Facts About the Arctic in January 2019

We generally write our periodic reports on the state of Arctic sea ice around the time the PIOMAS volume numbers are published. It seems as though we’ll have a long wait for that to happen at the moment though. According to The Economist today:

America’s government shutdown has become the longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain either stuck at home or forced to work without pay. To reopen the government President Donald Trump is demanding $5.7bn for his border wall. Nancy Pelosi, who presides over the most polarised House of Representatives in recent memory, does not want to give it to him.

and according to the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington:

Due to the US Government Shutdown, PIOMAS ice volume and thickness data which depend on federal government generated reanalysis products, are currently not updated.

Instead of PIOMAS, let’s start instead with the January 2019 edition of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Arctic Sea Ice News:

As 2018 came to a close, Arctic sea ice extent was tracking at its third lowest level in the satellite record, while sea ice in the Antarctic remained at historic lows. Slightly faster growth in the first few days of the new year, mostly in the Pacific sea ice areas, has the daily sea ice extent at fifth lowest as of this post.

Now let’s take a look at our favourite high resolution AMSR2 area and extent metrics:

You can see that towards the end of December Arctic sea ice extent was verging on lowest for the date, since when it has risen quickly to reach highest for the date in the brief AMSR2 records a few days ago.

The NSIDC also mention the US Government shutdown:

Unfortunately, as a result of the partial government shutdown, we are unable to access the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pages to retrieve information on atmospheric air temperatures and sea level pressure patterns. Instead, we turn to daily (2 meters above the surface) mean air temperatures north of 80 degrees North from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) operational model. This analysis shows that air temperatures remained above the 1958 to 2002 average for all of December.

Graph by Zack Labe
Graph by Zack Labe

That brings us on to our Arctic freezing degree days graph, based on DMI data:

After a very slow start to the freezing season the FDD numbers are now vying for second place with last year, behind the astonishingly warm winter of 2016/17. In the absence of the PIOMAS volume numbers we can at least take a look at sea ice thickness. Here’s CryoSat-2:

followed by SMOS:

and since a change is as good as a rest here’s the latest map from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute for good measure:

All those sources seem to be agreed that large areas of both the Barents and Kara Seas are currently covered by young thin ice. Finally, for the moment at least, let’s take a look at some extracts from the NSIDC’s review of 2018:

January 2018 began the year with record low sea ice extents for the Arctic as a whole.

The seasonal maximum, reached on March 17, 2018, was the second lowest in the satellite record. While low extent persisted through April and May, sea ice loss during early summer was unremarkable despite above average 925 hPa air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and Eurasia.

Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean in July were below average, followed by above average temperatures in August. In fact, on average, August temperatures were higher than July temperatures in 2018. This is highly unusual in the Arctic and something not seen in at least 40 years.

The September 2018 seasonal minimum extent ended up slightly above the long-term linear trend line, tying with 2008 for the sixth lowest in the satellite record. After the minimum, the ocean was slow to freeze up, and October sea ice extent ended up as the third lowest. However, ice growth was very rapid in November, such that November 2018 extent approached the interquartile range of the 1981 to 2010 median. Nevertheless, large amounts of open water remained in the Barents and Chukchi Seas. By the end of December, ice conditions in the Chukchi Sea were back to average, while extent remained unusually low in the Barents Sea.

Coverage of old ice (greater than 4 years old) over the Arctic continued to decline. Such old ice covers only 5 percent of the area it used to in 1980s.

 

[Edit – January 13th]

Arctic sea ice area and extent have both been falling over the last few days, possibly as a result of the recent cyclone which created strong northerly winds in the Fram Strait. This is from Earth at 09:00 UTC on January 10th, showing a MSLP of 946 hPa:

Here’s what used to be referred to as JAXA extent:

Meanwhile up in the stratosphere at 10 hPa the polar vortex has gone into reverse:

Or to be more precise:

Facts About the Arctic in October 2018

A somewhat belated start to our October 2018 coverage, but firstly please take a look at this graph:

VISHOP_Extent_20181020

Following a remarkably sluggish refreeze this year JAXA extent is currently the lowest for the date since their records began. Meanwhile Wipneus has just released his mid month PIOMAS volume update on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:

piomas-trnd4-2018-10-20

That graph reveals that Arctic sea ice volume has been increasing much more slowly than usual during October. The fact that the DMI freezing degree days graph is currently below all previous years in their records no doubt has something to do with that:

DMI-FDD-2018-10-20

Wipneus has also updated the mid month PIOMAS gridded thickness map:

PIOMAS-20181015

That’s the output of a model of course, but here too is the CPOM version of CryoSat-2 “measured” thickness:

Both sources agree that there’s a remarkable lack of thick ice in the Wandel Sea off north east Greenland this Autumn.

