Follow the Water–Arctic Ocean Flywheels

The motto of oceanography should be: “It’s not that simple.”

Dallas Murphy wrote that in a book containing his reflections from numerous voyages with ocean scientists, entitled Follow the Water: Exploring the Sea to Discover Climate. The author goes on to say:

“One reason why the ocean has been left out of the climate-change discussion is that its internal mechanisms and its interactions with the atmosphere are stunningly complex. That the ocean has been left out has helped pitch the discussion toward unproductive, distracting extremes–either global warming is bunk or sea levels are about to rise twenty feet–and to frame the issue as a matter of opinion, like the place of prayer in public schools.”

He also quotes respected Oceanographer Carl Wunsch: “One of the reasons oceanography has a flavor all it’s own lies in the brute difficulty of observing the Ocean.”

A previous post on the Climate Water Wheel referred to the metaphor of the ocean serving as a thermal flywheel in our planetary climate due to the massive storage of solar energy in bodies of water.  Another post provided some basics on the dynamics of sea ice.

Now, in keeping with the motto above, we shall see that indeed, it is not that simple when we look more closely inside the Arctic Ocean. For example, consider this map from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI):

“Follow the water: Cold, relatively fresh water from the Pacific Ocean enters the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait. It is swept into the Beaufort Gyre and exits into the North Atlantic Ocean through three gateways (Fram, Davis, and Hudson Straits). Warmer, denser waters from the Atlantic penetrate the Arctic Ocean beneath colder water layers, which lie atop the warmer waters and act as a barrier preventing them from melting sea ice.

Once in the Arctic Ocean basin, the water is swept into a mammoth circular current—driven by strong winds—called the Beaufort Gyre (BG). Mighty Siberian and Canadian rivers also drain into the gyre to create a great reservoir of relatively fresh water. Winds trap this water in a clockwise flow, but periodically, the winds shift and the gyre weakens, allowing large volumes of fresh water to leak out. This is “the flywheel,” said WHOI physical oceanographer Andrey Proshutinksy, and when it turns off, fresh water flows toward the North Atlantic.

The water exits the Arctic Ocean via several “gateways.” It can flow through the Fram Strait, between northeast Greenland and Svalbard Island, and then branch around either side of Iceland. It can flow around the west side of Greenland through Baffin Bay and out Davis Strait. It may also flow through a maze of Canadian islands and out Hudson Strait.
These gateways are two-way: They also let in the warmer Atlantic waters that—if not for the halocline—could melt Arctic sea ice.”

The BG Flywheel System

The research indicates that the complexity can be imagined as a series of flywheels, interacting and combining to moderate the short term effects of weather and changes in circulations of water and winds. Note that this conception shows the ocean flywheel as having four components or layers that operate in their own patterns while being interconnected.

And, as the flywheel system depicts, the ocean components are stratified by both temperature and salinity (saltiness). When sea ice forms, it releases salt into surface waters. These waters become denser and sink to form the Arctic halocline, a layer of cold water that acts as barrier between sea ice and deeper warmer water that could melt the ice. (Illustration by Jayne Doucette, WHOI)

More from WHOI:

Summarizing several hypotheses introduced recently in the publications mentioned above we conclude that the oceanic BG is a major part of the Arctic climate system and is responsible for:

a) Stabilization of the anticyclonic circulation of sea ice and upper ocean layers
b) Accumulation and release of liquid fresh water and sea ice from the BG
c) Ventilation of the ocean in coastal polynyas and openings along shelf-break
d) Regulation of the circulation and fractional redistribution of the summer and winter Pacific waters in the Arctic Ocean
e) Regulation of pathways of the freshwater from the Arctic to the North Atlantic

