string of buoys across Fram Strait. We need north-south strings. We need surface reports and reports at depth, so we can have a 3-D picture of the daily fluctuations of temperature, salinity, and the speed the water is moving, like the weather-maps we get for the air above.

Lastly, what does it mean if ice does not travel in the cold, southbound current to the southerly tip of Greenland? Through much of the winter the ice levels were low, because ice was held back at the Pole, and much of the ice off the east coast of Greenland was “home grown”. Now even more ice is being deprived of it’s right to take the normal route because it has headed across to the wrong lane of the two-lane highway in Fram Strait. Will less ice off the south tip of Greenland make that water warmer?  (Currently there is a fringe of warmer-than-normal water right along the Greenland coast, but then waters are colder-than-normal clear across to Spain.)

Usually thinking about all this is quite enough to cure insomnia. If necessary, you can add another variable: Wind.  A strong wind can move surface water. What effect does a cold north wind have on a current coming from the south? Do you have a current heading south at the surface even as it heads north deeper down? Oh oh. Time to hit that “mute” key again, as I see turbulence rearing its head.

In the end I think very few things travel in the nice neat lines shown by textbooks. I am old enough to remember the way the Gulf Stream was portrayed in textbooks before we could see the surface with heat-sensitive satellites. It was nothing like this:

Gulf Stream images

I have a vivid memory, from back in those pre-satellite days, of attending a class held to make the general public more aware of beach erosion and why we should alter our attitudes about where we built marinas and beach houses. It was taught by a knowledgeable young scientist, and in the audience was a garrulous old fisherman. For some reason the subject got off the topic of beaches and moved out into the Gulf Stream, and at that point the fisherman began to talk about “warm whirlpools” and “cold whirlpools” and how he’d use them to hunt the best places to fish, and the young scientist rolled his eyes, as if the old man was talking nonsense, and finally the young man cut the fisherman off, making it obvious he felt the man was inventing tall tales. Later I always wondered what the scientist thought, when he saw the first satellite images come in, showing exactly what the old fisherman had described.

Perhaps it is for this reason that I, meaning no disrespect to scientists, am less than certain the map below is fully accurate.

Svalfloe 4 svalbard current

The thing I am watching for are the changes fishermen described the last time the AMO shifted from “warm” to “cold”. They were dramatic.

In any case, I highly recommend thinking about this stuff next time you have trouble sleeping.

In more mundane matters,  The DMI maps continue to show the high pressure over towards Bering Strait, and the low nudging toward the Pole, but weakening.

I’m worried they may have had troubles with the airstrip at Barneo, as there have been no reports since the 18th. You can see the ice is “active” across the Pole in the NRL “Speed and Drift” map from yesterday.

Speed and Drift 20160422 arcticicespddrfnowcast

This map also shows ice is likely moving away from the northwest coast of Hudson Bay.

In terms of the Northwest Passage, the western approach looks like it is opening up nicely, with ice moving away from the coast of Alaska. However the ice in Baffin Bay seems to be being crammed north into the eastern approaches.

Lastly, it looks like ice continues to be exported to the “wrong side” of Fram Strait.

The thickness map shows an odd little mountain range of thicker ice crossing right over the pole. (Not really a mountain range, but worth noting: 9 feet thick rather than six feet thick.)

Thickness 20160422 arcticictnnowcast

 

Lastly the “Race Against Time” expedition has been reporting struggling over a lot of pressure ridges as they approach the Pole from the Russian side. Mark Wood mentioned the ice was much flatter when he skied the route two years ago. At last report they had crossed 89 degrees north. Unfortunately they only report by satellite phone, without pictures.

 

 

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ARCTIC SEA-ICE DRAMA —THE CRASHING AMO—

Actually there isn’t usually much drama in watching sea-ice, especially this time of year when the cameras are shut down and the long arctic night has blacked-out our views for months. Though the first hints of spring twilight are circling around on the Arctic horizon, it isn’t until March that the adventurers start to roam the ice and send back pictures, and the Russians land jets and set up their base. Here is a link to some pictures from last year:

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/%EF%BB%BFjets-landing-on-north-pole-ice/

While we wait for human activity to resume, the best we can do is rely on satellite information, and the best site I know of is Anthony Watt’s “Sea Ice Page” http://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/sea-ice-page/

I also like the Danish Meteorological Institute Site: http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/index.uk.php

The Danish site gives us this graph: (Click to enlarge)

DMI2 0224 meanT_2015

This graph shows the mean temperatures north of 80 degrees latitude, and gives the correct impression it is warmer than usual up at the Pole this winter. However it is important to keep in mind the “warm” temperatures are at -25° Celsius. At these temperatures not only does any exposed ocean swiftly freeze, but salt is exuded by the freezing sea-water, forming “flowers” on the surface of smooth ice in calm conditions,  and then, when winds howl, being blown around with the snow without any ability to melt the snow. Only in May, when temperatures rise above -10° Celsius, can the salt abruptly turn snow to slush.

