« Forecast me not | Main | PIOMAS April 2014 »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Greg Wellman

Well, during the winter, sea ice accumulates "from the underside". During melt season it mostly melts from the underside too, but also melts on the surface. Therefore, unlike on land where an object would progressively get buried deeper (in an accumulation zone anyway) I think an object on sea ice would tend to remain on top. Of course there's caveats - if the object is heavier than water, and the ice its on gets into a rafting event, the object could slide into the water (or get pushed in). So the question becomes how long a chunk of ice at the north pole in 1800 could survive intact without getting flushed out the Fram or winding up in a violent rafting event that tosses the object down a crack. Maybe a few cycles around the gyre? A few decades? Or postulate that that particular chunk gets rafted onto some basically immobile ice stuck to Ellesmere ... the object could still be there, although its odds are getting slimmer. One thing's for sure, it won't be anywhere near the north pole anymore. Just north of Ellesmere seems the only reasonable location.

Kevin McKinney

Well, Neven's arrows make sense, as the two principal circulatory components are the Transpolar Drift--basically the straight arrow--and the Beaufort Gyre--the counterclockwise one. That's discussed here:


Interesting 'experiments' (albeit not undertaken all that close to the Pole were the cases of HMS Investigator and HMS Resolute, both of which were frozen into the ice pack.


The former ship was frozen into the pack; the ship's complement were rescued by the latter. McClure's company thereby completed a transit of the Northwest Passage, albeit not aboard their original ship. As the first article notes, the wreck of Investigator was found in 2010.

Resolute herself was trapped in the ice and abandoned. However, she drifted free after several years and was salvaged by an American whaler, bought by Congress, and returned to the British government in a gracious gesture.

(HM government reciprocated by having desks made from the Resolute's timbers when she was finally broken up at the end of her service life; one was given to Rutherford B. Hayes, and has been used by most Presidents since, including President Obama.)

My guess (FWIW) is that the story of Resolute is one of the sources for the apocryphal tale of the Octavius:


The disparate fates of the ships illustrate that objects can be cast up on islands and remain indefinitely, or be set free in just a few years. My guess is that the latter is more common, especially over very long timescales. We know from our observations and discussions here that the Beaufort Gyre is only quasi-permanent; things may make a few circles, but it's no Sargasso Sea.

If something were to be retained for a long time in the Arctic ice, my guess would be that it would probably end up on the north coast of Greenland or Ellesmere Island, where the thickest ice tends to end up.

Otto Lehikoinen

It appears typead has changed its sign-in procedure, got a warning of some security hole.

This part of the question would require some clarification: " there is a plausible time frame that it could remain frozen at the North Pole."

No, there isn't a plausible long time frame (well maybe some months during the winter.), the object would drift with the Beaufort Gyre and possibly reappear in or near the NP after a longer timeframe, if it would withstand the forces involved in the pack-ice formation, be buoyant in sea water, in fact, be slightly more dense than fresh water ice but less dense than first year ice, resisting the corrosion by sea water and possible constant sunlight in summer. some ultra-resistant white stainless steel box with aerogel filling (the object embedded in this) might do this for several cycles of the Beaufort Gyre (though this is just the first guess).

More likely way for an object to survive for long in the Arctic would be, it to get stuck in the land fast ice, on the north coast of Canada archipelago, maybe in front of some glacier, there it would dislodge with the glacier calving event and reappear in the north pole after some period (nowadays half a cycle on Beaufort Gyre takes (I guess) some 2 years. Most of the caveats still apply, if the object (and it's box) are less dense than ice, the winds or waves would grab it and wash it to shore if it's denser than ice it'd end up washing to the bottom of the sea. If it'd be blacker but less dense it'd like still melt it's way through the ice (this is in fact an interesting option).

I'd say it's possible to use this literary device until all the land fast ice has vanished (add a couple years), this is probably some ten years away still. But no, the object in question would not be on top of the ice but (likely) refrozen with the new ice. It still cannot be a large object (4 meters or so) since someone could have noticed it in spy satellite images or when it was embedded in land fast ice

It appears typead has changed its sign-in procedure, got a warning of some security hole.

I received the warning too. It's probably of a temporary nature, but I 'added an exception'.

The answers given echo my answer to the person in question (combined with the image at the top of the post):

Circa 1800 the ice was (very likely) a lot thicker than now, so the ice would definitely not melt out the first summer after the object was left there.

Instead the ice would move (with floes possibly ridging over each other, which used to make the sea ice tens of metres thick in some places). Now, depending on weather circumstances, the ice that the object was on, could move two ways:

Either it would get transported out of Fram Strait, after which it would melt out in the North Atlantic, and the object would sink to the bottom of the sea (unless it were a rubber duck).