For a handle on the areas of thinner ice where refreezing is taking place around the periphery of the pack, here’s the latest SMOS map:

Finally, for the moment at least, here’s our favourite high resolution AMSR2 area and extent metrics based on JAXA data processed by the University of Hamburg to produced gridded concentration which is then used to derive area and extent by the inimitable Wipneus once again:

UH-Arctic-Area-2018-10-20

UH-Arctic-Extent-2018-10-20

 

[Edit – October 28th]

Here’s the latest thickness maps from SMOS:

and CryoSat-2:

There’s been a recent rapid refreeze, leaving large areas of thin ice around the edges of the central pack:

An Unusual Sea Ice Situation North of Greenland

Further to our recent coverage of the voyage of the good ship Polarstern past Kap Morris Jesup comes this video courtesy of Suman Singha:

An animation created with 2745 high resolution Sentinel-1 SAR images.

Sentinel-1 data courtesy Copernicus

Plus the early autumn estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness from CryoSat-2 via the Centre for Polar Observation and Monitoring:

CS2_thk_14-20181010

Please note the abnormally thin sea ice to the north of Greenland.

Finally, for the moment at least, here’s the latest Arctic sea ice age information extracted from the October 2018 edition of the NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News:

iceage_browse_week_n_2018_38_QL

TschudiAge2018-1000

The “oldest, thickest sea ice in the Arctic” seems to be vanishing before our very eyes.

The 2018 Arctic Sea Ice Metric Minima

September is upon us once again, the month in which the assorted Arctic sea ice area and extent metrics (almost) always reach their respective annual minima. Now we are free to start speculating about what the assorted minima will be, and on what date.

To begin with let’s take a look at our much beloved high resolution AMSR2 metrics derived by “Wipneus” from the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration data:

Arctic-Area-2018-09-01

Arctic-Extent-2018-09-01

There’s currently some divergence between the area and extent graphs. Area is declining rapidly for the time of year, whilst extent seems to almost have come to a standstill!

Next here’s the prediction of the late, great Andrew Slater’s Probabilistic Ice Extent algorithm:

SPIE-extent-20180901

Before looking at some of the other metrics we’ll wait for the effect of the assorted storms currently circling the Arctic to play out. Here’s how the AMSR2 concentration map looks at the moment:

Arc_20180901_res3.125

whilst here’s the University of Bremen’s summer SMOS sea ice “thinness” map:

SMOS-20180901

 

[Edit – September 3rd]

UH AMSR2 area and extent both increased yesterday, so we have a (very!) provisional minimum extent of 4.35 million square kilometres on September 1st.

 

[Edit – September 4th]

Area and extent have both increased again:

Arctic-Area-2018-09-03

Arctic-Extent-2018-09-03

Is the minimum already in, or will the storms still circulating around the Arctic Ocean reverse that trend over the next few days?

 

[Edit – September 6th]

High resolution area and extent both posted marginal new lows for the year yesterday:

Arctic-Area-2018-09-05

Arctic-Extent-2018-09-05

 

[Edit – September 29th]

According to the latest edition of the NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News:

On September 19 and 23, Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for the year, at 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles). This ties 2018 with 2008 and 2010 for the sixth lowest minimum extent in the nearly 40-year satellite record.

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.

Figure2_09232018

The NSIDC numbers are based on a 5 day average, whereas the one day high resolution AMSR2 extent reached a minimum of 4.195 million square kilometers on September 17th:

Arctic-Extent-2018-09-28

The AMSR2 area minimum occurred significantly earlier. 3.737 million square kilometers on September 9th:

Arctic-Area-2018-09-28

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2018?

Our title for today refers back to the Great Arctic Cyclone of August 2012. There has been some speculation over on the Arctic Sea Ice Blog about whether a similar event is about to occur this year.

It’s later in the season of course, but as is our wont we always look at the waves first. Here is the current WaveWatch III forecast for the evening of August 31st UTC:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180827_00039

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180827_00039

In summary the forecast shows some very large waves with a substantial period for inside the Arctic Circle directed straight at the ice edge. Let’s follow the forecast over the next few days carefully shall we?

 

[Edit – August 30th]

The latest wave forecast for tomorrow evening isn’t as extreme as 3 days ago. Note the change in the significant height scale:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180830-06Z_00013

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180830-06Z_00013

Nonetheless the height and period are still very significant!

