Icebreaker at the North Pole

From the Alfred Wegener Institute news that a ship that reached the real geographic North Pole, unlike the hapless group of Whisky sponsored rowers (Row to the Pole) who are pointlessly attempting to reach the location of 1996 magnetic pole, which doesn’t even exist there anymore.

Research Vessel Polarstern at North Pole

Bremerhaven/North Pole, 22 August 2011. You can’t get any “higher”: on 22 August 2011 at exactly 9.42 a.m. the research icebreaker Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association reaches the North Pole. The aim of he current expedition is to document changes in the far north. Thus, the researchers on board are conducting an extensive investigation programme in the water, ice and air at the northernmost point on the Earth. The little sea ice cover makes the route via the pole to the investigation area in the Canadian Arctic possible.

Sea ice not only plays a role in the selection of the route, but is above all a major research focal point. How thick is the ice and how old? To what extent has it been deformed by pressure – is there snow or puddles of melting water on it? Satellite measurements, too, supply ice information, but measurements are still required on site to be able to interpret these data correctly. Light energy causes the ice to melt and heats up the water in the summer months. The warming of the Arctic and the related changes in heat and gas exchange processes between the ocean, sea ice and atmosphere are the paramount focus of the investigations. The oceanic currents that exchange water masses with the Atlantic and the Pacific are also undergoing change. Redistribution of the freshwater input from rivers into the Arctic Ocean is one of the factors that influence these oceanic currents.

Light is the source of energy for tiny algae that live in and under the ice and form the basis of the food web in the Arctic Ocean. Biologists classify species and determine the number of algae as well as the small and larger animals that feed on them. The researchers follow the path taken by the organisms from the water surface to the seafloor, where the remains end up as organic substance at a depth of thousands of metres after the organisms die.

These deposits on the seafloor permit conclusions to be drawn on how living conditions were in the course of the Earth’s history. After all, the sediments and the animal and plant remains they contain are up to several million years old. Following the expedition, sediment cores will be analysed in the laboratory. To improve the models of the Earth’s climate history, chemists, physicists and oceanographers additionally examine the environmental conditions in the present-day oceans. They draw conclusions on how fast organic substance is transformed and relocated as a result of altered current conditions.

All 55 scientists and technicians from six countries on board the Polarstern have a common goal: studying the changes in the Arctic. This is also reflected in the name of the expedition “TransArc – Trans-Arctic survey of the Arctic Ocean in transition”. The researchers have been investigating their questions jointly with the 43 crew members since the Polarstern left the port of Tromsø (Norway) on 5 August. The first ice floes appeared on 8 August. Since 9 August the Polarstern has been sailing through dense pack ice on the route along 60° East in temperatures of around 0° C. At first it was predominantly one-year-old sea ice, now older and consequently thicker ice floes appear.

“From a scientific point of view the North Pole is not more interesting than other places in the Arctic,” reports Prof. Ursula Schauer from on board the Polarstern. The oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association is the chief scientist of the expedition. “The expected changes are rather minor here. However, the northern part of the Canadian sector of the Arctic still numbers among the least researched regions on the globe because of the dense pack ice.” Schauer was in the central Arctic the last time in 2007 and is now experiencing a similarly small ice cover as the year that went down in the annals as the one with the lowest extent of sea ice since the beginning of satellite measurements in 1979. Initial measurements of the ice thickness confirm this: in 2011 as well as in 2007 the most frequently occurring ice thickness was 0.9 metres. As a comparison, the most frequently measured ice thickness in 2001 was around 2 metres. In that year the extent of the ice cover at the end of the melting period corresponded roughly to the long-term mean.

The Polarstern is at the North Pole for the third time in its history. On 7 September 1991 it was one of the first two conventionally driven ships to sail there, along with the Swedish research icebreaker Oden. Almost exactly ten years later, on 6 September 2001, it carried out a joint expedition at the North Pole together with the American research icebreaker Healy.

After the investigations at the North Pole and subsequently in the Canadian Basin the vessel will head for the Siberian Sea. The researchers want to study the oceanic circulation from the deep sea to the shallow shelf seas and habitats from the ice edge to the ice-free ocean. The Polarstern is expected to return to its homeport of Bremerhaven on 7 October. For all those who would like to follow the events on board until that time: the members of the expedition report regularly in the blog of the magazine GEO at (German language only) www.geo.de/blog/geo/polarstern-blog.

###

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and middle latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the seventeen research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

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Corey S.

OT – But an earthquake just hit Virginia. Not sure how big.

Ken Hall

So the ice wasn’t melting fast enough so they thought that they will give it a helping hand by breaking it up? Unbelieveable!

