September 4, 2013

The Northwest Passage in 2013

The two Arctic voyages we've been following closely this summer have both come to a premature conclusion. Discussions about that have spawned a debate about how much ice there actually is in the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago this year, and whether the passage is or will be navigable this year without the assistance of an icebreaker. The main route through the Parry Channel and McClure Strait certainly looks as though it will remain impassable, but what of the southern route? A few days ago I found myself engaged in a heated discussion on Facebook (now sadly consigned to the great memory hole in the sky) with someone who insisted there was lots of ice in Dease Strait because RadarSat showed it to be there! To start with today, here's how the AMSR2 sensor sees things from space at the moment, courtesy of the University of Hamburg:

Sea ice concentration in the Northwest Passage on September 4th 2013

Sea ice concentration in the Northwest Passage on September 4th 2013, according to AMSR2

The reality is that Dease Strait is still ice free. The rowers of the Arctic Joule heading from west to east made it past the sea ice at Cape Bathurst unaided. Having  subsequently made it through Dease Strait without noticing lots of ice they have now decided to finish their journey in the safe haven of Cambridge Bay without continuing on to brave the tricky currents of Bellot Strait. Moving on to vessels equipped with sails and engines, travelling from east to west the catamaran Libellule and the steel hulled Traversay III made it through some ice at the western entrance to Bellot Strait a few days ago, albeit with a modicum of assistance from the CCGS Henry Larsen. Both have now made it unaided past Cape Bathurst travelling west, and safely reached Tuktoyaktuk.

Will anyone cover the entire Northwest Passage unaided this year? Well, there is at least one candidate still. David Scott Cowper in Polar Bound does have considerable experience in these matters. Last year he succeeded in navigating Polar Bound through McClure Strait!  This year he negotiated Cape Bathurst travelling west to east on August 25th, accompanied by Jane Maufe rather than solo:

Recent track of Polar Bound on August 25th 2013

Recent track of Polar Bound on August 25th 2013

and has now passed through Bellot Strait:

Recent track of Polar Bound on September 4th 2013

Recent track of Polar Bound on September 4th 2013

At this juncture, however, it is still unclear whether David received any direct or indirect assistance from an icebreaker. It seems that the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in the vicinity at the time, assisting a party of jet skiers! The next obvious question is where will David head next? We last took a close look at ice conditions in the area on September 1st when the route north looked to be impassable. Here is how the Canadian Ice Service forecast for the Resolute area of the Northwest Passage looks today:

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 4th 2013

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 4th 2013

If David, Jane and Polar Bound can thread their way through the stretch of 2/10 concentration ice to the west of Baffin Island there seems to be every chance of a successful conclusion to another epic journey.

Getting back to Arctic adventurers without sails or engines, the kayakers of Rêve de Glace have pressed on eastwards past Cambridge Bay, and are currently approaching Perry Island:

GPS position report for Rêve de Glace on September 4th 2013

GPS position report for Rêve de Glace on September 4th 2013

and Charles Hedrich is currently rowing west to east, and towards the ice around Cape Bathurst, which you will note is invisible in the satellite image at the start of this article:

Charles Hedrich's position and ice forecast on September 4th 2013

Charles Hedrich's position and ice forecast on September 4th 2013

What with one thing and another there's still plenty of interesting things to watch out for as the 2013 Arctic sea ice melting season draws to its ultimate conclusion!

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Admiral Makarov Meets Babouchka in the Central Arctic

As we reported two days ago, the Russian diesel-electric icebreaker Admiral Makarov was heading north across the Central Arctic Basin to rescue Sébastian Roubinet and Vincent Berthet, the crew of the catamaran Babouchka, who said that they had been surprised by "a sudden change in conditions". That sudden change was captured from space by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2 for short) aboard the Japanese SHIZUKU satellite. Here's an animation built from high resolution images derived from AMSR2 data, and provided by the University of Hamburg. It covers the period from August 21st to August 31st:

Animation of Arctic sea ice concentration at the end of August 2013

Animation of Arctic sea ice concentration at the end of August 2013

The last position reported by the GPS aboard Babouchka was from 82.186 N, 171.1318333 W at 17:43 French time yesterday, which is above and to the left of the grey disc around the North Pole, between the 75 N and 85 N circles of latitude. As you can see from the animation, the concentration of sea ice over a vast area around Babouchka changed dramatically over that 10 day period.  Firstly there was a sudden decrease in sea ice concentration, followed by an almost equally rapid increase.

