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Nares Strait Ice Arches

January 12, 2021

By Paul Homewood


Jonathan Amos hypes the latest “science”:



Look down on the Arctic from space and you can see some beautiful arch-like structures sculpted out of sea-ice.

They form in a narrow channel called Nares Strait, which divides the Canadian archipelago from Greenland.

As floes funnel southward down this restricted conduit, they ram up against the coastline to form a dam, and then everything comes to a standstill.

"They look just like the arches in a gothic cathedral," observes Kent Moore from the University of Toronto.

"And it’s the same physics, even though it’s ice. The stress is being distributed all along the arch and that’s what makes it very stable," he told BBC News.

But the UoT Mississauga professor is concerned that these "incredible" ice forms are actually being weakened in the warming Arctic climate. They’re thinning and losing their strength, and this bodes ill, he believes, for the long-term retention of all sea-ice in the region.

Directly to the north of Nares Strait is the Lincoln Sea. It’s where you’ll find some of the oldest, thickest floes in the Arctic Ocean.

It’s this ice that will be the "last to go" when, as the computer models predict, the Arctic becomes ice-free during summer months sometime this century.

There are essentially two ways this old ice can be lost.

It can be melted in place in the rising temperatures or it can be exported. And it’s this second mode that’s in play in Nares Strait.

The 40km-wide channel’s arches act as a kind of valve on the amount of sea-ice that can be pushed out of the Arctic by currents and winds.

When stuck solidly in place, typically from January onwards – the arches shut off all transport (sea-ice can still be exported from the Arctic via the Fram Strait, which is the passage between eastern Greenland and Svalbard).

But what Prof Moore’s and colleagues’ satellite research has shown is that these structures are becoming less reliable barriers.

Nares Strait

They are forming for shorter periods of time, and the amount of frozen material allowed to pass through the strait is therefore increasing as a consequence.

"We have about 20 years of data, and over that time the duration of these arches is definitely getting shorter," Prof Moore explained.

"We show that the average duration of these arches is decreasing by about a week every year. They used to last for 250-200 days and now they last for 150-100 days. And then as far as the transport goes – in the late 1990s to early 2000s, we were losing about 42,000 sq km of ice every year through Nares Strait; and now it’s doubled: we’re losing 86,000 sq km."

Prof Moore and colleagues have published their latest research in the journal Nature Communications. 


So what is the basis for this latest Arctic scare?

This is the key chart from the paper:




Although they claim to have analysed 20 years of data, they only have three years of data since 2009: – from 2017 to 2019.

Both 2007 and 2019 were identical in having no arches formed. Whilst 2017 and 2018 were comparable to 2008. It is not statistically possible to draw significance from such a sparsity of data.

And, of course, we do know that temperatures in Greenland fell sharply between 1958 and 2001 – after all, Jonathan Amos told us himself in 2003!



It is therefore meaningless to compare current ice arch data with the 1990s.


The paper claims that ice loss through the Nares Strait could be leading to loss of thick, multi year ice to the north, in the Lincoln Sea.

However, DMI maps show nothing of the sort. If anything the thick ice has expanded there since 2009 (the area is circled). If ice loss was apparent, it should show up in May, because of the early break up of the arches:




As for what is “normal”, archaeologists have discovered plenty of evidence that the Vikings were hunting and trading in the area of the Nares Strait during the Middle Ages. As with the rest of Greenland, this is strong evidence of a warmer climate then.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Mack permalink
    January 12, 2021 12:33 pm

    And, in comparison to recent years, nothing out of the ordinary appears to be going on with Arctic sea ice extent either. Almost 14 million km2 of ice coverage already and growing steadily. I somehow think that the ‘Wadham Prophecy’ of imminent Arctic ice collapse is going to go yet another year unfulfilled.

  2. Jackington permalink
    January 12, 2021 12:58 pm

    Quite so, but now we have better news in that “computer models predict the Arctic will become ice-free during summer months sometime this century” – no longer “imminent.”
    It looks as though I might miss this event.

