Friday, August 23, 2013

Holey Moley Arctic

Sou | 3:57 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts has another post up at WUWT protesting the declining ice in the Arctic by pretending that it's not unusual.  At least this time he left off the photo that was proven to be not of a submarine at the north pole in 1959.  He's jumped ahead nearly 30 years to 1987.

Holey Moley - From Neven:
Watts seems to have a renewed interest in the Arctic, now that we won't be seeing back-to-back records after last year's insane record smashing melting season. I prefer to ignore his sh*t, but his timing was so impeccable this time that I had to react: Hole.
If you've not been keeping up with Neven's excellent Arctic Sea Ice blog (eg on the grounds that this year may not be another record low), you're missing out.  As John Abraham wrote in the Guardian recently (my bold italics):
Neven, like many other armchair scientists has little formal training. But, he makes up for that with a doggedness that would impress anyone. While he describes his blog as basically weather reports, many publishing researchers turn to him for a comprehensive view of current conditions. Do you want to know what the short term ice conditions will likely be? Ask Neven. Interested in learning about impacts of current conditions on the atmosphere? Ask Neven.
Not only is he a great resource, but the commenters provide insightful thoughts as well. And very often, they are not in agreement with each other. It is refreshing to see people engage in polite yet candid discussions of various views of our Arctic.

Neven is fact-full and normally doesn't say much about disinformation from deniers, preferring to explore what is happening to Arctic sea ice.  But he is not unaware of Anthony Watts and others like him who are in the climate science denial business.

Go read his latest article.  While Anthony Watts is posting unconvincing BS with his "the holes now are no different", it looks as if there are real holes in the ice opening up near the north pole.  The holes will be considerably bigger (kilometers wide) than the little cracks shown in Anthony's August 1987 photo, which look as if they aren't much more than about 100 m or so in diameter from the photo. (The length of the longest sub in the picture, USS Billfish is 95.02 metres).

Here is Anthony's "evidence":
Credit: Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet
The above photo, taken in 1987, is described as:
USS BILLFISH (SSN 676), CDR F. Terry Jones (Jeffrey Gossett), USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), CDR Dennis A. Napior (Douglas Shaefer), and HMS SUPERB (S 109), CDR James Collins (Don Stephens), conducted the first multi-national 3-ship rendezvous at the North Pole

North Pole not so trivial trivia

Incidentally, 1987 was the year that Australian Dick Smith became the first person to fly a helicopter over the North Pole!

And some more interesting bits of non-trivial trivia that I came across while researching this.  Who was the first person to reach the North Pole and when?  More on that here.  And how easy was it to get to the North Pole back in 1988?  What about trying on a sailboard?  Does anyone know if St├ęphane Peyron made it? He did cross the Atlantic on a wind-surfer. Back in 1988 (glasnost era) a joint Canadian-Russian group tried crossing the Arctic on skiis to promote international cooperation, and they made it!

This article gives a thumbnail sketch of the Arctic with some historical context.

From 1958 to to 1987 to 2010

As for Anthony's wrong then corrected then repeated but uncorrected claim relating to a photo he wrongly attributes to a submarine surfacing at the North Pole in 1959.  While the Skate did surface at the North Pole in March 1959, Anthony's photo was not of that event.  Nor does it signal that ice cover today is anything like what it was back then.

Here is a comparison of Arctic seasonal sea ice extent over the years from 1900 to 2010. Click the image for a larger version.
Source: Cryosphere Today

1958 - First sub go under the North Pole (reportedly)

And here's an article about the first ever submarine to travel under the North Pole - or perhaps to admit to it.  The Nautilus.  In August 1958. But it didn't surface there.  Here is a paragraph:
The submarine traveled at a depth of about 500 feet, and the ice cap above varied in thickness from 10 to 50 feet, with the midnight sun of the Arctic shining in varying degrees through the blue ice. At 11:15 p.m. EDT on August 3, 1958, Commander Anderson announced to his crew: "For the world, our country, and the Navy--the North Pole." The Nautilus passed under the geographic North Pole without pausing. The submarine next surfaced in the Greenland Sea between Spitzbergen and Greenland on August 5. Two days later, it ended its historic journey at Iceland. For the command during the historic journey, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decorated Anderson with the Legion of Merit.

Here is the New York Times reporting the same journey.  Some relevant extracts:
He recounted briefly how the Nautilus had cruised submerged on a northerly course past the Aleutian Islands and through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia toward the brittle fringe of the ice pack and then beneath it.
Above the Nautilus the covering icecap was plainly visible over the vessel's closed-circuit television, the sixth months period of Arctic daylight making visibility no problem. Now and then great holes appeared in the icecap but the Nautilus sped on....
...Commander Anderson indicated a distinct lack of curiosity about the precise make up an penetration of the icecap below the surface of the sea. It ranged in thickness from ten to fifteen feet and loses about three feet of its winter depth in summer. But pressures caused by wind and tide, sent it to a depth of fifty feet in unchartered places and these were well above the submarine, he explained....
...A humorous note crept into the recitation as Commander Anderson gave the first public definition of what he called "longitudinal roulette," a passtime not to be indulged in while traversing the arctic sea for the first time in a submarine.
"A trip across the North Pole, where there is no opportunity to observe anything outside of the ship, no opportunity to observe stars or do any type of electronic navigation, presents a very formidable problem- or what has been up to now a very formidable problem," the skipper explained.
"For example, it would be possible for a ship equipped with conventional navigation equipment to become so confused at the North Pole that they might actually work themselves around in a slow circle, thinking that they were going in a straight line, and end up coming into perhaps the ice-locked coast off Greenland, or even more disappointing, back where they came from."

