Christmas is coming, and Santa’s secret summer swimming pool has frozen over once again. However the same can’t be said for the Chukchi Sea! More on that in due course, but first let’s take a look at the PIOMAS volume graph at the end of November, courtesy of the wondrous Wipneus on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:
2017 is currently third lowest, behind 2012 and 2016. Next let’s take a look at Wipneus’ PIOMAS Arctic sea ice thickness map:
followed by the University of Bremen’s SMOS Arctic sea ice thickness map:
Note the large area of pale blue open ocean still visible in the Chukchi Sea towards the top left of both maps.
For another perspective on Arctic sea ice thickness here’s the latest Cryosat-2 map, which currently is based on the month up to November 24th:
Finally, for the moment at least, here’s our very own Arctic Freezing Degree Days graph based on the DMI’s >80N data:
2017 is currently occupying the wide open space between the astonishingly low numbers last year and all previous years in DMI’s record. Here’s their graph for 2017 so far:
[Edit – December 10th]
Current Arctic sea ice area and extent derived from the University of Hamburg’s high resolution AMSR2 data:
Plus the latest update on the Chukchi Sea situation:
In September 2017, a new iceberg calved from Pine Island Glacier—one of the main outlets where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet flows into the ocean. Just weeks later, the berg named B-44 shattered into more than 20 fragments.
On December 15, 2017, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this natural-color image of the broken berg. An area of relatively warm water, known as a polyna, has kept the water ice free between the iceberg chunks and the glacier front. NASA glaciologist Chris Shuman thinks the polynya’s warm water could have caused the rapid breakup of B-44.
The image was acquired near midnight local time. Based on parameters including the azimuth of the Sun and its elevation above the horizon, as well as the length of the shadows, Shuman has estimated that the iceberg rises about 49 meters above the water line. That would put the total thickness of the berg—above and below the water surface—at about 315 meters.
September has arrived once again, the month in which the assorted Arctic area and extent metrics (almost) always reach their respective annual minima. Now we can start to speculate about what the assorted minima will be, and on what date.
First of all let’s take a look at “Snow White’s” favourite high resolution AMSR2 metrics derived by “Wipneus” from University of Hamburg AMSR2 concentration data:
As you can see, today’s values are both higher than yesterday’s. Hence we already have potential minima to consider! In this case:
UH AMSR2 Area – 3.65 million km² on September 1st
UH AMSR2 Extent – 4.30 million km² on September 1st
Personally I don’t think those numbers will last long, and here’s one reason why. The “surf forecast” for the far North Atlantic for midday on September 6th:
Some significant swells are currently forecast to batter the ice edge on the Atlantic side of the Arctic over the next few days.
On the way the cruise’s resident naturalist and Smithsonian lecturer, Michael Scott, risked the wrath of Trump supporters by pointing to some of the changes Greenland is undergoing.
A Nasa map based on data between 2004 and 2014 revealed that the ice is melting across most of Greenland – an area nine times the size of the UK.
Pulling together several papers, Michael said Greenland’s summer melt season now lasts 70 days longer than in the early 1970s.
This melting is unfreezing the fringes of the permafrost, which may explain why Nasa satellites are picking up fires raging where the ice has retreated.
[Edit – September 16th]
It is of course still to early to be 100% certain about this. However:
It certainly looks as though the bottom is in for the University of Hamburg AMSR2 extent: 4.25 million km² on September 11th.
It’s much the same story for JAXA extent:
4.47 million km² on September 9th and 10th.
[Edit – September 19th]
The NSIDC have followed in Snow White’s glass slippered footsteps and tentatively called the minimum:
On September 13, Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its seasonal minimum extent of 4.64 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles), the eighth lowest in the 38-year satellite record. The overall rate of ice loss this summer was slowed by a persistent pattern of low sea level pressure focused over the central Arctic Ocean.
Please note that this is a preliminary announcement. Changing winds or late-season melt could still reduce the Arctic ice extent, as happened in 2005 and 2010. NSIDC scientists will release a full analysis of the Arctic melt season, and discuss the Antarctic winter sea ice growth, in early October.