This morning according to Sébastien Roubinet's web site (and translated from the original French)

This morning at 3:30 local time, we noticed a speck on the horizon, it was the Admiral Makarov. Time to finish putting everything away, and then it is moored to our ice sheet. The crew give  us a sign then approach us, we leave with the feeling we are abandoning our teammate Babouchka.

With the crane, they lower a cage for us to embark on board. Vincent goes first, I joined him and then we were told: "we will embark Babouchka". Fifteen minutes later, all three of us are on board, and we are heading south at 14 knots through ice.

The crew welcomes us with a smile, showing us to our cabin and insisting that we should not hesitate to take a shower! After the shower, breakfast (a large block of brawn with lots of garlic and a bit of tea). Then we were shown around the boat. As an economy measure, we are using only three engines (out of the 9 available) which is enough to allow us to break floes over two meters thick at 12 knots. It knocks and vibrates but it goes fast. We should arrive at Pevek in 2/3 days.

Another big thank you to the crew of the Admiral Makarov, the CROSS Gri-Nez, MRSC Pevek and all those who made this rescue possible in an almost inaccessible corner of the world.

Here's a picture of Babouchka finishing this year's "Quest Through The Pole" by covering the last few metres towards the Admiral Makarov:

Do you suppose it will be third time lucky for Séb Roubinet in 2014?

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September 1, 2013

Arctic Voyages 2013 – Update 2

Over the last few days both the Arctic expeditions we've been following since the beginning of July announced that they were abandoning their voyages before reaching their planned destinations. Although it doesn't seem to have been published on their web site yet,  Séb Roubinet and Vincent Berthet on Babouchka have just abandoned their "Quest Through The Pole". According to their "La voie du pôle" Facebook page (and translated from the original French):

We.. analyzed the ice charts and weather forecast for the next week and we had to face the facts … For two or three days,  ice has been reforming on the way to the pole and Spitzbergen and negative temperatures are forecast for the next 8 days. The trap closes earlier than expected …

The phenomenon we expected 15 days later adds to the unusual and adverse conditions we have encountered since the beginning of the expedition (adverse winds and drifting). After lengthy discussions, we felt it was becoming too dangerous to venture further north. It is vital to try to reach the nearest land.  The sudden change in conditions has surprised us, and the decision was therefore very difficult to take. Currently we are only a hundred miles from the north pole of inaccessibility, the center of the Arctic Ocean, the furthest point from any land, and our adventure is not over…

This morning, Sébastian and Vincent have triggered their distress beacon.

To give you some idea of the ice conditions that Babouchka is enmeshed in, here's a screenshot from Google Earth in which Babouchka's recent GPS position reports are overlayed on a satellite image of the Arctic sea ice on August 30th:

Babouchka GPS positions from August 26th to September 1st 2013

Babouchka GPS positions from August 26th to September 1st 2013

As you can see August 25th was a very good day for Babouchka, but she has made very little progress since then. According to Séb's report from August 29th:

A lot has happened over the last 2 days. First we passed 82°N, after a 19 hour day and much effort. Then we were forced to stop for 30 hours waiting for some strong winds to subside, which allowed us to rest properly. The next day began with temperatures of minus 20 degrees and a large floe to cross to warm us up.

Once we reached water again we had to shoot through dozens of gaps between the ice floes, until finally we arrived in an area where the snow had formed a surface like molasses. Then to move forward, we had to crush the molasses with our feet while rowing, all with a boat not strong enough to push through by force. So last night at midnight we had no strength for anything, and we collapsed.

Here's the picture that accompanied that report:

The Babouchka making slow progress through "crushed molasses"

The Babouchka making slow progress through "crushed molasses"

A couple of days earlier the Mainstream Last First team on the Arctic Joule described their decision this way on their web site:

We row into Cambridge Bay, Nunavut this afternoon – August 28th, 2013 to officially conclude the Mainstream Last First expedition. The snow squalls that dogged us earlier in the day have lifted and blue sky and sun greet us as we end our journey. It feels like a fitting end.

Over the past 54 days we traversed more than 1500-kms of the Northwest Passage from Inuvik, NWT to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and come away humbled and awed by the experience. We had hoped to make it to Pond Inlet, Nunavut by early September but this has proven impossible. Severe weather conditions hindered our early progress and now ice chokes the passage ahead.

According to the Arctic Joule's ice router, Victor:

Residents of Resolute say 20 years have not seen anything like. Its, ice, ice and more ice. Larsen, Peel, Bellot, Regent and Barrow Strait are all choked. That is the only route to East. Already West Lancaster received -2C temperature expecting -7C on Tuesday with the snow.