  3. Broadlands permalink
    January 12, 2021 1:36 pm

    “….with continued Arctic warming, ice arch stability in Nares Strait as well as throughout the adjacent CAA will decrease resulting in more frequent transport of Arctic Ocean multi-year to southerly latitudes, that will have negative implications for the maritime industry as well as impacting food security and other traditional activities for indigenous communities in the Arctic.”

    Another tale, a narrative designed to scare the general public (and politicians) into taking “bold action” to fight dire model predictions of imminent catastrophe. But what sort of actions could humanity possibly take that would make a difference to the Earth’s average temperature? Does Prof. Moore have an answer, a suggestion? Rapidly lower CO2 emissions? Take CO2 out of the air? Neither can work. Nor will more hype about climate emergency.

    • Penda100 permalink
      January 12, 2021 3:17 pm

      Is that dire models or dire predictions? Or both.

  4. fretslider permalink
    January 12, 2021 3:06 pm

    “They look just like the arches in a gothic cathedral,” observes Kent Moore from the University of Toronto.

    Got that?

    “How is it possible for you to be so easily tricked by something so simple as a story, because you are tricked? Well, it all comes down to one core thing and that is emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are in anything in your life, the less critical and the less objectively observant you become.” — David JP Phillips, We Don’t Have Time board of directors, “The Magical Science of Storytelling”

    You could call it the Attenborough method.

  5. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    January 12, 2021 5:16 pm

    I just generally like the idea of “Ice Arches” – –

    Imagine Gaia building Gothic Cathedrals, maybe over a span of 3 to 5 years, then thinking I can do better. So that one gets demolished in a day or two, and a new one starts.
    Repeat. Cool!

    [There is a video from the 2007 period that shows the flushing of the ice, south into warmer water, where it melts.]

  6. Coeur de Lion permalink
    January 12, 2021 5:33 pm

    Siberian heatwave? Get up, tap on temp in the menu, go to classic display and dot the cursor around Siberia. Phenomenally cold. Colder than the top of Greenland at the moment. And Europe is getting a bit chilly, too.

    • Lez permalink
      January 12, 2021 7:24 pm

      The good folk of Batagay are currently basking in a sultry -54C.

  7. Dr Ken Pollock permalink
    January 12, 2021 6:48 pm

    “As for what is “normal”, archaeologists have discovered plenty of evidence that the Vikings were hunting and trading in the area of the Nares Strait during the Middle Ages. As with the rest of Greenland, this is strong evidence of a warmer climate then.”

    Well said, Paul! I once asked Sir John Houghton (former UK Chief Scientist) why “Greenland” was called “Greenland”! Just a little local warming, apparently…Not convinced then or now, but many would prefer not to believe it was that warm then for the Vikings to grow crops where now there is just ice…

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      January 12, 2021 7:03 pm

      An old seafarer once upon a time claimed Greenland was so named because untested young men (“green”) were sent there on rather unpleasant voyages.
      This has two things going for it:
      1. Why isn’t it called Grœnnland? And,
      2. The Captain of an old sailing ship would never make up a story.
      {invoke Poe’s Law}

      • January 13, 2021 9:16 am

        Did Iceland and Greenland swap places back in the mists of time?

    • Duker permalink
      January 12, 2021 10:01 pm

      Eastern coastal margins of Greenland are ice free in summer even now. The remnants of the viking settlements are still around , surely they can determine the typical climate during the roughly 300-400 years of viking period there – until they were driven out by the Little Ice Age beginning.
      Even though the settlement was ‘defacto because of the MVP’, the Lamont -Columbia lab in 2015 using a new technique of measuring cosmic rays on terminal moraine boulders on Baffin Is as a proxy say it wasnt that warm ?
      “The analyses are done by measuring buildups of small amounts of Beryllium 10, an isotope created when cosmogenic rays strike rock surfaces newly exposed by melting ice.

      Works only in ideal conditions and with the proper sampling technique: Never rely on climate scientists to do the right thing when they use proxies to establish a temperature time line.
      Probably useful at the +- 1000 yrs level.

      “One of the largest errors in cosmogenic nuclide dating comes from a poor sampling strategy. Because cosmic rays only penetrate the upper few centimetres of a rock, movement of a boulder downslope can result in large errors in the age calculated.
      Before sampling a rock, geologists must take detailed and careful measurements of the landsurface, and satisfy themselves that the rock is in a stable position, has not rolled, slipped downslope, been repeatedly buried and exhumed during periglacial rock cycling within the active layer (frequently a problem with small boulders), and has not been covered with large amounts of soil, snow or vegetation.”