The sea ice flywheel is an intermediate link between the atmosphere and ocean. Also, sea ice is a product of the atmosphere and ocean interactions. It transfers momentum from the atmosphere to the ocean modifying it depending on sea ice concentration, thickness and its surface and bottom roughness and regulates heat and mass exchange between the atmosphere and ocean. Sea ice flywheel of the system is responsible for:

a) Regulation of momentum and heat transfer between the atmosphere and ocean
b) Accumulation and release of fresh water or salt during melting-freezing cycle
c) Redistribution of fresh water sources through involvement of the first year ice from the marginal seas into the BG circulation and keeping it there for years and transforming it into highly ridged and thick multi-year ice under converging conditions of the BG ice motion.
d) Memorizing of the previous years conditions and slowing down variations in order to avoid abrupt changes
e) Protection of ocean from overcooling or overheating (the latter is extremely important for polar biology)


Our planet’s climate has changed so little over thousands of years that alarms have been sounded over less than 1 degree celsius of estimated average warming since the Little Ice Age ended 150 years ago. But actually, our Modern Warming period was preceded by the Medieval Warm period, the Roman, and the Minoan Warm periods. Each of them was slightly cooler than the previous, and all of them warmer than now.

If you are looking for explanations why our moderate climate persists over millennia and varies only within a tight range of temperatures, give a thought to the role of the Arctic flywheel system.


Of course, even this is far from the whole story. As the map above shows, there’s lots more than the Beaufort Gyre going on. For example, the Transpolar Current drives flows of ice and water on the European side, in addition to the Beaufort Gyre acting on the North American side.

And despite the emphasis above on the Pacific water, the Atlantic Gulf stream supplies most of the water entering the Arctic.

“The Arctic Ocean is permanently supplied with new water from the Gulf Current, which enters the sea close at the surface near Spitsbergen. This current is called the West Spitsbergen current. The arriving water is relatively warm (6 to 8°C) and salty (35.1 to 35.3%) and has a mean speed of ca. 30 cm/sec-1. The warm Atlantic water represents almost 90% of all water masses the Arctic receives. The other ~10% comes via the Bering Strait or rivers. Due to the fact that the warm Atlantic water reaches usually the edge of the Arctic Ocean at Spitsbergen in open water, the cooling process starts well before entering the Polar Sea.”

Edge Research Topics for Climatologists

A number of studies will apparently be undertaken by seasoned climatologists in new fields tangential to global warming. The objective will be to settle the science on issues that have long been controversial. Climatologists are the logical choice to branch into these questions, given their demonstrated creativity regarding causes and effects of climate change.

One Pressing Research Issue:

Initiatives can address many other puzzling issues, such as these:

Very topical these days:

The study could recommend ways to build on the obvious successes of the War on Poverty, War on Drugs, and the War on Terrorism.

And, of course the big picture issue:

For other research grant opportunities, see here:

The Inconvenient Truth About Climate Policy

A succinct summary accessible to anyone.  Reading it is like watching the claIms building up to make the house of cards climate policy really is.

See it here at US News and World Report

“Let’s use our imagination and assume that China reduces its emissions by 20 percent by 2030. That gets us two tenths of a degree. Throw in a 30 percent reduction by Europe and Japan and the rest of the industrialized world, also by 2030. That’s another two tenths of a degree, for a grand total of 0.425 degrees, under a “climate sensitivity” (loosely, the effectiveness of greenhouse gas reductions) assumption 50 percent greater than that adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest assessment report. Is an effect that small worth 1 percent of global GDP, or roughly $600 billion to $750 billion per year, inflicted disproportionately upon the world’s poor?”

“Such propaganda terms as “carbon pollution” are useful as tools toward that end, as they are designed to end debate before it begins by assuming the answer to the underlying policy question. Carbon dioxide is not “carbon” and it is not a pollutant, as a minimum atmospheric concentration of it is necessary for life itself. By far the most important greenhouse gas in terms of the radiative (warming) properties of the atmosphere is water vapor; why does no one call it a “pollutant”? Presumably it is because ocean evaporation is a natural process. Well, so are volcanic eruptions, but no one argues that the massive amounts of particulates and toxins emitted by volcanoes are not pollutants. The climate debate is desperately in need of honesty and seriousness, two conditions characteristic of neither the Beltway nor the climate industry.”