Or the Beaufort Gyre would move the ice back towards the North of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, where it would become very thick multi-year ice. The object could then stay there for many years, but not indefinitely. Unless it somehow got stuck on some ice shelves (like these that are in the process of disappearing after thousands of years).


A fact that is not much known in the western world is, that the Russians had temporary weather observation stations on the moving polar ice. They started these activities in the mid 1920´s and abandoned the program as late as in the 1980´s. There is a huge amount of data to get from there. The Russian Polar Research had up to 5 stations simultaneously and there has been seldom a period without observation of the polar weather and ice conditions.
These stations were located on islands of up to 20 m thick ice floating around.
Not any station lasted longer than 10 years until they had to be abandoned due to melting or being flushed out of the arctic.

in the 1980ies i got increasingly difficult to find ice with sufficient thickness to support a manned station for longer than 1 year, so the whole program was abandoned.


I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned The Fram's journey in the transpolar drift yet:


In more recent times the ice seems to have become more mobile as it thins. The yacht Tara sought to repeat the Fram's transpolar journey. She became locked in the Laptev Sea ice in September 2006, and emerged through the Fram Strait in December 2007.


The ice mass balance buoys that started near the North Pole this time last year emerged through the Fram Strait before Christmas:


Another buoy located at the Russian North Pole 40 ice camp started life somewhat further from the Pole, and is still transmitting from the vicinity of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago:


I fear anything left in the ice at the North Pole even a few years ago will be long gone by now.


Vergent Bill


Assuming that 1800's were similar to the 1980's, There would be a 40% chance of the ice under your object lasting 5 years, and perhaps a 20% chance for 10 years. However at current rates, only a 5% chance for 5 years.


Quite so Vergent. Even a buoy theoretically in amongst the thickest ice was flushed unceremoniously out through the Nares Strait last year:


However since were dealing with fiction here rather than fact, it might be helpful to know a bit more about the genre/premise of the nascent novel. How might the mysterious object have arrived at the North Pole in 1800 in the first place? With the aid of a talking polar bear? Or a UFO?

Perhaps the only vaguely scientifically plausible mechanism for it to have survived until 2014 would be for it to somehow have been blown into a quiet corner of a fjord in Northern Ellesmere after one of the periodic openings of "The Big Lead"?


Excuse me!

With all due respect, your suggestions are highly misleading our young novellist.

The most likely course for an object left on the North Pole around AD 1800 would be the following:

Two trips around the Arctic Ocean with the sea ice in the Beaufort Gyre – roughly 5 years in total (+/- a couple of years).
Exit one autumn day through the Fram Strait with the MYI also known locally as “Storis”.

Drifting south along East Greenland for half a year and then drifting north on the west coast of Greenland for another six months – 1 year in total.

Ice floe may eventually end up in the Disko Bay area, where it is:

1) either eaten by a whale for breakfast (highly unlikely), or it may
2) be washed up on top of an iceberg from the Jakobshavn glacier following a major calving event

Sitting on top of the giant Iceberg, it will slowly cross the Baffin Bay and start its journey southwards along the east coast of Canada.

2-3 years later it will appear off New Foundland on top of a piece of black ice. In the dense fog during the summer night, it will not be noticed by a Basque cod fisherman and the object will be caught up in the wooden wreckage of his boat. This driftwood will then be taken across the Atlantic ocean by winds and currents, eventually reaching the Barents Sea a couple of years later. The object will be frozen into the pack ice north of Svalbard and slowly drift towards the North Pole. So the object will most likely be back at the North Pole some 12 years after it had started its journey…

After doing 18 rounds like this since AD 1800, the object is most likely on its way to melt out just north of Novaja Zemlja later this summer, where it will be washed ashore as a symbol of the recklessness of leaving unidentified objects on the North Pole ;o)


>"The ice mass balance buoys that started near the North Pole this time last year emerged through the Fram Strait before Christmas:"

Yes but the Beaufort Gyre used to be stronger than it has been recently.

One or two trips round the gyre seems possible at up to about 8 years per loop, but probably wouldn't remain frozen either coming to top and melting in summer or sinking to sea bed.

Getting stuck somehow in landfast shelf seems extremely unlikely but would allow a 200 year timescale.

Stuck in a 20m ridge that tends not to move much is also unlikely but much more plausible than in a landfast shelf. I would imagine two or three decades might be possible before being dropped to sea floor or melted at surface during summer on a trip around the gyre.