Here's the current Canadian Ice Service forecast for the Resolute area of the Northwest Passage, with the Arctic Joule's original destination, Pond Inlet, over on the extreme right:

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 1st 2013

Canadian Ice Service forecast for the approaches to Resolute on September 1st 2013

The Mainstream Last First adventure has finished with a warm welcome in Cambridge Bay, slightly over half the way to Pond Inlet from their starting point in Inuvik.  Séb and Vincent's adventure still continues, and we wish them a safe and speedy return to civilisation too.

[Update - September 4th]

The crew of the Arctic Joule have now flown back to Vancouver. Here they are interviewed by CBC:

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August 29, 2013

South Brent Community Wind Turbine Installed At Last

Following the unexpected delay that we reported on back in July, the South Brent Community Energy Society's Vestas V27 wind turbine has now been delivered and installed. Here's how it looks at the moment:

As you can see, the mechanical hardware is all now in place. This week the electrical side of things is being installed, and assuming that acceptance testing goes according to plan some additional renewable energy should start flowing into the South Devon electricity grid next week.

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August 9, 2013

The Pros and Cons of South West Solar Farming

Generalising some points initially raised in another conversation, what are the advantages and disadvantages of large scale solar photovoltaic installations on farms in South West England? According to the planning application submitted earlier this month by the developer of one such site the advantages are:

This solar development will have a generation capacity of approximately 5.73 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power 1790 typical homes, and save approximately 3 million kg in CO2 emissions per annum – the equivalent of removing 670 standard cars from the road each year.

The  developer doesn't mention the disadvantages of course, so I'll start that ball rolling. According to the same planning application:

The application area is 13.34ha in size being formed of two adjacent fields…. The site is classified as Agricultural Land Grade 2.

Starting with planning issues, it seems everybody one asks these days, from the NFU to the Solar Trade Association to the minister at DECC agrees this sort of thing is a bad idea, although they're not always very clear about why that is. Here's my perspective. The UK currently imports nearly 40% of the food we consume. Particularly with climate change now affecting food production both locally and globally, why should the citizens of the UK pay over the odds to turn some of the limited supply of land capable of growing their daily bread over to energy production? In fact why not save money by reducing the nation's energy consumption instead?

Moving on to technical issues, it seems some solar developers don't even understand the difference between a MW and a MWh! Do you suppose that they understand that large parts of the electricity distribution grid in South West England are already incapable of absorbing any more renewable electricity generation due to "over voltage" and/or "thermal overload" constraints?

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August 5, 2013

Lightsource Make Second Application for Bowhay Farm Solar Park

Earlier this year Lightsource Renewable Energy withdrew their application to construct a  54 acre, 10.7 MW solar photovoltaic park at Bowhay Farm between Dunchideock and Ide in Devon. However they have now applied for permission to construct a somewhat smaller scheme on the same site. According to the design and access statement that has just appeared on the Teignbridge District Council web site :

The application area is 13.34ha in size being formed of two adjacent fields. It is proposed to install solar modules covering approximately 4.18ha. The reason the proposed solar panels and associated infrastructure will cover only 31.3% of the site is that sufficient gaps must be provided between the rows of panels, to avoid one row shading another, and sufficient setbacks need to be provided from boundary vegetation, particularly on the southern boundary to avoid shading. The design of the proposed Layout Plan has been prepared to maximise energy production within the available area of land, taking into account the site specific constraints.

The purpose of the development is to convert daylight into electricity. This solar development will have a generation capacity of approximately 5.73 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power 1790 typical homes, and save approximately 3 million kg in CO2 emissions per annum – the equivalent of removing 670 standard cars from the road each year.

This application is a reduced proposal to that originally submitted in October 2012 (subsequently withdrawn January 2013). Key changes include a reduced size (10.7MW to 5.7MW, a reduction of three fields to two) and a reduction in the height of the panels from 2.4m above ground to 1.54m above ground.

More on Lightsource Make Second Application for Bowhay Farm Solar Park

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July 27, 2013

Arctic Voyages 2013 – Update 1

Although their "Trip Tracker" doesn't reflect this as yet, the Mainstream Last First expedition have just reported on their Facebook page that the Arctic Joule is currently:

Beached at Dew Line Station under the Arctic eagle's watch

at Cape Parry. They've also posted a picture of themselves rowing in the Arctic twilight:

Paul Gleeson and Denis Barnett rowing through the Arctic twilight

Paul Gleeson and Denis Barnett rowing through the Arctic twilight

The satellites' view of their location is currently hidden by clouds, but here's the Canadian Ice Service's view of the sea ice in their vicinity:

The state of the Amundsen Gulf sea ice forecast on July 26th 2013

The state of the Amundsen Gulf sea ice on July 26th 2013

Although the water immediately in front of them currently contains little ice, slightly further ahead their way is blocked by 90% concentration ice over 1.2 metres thick. As the map shows, the recent cyclone in the Arctic is still generating westerly winds which are causing the sea ice near the Arctic Joule to drift in an easterly direction at around 8 nautical miles per day. It looks like the route will be blocked for a while yet.