However the graph does show “warm” conditions, and this has occurred because much arctic cold has been exported south. In fact, if I want to see arctic sea-ice I have only to drive eighty miles to Boston Harbor.

Boston sea-ice Screen_shot_2015_02_21_at_1_34_06_PM

I am not sure whether they include Boston Harbor, when they add up the total of arctic sea ice for this graph.

DMI2 0224 icecover_current_new

This graph suggests the extent of ice is on the low side, and is used by some Global Warming Alarmists to suggest the arctic is in a “Death Spiral.” This is largely an illusion.

One can get drawn into quibbling about where there is ice and where there isn’t any ice, however such fluctuations are quite ordinary, and tend to follow a sixty-year-cycle governed by the AMO and PDO. However, if you get sucked into such quibbling, a helpful bit of ammunition is the fact the Great Lakes are not included in sea-ice-data, but represent a large area of water, and the ice-cover on the lakes may set a modern record, this winter

Great Lakes 20150221 glsea_cur

The fact of the matter is that rather than a “zonal” flow, which steers winds around and around the Pole and keeps the cold locked up there, we are seeing  “meridianal” flow this winter, which involves a jet stream so loopy that at times air from Siberia flows across the Pole, rather than around the Pole, and then heads down to my back yard.  In fact, even as I type, the thermometer on my back porch reads -10.8° Fahrenheit, which is -23.8° Celsius, which means my back porch is colder than the North Pole, where it appears to only be -20° Celsius.

The reason it is warm at the Pole this morning is because, when cold air is exported, warmer air must come north to replace it. Often this imported air comes north aloft and doesn’t show up on surface temperature maps, but when the flow is especially meridianal you can see the plume of mildness curling north, and often breeding a storm as it rises.

DMI2 0223B temp_latest.big

This plume of warmth produced a neat, tight, little gale right at the Pole, which is wandering away towards Canada.

DMI2 0223B mslp_latest.big

Alarmists are coming up with various ideas that explain the meridianal flow as being due to warming, but in order to do so they have to turn a blind eye to the fact we have records that show us we have seen this all before. We may not have satellite records, but the Danes in particular kept records of where the edge of the ice was, due to their interests in Greenland and their fishermen. These records show a decrease in ice in the 1920’s and 1930’s was followed by an increase in the 1940’s (though the records become sparse during World War Two, when Nazis occupied Denmark and information about the sea-route to Russia became classified).

The interesting thing is how swiftly and immediately the ice responded to fluctuations in the PDO and AMO. The Pacific, though huge, has less direct imput via ocean water, and mostly effects the levels of ice in the Bering Strait.

One fascinating example of history repeating itself involves the fact that, the last time the Pacific PDO switched from “Warm” to “Cold,” it displayed an interesting glitch in smooth cycling, by reverting to “Warm” during a “spike” in 1958 and 1959. We have seen the exact same thing reoccur the past two years, and have seen the sea-ice in the Bering Strait immediately revert to low levels from high levels.

PDO Screen_shot_2015_02_17_at_5_38_30_AM

I was surprised to see the resemblance be so similar, because all things are not equal,  during these cycle, and outside influences are throwing wrenches into the works and keeping this cycle from being a copycat of the last one. For one thing, the sun is behaving very differently, and is described as a “Quiet Sun,” and even though we are near the high point of the sunspot cycle, the past four days have shown us a “spotless” sun, (though if you magnify you can see some “specks”).

DMI2 0224 sunspots latest

It seems to me that the current “warm” spike is stronger than the one in 1958 and 1959, and I am expecting a decrease in the ice in Bering Strait. However it is on the Atlantic side that the real drama is taking place.

The AMO is suppose to stay “warm” another five years, but last winter and spring it displayed a short spike into “cold” territory. There was an immediate response in the sea-ice, which grew along the north and east coast of Svalbard at a time of year it was shrinking back everywhere else. Then, when the AMO reverted to “warm”, that same ice shank back at a time of year it was growing everywhere else.

I assumed things had gotten back to  normal, and we could expect the AMO to remain warm, but take a look at this January’s graph.

AMO January amo(2)

This represents a major crash, and suggests we will be seeing some major changes in where the edge of the sea-ice is this summer, on the Atlantic side. From what I could gather looking at the old Danish records, the response is far swifter than one would think it could be.  Will the same thing happen again?

I haven’t a clue about the dynamics involved. To be quite honest, I doubt anyone does. We are witnessing this change for the first time since we developed the wonderful modern tools we can employ from satellites, and developed our modern buoys as well.

It is a time to buy some popcorn, and to sit back and watch. I imagine a lot of people who behave as if they are authorities and already understand everything are going be humbled.

I did offer some ideas for discussion in this “guest essay” at WUWT:   http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/09/author-of-its-own-demise-musings-on-the-amo/ and think the comments include some ideas better than my own. One idea I had never even thought about involved the viscosity of water at various temperatures, and how that could influence flow as much as density.

We may be about to see how Nature pulls off one of her magic tricks, and once she shows us how it is done we might shake our heads, and wonder why we couldn’t figure it out before.