Panic at 2 a.m. — the search for multiyear Arctic ice

October 30, 2009

    When you’re looking for shrinking packs of multiyear ice in the Arctic Ocean, bizarre things tend to happen. Top Canadian scientist David Barber knows this first hand, as he explained in a presentation in Parliament on Wednesday. Barber said that to all extents and purposes the multiyear ice in the Arctic had already vanished, which could open up the region to shipping and mineral exploitation.

    Barber, who holds Canada’s Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba, boarded the icebreaker Amundsen last month and steamed north from the Arctic port of Tuktoyaktuk to look for the Beaufort Sea pack ice, the “thickest, hardest, meanest, multi year sea we have left in the northern hemisphere”.

    According to up-to-date satellite maps provided by the Canadian Ice Service, the Amundsen should have started ploughing into progressively thicker ice almost from the start. Soon after the ship set sail Barber went to bed, and then woke up at 2 am in a panic.





    “I looked on my screen and we’re doing 13 knots. We do 13.7 knots in open water and we’re right here (in an area where the maps show there should be thick ice) somewhere, doing 13 knots,”  he said.

      “And I just panicked, I thought ‘Oh My God, Stephane the captain is not on the bridge and the first officer has gone crazy, he’s driving this thing way too fast through the sea ice’. So I go up on the bridge and talk to the guys and they say “There is no ice here’.”

    The ship sailed for hundreds of miles, first to the north and then eastwards, “trying to find multiyear sea ice that would even slow us down”. All they found was so-called rotten ice — a thin layer covering small chunks of multiyear ice.

    Eventually the ship found a 10-mile floe of “nice typical traditional Beaufort Sea pack ice” close to the Canadian Arctic archipelago. As they were about to attach the ship to the floe Barber looked out and saw a crack open up right in front of him. “I went ‘Wow, that’s kind of weird’.”  Even weirder, he and a colleague then saw the ice move up and down as a swell hit it.

    “And as we watched, literally, without any exaggeration, the entire multi-year floe broke up in five minutes,” he said. Barber blames waves which started off the north coast of Siberia and then rolled across the Arctic Ocean, pushed along by a low pressure system and unencumbered by rotten ice.

    No wonder he says that “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 30 years of working in the high Arctic”.

((Broken Arctic sea ice as seen from a window in from a U.S. Coast Guard C130 flight over the Arctic Ocean September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen))


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Thanks for the report. It tells me something very interesting: The lack of multi-year ice has got nothing to do with CO2. It is an effect of deep water currents.

Posted by Kurt Myrhagen | Report as abusive

Wow! Here’s a mechanism by which summer warmth can destroy thick multiyear pack ice, without direct melting. When summer warmth melts enough thin ice, favorable winds can create areas of open water, and the swells that can break up thick multiyear ice.
Something similar has been suggested for Antarctica’s ice shelves. They may be vulnerable to long swells from distant South Pacific storms.

Posted by Guillaume | Report as abusive

Kurt, you can’t derive from this report that CO2 has nothing to do with the lack of ice. It’s a system! That means many elements, some more important at various times of the year. Wind currents are impacted by the ice or lack thereof AND the ice is impacted by the wind passing over it. The saline in arctic ice is minimal, so the sea water flows at a different depth when it is saturated by salt free ice water. The Gulf Stream then changes it’s depth, impacting weather in Europe, causing more snow. The snow reflects the sun, cooling the air, etc etc. see? A system with many currents. Overall it means the ice melts and our weather changes. And 2/3 of Florida vanishes beneath the waves.

Posted by Will Shirley | Report as abusive

Will, more than 2/3 of Florida has already vanished beneath the waves, so stop being so scared. Any geologist can tell you that sea levels rose about 125 meters in the ten thousand years from 15ooo to 5000 years ago, with very little sea level rise since[average about 14cm per centuary].. Sea levels around Tuvalu have actually fallen in the last 20 years, in spite of what the environmentalists keep insisting. Please do a reality check.

Posted by ian hilliar | Report as abusive

Ian, the reason the sea levels rose so dramatically is because the last ice age was ending as the earth warmed and all the melt water from the massive ice sheets raised the sea level. If you dont believe me ask nasa  /gornitz_09/

To think that melting the remaining ice sheets wont affect future sea level rise is preposterous.

Posted by Louis | Report as abusive

[…] Panic at 2 a.m. — the search for multiyear Arctic ice (Reuters) […]

Posted by The BRAD BLOG : ‘Green News Report’ – November 3, 2009 | Report as abusive

Why is it that every time that every time a scientist warns about global warming the first post is by a warming denial professional? Just a thought.

Posted by John Caro | Report as abusive