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”:



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.


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.

[Edit – October 18th 2019]

The Skate and Seadragon surfacing at the North Pole meme has just been resurrected by David Middleton at “Watts Up With That”. He asserts that:

The North Pole may not have been totally ice free in 1962, but there clearly was a lot of open water…

quoting the United States Navy:

USS SKATE (SSN 578), CDR Joseph L. Skoog (Dr. W.K. Lyon and Richard Boyle), and USS SEADRAGON (SSN 584), CDR Charles D. Summitt, (Walter Wittman) conducted the first rendezvous of 2 ships at the North Pole.

Unfortunately for Mr. Middleton, Commander Skoog wrote a book about his experiences, the relevant section of which reads as follows:

When we were a couple of miles from the pole, we started watching for a large enough polynya to hold both of us. However, we reached the pole without either of us having any luck.

Image source: “All Hands” December 1962

Quod erat demonstrandum?

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:


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:


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:


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!

Facts About the Arctic in April 2018

First of all Wipneus has been very quick off the mark this month with his PIOMAS gridded thickness map. Here is what it reveals for the last day of March:


Here too is the latest PIOMAS volume graph:


together with the associated anomaly graph:


They show 2018 still in second lowest position, albeit much closer to third place than last year’s line, which is currently leading the pack by a considerable margin.

By way of comparison here are the current Arctic sea ice thickness maps from SMOS:


and CryoSat-2:


All eyes are still on the Bering and Chukchi Seas, where significant extent declines look likely over the coming days.


[Edit – April 4th]

The official PIOMAS graph including March 2018 is now available:


Meanwhile, according to NIPR/JAXA, Arctic sea ice extent is once again lowest for the date since their records began:



[Edit – April 6th]

The NSIDC 5 day averaged extent is now in “lowest in our records” territory:


Meanwhile “JAXA” extent has just edged above 2016!


[Edit – April 11th]

The focus has been on the Bering and Chukchi Seas until now. However there were clear skies over the Mackenzie Delta yesterday, revealing some open(ish) areas in the Beaufort Sea:

NASA Worldview “true-color” image of the Beaufort Sea on April 10th 2018, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite
NASA Worldview “true-color” image of the Beaufort Sea on April 10th 2018, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

There’s only the merest hint of a blip on the area graph so far though:


It will be interesting to see if the decline in Beaufort Sea area continues from here, or whether this year’s “flatline” resumes and continues for a while longer.


[Edit – April 19th]

It’s not so apparent on the other extent metrics, but as the periphery melts the high resolution AMSR2 version looks to be heading into virgin territory on the downside:


HMS Trenchant Surfaces at Ice Camp Skate for ICEX 2018

In certain quarters it is being claimed in slightly strange English that:

The British Navy takes part in ICEX exercises that take place every two years and last for several weeks. Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant broke through the Arctic ice about seven days ago to join two US submarines for the exercise. At the same time, US submarines Hartford and Connecticut were stuck in the Arctic ice as they were training an attack on Russia. According to the legend of the exercises, the US submarines were supposed to surface and strike conditional targets in Russia, but the thick ice prevented them from fulfilling the scenario of the exercise.

However according to Her Majesty’s Royal Navy web site:

Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant has broken through the metre-thick ice of the Arctic Ocean to join two US boats on major exercise.

Ice Exercise 18 (ICEX) is a series of demanding trials in the frigid climate of the Arctic Circle, designed to test submariners’ skills in operating under the Arctic ice cap.

HMS Trenchant joins US submarines USS Connecticut and USS Hartford for the drills, co-ordinated by the US Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory.

This combined team of military staff and scientists run the testing schedule from an ice camp established on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska.

Here is a video recording of HMS Trenchant getting “stuck in the Arctic ice”:

Here are some US Navy videos that reveal exactly how USS Connecticut and USS Hartford also became “stuck in the Arctic ice”:

According to a United States’ Department of Defense article on Ice Camp Skate:

Ice Camp Skate is a temporary ice camp that was established on a sheet of ice in the Arctic Ocean, known as an ice floe. Skate will serve as a temporary command center for conducting submarine operations, including under-ice navigation and torpedo exercises. The camp consists of shelters, a command center, and infrastructure to safely house and support more than 50 personnel at any one time.

The camp gets its namesake from USS Skate, the first submarine to surface through open water surrounded by ice in 1958, and the first submarine to surface through the Arctic ice at the North Pole in March 1959. Since the success of Skate’s surfacing, Arctic operations have been a crucial part of the missions conducted by nuclear submarines.