It’s so easy to translate that German polarstern-blog …..
Just do this instead … ( Google Webpage Translator )
http://preview.tinyurl.com/3jtdd7f

D. Robinson

Felt it in in NJ too, very slight here.

Hopefully they’ll study how much research activity and shipping is effecting the ice cap.

the_Butcher

How long does it takes for the wind to push away patches of ice that have been slit through from the icebreakers?

Corey S. says:
August 23, 2011 at 10:54 am
I felt it here in Cary, NC. It shook slightly for about 3 seconds.

Bill Yarber

I wonder if the crew of the Nautilus measured the thickness of the ice they broke through in 1959. Vaguely remember seeing open waters near the sub while surfaced at the North Pole. Anyone have acces to those photos?
Bill

Ken Hall

I can imagine those researchers stood at the stern of the research vessel looking backwards and proclaiming, without a hint of irony,
“Oh look, the ice is breaking up and melting faster than we ever imagined, How terrible, it’s worse than we thought! Mankind must be to blame!”
Yeah, mankind is to blame. It’s the kind of man who is PILOTING YOUR BLOODY BOAT!!!

RACookPE1978

Note very, very carefully that this is the icebreaker’s THIRD trip to the north pole, each trip accompanied by other surface ships, and (apparently) that several nuclear icebreakers (all Russian) made the trip before ….
Though, I most certainly suspect that the CAGW – obsessed ABCNNBCBS media will not mention that fact very loudly, since it detracts from the overriding message that the Arctic melting “now” and “it’s worse than we thought” ….
So polar ice has been in this condition before, and will be in today’s conditions in the future.

Gary

Arctic ocean sediment cores (not just one at the North Pole) could tell a very revealing story about climatic cycles if enough were taken over the whole ocean, especially at sensitive points such a band that includes the summer melt ice extent edge. Cores taken in the 1960s and 70s throughout the other ocean basins were quite useful in proving the Milankovich cycles control much of the glacial/interglacial timing.

Bill Yarber asked
Vaguely remember seeing open waters near the sub while surfaced at the North Pole. Anyone have acces to those photos?
Here are some
http://radio4scienceboards.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=witter&action=display&thread=599

Nuke

The aim of the current expedition is to document changes in the far north.

Is there a baseline to compare against or are they creating the baseline? It’s implied there’s been little research there, so there is currently no baseline to use for comparison.

Wil

Hey, Anthony, sorry to be off topic here – but WUWT featured a number of stories about the Australian Carbon Tax with the Julia Gillard’s year-old government its single-seat majority forced through the Australian parliament. Here’s some news that could possibly change everything including the Gillard Government itself.
An Australian MP has been accused of using an official credit card to pay for prostitutes, sparking a political scandal that could bring down the government.
New South Wales state police said they are looking into new evidence that Craig Thomson misused a trade union credit card when he was a senior union official in 2005 and 2007.
A conviction for theft or fraud would force Mr Thomson to quit parliament and cost Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s year-old government its single-seat majority.
With opinion polls showing the government has become deeply unpopular, observers agree that the ruling Labor Party would have little hope of retaining Mr Thomson’s seat in an ensuing by-election.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2029178/Australian-MP-Craig-Thomson-used-official-credit-card-pay-prostitutes.html#ixzz1VseZ5bcK

Eric Anderson

Sounds like an interesting expedition. I’m jealous — would love to visit the far North someday. One can catch a hint of a pre-determined bias in the stated purpose of the expedition, but they appear to be doing some serious work and, hopefully, collecting some worthwhile data. Definitely more valuable than the many publicity stunt expeditions we’ve seen in recent years.

JaneHM

What sort of damage is ice-breaking doing to high latitude ice coverage? I thought ‘everyone agreed’ that open water generated positive feedbacks that produced more open water.

Steve from Rockwood

If one ice-breaker can have a measurable effect on Arctic sea-ice extent (as measured by satellites say) then we are in big trouble. I seriously doubt it and see no reason why people should complain about such a voyage. Scientists should be in the Arctic if they want to study Arctic sea ice after all. Unless they went there just to ruin my 5.1 million sq m ice extent prediction – which isn’t looking too good right now. Dang ice-breakers.

Ben Kellett

I can’t believe some of the commentry here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic is likely to have any significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up? Either get serious or admit you’re having a laugh!
I know that ther AGW case is often overcooked – please excuse the pun, but this kind of opinion makes a complete farce of skeptical opinion – if indeed it is intended seriously?