Arctic Sea Ice Uncertainties

The largest ice cap in the Eurasian Arctic – Austfonna in Svalbard – is 150 miles long with a thousand waterfalls in the summer.

About NOAA and MASIE Ice Extent Statistics

As we approach the serious Arctic melting season toward the September minimum, it is important to have a context to interpret various upcoming media reports.

Two factors are paramount: 1) The Sea Ice Prediction Network (SIPN) uses the September Monthly Average as reported by NOAA; and 2) This year NOAA adjusted its measurement system, resulting in a difference in extent statistics.

NOAA says this:

March 2015
The Sea Ice Index processing was updated to use the smaller SSMIS pole hole instead of the SMM/I pole hole, and the erroneous use of the SMMR pole hole in SSM/I and SSMIS data was also corrected. In addition, a new residual weather climatology mask was applied to the Northern Hemisphere that better represents where ice will and will not be, and the extent values in the daily extent data files have been rounded to three decimal places instead of six because that is the precision of the data. The entire time series was reprocessed and now reflects these changes.

As many are aware, NOAA numbers come entirely from passive microwave sensors on satellites, while MASIE ice charts are prepared by the National Ice Center based on multiple sources, including the microwave results, but also satellite imagery and field reports. More of the difference in methodologies and historical results is described here:

Something Different This Year

At the moment we are seeing that NOAA is now reporting ice extent figures that are much closer to MASIE than previously. The following table shows the comparison.

Monthly 2015 2015 2015 2014 2014 2014
February 15.032 14.498 0.534
March 15.170 14.758 0.413
April 13.650 13.954 -0.304 14.318 14.088 0.230
May 12.646 12.485 0.161 12.916 12.701 0.215
June 10.841 10.889 -0.049 11.324 11.033 0.292
July 9.573 9.473 0.100 8.482 8.108 0.374
August 6.353 6.078 0.275
September 5.364 5.220 0.144
October 7.697 7.232 0.464

All figures are in M km2. MASIE results stopped last year after October and did not resume until April 2015. The July 2015 average includes only the first 12 days, so it can not be compared to July 2014 30-day average.

Note that last year MASIE showed higher extents in all months, ranging higher by 200-500k km2, except for the September minimum. However, in 2015 NOAA changes show results much closer to MASIE, at times even larger extents. June was almost the same, something that didn’t happen in the past.


In some charts showing Arctic daily ice extent from several years, NOAA 2015 results exceed 2014 partly because of an adjusted system. The newer numbers are more in synch with MASIE results.

So far 2015 monthly averages are running slightly below last year when comparing MASIE to itself, or NOAA to itself. And SIPN median prediction is for a slightly lower minimum.

However, in the last 2 weeks 2015 is showing higher extent than the same period last year, presently an increase of ~ 500k km2.  Will that trend continue?

What will NOAA show in September? In addition to natural uncertainty, some differences may arise from system changes. At least this time, the adjustments are not in an alarming direction.

NOAA data is here:

MASIE Update July 13, 2015

2015 retains 2% lead over 2014 in BCE Region

Some Arctic ice watchers are focused on the BCE region: Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. It seems that when multi-year ice collects in this region, the Arctic Sea ice margin is protected, and the melting is reduced, resulting in a higher September minimum. Thus an early melting in BCE region can signal a lower summer minimum for NH ice extent, and vice-versa.

To monitor this, I have added a BCE index, being the total 2015 ice extent in BCE as a % of total 2014 extent in the same region. All figures from MASIE.

Note that the BCE maximum ice extent is comparable in size to Arctic Sea max. Historically BCE melts much more than the Arctic Sea; for example, in 2014 BCE lost 58% of its max compared to only 10% for Arctic Sea.