  8. Phoenix44 permalink
    January 13, 2021 8:53 am

    There’s been some poor papers in Climate Science but this really is dreadful. We looked at some pictures and did some arithmetic on sparse data?

    If it’s cold enough to freeze behind the arch then it will freeze when existing ice is blown out. If it’s not then the ice must be melting there anywhere.

    Just another brainless “it’s worse than we thought so act more quickly” propoganda piece.

  9. mjr permalink
    January 13, 2021 9:57 am

    off topic but interesting video of Toby Young discussing free speech with Patrick Harvie, Co-Leader of the Scottish Greens. About twitter banning Trump but interesting comments about “Climate Change Denial”

  10. Gamecock permalink
    January 13, 2021 11:56 am

    ‘It’s this ice that will be the “last to go” when, as the computer models predict, the Arctic becomes ice-free during summer months sometime this century.’

    Computers don’t predict. Mad climate scientists predict, then hide behind their computers. ‘Computer models predict’ is more authoritative than ‘climate scientists predict.’

    ‘There are essentially two ways this old ice can be lost.’

    Borders on false dichotomy. An alternative could be the ice isn’t lost.

    Note that the DMI maps show considerable ice in Baffin Bay. Should floes get through the Nares Strait, they won’t have clear sailing.

    I am also skeptical of how many floes are generated in ice fields of thick, multiyear ice.

    ‘It’s where you’ll find some of the oldest, thickest floes in the Arctic Ocean.’

    How do floes get old? Unattached to the ice field for years? Floes of old ice isn’t the same thing as old ice floes.

  11. January 13, 2021 6:15 pm

    I quote “Look down on the Arctic from space and you can see some beautiful arch-like structures sculpted out of sea-ice”.

    This is an environment totally alien to human life and indeed 99% of any other life on earth and these nobs wax lyrical over it. That environment KILLS and kills quickly.

    The glass ceiling for demented moronspeak has been broken yet again as the priests of woe reach ever new heights trying to outdo each other with ever more emotional pap to tug at the heartstrings, stifle dissent and empower the useful idiots who are the foot soldiers and expendable protectors of the cabal hiding behind this religion.

    The useful idiots actually believe that until 50 years ago nothing changed on the planet. Temperatures did not vary, weather patterns were totally predictable, no bad weather ever existed, there were no floods or droughts or famines, ice extents did not vary, and sea level never changed just like the sun coming up in the morning and going down at the end of the day environmentally everything (we are told) was in stasis and nice AND THEN damn you, you bought an SUV and all hell broke loose!

    There is clear evidence, recorded multiple times throughout human history predicated on the life time of a human (Three score years and ten), that everything just keeps going on as it is but that we are constantly warned that a catastrophe is just around the corner if we do not stop action XY or Z now and replace it with A B or C to please the gods. That these changes tend to occur with regime change seems lost on the useful idiots. If something exceptional to the experiences of one life time occurs then it is because the gods have been offended and there MUST be sacrifices.

    The consequence we are dealing with now is the totally disingenuous claim that if that SUV is taken away from you then it will heal the planet, save the planet, rejuvenate the plane…. yada yada yada..

    Interesting that even when the climate religion feels on winning ground they cannot get their story straight because the planet is a lot more than a variation in the environment in which man lives which if you look we have found very easy ways to adapt to right from one extreme (cold) to the other (hot).

    All of these environments existed before you bought your wretched SUV and to which we already have adapted while you drive your wretched SUV.

    What HAS changed is the benefit hydrocarbons have brought to our lives enabling us to enter and survive in the absolute extremes, something which would be totally impossible without.

  12. Colin MacDonald permalink
    January 14, 2021 8:01 am

    It’s instructive that Greenland’s northernmost Inuit village, Etah, was abandoned im the early 20th century because of harsh climate conditions. It lies 200 miles south of the area in question. Curious that when the climate is supposed to be warming dangerously the people are moving to even more dangerous areas!

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