Meanwhile Séb and Vincent report from Babouchka that:

We are fast approaching the 75th parallel, the symbolic marking of the beginning of a more favourable terrain, where the waterways will be much rarer. Already the ice sheets do not have the same look, while they were brown and battered to the south, they are now mostly very white and rather thin. Finally we've got a bit of sun that has allowed us to dry our clothes and sleeping bags!

Here's the course they have steered thus far, over a total of nearly 1,000 km:

Babouchka's progress by July 27th 2013

Babouchka's progress by July 27th 2013, with north at the top.

The glimpse of sun they mentioned means the satellites can just about make out the Chukchi Sea from space, through some hazy clouds. Here's what Terra can see, courtesy of Arctic.io:

The Chukchi Sea on July 27th 2013

The Chukchi Sea on July 27th 2013, with north at the bottom!

The Babouchka is roughly in the middle of that picture on the edge of the main pack of sea ice, which is currently looking rather battered in the wake of the cyclone.  Babouchka is designed to travel over ice, unlike the Arctic Joule, but it looks as though the ride will be bumpy for quite some time to come.

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July 24, 2013

Tropical Storm Dorian is Born Near Africa

After commenting on the "quiet start" to the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season only a few days ago, I can now report that things are warming up off the west coast of North Africa. The first two tropical storms of the Atlantic season were born over in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The third started in the central Atlantic. The fourth is called Dorian, and earlier this morning the National Hurricane Centre announced that the:

FOURTH NAMED STORM OF THE 2013 SEASON FORMS… SATELLITE IMAGERY AND DATA INDICATE THAT THE TROPICAL DEPRESSION IN THE EASTERN TROPICAL ATLANTIC HAS STRENGTHENED THIS MORNING.

AT 1100 AM EDT…1500 UTC…THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM DORIAN WAS LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 14.3 NORTH…LONGITUDE 29.9 WEST. DORIAN IS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST NEAR 21 MPH…33 KM/H…AND THIS GENERAL MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 50 MPH…85 KM/H…WITH HIGHER GUSTS. SOME SLIGHT STRENGTHENING IS POSSIBLE TODAY…FOLLOWED BY GRADUAL WEAKENING ON THURSDAY AS DORIAN MOVES OVER COOLER WATER.

TROPICAL-STORM-FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 45 MILES…75 KM FROM THE CENTER. THE ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 1002 MB…29.59 INCHES.

Here's Dorian's projected path over the next 5 days:

NHC forecast track for Tropical Storm Dorian at 11:00 EDT on Wednesday July 24, 2013

NHC forecast track for Tropical Storm Dorian at 11:00 EDT on Wednesday July 24, 2013

Currently the NHC advise that:

HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
———————-
NONE.

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July 23, 2013

The Approaching Storm in the Beaufort Sea

We've been following the approaching cyclone in the Arctic for a few days, and this morning the predictions are starting to come true. Out of all the various forecasting models we've looked at so far only ECMWF offers a "nowcast". That's the model's idea of what's happening in real time in the real world, and here's how it looked over the Arctic first thing this morning, as visualised by the Danish Meteorological Institute:

The Danish Meteorological Institute's surface pressure chart for July 23rd 2013

The Danish Meteorological Institute's surface pressure chart for July 23rd 2013

Apart from being zoomed in on the Arctic the isobars don't look too different to yesterday's ECMWF forecast for this morning, available from the MeteoCiel archives:

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 23rd 2013 from the July 22nd model run

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 23rd 2013 from the July 22nd model run

That should give us some confidence that the ECMWF model's prediction for midnight tonight GMT will come to pass:

