North Pole Melting: Ice Camera 2 Swims as Camera 1 Gets its Feet Wet

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole.

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole. Image sourc: APL

This summer has seen a great number of extraordinary events resulting from human caused climate change. These include massive heat dome high pressure systems setting off record droughts, fires and heat waves, Arctic temperatures rocketing into the 80s and 90s, Europe and Canada suffering some of their worst flooding events in history and a crazy US weather system moving backwards against the prevailing weather pattern for more than 3,000 miles. Add to these record events a substantial melting of ice in the Arctic’s most central regions, and you end up with rather strong proofs that our greenhouse gas emissions have permanently altered the word’s weather.

From late May to early July, a persistent Arctic cylone (PAC 2013) first fractured ice near the North Pole, then consistently widened and melted the gap it created. Now a large triangle of very thin ice extends from the North Pole south and eastward toward the Laptev Sea. The section of meter or less thickness keeps widening even as gaps continue opening in the ice and melt ponds form over many of the remaining flows.

Further north and on toward the western side of the North Pole, two cameras supplied by the Applied Physics Lab and funded through a National Science Foundation grant are performing their own daily recording if this major melt event. The melting, which from the satellite, appears to have turned the sea ice near the North Pole into swiss cheese has had a marked effect on visible surface conditions as well.

Sea Ice swiss cheese

Sea ice swiss chees as seen through the clouds near the North Pole. Image source: NASA/Lance Modis

Of the two ice cameras, #2 so far has seen the most action.  On about July 13th, melt puddles began to form in the region of Camera #2. By earlier this week, the camera was deep in a growing pool of ice melt. By today, the water had deepened further covering all the markers surrounding both the camera and its related sensor buoy. Water now appears to be about 3 feet deep and the pond just keeps growing and growing (you can read more about the saga of Ice Camera #2 here).

But now, Ice Camera #1 appears to be about to suffer the same fate. Over the past couple of days, melt ponds have now also been forming in the vicinity of Camera #1. You can see this new set of melt puddles here:

Puddles North Pole Camera 1

Puddles form near North Pole Camera 1. Image source: APL

Note the melt puddle snaking its way behind the wind vane visible in the camera’s field of view and on toward Camera #1 itself. If conditions at this camera are similar to those near Camera #2, then we can expect Carema #1 to be swimming in about ten days time.

With temperatures remaining above freezing for much of the Central Arctic, melt conditions have tended to dominate. Now, most of the remaining ice is rather weak, with a thickness of about 2 meters or less. And with so much of this thin ice in areas near the North Pole, a possibility exists that much of this region will melt out over the next 6 weeks or so.

As for the Ice Cams? It appears that #1 may soon join #2 in the drink.

How Ice Cam #2 Learned to Swim as the North Pole Melted

Swimming Arctic Ice Cam #2

This was what our hero, APL’s North Pole Ice Camera #2, looked like about two weeks ago. The only open water was a far-off leed barely visible in the upper left hand corner of the image.

Then, about a week ago, melt began to set in on the ice sheet surface near the North Pole. Things started to look bad for North Pole Camera #2 as small puddles of very cold water began to appear.

Melt Puddles North Pole Camera 2

Was there much hope our Camera #2 might stay dry? It was, after all, just July 13th. And there was still more than a month and half of melt season left. What was a North Pole Camera to do?

And as the water continued to advance, the answer became clear: start learning to swim.

North Pole Camera 2 in Melt Pool

In this image, taken on July 18th, we see North Pole Camera #2 just starting to get its feet wet.

North Pole water is quite cold! But not so cold as Arctic ice or wind or snow. These the North Pole Camera was very used to. In fact, it was built to handle such harsh weather. So North Pole Camera #2 had some reason to hope for staying warm if it got wet. But could it stay afloat?

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Then, just one day later, Camera #2 found itself standing alone in the icy water. It was now in the midst of a large melt lake with very little snow cover left. Our Camera #2 now knew what was coming. And it was ready.

North Pole Camera 2 immersed in Melt Lake

A good thing, because North Pole Camera #2 soon found itself with more than 1 foot of melt lake water splashing around its base.

It was a miserable, windy cloudy day and our camera sat alone, tethered to a stake, in a giant, expanding melt lake. It couldn’t help but wonder if soon it would have to face the open ocean. Clouds mounded all around it, and weather reports called for a massive storm. Our North Pole Camera #2 knew that in recent years such Cyclones increasingly broke, cracked and flooded the thinning ice it was sent to observe.

So North Pole Camera #2 waited in its melt lake for the storm that was, even now, forming. Would the North Pole melt entirely and send our camera out into the raging Arctic seas? We wait and watch:

Ice Cam Rainbow


Take a look at this animation of our swimming North Pole Camera provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Ice Blog


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