 

[Edit – August 31st]

Here’s the latest forecast for 6 PM this evening (UTC):

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180831_00007

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180831_00007

Note how the open water across almost the entire map is full of what in the Arctic counts as a long period swell. That means that the forecast for 2 days later looks like this:

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180831_00023

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180831_00023

Less height but with a longer period. All of which means that the sea ice north of the Atlantic Ocean isn’t about to receive a short sharp shock. It has a sustained battering lasting several days to look forward to.

 

[Edit – September 1st]

The barrage of assorted swells has begun. Here’s the “hindcast” from midnight last night UTC:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180901_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180901_00001

Now lets take a look at tomorrow’s forecast for the Laptev Sea. This is for 09:00 UTC:

Significant_height_of_combined_Laptev.20180901_00012

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Laptev.20180901_00012

Note once again the change of scale on the wave/swell height map. Nevertheless a 3+ meter swell heading over into the East Siberian Sea isn’t something you see every day.

Now were into September the 2018 annual minimum extent can’t be too far away. Extent decline appears to have stalled. However “high res” AMSR2 area is currently falling fast, for the time of year at least:

Arctic-Area-2018-08-31

 

[Edit – September 2nd]

Here are the swell and period forecasts at midnight for round about now, 09:00 UTC:

Significant_height_of_combined_Laptev.20180902_00004

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Laptev.20180902_00004

Significant_height_of_combined_Barents.20180902_00004

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Barents.20180902_00004

All the seas between Greenland and the New Siberian Islands are awash with swells with a period of 8 second or greater. This is most unusual, to put it mildly!

 

[Edit – September 3rd]

Here’s the WaveWatch III “hindcast” from midnight last night UTC for the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean:

Significant_height_of_combined_NSR.20180903_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_NSR.20180903_00001

There are still significant swells almost everywhere you look.

 

[Edit – September 4th]

Using the same scales as yesterday, here’s today’s hindcast from midnight:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180904_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180904_00001

There’s still plenty of action in the Arctic Ocean!

 

[Edit – September 5th]

Feel free to debate whether it merits the “Great” prefix, but this is how the early September 2018 Arctic cyclone has panned out. According to this morning’s Environment Canada synopsis the cyclone is centred near the coast of the Laptev Sea and is down to a MSLP of 977 hPa:

CMC_SLP-20180905-00Z

Here’s another WaveWatch III hindcast from midnight UTC:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180905_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180905_00001

 

[Edit – September 6th]

Need I say more?

Significant_height_of_combined_NSR.20180906_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_NSR.20180906_00001

 

[Edit – September 7th]

The swell in the Fram Strait an Barents Sea is diminishing, but the period in the Laptev Sea is increasing now:

Significant_height_of_combined_NSR.20180907_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_NSR.20180907_00001

 

[Edit – September 8th]

All the wave activity in the Laptev Sea is diminishing. Here’s the hindcast from midnight:

Significant_height_of_combined_NSR.20180908_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_NSR.20180908_00001

Meanwhile things are warming up in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Here’s the forecast for midnight tonight:

Significant_height_of_combined_Pacific.20180908_00009

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Pacific.20180908_00009

 

[Edit – September 9th]

Here’s the hindcast for this morning’s swell in the Beaufort Sea:

Significant_height_of_combined_Atlantic.20180909_00001

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Pacific.20180909_00001

This is currently a long way into the future and hence may not verify in practice. However any pulse of swell is currently forecast for September 13th:

Significant_height_of_combined_Atlantic.20180909_00047

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_Pacific.20180909_00047

The Northern Sea Route in 2018

Our usual excuse for an article such as this is an attempt by a “pleasure craft” such as the plucky little yacht Northabout to journey past Russia’s northern shores. I’m not aware of any such plans for this year, but here is some interesting NSR 2018 news. According to Reuters:

A Maersk vessel loaded with Russian fish and South Korean electronics will next week become the first container ship to navigate an Arctic sea route that Russia hopes will become a new shipping highway.

The Arctic voyage by the 3,600 20-foot container capacity Venta Maersk is the latest step in the expansion of the so-called Northern Sea Route which is becoming more accessible to ships as climate change reduces the amount of sea ice.

The brand new Venta Maersk, one of the world’s largest ice-class vessels, will also collect scientific data, said Maersk, underlining that the voyage is a one-off trial for now.

VentaMaersk-2018-08-24

The press release continues:

The decision by Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping group, to test out the route is a positive sign for Russia, which hopes this could become a mini Suez Canal, cutting sea transport times from Asia to Europe.