BCE Index recent results:

Day BCE 2015 % of 2014
187 2597170 100.2%
188 2594289 99.8%
189 2593287 99.2%
190 2538316 99.1%
191 2540197 100.6%
192 2534781 102.8%
193 2529403 102.6%

Part of the interest in BCE this year comes from the warm water blob in the N. Pacific, that may add melting to this region located on the Asian side. The two years were virtually identical with little melting prior to day 130. Daily losses since then have been similar and the 2 years were tied on day 146. For 3 days 2015 took some losses while 2014 held on to gains. Since day 150 the gap has been ~3-4%, until recently.

The Blob may have melted out Bering Sea early, and that may now be causing Chukchi to have lower extent than last year.  Yet the BCE region had more ice than 2014 for 13 days until slipping behind for 3 days, then recovering to again lead by 2%.

For more on the Blob:

July 13, 2015

Day 193, July 12 results from MASIE. Arctic ice extent lead over 2014 dips to 471k km2: A day when 2014 regains ice while 2015 has a small loss. .

2014 gained 58k on this day while 2015 lost 21k, reaching a new seasonal minimum of 9.13M km2. The loss is now 37.2% from NH max on day 93.

2014 extent now trails 2015 by 5.4%, which is about 471k km2 difference.

2015 losses were spread, the largest being 10k in Chukchi.

The seas that have lost ice are: (% lost from each sea’s max)

Baltic 100%
Bering 100%
Okhotsk 99.2%
Barents 87.8%
Baffin Bay 73.7%
Kara 71.1%
Hudson Bay 49.6%
Chukchi 39.2%
Greenland 27.8%
Laptev 19.2%
Beaufort 13.3%
Can Archipelago 12.4%
East Siberian 6.7%

The other seas have lost less than 5% from their maximums.

The seas contributing most to the total NH ice extent loss:

(5) Kara_Sea 12.0%
(6) Barents_Sea 9.6%
(8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._L 23.4%
(10) Hudson_Bay 11.3%
(12) Bering_Sea 12.2%
(14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 11.4%

2015 melt still trails 2014 by 5 days.

masie day 193


At this point, the median outlook for NH ice extent average for September 2015 is about 5M km2, slightly below last year. That seems reasonable to me, given the lower March max, but also considering the higher ice thickness. Of course, there is no predicting what weather events will affect the ice melting and compacting between now and October.

What’s at stake this year? If September average is higher than last year, then it supports the recovery narrative. Slightly lower than 2014 (the consensus prediction) and the generally declining trend is supported. A major fall off in ice extent would be followed by mass media alarm bells.

Warmists and Rococo Marxists.

This post will not be interesting to everyone. Because it is not so much about science as about the corruption of science by today’s academic establishment. It was inspired by several things including a discussion at WUWT recently regarding Lewandowsky’s latest salvo against those who dispute the consensus view of global warming and impending catastrophe. He and Oreskes were railing against the “seepage” of the “pause” notion into the alarmist narrative, thereby diluting the message in advance of the Paris COP.

That reminded me of a Tom Wolfe book in which he skillfully dissected the descent of rationality and objectivity at the hands of modern academia. And I began to see the connection to climate change hysteria. The ruling force is “political correctness”, which translates into going along to get along in your tribe. And in the extreme, it means subordinating science and rationality to instincts of the herd, their fears, disappointments and desires to rule the day.

A recent development is the admission, consciously or not, that climate change is not a scientific matter; it is rather a competition between narratives as to where we are as a civilization and what will be our future. When Jane Fonda or the Pope or Naomi Klein says that climate change is the defining issue of our time, they are appealing to one narrative, the environmentalist story of humanity despoiling the Eden granted to us. And in order to save the planet and all life forms from extinction, the capitalist, consumer society has to be unplugged and abandoned.

The damage to science is extreme: the premise of knowing objective reality is overturned by modern scholarship. All is relative, and in the end it is simply a matter of opinion: consensus.

The back story to all this is a development over several decades: the entrenchment in western universities of “post-normal” ideology. And this is what Tom Wolfe describes when he talks of the rise of Rococo Marxism.

What are Rococo Marxists? Wolfe refers to a peculiar development among American intellectuals who wanted to join European leftists in fighting tyranny, but found no obvious villains in American society.

“After World War I, American writers and scholars had the chance to go to Europe in large numbers for the first time. They got an eyeful of the Intellectual up close. That sneer, that high-minded aloofness from the mob, those long immaculate alabaster forefingers with which he pointed down at the rubble of a botched civilization—it was irresistible. The only problem was that when our neophyte intellectuals came back to the United States to strike the pose, there was no rubble to point at. Far from being a civilization in ruins, the United States had emerged from the war as the new star occupying the center of the world stage. Far from reeking of decadence, the United States had the glow of a young giant: brave, robust, innocent, and unsophisticated.”

“The country turned into what the Utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, the Saint-Simons and Fouriers, had dreamed about: an El Dorado where the average workingman would have the political freedom, the personal freedom, the money, and the free time to fulfill his potential in any way he saw fit. It got to the point where if you couldn’t reach your tile mason or your pool cleaner, it was because he was off on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his third wife. And as soon as American immigration restrictions were relaxed in the 1960s, people of every land, every color, every religion, people from Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, began pouring into the United States.”

“But our intellectuals dug in like terriers. Just as they had after World War I, they refused to buckle under to … circumstances. They saw through El Dorado and produced the most inspired adjectival catchups of the twentieth century. Real fascism and genocide were finished after World War II, but the intellectuals used the Rosenberg case, the Hiss case, McCarthyism—the whole Communist Witch Hunt—and, above all, the war in Vietnam to come up with … “incipient fascism”, “preventive fascism”, “local fascism” , “brink of” fascism, “informal Fascism” , “latent fascism” , not to mention the most inspired catch-up of all: “cultural genocide.” Cultural genocide referred to the refusal of American universities to have open admissions policies, so that any minority applicant could enroll without regard to GPAs and SATs and other instruments of latent-incipient-brink-of-fascist repression.”

So the intelligensia focused not on fundamental social and economic injustice, but upon the cultural trappings: gender equality, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, and the grandest manifestation, climate change.

“Today the humanities faculties are hives of abstruse doctrines such as structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, deconstruction, reader-response theory, commodification theory … The names vary, but the subtext is always the same: Marxism may be dead, and the proletariat has proved to be hopeless. They’re all at sea with their third wives. But we can find new proletariats whose ideological benefactors we can be—women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitutes (sex workers), hardwood trees—which we can use to express our indignation toward the powers that be and our aloofness to their bourgeois stooges, to keep the flame of skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt burning. This will not be Vulgar Marxism; it will be … Rococo Marxism, elegant as a Fragonard, sly as a Watteau.”

“As any Fool sociologist could tell you, there are only two objectively detectable social classes in America: people above the bachelor’s-degree line—i.e., people who have graduated from four-year colleges—and people below it, who haven’t. By now people above it have learned to shrug and acquiesce to “political correctness,” to Rococo Marxism, because they know that to oppose it out loud is in poor taste. It is a … breach of the etiquette you must observe to establish yourself as an educated person.”


What a strange twist. Marx gave us the notion of ideology, which he understood to be the system of beliefs and values that the ruling class used to control the working class and ensure continued power and privileges. Today’s Marxist wannabes who are mostly in the entitled class are employing the ideology of environmentalism to mount an anti-capitalist crusade under the banner of Climate Change, advocating policies which will further the misery of the downtrodden.

Update May 4, 2016

More on academic ideology from Nicholas Kristoff NYT (here):

In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.

As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.


Matt Ridley is also concerned about the future of science:

Tom Wolfe essay in pdf can be downloaded here:

In the Land of the Rococo Marxists by Tom Wolfe