Minimum volume was reached at 11th September: 4.542 103km3, which is fourth lowest after 2012, 2011 and 2016 (resp 3.673, 4.302, 4.402) and just below 2010 (4.582).
[Edit – September 23rd]
Here’s the 2017 edition of our annual NSIDC daily max/min extent graph:
The maximum extent was the lowest in the satellite record, and the minimum was just fractionally above the trend line. For those that concern themselves with “statistical significance”, the PIOMAS minimum volume was a “statistical tie” for second place:
After a voyage through the Northwest Passage untroubled by sea ice in 2016, the cruise liner Crystal Serenity has set sail for the Bering Strait and beyond once again. The SailWX tracking map shows her passing the Aleutian Islands:
and although there is of course no sea ice to be seen yet her forward facing webcam reveals Dutch Harbor as her next port of call:
Much like last year, it looks as though the British icebreaker Ernest Shackleton is on its way to assist her:
Having an icebreaker in attendance might well prove to be essential this year, since, according to the Canadian Ice Service, Larsen Sound is currently still full of sea ice:
[Edit – August 21th]
Heading westwards to meet Crystal Serenity, this is what met the RRS Ernest Shackleton in Franklin Strait:
Meanwhile Crystal Serenity is about to pass through the (ice free!) Bering Strait:
[Edit – August 29th]
Crystal Serenity is now heading through Queen Maud Gulf:
but there is as yet no sign of any sea ice:
However some should come into view later today. Here are the latest Canadian Ice Service sea ice charts of the area:
[Edit – August 29th 11:30]
Crystal Serenity has spotted some sea ice!
[Edit – August 29th 17:30]
Crystal Serenity and Ernest Shackleton are well in amongst the ice now, as are the former’s passengers:
[Edit – August 30th]
Crystal Serenity is now entering the Franklin Strait in the wake of TWO icebreakers:
Depending on whether you’re reading an “alarmist” or a “skeptical” web site you may have been told either that the Northern Sea Route is already “open” or that the “icebreaker stuck in the sea ice off Pevek” escaped very late this summer. Here at Great White Con we like to think of ourselves as “realists”, so what are the actual facts of the matter.
Our customary way of looking at such things is to use the Canadian Ice Service’s definition of “open” for the Northwest Passage, which seems to be 3/10 or less concentration along the entire route. That would allow an intrepid little yacht like Northabout through without too much trouble, but that point has not quite been reached yet this year. The NSR looks to be eminently “open” already if you only look at an AMSR2 concentration map:
However according to the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI for short) there is still not a suitably simple way through Vilkitsky Strait. Here’s their latest ice chart of the area:
Convoys led by nuclear powered icebreakers have already passed through the Vilkitsky Strait this summer. See for example this tracking map of Yamal from a few days ago:
Also an unaccompanied liquid natural gas carrier has made it through the Vilkitsky Strait already this year. According to a Total press release:
After loading its cargo at the Snøhvit LNG export terminal in Norway, in which Total has an 18.4% interest, the Christophe de Margerie is taking the Northern Sea Route to Boryeong in South Korea, where it will deliver a cargo for Total Gas & Power. It’s the first unescorted merchant LNG vessel ever to take this route, which makes it possible to reach Asia via the Bering Strait in 15 days versus 30 days via the Suez Canal.
This technological feat was made possible through the participation of Total teams to the design of these next-generation LNG carriers. Compilations of technology, they efficiently transport large quantities of LNG year-round, without requiring escort icebreakers during the period from July to November. The Christophe de Margerie is the first of a total of 15 planned LNG carriers that will be gradually deployed.
As you can see, whilst it travels forwards in open water the Christophe de Margerie goes into reverse when breaking ice! Little yachts and other unaccompanied vessels lacking an ice class certificate will have to wait just a little longer however, unless of course they are inclined to be “intrepid”.
