Climate change: stuck in the ice


The current little drama in the Antarctic reminds me of the events in the Okhotsk Sea a couple of years ago (spool down). That drama lasted over a month before the trapped ships could be freed, so we might have a little way to go. 

Back in 2011, of course, there was next to no publicity. But then, this little affair has the advantage of having BBC and Guardian journalists aboard as paying passengers. 

Richard North 31/12/2013 link

A pathetic inadequacy


In marked contrast to the Okhotsk Sea drama of last year, which the western media virtually ignored, the Daily Wail is crawling all over the Bering Sea drama which we reported yesterday.

Unaware of last year's background, when the Russians were facing far greater challenges, in terms of the size of the ships stranded, the number, the weather conditions and the thickness of the ice, the Wail is taking the US coastguard spin and bigging up the "feat" when in fact, what we actually have is a demonstration of the pathetic inadequacy of the US icebreaking capability.

That much was rehearsed by the Alaska Dispatch back in October, when it warned of an icebreaker shortage, noting that two of America's three heavy-duty icebreakers – the 1970s-era Polar Sea and the Polar Star – were sidelined in Seattle after years of repairs to keep them going.

It then noted that the 12-year-old Healy was the only working icebreaker in the U.S. Coast Guard fleet. While the Healy boasts first-rate on board scientific labs, the paper said, "it's only able to negotiate through thin ice".

Thus we have chickens coming home to roost. After years of warmist propaganda, Alaska is suffering a ferocious winter, and the US government has been caught out, totally unprepared to deal with the conditions.

That notwithstanding, ice thickness is reported at only 2.5 feet – compared with 20ft hummocks in the Okhtotsk Sea last year. The challenge facing the Healy is therefore relatively modest. Yet the latest report from the Alaska Dispatch has the icebreaker and the Russian tanker Renda losing 4-5 miles of ground drifting south with the ice pack last night, leaving the vessels 100 miles south of Nome.

Yesterday was a "Logistics Day" and Healy was not as focused on icebreaking, rather on safely deploying their on-board helicopter. The helicopter arrived into Nome about 12:30 p.m. to fly out a consultant for Vitus Marine out to the scene. The consultant is retired Coast Guard Admiral Jeff Garrett with extensive ice-breaking experience. With that, little progress was expected.

Back in October last, Alaska Senator. Mark Begich on introduced legislation to address the US shortage of icebreakers by requiring the Coast Guard to operate at least two heavy-duty icebreakers and boosting the Coast Guard presence in Alaska.

Not referred to was the lack of the close-coupled towing capability, for which the Russians (and the Finns and Swedes) are famous. For want of this, the ignorant Wail, reiterating the US Coast Guard spin, tells us that maneuvering (sic) is now a problem.

The tanker must stay close enough to its Coast Guard escort [so that] that the lanes through the ice [do not] freeze back over. That distance, says the paper, puts the two vessels at risk of slamming into each other – which is exactly why the close-coupled tow was developed - see below, with the Bereg Nadezhdy refrigerator vessel under tow in the Okhotsk Sea. (Below that is the Oden - link to YouTube film - doing the honours in the Gulf of Bothnia.)

Overall then, what comes over is not only the pathetic inadequacy of the US Coast Guard, but the similar inadequacy of the general media when it comes to telling the full story and getting to the real issues. And, as always, what is not reported is more interesting than what is actually on offer.

But, as long as people only read the MSM, they will never know.


Richard North 12/01/2012 link

"Shrinking ice" stops tanker


It may be relatively mild in Britain, but not so in Alaska which is suffering an "exceptionally harsh" winter with snow at crisis point in some locations.

Thick ice in the Bering Sea is also giving problems. The US coastguard's only functional icebreaker in the area, the USCGC Healy, is having difficulty getting to grips with ice up to 2.5 feet thick in the approach to the seaboard town of Nome, which is running out of diesel and gasoline.

After a ferocious November storm prevented the November delivery, the Russian tanker Renda has been despatched to deliver 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products.

Escorted by the icebreaker, the tanker was due to dock yesterday, but now no arrival date has been scheduled, with the ships about 165 miles away from the port.