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 23rd model run

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 23rd model run

What is likely to be of most concern to the members of the two teams currently in small boats in the Arctic is, however, the wind speeds near the surface rather than the atmospheric pressure, and the effect those winds have on the ice. That information is a bit harder to come by. Obviously if you want to model what's going to happen to sea ice in the Arctic you need to model what's going to happen to the atmosphere just above the ice. The US Navy's NAVGEM model does just that, but the output is a bit hard to read when the isobars get packed closely together as they're predicted to do over the next 24 hours or so. However as luck would have it the ECMWF recently received a presentation on yet another forecasting model, called Polar WRF. This model has been specially designed to work better in the polar regions than more general purpose atmospheric models, and here is its forecast for midnight tonight:

Polar WRF SLP/Wind forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 22nd model run

Polar WRF SLP/Wind forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 22nd model run

It's still rather hard to read, but hopefully if you click on the image above you will just about be able to make out all the little arrows with 2 or 3 "barbs" clustering around the cyclone which has a predicted central pressure of 979 millibars.

After all these assorted predictions you may well be wondering exactly what's happening at sea (or ice) level in the Beaufort Sea. As more luck would have it the webcam we showed you a couple of days ago is mounted on the same floating buoy as a weather station, which reports that the pressure is indeed dropping whilst the wind is rising:

O-Buoy 8 reports on the weather in the Beaufort Sea on July 23rd 2013

O-Buoy 8 reports on the weather in the Beaufort Sea on July 23rd 2013

The waters of the Beaufort Sea are starting to look slightly agitated:

Image of the Beaufort Sea from O-Buoy 8 on the morning of July 23rd 2013

Image of the Beaufort Sea from O-Buoy 8 on the morning of July 23rd 2013

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July 21, 2013

A Storm is Brewing in the Arctic

Here at econnexus.org we're used to tracking hurricanes, but so far there's been a fairly quiet start to the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. The strongest tropical storm so far has been Andrea, whose winds reached a maximum speed of 65 mph (100 km/h) around a minimum central pressure of 992 mbar. The National Hurricane Centre currently reports "No tropical cyclones at this time" for both the Eastern Pacific and the North Atlantic. Despite that an "extra-tropical" cyclone looks like it's on its way next week, far to the north of both those oceans.

Last Friday I was perusing some weather maps of the Arctic, trying to work out when there might be any change in the persistent northeasterly winds that have been hindering the progress of The Arctic Joule as its crew of four attempt to row through the Northwest Passage from west to east. I found myself looking at this surface level pressure chart on German weather site WetterZentrale:

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from July 19th model run

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 19th model run

If you click on the image then look closely at the centre of the green area you can just make out in amongst the tightly packed isobars of a large cyclone a predicted central pressure of less than 980 mbar, which is a lot lower than Andrea managed to achieve earlier this year. That certainly looks like it will put some strong winds behind the Arctic Joule next week, and promises even stronger winds for the crew of the other Arctic expedition we are following at the moment – Séb Roubinet and Vincent Berthet who are attempting to sail their catamaran Babouchka over both sea and ice right across the Arctic Ocean. To find a wind forecast I switched to French weather site MeteoCiel which seemed entirely appropriate in the circumstances. There I found this forecast:

ECMWF Northern hemisphere wind forecast for July 24th 2013, based on the July  19th model run

ECMWF Northern hemisphere wind forecast for July 24th 2013, based on the July 19th model run

That shows a maximum wind speed of over 90 km/h, although thankfully that's over the northern Beaufort Sea rather than Babouchka's current location in the southern Chukchi Sea.

Regular readers will recall that during Hurricane Sandy last year the American GFS forecast model was predicting a very different track for Sandy than the European ECMWF model, so today I've been comparing forecasts for the Arctic once again. This time it seems the various models are all in agreement that this Arctic cyclone will happen, although the fine details are slightly different. Here are three of today's forecasts for next Wednesday, once again courtesy of MeteoCiel:

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

ECMWF SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

GFS SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

GFS SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

NASA GOES 5 SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

NASA GOES 5 SLP forecast for July 24th 2013 from the July 21st model run

One big question now is exactly how strong will the winds be that will soon be buffeting both teams of intrepid explorers currently afloat in different places in the path of the cyclone?

Another big question is exactly how the forthcoming storm will affect the increasingly fragile sea ice in and around the Beaufort Sea. Here's a "before" picture, courtesy of The Cryosphere Today:

Cryosphere Today Arctic sea ice concentration map for July 21st 2013

Cryosphere Today Arctic sea ice concentration map for July 21st 2013

During and after will follow over the next few days. Whilst we wait to see what actually transpires, here's the US Navy's forecast for ice speed and drift for July 27th:

US Navy ACNFS Arctic sea ice speed and drift forecast for July 27th 2013

US Navy ACNFS Arctic sea ice speed and drift forecast for July 27th 2013

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