What seems likely to be the most interesting period of the 2017 Arctic sea ice melting season is upon us! The PIOMAS gridded data hasn’t been released yet, but the overall volume numbers reveal that 2017 has now relinquished its “lowest ever” position to 2012. Here’s Wipneus’ graph of the volume data:
plus his anomaly plot:
Our favourite high resolution AMSR2 area and extent graphs now also allow comparison with 2012. Here’s how they look at the moment:
As you can see, round about now is when 2012 Arctic sea ice extent started to noticeably race ahead of the rest of the pack. Will 2017 follow suit? Are there any Arctic cyclones on the horizon for example? Well, the one forecast for August 4th hasn’t materialised. Here’s this morning’s Environment Canada synopsis:
However both ECMWF and GFS agree that a sub 985 hPa storm should have arrived by Sunday morning. Here’s the ECMWF version from MeteoCiel:
There’s stronger storms in the forecast further out, but once again we’ll believe them if and when we see them!
We’re keeping a close eye on the Northwest Passage once again this year. Most of the southern route is open already, but as we predicted the old ice in Larsen Sound has a lot of melting still to do. Here’s how it looked from the icebreaker Nordica a few days ago:
On top of that the old ice around O-Buoy 14 is currently rushing south down the McClintock Channel to replenish it. Here’s how that looks at the moment:
Meanwhile the melt along the Northern Sea Route is well ahead of last year. Here’s the University of Hamburg AMSR2 concentration map of the area:
There’s also now a lot of open water on the Pacific side of the Arctic, and Sunday’s cyclone is forecast to create a large area of 2 meter plus waves heading in the direction of the ice edge:
I expect that to have a noticeable effect on the already fragile sea ice by early next week, assuming the storm arrives as forecast! There is an ice mass balance buoy handily placed out on the ice in the path of the storm. Buoy 2017A is currently located near 77 N, 147 W, and its assorted sensors suggest the ice underneath it is now less than 20 cm thick:
Here’s how the area around the buoy looked a couple of weeks ago:
Image of 2017A from WARM 6 on July 18th 2017. NSF project: NSF OPP #1603548
The $64,000 question now is will the 2017 Arctic sea ice metrics stay in amongst the recent pack, or race after 2012 instead?
[Edit – August 6th]
This morning’s synopsis from Environment Canada suggests the cyclone has bottomed out at a MSLP of 982 hPa:
Here’s how the cyclone looked from space yesterday:
I think that I can convince myself that the salinity profile from ice tethered profiler 97, currently located at 73° N, 134° W, reveals mixing from depth in the wake of the storm:
The synthetic aperture radar on the Sentinel 1B satellite can certainly see through the clouds, and reveals open water in the Central Arctic north of the Beaufort Sea yesterday evening (UTC):
The United Kingdom Government has just published details of its Foresight “Future of the sea” project’s investigation into the implications of declining Arctic sea ice. According to the overview:
The Arctic is losing sea ice at a dramatic rate and this decline is expected to continue. This is creating opportunities for shorter global trade links between East Asia and the UK, via the Arctic.
Arctic routes are seasonally open most years, although normally icebreaker ships are required and available routes are close to the coast. Currently the Arctic shipping season is short and highly variable with optimum conditions in September and/or October.
Due to climate change, the Arctic shipping season could become three times longer and more reliable, so that by mid-century it will likely be possible to directly cross the North Pole during late summer. During this time, voyages from East Asia to the UK could save 10 to 12 days by using Arctic routes.
However, the extra costs associated with operating in the harsh Arctic environment may detract from their appeal.
The full report goes into much greater detail. According to the executive summary:
There are mixed views on whether trans-Arctic routes will become economically viable. The Russian government wishes to develop the Northern Sea Route as a commercial enterprise and offers substantial fee-based services such as ice-breaking support and pilotage, which are certainly necessary for future investment and development of the route. However Arctic transport is also likely to grow due to increased destination shipping to serve natural resource extraction projects and cruise tourism.