Interestingly, Cmdr. Greg Tlapa, executive officer of the Healy, complains of the ice conditions changing constantly. When they reach heavier ice, he says, the path is closing between the two ships. In such cases, the Healy has to double back to relax the pressure from the surrounding ice.

The scale of the mission is unprecedented for the Coast Guard in the Arctic, Tlapa says, perhaps regretting that the US is not equipped with heavy icebreakers capable of close-coupled towing, of the type we saw a year ago in the Okhotsk Sea.

One does wonder about the National Snow & Ice Data Center, however, which is reporting that "Arctic sea ice continues to shrink", with ice extent "particularly low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, most notably in the Barents and Kara Sea".

One really hates to think what the ice might have been like if there had been no global warming.


Richard North 10/01/2012 link

Reality bites


Picked up by Autonomous Mind, the expectation of increasing sea ice in the Baltic this winter has resulted in Sweden withholding an icebreaker from use in Antarctica by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). This comes after the dramas in the Gulf of Finland and the Okhotsk Sea, which have completely confounded the warmists who have been predicting ice-free passages brought about by global warming.

But, as AM reports, the increasingly bitter winters that have resulted in more iced-over navigation passages. Having to deal with the real world, rather than the fantasy construct beloved of the warmists, the Swedish government thus wrote to US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to announce that the icebreaker Oden (pictured) will be kept at home and not be made available to support the work of the NSF in Antarctica, for the first time since 2006.

The detail comes from the journal Science, announcing the abrupt end of an ongoing agreement with the NSF for the lease of the Oden, the pride of the Swedish icebreaking fleet and also the world's most capable non-nuclear polar-class research vessel.

NSF has used the ship each winter since 2006–07 to clear a path through the sea ice to resupply McMurdo Station, the largest scientific outpost in Antarctica and the hub for US activities on the continent. The Swedish government decided that the Oden needed to stay at home this coming winter after two harsh winters disrupted shipping lanes in the region.

And this is indeed what happens when the real world intrudes. The warmists can sit in front of their nice warm computers and run models until the end of time, but if the ice refuses to obey the predictions, real world solutions such as icebreakers must be employed. As real people in that real world are only too well aware, you can't eat computer models.


Richard North 31/08/2011 link

Opportunities lost


Portraying themselves as the guardians of democracy, what is beginning to emerge is the lengths to which the media are prepared to go – up to and including illegal acts, such as corruption – not to discover information in the public interest, but to acquire low-grade tittle-tattle, gossip and private details about pols 'n' slebs.

Compare and contrast the extraordinary resource devoted to gathering and processing their low-grade tat, with the resources allocated to stories such as this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this - all stories we've broken on EURef and our other blogs.

The further point, of course – which we have made before – is that crap sells. If the media didn't make any money out of it, they would stop doing it.

But the one favour they could do us all is for them to get off their high horses and stop pretending they are doing this for any other reason than to make money and pursue their own personal agendas. These people are so far from real journalism and the public interest that most of them wouldn't recognise serious stories if they leapt up and bit them.

If they achieved a fraction of what we blogs achieved, with the resources we have at our disposal, it would be a miracle. And given what we have achieved, I think we have every right to look down our noses at these ghastly creatures. While we have been looking after the real news, they have been pratting around with the tat - never missing an opportunity to lower their own standards.


Richard North 12/07/2011 link

A distorted picture


Although the newspapers are full of hyperbole about the very welcome spring warmth, the have been almost completely silent about the ice drama in the Gulf of Finland, as indeed they were about the Okhotsk Sea entertainment.

But the current weather here and the exceptional conditions in Eastern Europe and Russia are not unrelated. The very fact that it is warm here and St. Petersburg is suffering a late spring is that the same system which are bringing the mild weather to the UK is also packing the ice into the Gulf.

The situation at the end of last month had so deteriorated that fruit and vegetable shipments to Russia were hindered by dangerous ice, and cargoes of potatoes were being spoiled because it was too cold and they were freezing.

Even now, a week later and the Princess Anastasia ferry returned to St. Petersburg more than five hours late from its first trip to Stockholm (pictured above). The ferry was delayed due to thick ice that continues to cover the Gulf of Finland. Ten icebreakers, including a nuclear vessel, are still helping to free cargo vessels and passenger ferries.