“A well-respected company like Maersk sending a container ship through the Arctic, definitely signals there’s something there,” Malte Humpert, a senior fellow at U.S.-based think-tank Arctic Institute, said.

“Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to our usual routes. Today, the passage is only feasible for around three months a year which may change with time,” a spokeswoman for Maersk said.

Here’s the sea ice situation that the Venta Maersk is heading for:

Arc_20180824_res3.125_LARGE

According to AMSR2 there’s still some sea ice quite close to shore in the East Siberian Sea. Meanwhile according to Marine Traffic the Venta Maersk has already left Vladivostok:

Venta-2018-08-23_1833

It will be a little while before she’s braving the dangers of the sea ice in the East Siberian Sea. Hopefully by that time we’ll have some clear satellite images at visual frequencies of anything solid in the path of all those containers. In the meantime here’s a glimpse through the clouds of the approximate ice edge on August 23rd:

ESS-Aqua-721-2018-08-23

Meanwhile the Hapag Lloyd cruise ship Bremen is currently en route from Tromso to Nome via the Northern Sea Route. She is currently crossing the Laptev Sea heading for the ESS “choke point” from the opposite direction:

Bremen_2018_08_24_1100

Could Northabout Circumnavigate Greenland in 2018?

Our regular reader(s) may recall our extended coverage on the plucky little yacht Northabout‘s ultimately successful attempt to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2016?

Many were the skeptics who said she stood no chance of finding a way through some “thick sea ice” apparently blocking her path across the Laptev Sea, but they were proved wrong:

As a thought experiment in the summer of 2018 we’re now thinking the unthinkable. If she put her mind to it could Northabout circumnavigate Greenland in 2018? Let’s take a look at the evidence shall we? The allegedly “oldest, thickest Arctic sea ice” north of Greenland isn’t there any more this summer:

Nord-Aqua-721-2018-08-19

Kap-Morris-Jesup-Terra-2018-08-19

The research icebreaker Polarstern has already inspected the open waters off Kap Morris Jesup, the most northerly tip of Greenland:

Polarstern-2018-08-19-2200

What’s more the waters of the Lincoln Sea currently look no more tricky to traverse than the Laptev Sea in August 2016:

Lincoln-Terra-2018-08-19

In conclusion, for the moment at least, what’s the theoretical solution to our 2018 thought experiment?

Here’s another thought to ponder as well. I don’t suppose it’s in the Alfred Wegener Institute’s PS115 mission plan, but do you suppose Polarstern could circumnavigate Greenland at the moment?

 

[Edit – August 23rd]

The University of Bremen used not to publish their Arctic sea ice “thinness” maps in summer. However now they do, so here’s a close up of Northern Greenland for August 22nd:

SMOS-Zoom-20180822

 

[Edit – August 26th]

First of all here’s one of our occasional sea ice motion videos:

This one reveals the open water north of Greenland in February as well as the much longer event in August. Next here’s a Sentinel 1B synthetic aperture radar image of the Kap Morris Jesup area from yesterday:

S1B_MorrisJesup_20180825T1700

Meanwhile thanks to a heads up from Treform2 on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum comes evidence that on the other side of the Lincoln Sea the last remnants of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf are “disintegrating”:

S1B_WardHunt_20180824T1442

The Northwest Passage in 2018

The time has come to start speculating about if, and when, the Northwest Passage will become navigable for the host of small vessels eager to traverse it this summer. Almost one month later than in 2017!

Whilst the eastern and western entrances to the assorted routes through the Canadian Arctic Archipelaga have been empty of sea ice for quite some time, the central section between Bellot Strait and Gjoa Haven and/or Cambridge Bay is still chock a block:

In the east here is a drone’s eye view of Cumming Inlet, courtesy of the Polish team of Michał and Ola Palczyński aboard S/V Crystal:

created by dji camera
created by dji camera

It’s not entirely clear when that picture was taken, since according to Michał’s blog:

The waters beyond the Bellot Strait are covered with impassable ice, and the ice in the Beaufort Sea has 90% concentration in some places and reaches up to the shore. In this difficult situation, by 15th August two yachts have already given up and turned back to Greenland (including Blue Peter from our cove).