The UK is well positioned, geographically, geopolitically, and commercially, to benefit from a symbiotic relationship with increasing Arctic shipping. The UK has a prominent role in Arctic science and a world-leading maritime services industry based in London, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), one of the world’s leading financial centres, and Europe’s largest insurance sector. Arctic economic growth is focused in four key sectors – mineral resources, fisheries, logistics, and tourism – all of which require shipping, and could generate investment reaching $100bn (US Dollars and hereafter) or more in the Arctic region over the next decade. The UK had a fundamental role in preparing the UN IMO Polar Code which came into operation in January 2017. The Polar Code is an historic milestone in addressing the specific risks faced by Arctic shipping and acts to supplement the existing Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Marine Pollution (MARPOL) conventions for protecting the environment while ensuring safe shipping in international waters.
Much of the investment into Arctic shipping projects is from China but northern European countries are also playing an increasing role. Potential opportunities for the UK include the development of UK-based Arctic cruise tourism, and a UK-based trans-shipment port – transferring goods from ice-classed vessels to conventional carriers. The UK’s active diplomatic role in many international organisations means it is well placed to ensure that increased activity in the Arctic is accomplished in line with established UN maritime conventions, many of which were written with significant UK contributions. The UK’s leading role in Arctic science has wide reaching positive implications for international collaboration. To enhance predictions of the future Arctic, further developments in climate modelling and science are required.
From the concluding remarks:
If anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations can be reduced sharply in line with the UN Paris climate change agreements, Arctic ice melt and shipping opportunities will still continue to increase for the majority of the 21st century. However, even with continually increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, climate models suggest there will always be some Arctic sea ice during winters through the 21st century. Although the Arctic shipping season length and reliability is likely to increase dramatically, for the vast majority of the current global shipping fleet sailing trans-Arctic will remain a seasonal endeavour. Based on the current activity and physical climate changes this suggests that trans-Arctic shipping is likely to increase, focused on the Northern Sea Route; however, it is likely to remain a niche market for specialist operators.
Finally, for the moment at least, here’s the latest IMO video on search and rescue in the polar environment:
The emphasis in the video is on Antarctica, but one cannot help but wonder when the next search and rescue operation will take place in the Arctic. Later this summer perhaps? Note that under the new Polar Code avoiding the use of heavy fuel oil is mandatory in the Antarctic, but merely “encouraged” in the Arctic:
Way back in February Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute complained to the Great British Independent Press Standards Organisation about a Matt Ridley article in the no longer Great or British Times newspaper. According to Mr. Ward:
In a characteristically error-filled article (‘Politics and science are a toxic combination’, 6 February 2017), Viscount Ridley made a number of inaccurate and misleading statements.
He claimed that a blog by Dr John Bates “alleges that scientists themselves have been indulging in alternative facts, fake news and policy-based evidence”. This is hyperbolic nonsense. In fact, the blog does not contain such allegations. Instead, it primarily accuses a former colleague, Dr Thomas Karl, at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of failing to archive his data for a research paper (PDF) in accordance with strict new rules governing ‘operational data’.
IPSO have now published the findings of their investigation into the matter:
Findings of the Committee
22. The newspaper was entitled to report on the views of Dr Bates, a leading former climate scientist at the NOAA, about the ‘Pausebuster’ paper and the circumstances surrounding its publication. While acknowledging the newspaper’s position that Dr Bates had reviewed the article before publication, the primary question for the Committee was whether Dr Bates’ concerns had been presented in a significantly inaccurate or misleading way.
23. The columnist’s characterisation of the substance of Dr Bates’ claims was very strong: he had asserted that Dr Bates has alleged that scientists were indulging in “alternative facts, fake news and policy-based evidence”. The Committee noted that this appeared on its face to conflict with Dr Bates’ subsequent public statement that there had been “no data tampering, no data changing, nothing malicious”. However, Dr Bates had claimed in the blog that a “thumb on the scale” pushed for decisions that would create a desired outcome, and described the process as a “flagrant manipulation of scientific integrity guidelines”. “Fake news” and “alternative facts” are currently ill-defined terms, and the Committee concluded on balance that the nature of these allegations was such that the columnist was entitled to characterise them in this way. There was no breach of the Code on that point.