I doubt Commander Anderson would have imagined back then that not much more than sixty years later, the Arctic would not only be able to be traversed by submarines, there would be commercial shipping routes opening up - without ice-breakers or with only occasional help from them.

From the Wall Street Journal, ships transporting oil and gas through the Arctic, which is quite a worry, given the huge risks posed by commercial shipping in the Arctic, from Seatrade Global.

Now go and check out Neven's excellent blog for the latest on the Arctic sea ice.


  1. the ice cap above varied in thickness from 10 to 50 feet

    I suggest Watts and Goddard get a small 2-person submarine so that they can look for ice that is 50 feet thick. Good luck!

  2. Anderson remarks in his book on the cruise that the greatest difficulty they faced with accomplishing the transit was getting through the Chukchi Sea. It is quite shallow (for open ocean), and the ice was so thick in places he was doubtful of having a safe margin between the bottom of the ice and sea floor in which to navigate. Eventually they had to feel their way along an indirect course to get into the deeper Arctic Basin.

    These days, the Chukchi is virtually ice free by late July (the time when Nautilus had to pick her way through).


  3. 1. The first submarine to cross under the NP was certainly the Nautilus, admitted or not. That's because it requires nuclear power to travel that far submerged, and the Nautilus was the first nuclear submarine.
    2. The failure of Peary to reach the pole has been known for decades, even before Wally Herbert's research; see "Peary at the North Pole: Fact or Fiction" by Dennis Rawlins, 1972. Since Cook, Peary and Byrd all failed to make it (and since all lied about it), the first to actually reach the NP were the 16 crewmen of the dirigible Norge in May 1926. These included Lincoln Ellsworth (financier), Umberto Nobile (designer and pilot), and Roald Amundsen (expedition leader).

    1. Thanks for that info, KAP. Now all I need is someone who knows about St├ęphane Peyron's sailboard attempt. For such an adventurer I'd have thought there'd be more on his wiki page. There's not much at all.

    2. KAP's two points are both true, but the first has a bit of a logic flaw in it - the Nautilus was the first nuclear powered submarine to reach the NP, but it was not the *only* nuclear boat by the time she made her NP transit.

      Nautilus reached the NP on 3rd August 1958, and took 4 days of fairly high speed running to transit the whole Arctic basin. But at the same time as Nautilus' transit, USS Skate had run for 10 days under the ice (but did not penetrate as far as the NP), so she had the capability to do the same run, as did the USS Seawolf.

      So there were three subs that *could* have been the first, but of course, only one - the Nautilus - was.


    3. Frank, that's interesting about the USS Skate. There are photos around that some have suggested were taken around the same time as the Nautilus was going under the ice (August 58). Maybe they were taken just before or just after she did that 10 day trip. The photo I'm thinking of was in open water so it wasn't in the Arctic proper.

    4. In a few chunks because I'm not sure about your lniks policy...

      Yes, I know the photo, Sou.

      It's possible that it was taken on the 1958 cruise, but it seems that no one knows for sure. Wikipedia says "in 1958", but when you click on the image it says "believed to be 1958". And when you go to the source it says "perhaps 1958".

      The Skate surfaced in 10 polynyas during her 1958 cruise, and I suppose this could be one of them. But it could be on almost any of her several voyages into the Arctic. Clearly it is taken in a polynya, but we have little to know idea of where or when, so evidentially its pretty useless.

      From the other photos on the navsource link above, it appears that for the 1958 cruise, Skate had some sort of material attached over its bow (possibly to protect against ice damage?) This is very evident in the 6th and 14th images, which definitely date to 1958. OTOH, for the 1959 cruise photos (between ~12 and 16) a this cover is not present - there are some sort of stripes, but what they are I can't say. I can say that the much-used photo look more like 1959 than 1958.

    5. (cont...)
      However, the claim (seen around the interwebs) that it is at the North Pole in March 1959 is utterly ridiculous. There is an excellent National Geographic article on the 1958 and 1959 cruises here. In winter, while Skate was able to repeatedly find "skylights" of 1-2 feet thick ice, these were narrow leads between much thicker ice. For example, page two of this article shows one such surfacing, 300 miles from the pole through 12 to 18 inch thick ice. But Skate had to submerge to escape being crushed by huge pressure ridges within a few hours - there is a photo taken from in amongst the same pressure ridges on page 11 (NB - pix on page 2 and p 11 are both at Skylight 6; since that ridge is more than 6 feet high, it is presumably several times as deep).

      It was polar night when the Skate surfaced (smashing through a "skylight" on March 17th 1959. They had a brief service and scattered the ashes of Hubert Wilkins (Australian photographic and exploring legend), the service being carried out by the light of a flare. Captain Calver mentions they surfaced in a narrow crack between ridges 10 feet thick. The much-used image is clearly in plain daylight, and is not at the NP in March 1959.

      My best guess - and its just a guess - is that it was taken in a polynya towards the end of their 1959 cruise. But she went back to the Arctic a few times after, so as I say, it could be anywhere, anytime. It's just Skate in a polynya, that's all that can be said.



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