Polar bears can be inquisitive. Taking an object back to a den on land does not seem possible to me, but a transfer from a ridge near a landfast ice shelf to that ice shelf in autumn so it is then buried in snow and remains frozen might just be within realms of possibility. There have been a few videos posted of polar bears being inquisitive with remote control video cameras.


P-maker "The object will be frozen into the pack ice north of Svalbard and slowly drift towards the North Pole."

Huh? From north of Svalbard or anywhere along Atlantic edge of ice pack which is likely south of Svalbard it is only heading one way with the Transpolar Drift towards the Fram Strait.

Anyway as I mentioned above, Beafort Gyre has weakened recently so gyre was more likely to take object from north pole area towards Ellesmere.

1) either eaten by a whale for breakfast (highly unlikely)

I agree that this is unlikely, but lunch or dinner is distinctly possible.


Maybe the Inuit found it, just like their prophet announced. And according to prophecy the object must be returned to the God of the Pole exactly 215 years later (Maya calculation).

Kevin McKinney

Gentlepersons, I think we are losing the high seriousness demanded of acolytes of literary art! ;-)

However, in our collective defense, I think the discussion is making it abundantly clear that the nature of the 'object' in question is pretty crucial to its fate.


Trick question!

As the North Pole is in all 24 timezones simultaneously, it is impossible to say it was put down at 1800. In the adjacent timezone, it would be simultaneously 1900, and so on round the compass.

It is worth noting that nobody claims to have set foot on the North Pole until 1907...


I know of three bloggers who occasionally write about the history of the Arctic;

1. Patrick LOckerby is excellent...


2. 'climatereason' or 'tony b' has read an awful lot of archived material, which he then desperately scours for the extremely scant and unconvincing evidence that the recent melt has happened before. You'd have to search WUWT.

3. The third is insane.

Neven, your 'certificate' whatever that is, from Typepad, ran from 1/4/2012 to 5/4/2014.


If the novel writer is looking for more learned comment Maslanik et al 2007 includes

"The area where at least half of the ice fraction in March consists of ice that is at least 5 years old has decreased by 56%, from 5.83 * 10^6 km2 in 1985 to a minimum of 2.56 * 10^6 km2 in 2007. Most of the perennial pack now consists of ice that is 2 or 3 years old (58% in March 2006 vs. a minimum of 35% in March 1987). The fraction of 5+ year old ice within the MYI decreased from 31% in 1988 to 10% in 2007. Older ice types have essentially disappeared, decreasing from 21% of the ice cover in 1988 to 5% in 2007 for ice 7+ years old. The greatest change in age distribution occurred within the central Arctic Basin. In this area (region 1, Figure 1), 57% of the ice pack was 5 or more years old in 1987, with 25% of this ice at least 9 years old. By 2007 however, the coverage of ice 5+ years old decreased to 7%, and no very old ice (9 + years old) has survived. From 2004 onward, and in particular in 2006 and 2007, the remaining oldest ice has been confined to a small portion of the Arctic (regions 6 – 8); essentially a relict of the perennial ice cover of 20 years ago."

George Phillies

The hard part is the 'gets there in the year 1800', with 2 points for creativity to the 1800 hours interpretation. Without knowing the type of novel, one notes as transport methods 'dedicated traveller, plans trip as one way to deliver box, return certainly not', Frankenstein, witch with broomstick. I believe period hydrogen balloons were not up to free ballooning trips of that length, even assuming freakish winds. However, given that the author has a solution,with extreme luck the object might make a few cycles through the ice and appear in -- your mileage may vary -- 1830.


In stead of going through Arctic round trips and chance calculations, you can also turn it around and ask (I'd like an answer to that question too)
"how old is the oldest piece of floating ice in the arctic".

If the object just happened to be next to that piece of ice we have the answer.

Chris Reynolds

Sorry, as already pointed out, something left at the pole wouldn't stay there.

Prior to the opening of large amounts of open water in Beaufort/Chukchi leading to a breakdown of ice circulation around the Beaufort Gyre typical transit times around the Gyre were 4 to 5 years, add another year for movement to the north of Greenland, that's six years. For the 200 years from 1880 to 2000 that's 33 loops with the object excaping being ejected through the Fram Strait.

The best bet for something being found on the pole in recent years that had been deposited in the wider Arctic region would be a floating object down a siberian river, or an object trapped in surface permafrost on the Alaskan/Siberian coast being released with permafrost melt and wave erosion. Or an object on a glacier or land fast ice off the Arctic coast of the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, or Northern Greenland.

Indeed with regards permafrost, you could imagine something bouyant left in the stone age being discovered over a recent winter in the N Pole camp.