24. Dr Bates had made clear in his blog that he considered that the paper had been rushed, and deliberately timed to influence the Paris Climate Conference; he had said that the NOAA had breached its own rules on scientific integrity; he had said that the data had been faulty, because he believed that both datasets had been flawed. These concerns were clearly distinguished as Dr Bates’ claims based on his professional experience, which was explained, and had been accurately reported in the column, as claims. The columnist also acknowledged, albeit critically, that defenders of the paper had responded that other data sets had come to similar conclusions. While the Committee noted the grounds for the complainant’s disagreement with the columnist (and with Dr Bates) in relation to these matters, the columnist had not failed to take care over the accuracy of these claims, and it did not establish any significant inaccuracies in the column’s discussion of these issues.
25. The columnist had been further entitled to express his opinion on the significance of these claims; to draw comparisons between previous “scandals” within the scientific community; and to comment on the wider implications of Dr Bates’ concerns in that community, as well as on policy decisions on climate change. These were statements of the columnist’s opinion. His views, however controversial, did not raise a breach of Clause 1. There was no breach of the Code in relation to his discussion of these issues.
It decided not to uphold my complaint on the grounds that its Complaints Committee considered Viscount Ridley’s column to be wholly opinion.
This is consistent with IPSO’s previous rulings about the systematic misreporting of climate change issues by some newspapers, in which it confines itself to assessing whether opinions are accurately represented, rather than whether the opinions are based on facts or falsehoods.
Arctic explorer Pen Hadow trekked, and swam, from Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole in 2003. Solo and unsupported. He plans to return to the North Pole this summer, but on this occasion he’ll be sailing with a few companions. According to yesterday’s Sunday Times:
Pen Hadow launches bittersweet mission to sail to North Pole
For his new record attempt, Hadow and his nine-strong team will take two yachts on a 3,500-mile round trip from Nome in Alaska to the pole, using satellites to find a route through the ice and avoid getting stuck. He will fly to Alaska to join his team members on Saturday.
If all goes to plan, he will arrive at the pole between August 15 and early September, about 510 miles further north than anyone has sailed before.
Arctic Mission sets off from Nome in Alaska (USA) in the first week of August. The expedition team will not see land again for six weeks. We will cover about 3,500 miles by the time they return to harbour at Nome in mid-September.
Our two 50 foot yachts, Bagheera and Snow Dragon II, are specially built to sail in waters with sea ice, and the four skippers, two on each boat, are exceptionally experienced in polar seas, and with navigation and safety procedures in sea ice.
The Arctic Mission team intend to do lots of science during their attempt to reach the Pole:
Our expedition is going to explore, discover and share the stories of the spectacular marine wildlife – plants, animals and even bacteria – that lives around the North Pole. Be prepared to be surprised!
We’ll also be doing essential scientific studies and sharing this information, so that our international policy-makers can decide how best to #protect90North.
The more we explore this unexplored ocean, the better we will understand how it works, which means we can make the best decisions to protect it for the benefit of everyone for ever.
We’ve met the two yachts in question before. In 2015 Bagheera and Snow Dragon II both successfully negotiated the Northwest Passage. However this voyage will be far more difficult. During their attempt to sail to the North Pole in the summer of 2013 Sébastian Roubinet and Vincent Berthet had to be rescued by the Russian icebreaker Admiral Makarov when the Central Arctic refreeze set in earlier than originally anticipated. Unlike the ice skating catamaran Babouchka, Bagheera and Snow Dragon II both have engines which will certainly help avoiding a similar fate. In addition perhaps the sea ice in the Arctic is less of an obstacle than it was in 2013? In an interview with the BBC World Service on Sunday Pen pointed out that:
Now 40% of the international waters around the North Pole, what we call the Central Arctic Ocean, are open water in the summer time.
Do you think you’ll actually achieve this goal then?
I think it’s quite possible, with the assistance of a US agency that have satellites that are going to be helping us each day pick the best route through these ever narrowing cracks, and it’s quite possible that we’ll reach the North Geographic Pole.
I also trust that the Arctic Mission team will be keeping a close eye on the Arctic weather forecast over the next month or so. Last August the crew of the yacht Northabout feared for their lives when caught in an Arctic cyclone in a sheltered anchorage on the Northern Sea Route. There is no such safe haven anywhere near the North Pole.