According to data from the administration of the St. Petersburg seaport, as of Monday, 76 ships remained trapped in the ice – and it is not yet over. The ice means that the schedule of the Princess Anastasia is subject to change. According to ferry staff, the journey to Stockholm could take up to 35 hours instead of the scheduled 23 hours.

And this is not just idle interest. The parochialism of the British media is such that those who rely on it are never given the big picture. The focus on a brief period of warm spring in Britain allows the myth of global warming to be sustained, whereas as the global temperatures is creeping down, and hot spots here and there can always be matched by cold spots elsewhere (and vice versa).

This distorted picture is a real problem when it comes to public perception. Memories are short, and when the global warmists come out to play, the fine weather undoubtedly influences sentiment. Yet there is rarely any serious attempt to counter their propaganda. Ice-bound in St. Petersburg doesn't cut it - but it should.


Richard North 07/04/2011 link

Year of the icebreaker


Despite all the little warmist wuzzies hyperventilating about ice extent, this is beginning to look as if it is the year of the icebreaker. We've had the Okhotsk Sea, then the Baltic and now St. Petersburg at the eastern end of the sea.

From there we get reports that icebreakers have been called in to free dozens of ships that have become trapped in ice in the Gulf of Finland. At least 97 ships were still waiting for help as of Tuesday, although this is down from 160 ships two days previously.

The eastern Gulf of Finland has not seen such thick ice since 1992, according to the Federal of Sea and River Transportation Agency. In some places the ice is more than three feet thick. The strength of the pressure exerted by the ice is measured at three points — a serious threat for the exteriors of the vessels, so we are not talking about a jolly little rest cure here. Think bent metal, big 'oles and bubbles.

The icy conditions also have significant economic impact, which is making shipping operators wish rather fervently for more less warming ... to bring a reduction in the ice.

Most of the trapped ships are cargo vessels, but some are passenger ferries. Many have been trapped for a several days. Among the ships freed over the weekend was a ferry that had been stuck for six days with 12 people on board, including a pregnant woman. The ferry runs between a port near St. Petersburg and the Kaliningrad region.

The Princess Maria ferry running between St. Petersburg and the Finnish capital, Helsinki, has been suspended since 9 March,  but was due to resume its operation on Wednesday.

The federal agency says that ten icebreakers, including the nuclear-powered Vaigach based in Murmansk, were leading the ships to open water in caravans. Andrei Kovalyov of Rosmorport, a state company overseeing seaports, said passenger ferries and ships with hazardous cargo were being given priority. He says the situation could improve within three weeks if weather conditions were favourable.

Given this sudden rush of global warming, for those who might be considering their long-term future and looking for a stable career, with prospects, at the moment "icebreaker crew" looks extremely promising (although you might find it difficult to convince people you were serious if you said you worked on the Mudyug - icebreaker pictured, top). Ice fishing (pictured) also looks good.


Richard North 16/03/2011 link

Three days early


It doesn't sound much. But this website is telling is that the ice pack which is created in the north of the Okhotsk Sea and then is blown down the coast of northern Sakhalin before reaching the Shiretoko coast in the north of Hokkaido, actually arrived in Japanese waters three days earlier than the annual average – on 29 January.

Despite the warmists and their troll friends on numerous websites trying to make out that the Okhotsk Sea ice pack was perfectly normal for this time of year, this source – which relies on data from the Japanese Ibuki satellite project (pictured: enlarged view here click pic when it has loaded) – is telling us that something abnormal was happening in the region.

Ice extent reports also have to be assessed in the context of strident complaints about the decline in the icepack, which was first observed in 1989. Since then, we are told, it "has never recovered to its former levels" – except perhaps now, when it is above average for the time of year.

Certainly, while reports of two-metre ice thickness were being made, scientific modelling in the Sakhalin area seems to suggests that mean maximum annual ice thickness is in the order of 108 cm, of which 70 cm is "congelation ice" and 38 cm is snow–ice, formed later in the season when the heaviest snowfalls are experienced.

As the inquiry into the cause of the Okhotsk Sea crisis now begins to get underway, there must be some explanation for why apparently experienced skippers of major vessels allowed themselves to become trapped in the ice. Having become used to the pack coming late in the Gulf of Sakhalin, where the ships were stranded, the skippers may have been caught out by the ice arriving unusually earlier, or being much thicker than expected.


Richard North 01/02/2011 link

She is out at last


She is out of the ice, we are told, ending the month-long operation in the Sea of Okhotsk. "The operation to rescue the Sodruzhestvo mother ship out of ice trap has been completed," Russia's Ministry of Transport said in a statement today.

A month after the ships were first reported as trapped in the ice – and after a day with no news on the Okhotsk Sea crisis - we earlier received a cautiously optimistic report from Voice of Russia that suggested that the last vessel, the factory ship Sodruzhestvo, was on its way out of the ice.

The report spoke of the icebreakers Admiral Makarov and the Krasin having led the 32,000-ton giant through "another ten miles of thick ice" and of the convoy "moving to clear waters". Only the Voice of Russia seemed to be reporting this, however, and even it was hedging its bets by saying that "experts" are predicting that the ships will break clear, rather than making direct assertions.

Interestingly, we are beginning to learn quite how exceptional this incident has been. The most recent episode that is anything like it happened last year when two identical 104-ton fishing vessels were trapped in the ice. This was in the Terpeniya bay off the southeastern coast of Sakhalin, though, and the stranding happened later in the season, on 11 January. On 19 January, a Mi-8 rescue helicopter evacuated 14 sailors and the boats were temporarily abandoned.

This was at a time when exceptionally cold conditions were being reported, and temperatures were dropping as low as minus -38°C during the nights. Later, an icebreaker was called in, which towed the vessels to Korsakov in southern Sakhalin, normally an ice-free port and a centre of the sea fishery.

There was also an incident reported on 22 January 2008, when emergency crews evacuated nine of the 14 sailors on board four ships which got trapped in ice in the Sea of Okhotsk on 18 January.

The four ships – a survey cutter, a fishing seiner and two barges attached to the vessels – had been heading for winter anchorage at the settlement of Adzhan, Khabarovsk region, but became stuck in the ice. The vessels were found 100 kilometers off the region’s coast the next day by an AN-74 aircraft and the rescued people were taken by Mi-8 helicopter to the town of Nikolayevsk-on-Amur.

Before that, it seems we must go back to 1965 when, according to one report, five Soviet ships were trapped by ice in the same region. Without icebreakers available, this report says, boats with their crews had to wait until June to be released. However, a contemporary report seems to suggest that the ships were accompanied by the icebreaker Lavarev (pictured - the name could be incorrect - it might be Lazarev), yet were still unable to break free.

There is also a report of 26 March 1952 in the New York Times (paywall) of a giant ice floe trapping a large Japanese fishing vessel and a rescue ship off northern Hokkaido within sight of Russian held Sakhalin Island.

To find another comparable incident, we have to go back to 27 December 1935 when the 2,000-ton freight and passenger vessel Lozovski was trapped in ice en route to Vladivostok, with ice pressure threatening to crush the hull.

Some passengers made the hazardous eight-mile trek to shore – although one passenger and a crewman disappeared - while others set up tents on the ice to await rescue. In a neat bit of historical symmetry, the icebreaker Krasin – the predecessor to the current ship – was sent to the rescue and itself was trapped 30 miles from the Lozovski. Both ships had run out of coal and were reported to be relying on oil stoves for heating.

At the time of the report, the rescue ship Uritski had been despatched from Valdivostok with fresh supplies, and was planning to use dynamite to make a breach through the ice to rescue the trapped ships. Now, more than 75 years later, the second icebreaker bearing the name Krasin has finally pulled off a feat, the like of which its predecessor had failed to do.


Richard North 30/01/2011 link

Through the worst


Russian icebreakers Krasin and the Admiral Makarov, engaged in the Okhotsk Sea rescuing the ice-trapped factory ship Sodruzhestvo, have now cleared the most difficult stretch of ice, covering eight nautical miles over the past 36 hours.

We are told that the ships still have 25 miles before they reach open sea but, from all accounts, the worst is over. We are nonetheless reminded that the Sodruzhestvo (pictured) has been the hardest of the trapped ships to tow due to its wide body. The icebreakers have to coordinate their efforts to clear a wide channel in thick ice for the vessel to finally reach open waters.

TASS is reporting that the success raises hopes that the month-long rescue operation could end in two more days. The convoy will soon reach the area of drifting ice. After that thirty miles will remain to clear water. "The voyage is likely to take another two days and the rescue operation may end on January 30," Far Eastern Shipping Company spokeswoman Tatyana Kulikova says.


Richard North 28/01/2011 link

Three hundred metres


According to the Voice of Russia, in the last 24 hours, the ice trapped Sodruzhestvo factory ship has made a mere 300 meters in the past 24 hours - not even twice its own length. Aided by the Admiral Makarov and the Krasin, Ria Novosti confirms that the convoy has only covered 1.8 miles "in heavy ice floe" since the start of what was hoped to be the final phase of the rescue in the Okhotsk Sea crisis.

"The convoy is moving very slowly due to breaking towing cables and constant shifting of heavy ice floe," says the spokeswoman for the factory ship owners, Tatyana Kulikova. "The ships have managed to cover only 1.8 miles since Wednesday, and have about 20 miles to go till they reach clear waters," she added. The Krasin is towing the Sodruzhestvo, while the Admiral Makarov is leading the convoy, attempting to clear a passable channel in the thick ice.

Since the beginning of the current operation on Wednesday morning, the rescue operation has been suspended twice because of the breakage of towing cables. Yesterday we learned that a replacement cable had been brought by helicopter. Now, that cable seems to have broken. This is the third time a breakage has been reported.

Looking at the sheer bulk of the Sodruzhestvo (pictured top), it is not at all surprising that problems are being experienced. But with it having spent over four weeks trapped in the ice, the 348 crew must be wondering whether their ship will ever again see the open sea. Still, as one of our readers observes, as long as they have this, they won't get bored.


Richard North 27/01/2011 link

Groundhog day


The silence from yesterday in the Okhotsk Sea crisis is now explained from the latest report, which tells us that the rescue of the Sodruzhestvo factory ship had been suspended once again. In a re-run of an earlier drama exactly two weeks ago, the tow rope snapped as the ship was being dragged through the ice.

With the icebreakers Krasin (pictured below from 2006) towing the giant factory ship and the Admiral Makarov clearing the channel ahead, the ships only managed to break though "one and a half miles of thick ice" before the tow was lost again. We are told, however, that "spare towropes were delivered by a helicopter" and that the operation has been resumed. Make of that what you will.

This is now the 27th day the Sodruzhestvo has spent locked in the ice. And, although the Russians have been fairly candid about the difficulties involved in extracting her, the continued delays must be trying patience. There are 40 miles to go to the ice edge (although Russian miles tend to be rather elastic) and the ships were last reported in "a complicated area of dense ice".

Thus, there is still no immediate end in sight to this drama. The authorities are only committing to "several days" before the ships are in the clear, and experience tells us anything could happen.


Richard North 26/01/2011 link

Last one out?


As the Sodruzhestvo (pictured above – ship on right) enters its 26th day of captivity in the ice of the Okhotsk Sea, the agency TASS was confidently reporting that she will be freed today. That news was posted early this morning, Moscow time and there are quite often updates issued. And, in the early evening here (England), it is in the early hours Wednesday in the rescue area, and all we are getting is an ominous silence.

We had been told from diverse sources that the icebreakers Krasin and Admiral Makarov would begin to pilot the factory ship from the ice. The Krasin was first into the ice after refuelling, and had forced its way to the factory ship. The Admiral Makarov was following, making the escape channel wider.

The two icebreakers were then to operate in tandem, leading the Sodruzhestvo to ice-free water for about 50 miles across heavy hummocky ice. The weather conditions were said to be favourable and the last we had heard was that the Krasin had been clearing the Sodruzhestvo from ice and preparing a channel for towing.

Meanwhile, as this drama plays out, US Rear Admiral Dave Titley, at an Arctic conference in Tromsø, Norway, is telling us that commercial ships could be sailing across an ice-free North Pole as soon as 2035.

Titley predicted that, as the ice-free period gradually increased, the Bering Strait between the US and Russia would begin to rival the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia as one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

This, no doubt, will come as music to the ears the crew of the Sodruzhestvo, who might also be entertained by the total lack of Western media coverage. The only news from that source, coming out of the region concerns a "rare whale" which has left the Bering Sea and is heading for the Gulf of Alaska.

Researchers have been tracking the whale since they tagged it off Russia's Sakhalin Island on 4 October, and the media is showing far more interest in this solitary mammal than it is the fate of over 400 trapped crew.  It would be nice to think that the Japanese had a whaler handy to do a bit of quick "research", which could then grace the plates of Tokyo diners.


Richard North 25/01/2011 link

They were only playing leapfrog


Events in the Okhotsk Sea crisis are moving apace, with TASS reporting that the Bereg Nadezhdy fish carrier "has been led by two icebreakers from the ice area to clear water." Now the Admiral Makarov and Krasin icebreakers are returning to the Sodruzhestvo factory ship "in order to guide the vessel to ice-free waters."

This looks quite promising. An earlier bulletin set the scene, telling us that the icebreakers were leading the fish carrier to "ice-free waters" and had covered 12 of the 38 miles to the ice edge, over the past 24 hours. Then Ria Novosti issued a bullish report relaying an announcement from a spokesman for Russia's Federal Fishing Agency.

Said Alexander Savelev, the Bereg Nadezhdy had been successfully towed to clear water. "The refrigerator vessel is out of danger," he said. "In the next few hours, after refuelling, the icebreakers will return for the Sodruzhestvo mother fishery ship."

He added that the weather conditions were favourable for the rescue operation, with temperatures of -14°C. "The crew is alive and healthy, although during the operation a sailor had to be evacuated from one of the icebreakers with suspected appendicitis," Savelev also said.

In the early afternoon here (in England at the time of writing), it is close to midnight in the Okhotsk Sea, and operations no doubt will be scaling down. In the morning it is hoped that we will be seeing the final, final stage of the rescue, that has already seen its fair share of false dawns.

What is interesting though is that, throughout the operation, diverse spokespersons have been stressing that the ships were in no danger. With Alexander Savelev now telling us that the Bereg Nadezhdy is "out of danger," we can only draw our own conclusions as to the veracity of the previous statements.


Richard North 24/01/2011 link

"Unusually strong"


On the back of "abnormal weather " we now have a further development in the Okhotsk Sea crisis with TASS reporting "unusually strong" ice pressure. This actually comes as no surprise at all, as the wind direction and strength over the last few days has combined to create possibly the worst conditions that can be encountered.

As a result, the convoy comprising the Admiral Makarov and the Krassin icebreakers, attempting to lead out the Bereg Nadezhdy fish carrier and the Sodruzhestvo factory ship, has not moved a single mile forwards since Saturday morning. It is still stuck at a distance about 30 miles away from the areas of open floating ice, exactly where it was yesterday.

The plan devised for the rescue operation has not changed, and is now being described as "multi-stage and complicated", with the Makarov and Krassin attempting first to free the fish carrier from the ice, after which the intention is to return for the Sodruzhestvo with its 348 crew members.

Waiting at the edge of the ice are the icebreaker Magadan and the tanker Viktoria. The latter will have to refuel the two icebreakers before they start back into the ice, but it looks to be a long wait. The trapped ships have entered their fourth week of confinement, some two weeks after premier Putin suggested they might have been freed.

Suggestions are now emerging that initial efforts to free the ships were delayed because all of the icebreakers in Russia's Pacific fleet had been leased out to the oil and gas company Exxon until 2016.

A rescue operation was initiated only after the Kremlin had intervened and guaranteed payment to the appropriate parties, by which time several days had passed. Putin must now hope for a successful ending to this crisis, as loss of the ships and any men may raise uncomfortable questions about the lack of preparedness in the region.


Richard North 23/01/2011 link

Hope springs eternal


The long-running Okhotsk Sea crisis is turning into a marathon soap opera, with the latest instalment from TASS today. As expected, the storm has slackened and the snow abated, but apparently this is only a temporary break. The snow is expected back tomorrow, although the force of the depression which has dominated the region is gradually subsiding.

With that seems to come yet another plan change – or perhaps a reversion to the original plan. We are told that the two icebreakers now intend to lead the Bereg Nadezhdy ("Coast of Hope") fish carrier into clear water. Once there, they will refuel from the tanker Victoria and return, once again, in a bid to pull the Sodruzhestvo factory ship from the ice.

This time, TASS is telling us that the ships have about 30 miles ahead to reach the clear water. Estimates of distance, though, have varied wildly throughout this crisis. Figures of up to 100 miles have been mentioned. And nor is the location of the ice edge static, nor even clearly defined as the wind-driven floes continue to accumulate. It should be remembered that April is the peak month for ice extent.

Further, immediately prior to the last storm, the convoy had only made two miles in a single 24 hour period, so distance gives no indication whatsoever as to when the ships might be freed, if ever. However, as they say, "hope springs eternal" or, in this case, hope springs the "Coast of Hope" – we hope.

Meanwhile, the rest of the media, bizarrely, continue to ignore the drama, with the attention remaining on the assumed – but far from proven – adverse effect of Russian oil and gas exploitation in the Okhotsk Sea on the supposedly dwindling population of grey whales.

Latest recruit to this cause is The Tehran Times, which has copied out a Reuters report, based on a WWF press effort. Interestingly, the copy bears remarkable similarities to an earlier report by Geoffrey Lean, the Daily Telegraph's environment editor. So it is that the media are entirely indifferent to the great drama being played out in real life, preferring instead to promote the fears, real or imagined, of a conservation NGO.

But then, after the greens have so assiduously promoted the loss of drift ice in the Okhotsk Sea as evidence of global warming, the last thing they, or a warmist-biased media, would want to do is highlight a rescue drama that features abnormally severe weather conditions and a rapidly expanding ice pack.  Instead, there seems a determination amongst the warmist to downplay the drama - "move on, nothing to see here," seems to be their anxious refrain.

There is also an element here of the anti-human bias. The fate of the whales is important to these people. The potential loss of hundreds of people, on a much more immediate timescale, is of no interest. That prospect, to some, is even welcome.


Richard North 22/01/2011 link

Stormy weather


It would appear that the Russian are developing the same taste for understatement as the British (although we seem to be forgetting the art), in reporting "bad weather" on the island of Sakhalin.

High winds and blizzard conditions, brought by a deep depression to the southeast (synoptic chart pictured – see bottom right quadrant), have disrupted the ferry service linking the island with the mainland and closed roads in the north of the island. Visibility in snowstorms is down to less than 200 feet and in the Tatar Strait between Sakhalin and the mainland, where ice-free water remains, wave heights are over 12 feet.

The particular relevance of this, of course, is that this is the same region where the two Russian ships and their icebreaker escorts are trapped, in the Okhotsk Sea, where yesterday, we reported that rescue attempts had been temporarily abandoned.

This is the most recent intimation of just quite how bad conditions are but, from observation of the chart, the wind patterns and strength are now creating the worst conditions imaginable for the trapped ships.

The problem arises from the peculiar geography of the Okhotsk Sea, with its shallow continental shelf along the northwestern coastal area. Because the sea is shallow, the water temperature can quickly cool down to freezing, allowing ice to form. With a constant offshore wind, the ice is carried away offshore continuously. Therefore, the waters tend to be always open adjacent to that part of the coast.

This open water is called a polynia, where ice is constantly produced, turning the area into what amounts to an ice factory, the total production of which is sufficient to cover the entire Okhotsk Sea. With the wind now from the northeast, the loose ice is being driven into Sakhalin Bay, where the ships are trapped, adding significantly to the ice depth and extent.

Under pressure from wind and currents, the ice driven into the bay tends to lift and buckle, forming pressure ridges and hummocks, some to as much as 20 feet depth or more. And that is what is happening right now. By the time the current storm has abated, the ice may be so thick and dense that the trapped ships cannot be extracted.

Meanwhile, the media has suddenly woken up to the Okhotsk Sea, but not to the ongoing drama. Apparently prompted by the WWF, they are recording concerns that Russian plans, in partnership with BP, to exploit oil and gas reserves in the region (above) might adversely affect a small population of rare Grey Whales.