For more than 70 years, submarines have conducted under-ice operations in the Arctic regions in support of interfleet transit, training, cooperative allied engagements and routine operations.

The U.S. submarine force has completed more than 27 Arctic exercises.


[Edit – April 10th]

NASA’s Operation IceBridge have released some images of the now abandoned ICEX 2018 site on their Facebook page. They include a damaged and apparently abandoned Twin Otter aircraft:




The 2018 Maximum Arctic Sea Ice Extent

According to the latest edition of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s “Arctic Sea Ice News”

On March 17, 2018, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles), the second lowest in the 39-year satellite record, falling just behind 2017. This year’s maximum extent is 1.16 million square kilometers (448,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles).

The four lowest seasonal maxima have all occurred during the last four years. The 2018 maximum is 60,000 square kilometers (23,200 square miles) above the record low maximum that occurred on March 7, 2017.

Here’s a close up view of recent maxima via the NSIDC’s Charctic interactive sea ice graph:


Next let’s take a look at extent data from the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research, colloquially referred to as “JAXA extent”


In this case the maximum was 13.89 million square kilometers, also on March 17th.

Here too are the extent and area graphs based on Wipneus’ processing of the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 based concentration data:



They highlight the surge in Arctic sea ice area in the middle of March due to the sudden “cold snap”:

Looking at the third Arctic dimension, here’s the latest SMOS thickness map from the University of Bremen:


and here’s the latest CryoSat-2 thickness map:


They reveal large areas of relatively thin sea ice in the Okhotsk and Barents Seas where the ice can now be expected to melt as quickly as it formed. There is also remarkably little sea ice in the Bering Sea for the time of year:


The February 2018 Fram Strait Cyclones

As already mentioned in our February Arctic overview, another storm is brewing. Here is this morning’s weather forecast for Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard:


Much like last month, temperatures are above zero and rain is forecast. That’s because once again the current synoptic chart from Environment Canada shows a warm wet flow from way down south over Svalbard and on into the Central Arctic:


Next here’s the current combined wave and swell height forecast for the Svalbard area:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180204_00037

and here’s the associated wave period forecast:

Mean_period_of_wind_waves_surfac in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180204_00037

It’s still showing 10 meter waves with a 15 second period north of Svalbard tomorrow lunchtime. Somewhat unusually for the Arctic these aren’t merely giant wind waves. Zooming in on the Fram Strait and breaking out the underlying primary swell reveals:

Significant_height_of_swell_wave in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180204_00041

Mean_period_of_swell_waves_order in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180204_00041

A long distance swell of that magnitude is going to cause some damage.


[Edit – February 5th]

The current ECMWF forecast for a split polar vortex, courtesy of Ice Shieldz on the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:

Polar View Wind Speed 10 hPa 20180204

This is suggestive of more cyclones to come, but sticking with the current one for now, here is the MSLP chart at 00:00 UTC this morning showing the cyclone’s central pressure has dropped to 952 hPa:


Here too is the current WaveWatch III forecast for 15:00 UTC today:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180205_00016

Mean_period_of_wind_waves_surfac in multi_1.glo_15mext.20180205_00016

The peak of the swell north of Svalbard is now slightly later than originally forecast, but it’s still enormous!

Here’s a single Sentinel 1B synthetic aperture radar image that captures the position of the ice edge north of Svalbard yesterday quite nicely:



[Edit – February 7th]

A brief overview of the effect of the recent cyclone on the sea ice in the Arctic via AMSR2:




Click the image to animate it.


[Edit – February 8th]

An Arctic wide take via Thomas Lavergne on Twitter:

plus the latest AMSR2 concentration map:



[Edit – February 9th]

An interesting insight into CryoSat-2 sea ice thickness measurements from Stefan Hendricks on Twitter:

Plus Judah Cohen on the split polar vortex:

Facts About the Arctic in February 2018

Whilst the official PIOMAS volume figures for January have yet to be released Wipneus has worked his usual magic on the gridded thickness numbers to reveal:


not to mention the calculated volume:


and the volume anomaly:


As Wipneus puts it:

Estimated from the thickness data, the latest value is from 31st of January: 17.57 [1000 km3], which is the second lowest value for that day, 2017 is lowest by a rather large margin at 16.16 [1000 km3].