The mechanism is rather determined by what is to be found at the pole.

Chris Reynolds


I need to re-read that paper.

"From 2004 onward, and in particular in 2006 and 2007, the remaining oldest ice has been confined to a small portion of the Arctic (regions 6 – 8); essentially a relict of the perennial ice cover of 20 years ago."

That throws interesting light on the continuing decline of volume in the Central region over recent years.

George Phillies

The film The Deadly Mantis used encapsulation in a glacier that finally calved. The plot assumed that there has been continuous ice in the Arctic for the last 60 million years. Minor technical issues with the laws of aerodynamics might also be queried. The center of Greenland two miles up, was in the year 1800 challenging to reach, and might have been viewed as a good choice for hiding that which man was not meant to know.


RE folke_kelm | April 07, 2014 at 08:43

The Russians continued to operate research bases on floating ice since 2003 until last year (SP-40). However they have been having difficulty finding ice floes thick enough to support the bases. Last year's had to be abandoned in May.


This year they have decided to stop installing such bases:

"Head of the Russian Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Agency Aleksander Frolov says to RIA Novosti. “The last floating stations have been placed far from the Russian sector of the Arctic, almost in the Canadian sector. At our side there is practically no ice.”"


Is this object the size of a coin, a suitcase or a boxcar?
A small object might be mistaken as a tasty tidbit by a polar bear or could get entangled in a seal's fur and hence transported to a safe haven on one of Ellesmere's ice shelves until possibly early this century. If it's acceptable to have the piece reappear at that time as opposed to 2014 some of the problems are mitigated.
The larger the object is the more difficult explaining it's survival becomes. Pieces of the Ayles Shelf are still being tracked so once we've moved our object from the pole to the shelf it could conceivably be carried back close to the pole by the gyre.


Lord Soth

If it was a lead cell battery, it definitely would end up in a polar bears stomach. They must love then tangy flavor :)


>"I thought it'd be a nice way to pass our time while we wait for the latest PIOMAS update."

Which is now out 31 March 14 value 22.609 just below 2011 minimum maximum of 22.677, is second lowest for 31 March 14.


Saw that too Crandles. The trendline just dipped under '12 and '13 and now bends down to join '11. It's going to be very interesting. Hope Neven gets a new post out on this and the max!


Before we get into the news about the PIOMAS update, I'd like to throw in my thoughts about the idea for the novel.

When I read the concept for an object placed in the Polar ice, I had a 50+ year flashback to a movie we were shown in the 4th Grade. At that time my family was living in Duluth, Minnesota and the St. Lawrence Seaway had just been opened for international shipping. Yes, that belies my age.

The movie started with a small child placing a small toy sailboat into a river which entered into Lake Superior, somewhere along the North Shore. The movie continued with brief vignettes of the little sailboat, bobbing down the river, floating in the Great Lakes, going through the many locks between the lakes and then bobbing along the St. Lawrence river until reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

For the novel to have meaning, the object placed in the ice must have it's own character that compels the reader to follow the journey and learn upon the way.

Just my thoughts.


I decided to de-lurk for this thread.

Hi everybody.

@ i dunno - thanks for the 'mention in dispatches'.

1800 - anyone reaching the pole would have achieved an incredible 1st.

A rival of Abraham Hopman builds a balloon which carries him to the north pole. Unfortunately he crashes there and he and the wicker basket with sand ballast and anchor inside are held to the ice by light snowfall.

After some 15 years drifting around the Beaufort Gyre - about 3 circuits in those days, the floe with embedded remains enters the channels of the Canadian Archipelago.

William Parry finds some scraps of cloth in Prince Regent Inlet which he fails to recognize as balloon fabric. He writes them up in his log as 'scraps of tent fabric, possibly wind-blown from an unknown explorer's camp'.

Pushed onto 'permanent' shore ice by ice-shove the ice floe gradually becomes part of the land ice. Due to the floe lying above an under-ice basin the heavy basket gradually sinks through the ice.

The remains are finally disclosed by the effects of global warming in the year ???

If our intrepid explorer left a message in a bottle, it probably did not read: "STENDEC".


I forgot to mention - Abraham Hopman was a pioneer balloonist.


the author is writing fiction. why complicate matters by being to rigid in sticking with the facts. since he wants events to have taken place before there is a record of anyone being at the pole it is all poetic licence anyway.

John Christensen

Need to agree with philiponfire - and my vote goes for P-makers excellent account of somewhat possible events..

Greg Wellman

Old Leatherneck, are you sure it was a toy *sailboat*?



I received an answer from the author:


You guys are awesome. That is an incredible amount of information.