Anything is possible

What possible purpose would deliberately using ice-breakers to speed up the demise of the Arctic Ice serve?
It’s not like alarmist scientists would use continuing ice loss as “proof” of AGW, or that there are literally billions of dollars worth of natural resources waiting to be exploited should weather conditions in the region moderate.
Oh. Wait………..

Kelvin Vaughan

So why cant I see it on the drifting North Pole camera?

Anything is possible

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe some of the commentry here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic is likely to have any significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up?
___________________________________________________________________________
Do you seriously believe that the Russians would spend hundreds of millions of dollars building and operating a fleet of nuclear powered ice -breakers if they didn’t have a significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up?

Nuke

@Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I concur.

Nuke

@Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
No doubt the work of lurking warministas out to besmirch our reputation. Just like at the Tea Party rallies!

HaroldW

JaneHM, Anything is possible –
The ice coverage, even at maximum melt, is measured in millions of square kilometers. The amount of ice which is broken up by ice-breaking ships is minuscule by comparison. Not to mention that such ice is still around to be counted in the figures; it’s not melted by the ships.
The ships make progress possible locally. They can’t have a significant effect upon the metrics of Arctic ice coverage.

Paddy

RACookPE1978 says:
August 23, 2011 at 11:32 am
“Though, I most certainly suspect that the CAGW – obsessed ABCNNBCBS media will not mention that fact very loudly, since it detracts from the overriding message that the Arctic melting “now” and “it’s worse than we thought” ….
So polar ice has been in this condition before, and will be in today’s conditions in the future.”
Isn’t it fair to state that polar ice has already been in every condition previously observed and also in every other condition that is imaginable? What has the Polarstern group seen that is either new or unique?

jakers

Um…
There are millions of square km of sea ice in the arctic basin. Open leads from and close regularly, such as those the subs surfaced in during the 1950s and 60s. The size of a ship and it’s track through the ice are easily seen as insignificant against that backdrop. The Polarstern was at the pole in 1991 and 2001, now again in 2011 for ongoing studies. It can cruise through 1.5m ice and ram through heavier ice.
In 1959, the Skate reported “The Ice at the polar ice cap is an average of 6-8 feet thick” in both summer and winter.

John B

Anything is possible says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm
Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe some of the commentry here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic is likely to have any significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up?
___________________________________________________________________________
Do you seriously believe that the Russians would spend hundreds of millions of dollars building and operating a fleet of nuclear powered ice -breakers if they didn’t have a significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up?
———————
Yes, I seriously believe they built them to aid shipping and earn revenue from doing so:
A nuclear powered icebreaker is a purpose-built ship for use in waters continuously covered with ice. Icebreakers are ships capable of cruising on ice-covered water by breaking through the ice with their strong, heavy, steel bows. Nuclear powered icebreakers are far more powerful than their diesel powered counterparts, and have been constructed by Russia primarily to aid shipping in the frozen Arctic waterways in the north of Siberia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear-powered_icebreaker

Dave

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe some of the commentary here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic is likely to have any significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up?
———————————————————
One crack caused the destruction of a space shuttle. One crack in a structure under pressure can cause significant damage. Put a single small crack in a car windscreen and see what happens. In the Arctic each season we have dozens of icebreakers at work putting cracks in the icepack. Whilst the stresses acting on the Arctic ice pack might not be akin to the scenarios I’ve provided above they are certainly present.
The ice pack each year is under tremendous stress from wind and ocean currents and ice movement into warmer waters plays an important role in determining how much ice is lost each summer.
Please explain to me, why you are so absolutely certain that channels from ice breaking activity will not cause large chunks of ice (much large than the original channel created by the ice breaker) to drift off into warmer waters like other ice which has been freed from the pack clearly does.
Do you have ironclad proof that this is not occurring

slow to follow

Nice picture of nuclear ice breaker “Yamal” here, along with mention of Medieval Warm Period ice free seas:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icebreaker

Gary Pearse

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe some of the commentry here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic
They even have a number of tourist trips on Russian ice breakers. Surely this is more a threat to the ice than the usual drivel about cow farts and the like. They are shooting camels in Australia because of their contribution to CO2. Also, I don’t trust this activity – the polar year (or two) they had a last year there were boats all over the arctic with scientists cracking up the ice. Remember there is some desperation on the CAGW side.

Dave, et al;
“pack ice” is smaller pieces of ice jammed together by winds and currents. When an icebreaker spreads them enough to get through, a while later they are jammed back where they started. All the ‘breakers do is push it aside for a little while. If rejamming occurs too quickly, they can get locked-in, no matter how big and powerful they are.

