Selectively putting it in context

The last four posts were all about the Northwest Passage and basically about the attempts of two teams that tried to cross (a part of) the Passage. Both failed because of wind and early blocking ice. I found it fascinating how the Mainstream Last First team were spinning their message around, even after the aborted attempt. On their website there was a new post about the Arctic ice titled “How much ice is really out there this year?”, about their encounter with Eric Solomon (Vancouver Aquarium’s Director of Arctic Programs):

“It’s about putting it all in context, really.” He states, “For example, this year’s sea ice extent is still 1.41 million square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average, and is the 6th lowest sea ice extent in the satellite record. The ice that (you) guys encountered says more about where the ice was over the last 2 months than how much ice there has been over-all. There is, for example, a big hole in the ice near the North Pole right now. Meanwhile, the winds have been blowing a lot of ice down into the Archipelago and into the region where (you) guys have been rowing.”

How unlucky can one be. They were exactly were the ice was.;-) Indeed, the Western part of the passage saw more ice, so they encountered it on their trip, but for whatever reason it was not much seen in the pictures of their trip.

A big hole near the North Pole? I want to know more about. According to NSIDC there were “holes” in the Arctic, one imaginary and one real:

Earlier this summer, there was considerable interest in seeing liquid water in the North Pole Environmental Observatory (NPEO) web cam. As explained in our August 7 post, that region was simply a shallow melt pond of water atop the ice and not an actual opening in the ice. Nevertheless, our August 19 post described an extensive region of low ice concentration located fairly close to the pole.

Now, a large hole (roughly 150 square kilometers or 58 square miles) of near-zero ice concentration appears to have opened up at about 87 degrees North latitude. Small areas of open water are common within the ice pack, even at the North Pole, as the ice pack shifts in response to winds and currents, resulting in cracks (called leads) in the ice. The current opening seen in our satellite imagery is much larger. In 2006, a larger polynya appeared in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, but it was much farther south.

I heard about the false alarm in August (it was not a hole, not even a lake, it was not even near the actual North Pole). But in September there was indeed an area with low ice concentration near the Pole. These things are indeed called polynyas and, as mentioned, are not really uncommon in the Arctic region. There are whole ecosystems dependent on it and it even can mean ice growth (wind blows over the water and pushes it to the edges). They are not formed by global warming, but by wind displacement or water upwelling.

That’s real alarmist poetry here. Starting with the explanation that polynyas are common even in the Arctic. Then closing with the mention that the holes are larger and a larger polynya was spotted, but then more south… implying maybe, just maybe, we could have something to do with it.

Back to the Mainstream Last First team:

“Here’s a good example: Last year we saw the lowest amount of sea ice in the Arctic on record-by far. Yet, I was in two different Arctic communities (Iqaluit and Pangnirtung) that were blocked by ice much of the summer. They could not get their food shipments in, they could not get out to hunt and fish. It was a real mess. Elders in Iqaluit were saying it had been at least 50 years since they last saw this happen. How does that happen during the lowest ice extent on record? Wind. The wind blew the ice into the fiords and bays. It was stuck there until the wind changed direction and literally overnight, the bays were cleared. As long as there’s any ice it all, it will blow around. In fact, we can expect to see more winds blowing from different directions than they used to as the climate changes.”

There are the stories from the locals again. The above story was to explain that also with not that much ice communities can be trapped by the ice. They hadn’t seen it in at least 50 years. But the locals told them a lot and it was not all consistent. If it suits the team they say that there is less ice than ever before or “have not seen this type ice conditions” or “ice, ice, ice”.

Mr. Solomon’s words echo what the elders told us and what we intuitively understood. The fact that this year’s summer ice will be 1.41 million square kilometers less than the 1981-2010 average is sobering. To put in in perspective the area of British Columbia and Alberta combined is 1.6 million square kilometers. Climate change is happening and is being evidenced even during a cold year like we just experienced.


They added a graph with the ice extent of September 6, 2013. True, the current extent is still below the average, but the rebound of this year was phenomenal, despite 2013 being touted as the year of the “ice free Arctic”. When one looks at the rebound, it is more than 1.7 million km2. To put that “in context”: that is the same as the area of, ahem, British Columbia and Alberta more ice than there was last year. With even 100,000 km2 to spare. That much ice is hard to avoid.


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