I even got some great ideas on how my object gets found. My original thought was that it was frozen in the ice and revealed when a ridge pushed up and it was visible in the face of the ridge. This sent me down a long path of who was there to witness this event, what they were doing up there and how they excavated the object.

So my object (sorry for being vague you’ll just have to wait for the book or movie to know what it is) could be left up there, covered in snow for a few years, find its way locked in land based ice in northern Canada and then break free and be spotted by a fisherman.

Works for me, literary license and all.

Please thank everyone for me.


I feel sure I speak for all concerned when I say "You are most welcome"!

P.S. Any chance of an ASIB/ASIF review copy of said literary/cinematic work in due course?

Kevin McKinney

Yes, Old Leatherneck suffered a slight 'memory morph' over the decades. Happens to all of us. But I appreciate the flashback. *Loved* that book--even wrote a (lengthy) poem inspired by it a few years back.

Note that the wiki article Greg linked to affords access to the 1969 National Film Board of Canada short by none other than the late, great Bill Mason.

Oh, heck, why not?


Susan Anderson

Thanks for the lovely "Paddle" video, and much else. Now back to lurking, but great work and thanks.

Axel Schweiger

If someone wants to take the time and figure out a (probabilistic) answer, 13-years of buoys placed at the North Pole are here.
http://psc.apl.washington.edu/northpole/Buoys.html. The recirculating branch that Neven has in in his figure doesn't seem to be very likely if something is placed at the North Pole exactly.

I've seen a figure once that computed average residence times for different zones in the Arctic but I can't find it right now, above should give enough of an answer.


The recirculating branch that Neven has in in his figure doesn't seem to be very likely if something is placed at the North Pole exactly.

You're right, Axel, but keep in mind that the first decade of 1800 saw some very strange winters, with a couple of very strong cyclones stationed just above Iceland, pushing all the ice towards the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. I believe Norwegian Fishermen call this period the 'Ikke is in Fram, myket fisk'-period.

I can prove this, as soon as I find the satellite data that's buried somewhere in my 25 TB hard disk raid array.

Ah, yes, literary licence, 'tis a lovely thing. ;-)

Artful Dodger
It appears typepad has changed its sign-in procedure, got a warning of some security hole.

No, Typepad has updated their Open-SSL package, to squash the "Heartbleed" bug.

So, it's time to change your Typepad password, and any other service where you've used the same username / pwd combination as you use here.


Artful Dodger

To our 1st-time Arctic Author:

The first surface ship approached the North pole during the Fram Expedition of 1893-96. Norwegian explorer (Viking?!) Fridtjof Nansen deliberately froze his ship, the Fram, into the pack ice on the Siberian side, with the intention of using the Transpolar Drift Stream to cross the North pole.

After 18 months of slow progress, Nansen left the ship by dogteam and made for the pole. He reached 86°13.6′N before a long retreat over ice and water to Franz Josef Land.

Meanwhile the Fram continued to drift westward, finally emerging in the North Atlantic Ocean. In Feb 1896, the New York Times ran a story claiming that Nansen had reached the pole and found land there. Perhaps there is something to work on there.

Click this image for more:

Best of luck with your research!


Artful Dodger

As an aside to the topic of the Transpolar Drift Stream, the Beaufort Gyre is known to complete one revolution in approx. 3-7 years, depending on the distance from the center of rotation.

I have a geologist friend who tells a 2nd-hand story of researchers stationed at the US Navy Arctic Research Lab in Barrow, AK during WW2.

The story goes that they abandoned a vehicle on the ice during a particularly bad bout of weather, and when it cleared the vehicle was gone. But that's not the end of the story.

After having to explain how they lost the vehicle, and going through the trouble of getting a replacement in Northern Alaska, two years later the vehicle came back! Still sitting on the ice as if it had never moved.

Now personally, I think the story is apocryphal (as are many stories of life in the North), but it sure makes for a great story about the Beaufort Gyre! :^)


John Christensen

Great to see that the writer is looking for advice from an 'expert community' for the upcoming fiction piece.

One time this clearly did not happen, was when the significant Hollywood production G.I. Joe - Rice of the Cobra missed the point that ice floats..

What makes this scary, is that someone asked if it could be true that ice would sink when the pack is blown to pieces, and the highest rated answer is that ice floats on salt water, but sinks in fresh water.. ;-)


You cannot make this up..

Nick Naylor

One possibility is that the object (or something containing it) was "adopted" as a religious or sentimental object by a generation of polar bears, who protected it and passed it on to their descendents until recently discovered by an inconsiderate scientist or Exxon geologist.

The comments to this entry are closed.