P.S.
I felt the quake here in Vancouver, too, for about 1/10 of a second. A wee bump, about an hour delayed!
I think that’s what it was …
🙂

How did I get to be “It’s”? Dang WP!!
[Mod’s don’t know either. 8<) This posted OK. Robt]

Ian W

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm
I can’t believe some of the commentry here is to be taken seriously. Does anyone really believe that an ice breaker trail through the Arctic is likely to have any significant impact on the rate of ice melt/ break up? Either get serious or admit you’re having a laugh!
I know that ther AGW case is often overcooked – please excuse the pun, but this kind of opinion makes a complete farce of skeptical opinion – if indeed it is intended seriously?

Contrary to what is claimed ice does not melt much at the Arctic. What happens is that it breaks away from the ice anchored to shorelines and then flows as ‘pack ice’ around the sea current the polar gyre out of the Arctic ocean at places like the Fram Strait where it moves South to warmer waters and melts.
Ice breakers cut the ice up and break its connection to the land anchors. This allows the sheets of ice to move with the polar sea currents and break up more. Assisted by the repeated transits by the icebreakers along the ‘passages’ by the shoreline to keep the passages clear. There are multiple icebreakers operating continually in the Arctic now.
Now Ben, what do you think – in a fragile eco system where it is apparently really really important (we are told) for the ice to remain, is it really sensible to operate fleets of icebreakers with the sole purpose of clearing the ice for shipping?

Green Sand

Have they started drilling? Can’t think of any other reason for being there.

Wow, just wow. Sometimes, I guess it needs spelled out. Though I would have thought many could make the connection themselves.
Does anyone here believe there is just one ice breaker out there in the arctic ocean? Guys and gals, between the Russians and our researchers there’s hundreds of trips through the ice this year alone! Don’t tell me that doesn’t have an effect. It does, and it needs to be quantified and caveat needs to be stated when talking about ice loss.
Geez, catch a falling clue!

There’s this really handy summary of arctic conditions at a site some of you may have heard of called “Watt’s Up With That”. The sea ice page links to this image:
http://home.comcast.net/~ewerme/wuwt/cryo_latest_small.jpg
It shows that the route to the pole is not solid ice. The satellites estimate the concentrations at less than 70% ice covered for most of the trip to the pole.
If the ice is already so broken up that there are large section that are ice free, how much difference could a single ship make sailing thru regions that are broken ice to start with?

Ben Kellett

Dave! Sea ice doesn’t behave like a car windscreen – surely you know that? Do a little research as to how this ice behaves before coming up with such shots in the dark.
Oh..and by the way.. I would be keen to see definition “iron clad proof”? Does this exist in any practical form? I guess Gore et al would prefer us to believe so when it comes to proof of CAGW but I was firmly under the impression that even our most eminent scholars throughout the ages have struggled with this concept outside of course of the purely conceptual!
So, when you ask for “iron clad proof,” you effectively ask the impossible, as I’m sure you’re aware. And that also applies to all the questions we might ask of AGW climate science and skeptical climate science alike. While much is questionable for sure, we shouldn’t need and in fact can not expect to attain “iron clad proof” in order to come to a well reasoned conclusion.

slow to follow

This story suggests that losing land anchors is not a good thing for ice stability:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/26/poles.antarctica

Ben Kellett

Ian! While I can see why you might beliee this to be the case, my understanding of melting pack ice is that it acts more like porridge than floating polystyrene. I’m sure if there were a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of all the fleets of ice breakers to carve ice away from the the land, it might just have an effect but we’re talking about one research ice breaker here. To my mind, this constitutes valuable research- much more so than pseudo research by polar explorers with limited capability. If the study is done ethically, then it might yield some surprises….

Beesaman
Steve from Rockwood

@ James Sexton.
James, you keep pitching them, and we keep missing them.
But just so you don’t think everyone is stupid.
1. Some of the comments as I read them were in reaction to the one voyage and not a comment on the total amount of ice breakers and their effects.
2. No doubt there are likely many ice breakers out there. Seems too obvious to even comment on.
3. When I was in Nain (Northeast Canada) the local Inuit were complaining about the ice breakers because, although the broken up ice closes back quite quickly it generated enough vertical displacement (basically an ice bank) that it was dangerous to snow mobile. But the ice closes fairly quickly and is not broken up and melted as you are hinting.
4. In the post the scientists mention a reduction of sea ice extent. There is little doubt there is less ice in the Arctic. I think you are hinting it is caused by ice breakers and that would be a rather dense comment without proof.
5. The scientists noted the ice thickness was 0.9 m rather than the more typical 2.0 m. How do you attribute average ice thickness to the presence of ice breakers?
6. How many ice breakers would it take to eliminate Arctic ice? I’m sure the Russians have calculated it accurately enough to know they could never build enough ice breakers or they would have done so.
7. Most ice breakers IMO would be put to work opening up a passage for trade and not sailing to the north pole. Such trade routes would be located at the edges of the Arctic ice sheet and I don’t see this as having a serious effect on the overall ice extent.
Steve

Ben Kellett

Sliightly off topic…. but Ice extent/area just taken another little dive! It’s going to be really close to 2007 this year but I’m pretty certain our ice breaker isn’t responsible! Next year’s recovery will prove that!!