Here are the “measured” thickness maps from SMOS:


and CryoSat-2:


Here are the end of January Arctic wide high resolution AMSR2 graphs based on University of Hamburg data:



In addition, since it’s that time of year, here too is Wipneus’ NSIDC global sea ice extent:


The minimum thus far is very slightly above last year’s value, but perhaps like last year there will be a “double dip”?

Getting back to the Arctic, here is the DMI >80N temperature plot for January:


together with the associated freezing degree days graph:


Here’s a video showing the effect of the mid January cyclones on the sea ice in the Fram Strait and north of Svalbard:

Finally, for the moment at least, here is the current Fram Strait surf forecast for 12:00 UTC on February 5th:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180203_00021

Mean_period_of_wind_waves_surfac in multi_1.glo_30mext.20180203_00021

Those maps shows 10 meter high, 15 second period waves heading straight for the ice edge north of Svalbard.


[Edit – February 7th]

The latest edition of Arctic Sea Ice News has been published. As the NSIDC put it:

January of 2018 began and ended with satellite-era record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, resulting in a new record low for the month. Combined with low ice extent in the Antarctic, global sea ice extent is also at a record low.


Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) remained unusually high over the Arctic Ocean. Nearly all of the region was at least 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) or more above average. The largest departures from average of more than 9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit) were over the Kara and Barents Seas, centered near Svalbard. On the Pacific side, air temperatures were about 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. By contrast, 925 hPa temperatures over Siberia were up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) below average. The warmth over the Arctic Ocean appears to result partly from a pattern of atmospheric circulation bringing in southerly air, and partly from the release of heat into the atmosphere from open water areas.



[Edit – February 10th]

The University of Hamburg’s high resolution AMSR2 derived area is bouncing back after the recent cyclone, but extent is currently still declining:



The recent drop in Arctic sea ice extent has pushed the NSIDC global extent to a new all time (satellite era!) low:


The January 2018 Fram Strait Cyclones

We’ve covered similar events in the recent past, but this one looks like it will take the proverbial biscuit.

Here’s the 6 hour wave forecast for the Fram Strait from 12:00 UTC this afternoon:

Significant_height_of_combined_w in multi_1.glo_30mext-20180113-12z+6

Mean_period_of_wind_waves_surfac in multi_1.glo_30mext-20180113-12z+6

Look at the scales carefully then compare the wave height and period with previous similar events. Here’s the cause of those giant waves, two powerful cyclones off Greenland pumping heat and moisture northwards from a long way south:


Also bear in mind the current sea ice area around Svalbard:


and the current weather forecast for the capital Longyearbyen:


Note in particular the anomalously high temperatures and the severe weather warnings for both rain and avalanches. In the middle of January.

Finally, for the moment at least, here’s a Sentinel 1B image of the sea ice in the Fram Strait earlier this morning:



[Edit – January 14th]

The temperature in Longyearbyen is forecast to drop below freezing point early on Tuesday and then remain there, which I guess counts as good news?


However the southernmost of the two cyclones off Greenland is now down to a central MSLP of 942 hPa:



[Edit – January 15th]

The cyclone now centred near Iceland looks as though it bottomed out at a MLSP of 939 hPa earlier today:


Watch this space!

The 2017/18 Festive Season in the Arctic

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:



[Edit – December 20th]

Wipneus has released his mid month PIOMAS update for December:



The Chukchi Sea is now mostly covered in sea ice, as is the Kara Sea. Volume is still 3rd lowest behind 2016 and 2012.

Whilst on the subject of sea ice thickness a related subject is sea ice age. Here’s a new paper on that topic:

A new tracking algorithm for sea ice age distribution estimation

Note that these assorted sea ice age maps are all for January 1st 2016!


Watch this space!

Pine Island Glacier Calves Again

An image captured earlier this morning by the Sentinel 1A satellite’s synthetic aperture radar reveals that another huge chunk of the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica has broken loose:


P.S. Here’s an animation of the calving courtesy of Wipneus:


Via Stef Lhermitte on Twitter:


[Edit – September 24th]

The latest image from Sentinel 1A:


Click it for a much closer look.


[Edit – October 16th]

Another animation from Wipneus, showing the recently calved section of the Pine Island Glacier coming apart at the seams:



[Edit – December 11th]

Another revealing image from Wipneus via the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:


New cracks are opening on the Pine Island Ice Shelf.


[Edit – December 22nd]

Via Susan Anderson at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum:

Pine Island Iceberg Under the Midnight Sun
Pine Island Iceberg Under the Midnight Sun

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.


[Edit – December 23rd]

Another graphic Landsat PIG GIF from Wipneus on the ASIF: