On June 19th 2016, the Polar Ocean Challenge expedition left Bristol in the boat Northabout to circumnavigate the North Pole anticlockwise. By doing this they hoped to demonstrate that the Arctic sea ice coverage shrinks back so far now in the summer months that sea that was permanently locked up now can allow passage through.
Permanent irreversible change in the sea ice landscape of the Arctic seems to them inevitable. This will / is already having global economic political, social and environmental implications. The goal seems lofty and idealistic enough.
There is only one major problem. The Arctic Ice Cap isn’t cooperating. Let us take a look at the polar ice cap on Aug 6, 2015.
The North East Passage was open for clear sailing the whole Russian coastline and they planned to go through the North East Passage ice choke point, Cape Chelyuskin on or about Aug 5. 2016. It is now Aug 8, and the boat is huddling in a sheltered cove waiting for the ice to melt. Taking a look at the Arctic ice cap for Aug 6, 2016.There seems to be a lot of melting left to be done before they can pass through the choke point.
How bad is it? The total Arctic ice volume on Aug 6 last year was around 6250 cubic kilometre. This year the volume on Aug 6 was about 8000 km3, a year to year increase of about 28%. The ice volume is now very close to the 30 year average.
Reality has a way of getting in the way of the best laid plans and the most ambitious climate models.
If you want to follow the future adventures of the ship Northabout, their website is http://polarocean.co.uk/calendar/
Update: Looking at the tracker, Northabout seems to have passed Cape Cherlyuskin the afternoon of Aug 9, only 4 days behind schedule. They should be able to sail another 50 miles or so before hitting heavy pack ice.
Politico penned an article with the title “Finland finds global warming’s upside.”
“The country’s icebreaker business is booming as the shrinking ‘ice cap’ (sic) opens up new opportunities.”
This is the official line, the shrinking Arctic ice sheet. A more realistic assessment is the increasing oil ans gas exploration by the Russians, and the desire to open up the North East Passage for oil and gas export for a longer season.
Finland has been making ice-breakers for a very long time. The Northern Baltic freezes over and on cold years there is no ice free harbor in Finland in February.
When Finland was under economic treaties with the Soviet Union after WWII the major export from Finland to Russia was ice breakers.
This reminds me of an anecdote from that time.
The Russian Government had ordered a large ice breaker, and before building is started they go over the drawings with the Finnish contractors. The Russians notice a room named Sauna. “What is that for?” they ask. The Finns explain: “We always have a Sauna on a ship this size to keep the crew sane, healthy and happy.” ” And how do you use it?” the Russians asked. “Well, you heat up the Sauna to as hot as you can stand it, and then everybody sit in it naked until they can take it no more, then run out and jump into ice cold water for about one minute, and so they feel good for the rest of the day,” the Finns answered. The Russians looked bewildered and said: “You really do that? You mean, mixing officers with regular crew? We must have two Saunas, one for the officers and one for the crew.” So the Finns added an Officers Sauna to the plans, built the ice breaker, and at the inspection the Russians reacted in horror. “What?, the crew and the officers have identical saunas with the same wooden benches? You must make the officer’s sauna more prestigious!” So the Finns copper clad the benches in the officers sauna!
I have no idea if the story is true, but I get this sizzling feeling from the bottom of my seat every time I think of it.