Beesaman

Even earlier subs (twenty to thirty years) at the North Pole:
http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08578.htm
Damn that spiral of death, it just keeps coming around and around. A bit like a spiral in fact…

Ian W

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm
Ian! While I can see why you might beliee this to be the case, my understanding of melting pack ice is that it acts more like porridge than floating polystyrene. I’m sure if there were a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of all the fleets of ice breakers to carve ice away from the the land, it might just have an effect but we’re talking about one research ice breaker here. To my mind, this constitutes valuable research- much more so than pseudo research by polar explorers with limited capability. If the study is done ethically, then it might yield some surprises….

No Ben – YOU were talking about one research icebreaker.
It is one of many. I don’t believe you can support their having no effect. They turn sheets of ice into pack ice – ice floes that can be carried by wind and currents out of the arctic. Even making sure that passages like the Fram strait are clear for shipping (and for the ice ).
Personally I do not believe that the area of ice is an important metric. But if it is seen as important for the survival of the Earth as we know it to have a solid arctic ice sheet, then stop the icebreakers destroying it.

Ben Kellett

James! You’re right, it needs to be quantified! And I’m pretty convinced if you did this, you would find a negligible effect. For every chunk of ice broken off from the land anchor or larger body of pack ice, you would discover another chunk would join from another fragmented area – the net result being no discernible loss or gain. But in fact, the whole system is far too dynamic to be sure one way or the other.
So let’s just have a bit of consistency here. There may come a time when for whatever reason, we will value ice breakers in the arctic. It might be for exploration of hidden resources or it might be for research showing how resilient or how fragile the arctic can be.I for one certainly don’t have a problem with data capture in this region. The more we know, the more we’ll understand. At the moment, we have precious little data, so let’s not get too suspicious of research in this area otherwise we’ll surely shoot ourselves in the foot and end up as guilty of hypocracy as the those blinkered by AGW.

Ben Kellett says:
August 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm (Edit)
Sliightly off topic…. but Ice extent/area just taken another little dive! It’s going to be really close to 2007 this year but I’m pretty certain our ice breaker isn’t responsible! Next year’s recovery will prove that!!
########
Recovery? to what level?
Since its colder ( according to Girma) (hehe) and since we are entering a solar min, you should predict a huge recovery.

EFS_Junior

So if I take 50 icebreakers ( a conservative or large number) from here;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_icebreakers
and assume an average beam width of 25 meters (a reasonable average beam width path);
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/Nuclearicebreakeryamal.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Polarstern.gif
and assume each of those 50 vessels transits 1000 km through 100% pack ice (or say 2000 km through 50% pack ice);
I get 50*0.025*1000 = 1,250 km^2 versus 15,000,000 km^2 (in winter) versus 3,000,000 km^2 (in summer). Or on average there is 9,000,000 km^2 of sea ice, 1250/9000000 = 0.014%, or if you use the minimum you get a whopping 0.042% of disturbed ice.
To even get to 1% during the summer minimum, you’d need to multiply the above 0.042% by 24, that would meen, for example, 24*50 ships = 1200 ships. Or if you keep it at 50 ships you’d need each of them to travel 24,000 km.
So a small number is indeed a small number, any which way you could possibly cut it, as it were.
And mind you that that’s just disturbed ice, which just backfills the temporary path opening that each of these 50 icebreakers makes, whist not a single kiilogram of ice was melted by these icebreakers per se.

phil c

“JaneHM, Anything is possible –
The ice coverage, even at maximum melt, is measured in millions of square kilometers. The amount of ice which is broken up by ice-breaking ships is minuscule by comparison. Not to mention that such ice is still around to be counted in the figures; it’s not melted by the ships.
The ships make progress possible locally. They can’t have a significant effect upon the metrics of Arctic ice coverage.”
Sounds much like the CO2 arguments. How can a few parts per million of a trace gas affect the whole climate. Do a few square kilometers of icebreaker tracks have a similar effect? Who has collected any data or made any measurements?