Pen concluded his BBC interview as follows:
If we can produce a visual image of a sail boat at 90 degrees north I think that could become an iconic image of the challenge that the twenty-first century faces. Are we serious about running this planet, which is actually what we need to start doing, and it’s biophysical resources on a sustainable basis, or are we just here for a laugh?
We wish him and the Arctic Mission team well. Watch this space for further updates, and possibly that iconic visual image! Meanwhile here’s a picture of Bagheera in the Northwest Passage in 2015:
plus an image from the Sentinel 1B satellite of the current state of the Arctic sea ice on the direct route from Nome to the North Pole:
There don’t seem to be many “narrow cracks” just yet.
[This] brings us to the summer of 2016, and an idea I was mulling over. A rather Big Idea. Had the deterioration of the Arctic sea ice got to a point where switching from Spring-time sledge-hauling to Summer-time sailing was appropriate? In my solo journey from northern Canada to the North Geographic Pole in 2003, I had spent over 30 hours swimming open water stretches, out of the total 850 hours spent hauling my sledge while walking on skis across the sea ice. It had dawned on me then that global warming was the likely cause of so much open water. Since then, it has become highly unlikely that the ski route from northern Russia to the Pole will be done again, due to the absence of sea ice for most of the year off the Severnaya Zemlya island group. And the other classic route from northern Canada no longer has an aircraft operation to provide the necessary support for sea ice expeditions, due to the worsening quality of the sea ice. Both routes have now been lost to the Arctic Ocean’s fast-changing environment. And with this change, the Arctic Ocean with its hitherto frozen summer surface is now rapidly becoming open-access to surface vessels for the first time in human history.
Would it be possible to sail a small yacht to the Pole? Could that create a useful platform to share the unfolding situation with a global audience? Might this be the best way I could focus world attention on the merit of creating a new marine reserve in the international waters surrounding the North Pole?
It looks like we’re just about to find out the answer to those questions. The team have also announced another livestream from Nome, Alaska. This one is scheduled for 8 PM BST tomorrow, Thursday August 10th. They say:
Ahead of our Friday departure (weather permitting – there’s a nasty storm brewing over the Bering Strait that may prove problematic) we’d love to introduce you to the Arctic Mission team.
This is probably what they are referring to:
A bumpy ride for Pen Hadow et al. is in store on Saturday, and some big waves for Utqiaġvik (Barrow as was) as well.
[Edit – August 13th]
An overly brief and (hence?) rather misleading article in the Sunday Times today. According to Jonathan Leake:
Sailing to North Pole will have to wait
Pen Hadow, the British explorer, is today due to start a sailing expedition across the Arctic Ocean to highlight the effects of climate change, including an attempt to reach the North Pole.
Scientists warned, though, that despite the rapid melting of the ice there was unlikely to be access to the North Pole via open water for some years.
Professor Mark Serreze, director of America’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre, said the North Pole was still surrounded by nearly 800 miles of solid pack ice as of last week.
Jonathan appears not to have a particularly good grasp of sea ice (thermo)dynamics during the latter stages of the summer melting season!
Arctic Mission’s furthest North was 80 degrees 10 minutes North, 148 degrees 51 minutes West, reached at 22:04:12 (Alaskan Time, GMT-9hours) on 29 August 2017 by yachts, Bagheera and Snow Dragon II.
Arctic Mission moored its yachts to an ice floe on 29 August to conduct one of its 24-hour marine science surveys, while drifting with the sea ice. The strategy for any future northward progress had been to monitor the sea surface currents, sea ice, and weather conditions (both observed from the yachts and through satellites imagery downloaded onto our computers), and decide how to proceed as we approached the end of the 24-hour survey.
A meeting of the four skippers was held led by Erik de Jong, with Pen Hadow present, and it was agreed further northward progress would increase considerably the risks to the expedition, with very limited scientific reward. The decision to head south, back to an area of less concentrated sea ice in the vicinity of 79 degrees 30 minutes North, was made at 18.30 (Alaskan time).
Here’s the live tracking map from 06:00 UTC this morning:
A prudent and not unexpected decision. Cue the cackling from all the usual suspects?