Here’s what lies ahead of Crystal and her remaining companions, according to the Canadian Ice Service:

Maud_201808181800

Meanwhile in the Beaufort Sea S/V Dogbark has been battling her way through that “90% concentration” sea ice. Dogbark has now made it as far as Mikkelsen Bay, just past Prudhoe Bay in Alaska:

2018-08-19_1149-DogBark

Here is the United States’ National Weather Service map of sea ice concentration in the area:

2018-08-19_NWS

According to a recent Q&A session on the Dogbark blog:

What does 7/10ths ice mean? We don’t want to know! It is more ice than we want to try and pass, that’s for sure. But the ice charts we look at refer to ice by % of sea coverage, so 7/10ths would look like water mostly covered by large, immovable objects. 5/10ths was as much as we have seen, and we got out of there as fast as we could with some help from our flying eyeball. See Dogbark’s Facebook page for a quick snippet of less dangerous ice.

Meanwhile the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Amundsen has sailed past Arctic Bay and Resolute:

Amundsen-2018-08-19_1400

I cannot help but wonder what vessels might be closely following in his wake?

 

[Edit – September 7th]

Finally there comes news that a “pleasure craft” has made it through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from east to west as far as Tuktoyaktuk. I’d been wondering which vessel it was that seemed immobile near the western end of the Bellot Strait on the MarineTraffic maps. This one’s from August 19th:

MarineTraffic-2018-08-19_2330-Crop

Now I know! Thanks to a heads up on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum I’ve discovered that it’s the S/V Thor. Here’s the tracking map of his efforts to get through all the old ice in the vicinty.

2018-09-07-Thor-Bellot

The map reveals that Thor made it through the Bellot Strait on August 6th, but didn’t manage to make significant headway out of the Franklin Strait until August 28th.

Thor departed from Tuk earlier today:

Thor-2018-09-07-2000

He now only has this to contend with:

Beaufort-Conc-20180907

USS Skate at the North Pole – Truth and Fantasy Fiction

Tony Heller (AKA “Steve Goddard”) is regurgitating submarine balderdash for the umpteenth time.

Under the headline “No Change In Arctic Sea Ice Over The Past 60 Years” Tony asserts:

Sixty years ago this week, the USS Skate surfaced at the North Pole. Arctic sea ice was two meters thick.

using these images as “evidence”:

SkateSeadragon

Skate-19580811

Please note that according to the July 1959 issue of National Geographic magazine:

The winter sun still hid below the horizon last March 17 when USS Skate crunched up through the ice at 90° N – first ship in history ever to surface at the Pole.

uss-skate-pole-19590327

Note also that when USS Skate surfaced at the North Pole on March 17th 1959 she was alone. There was no polynya to be seen, let alone a second submarine in one.

What do you suppose the odds are that Tony’s “No Change In Arctic Sea Ice Over The Past 60 Years” assertion is equally aberrant?

 

[Edit – August 18th]

A reader on Twitter, apparently a fan of Mr. Heller asks:

Of course there is! According to Commander James Calvert in the May 1959 edition of LIFE magazine:

On March 17 we arrived in the vicinity of the geographic North Pole. We had a job we very much wanted to do here, but as we cruised back and forth in the darkness below the Pole it seemed doubtful that we would be able to perform the last service requested by Sir Hubert Wilkins. No frozen leads or polynyas appeared. For a time I thought it would be necessary to conduct the service while submerged and discharge the ashes from one of the torpedo tubes as we passed under the pole.

Then suddenly we spotted the faint light of a small lead and we started up. This was our toughest surfacing so far. The quarters were cramped and we had to take special care not to hit Skate’s delicate rudder against the walls of ice. It took us two hours of careful maneuvering before Skate’s sail buckled the ice at the precise top of the world.

Climbing to the bridge I was greeted by an awesome sight. Skate was in a small lead completely surrounded by 10-foot-high hummocks of ice. This was the most inhospitable terrain we had seen so far.

Q.E.D?

Oden Reaches the North Pole All Too Easily Once Again

Our regular reader(s) may recall our extensive coverage of the Swedish icebreaker Oden’s visit to the North Pole (AKA Santa’s secret summer swimming pool) in 2016?

We are now able to report that Oden has been back at the North Pole once again, this time somewhat earlier in the season:

Oden-Pole-20180813

There’s not as much open water to be seen this year, although Oden’s visit is a week earlier than in 2016 so that may not be too surprising? What is perhaps surprising is that this year visiting the Pole wasn’t part of Oden’s plan! According to British physicist and oceanographer (and BBC TV star!) Helen Czerski:

Here’s Helen and friends pictured at the North Pole:

Helen-Pole-20180813

That was a couple of days ago, since when the sea ice floe Oden is attached to has drifted in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean:

Oden-2018-08-16_0900

We have asked Helen whether she is willing and able to provide our readers with an update on here recent experiences on the Oden:

We’ll let you know her reply as and when we receive it!