In the manner of the anti-human greens, like Geoffrey Lean in his current blog, they are entirely oblivious to the current drama. While they are happy to emote about whales, human beings at risk are of no consequence.

Tourism meltdown, Climate change causes drift ice lost from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

Perversely, it is global warming which is improving the exploitation potential or the region, supposedly causing the reduction of the "poster-child drift ice" (pictured above) - about which the greenies were complaining in 2008 and again in 2009, with an additional interview here. But, if the run of bad weather becomes a trend, exploitation of the region might be far more difficult.

Sunset view from Notsuke nature center in Betsukai, Hokkaido on 8th, Jan 2011 from motohiro SUNOUCHI on Vimeo.

Then, at least, the greenies are getting some ice back (pictured 8 January this year), even if the people of Sakhalin and sailors trapped in the Okhotsk Sea are not wholly appreciative. When you think about it, for the greenies, global cooling in the region is a "win-win". They might even get rid of a few hundred humans. What's there not to like?


Richard North 21/01/2011 link

Rescue on hold


Breaking news as of 16:30 GMT was that the rescue operation in the Okhotsk Sea had been suspended "as weather conditions have deteriorated".

What was hoped to be the final phase of the operation to extract the trapped shipped was started at 21:30 Moscow time on Wednesday. "However, the deterioration of weather conditions (a cyclone is hovering over Sakhalin, and there is no transport connection) has suspended the active phase of the operation to get the ships out of ice," a source said. "Abnormally bad weather is characterized by zero visibility, strengthening winds and ice compression."

Earlier, we had learned that the rescue was continuing. With all the delays though, the icebreakers and the trapped ships have spent so long in the ice field that it had grown massively bigger – and thicker – and they were still trapped, making minimal progress.

Voice of Russia was telling us that, as of "this morning", i.e., when their piece was being written, the Krasin and Admiral Makarov had managed to escort the Bereg Nadezhdy only two miles. After that, it said, the icebreakers would return for the Sodruzhestvo, "that was left in a relatively safe zone earlier". "It is still unclear how long the whole operation will take," the agency was saying. That was very much a change of tone.

In an earlier report from TASS, however, we got the complete opposite. We have the two icebreakers piloting not the Bereg Nadezhdy but the Sodruzhestvo. I don't think they're wrong, or lying or anything like that, but there was a certainly a contradiction.

What I think might have been happening is that they running a sort of shuttle service, dragging one ship a few miles, parking it in relatively safe ice and then going back for the other one. Once the two ships are reunited, they then repeat the process all over again.

This has to be extremely fraught as the ice is clearly building up faster than they can break thought it. The reality is that they are deeper into the ice now that when the ships were first trapped on 31 December, now three weeks ago. And now, it seems, they are temporarily defeated, as the weather worsens.

Amongst all this, there is a confused story about a previous stop, triggered by a high ice pressure and repairs. I am not exactly certain, but I think this was the Bereg Nadezhdy, although there seems to be some ambiguity in the reports. Maybe it's just me. The reference to convoy movement being suspended on Tuesday "over a high ice pressure and high winds," confirms what we were reporting earlier.

As for photos, there is nothing new coming out of the system, but AP has done a video report and we've put it up (top). This is a composite, with what appears to be new and old pictures, but in fleeting glimpses, we get an idea of quite how bad it is there.

We also see for the first time the Sodruzhestvo under tow. From the angle it is difficult to see, but she looks to be close-coupled. I wasn't sure they could do that with such a big ship, but they do seem to be doing it. I’ve taken out a screen grab, cleaned it up and posted it (above). Quality is not very good, but at least you can see it for yourself.

Under current conditions, it is unlikely that we'll see much more in the way of new photographs for a while. There is a fight for survival going on out there. As always, I'll keep you posted.


Richard North 20/01/2011 link

Retreat into childhood


Mary Ellen Synon, despite being a fully paid-up member of the MSM fraternity, is more than a little caustic about the media in her current blog.

She has been in Rome but is back in Brussels and ready to post on EU topics such as the spread on Portuguese debt or the possibility that the EU may require in increase to 6 percent in tier one requirements or Wolfgang Schauble's insistence on more German-directed fiscal control across the EU in return for an increase in the European bail-out facility.

But, she then adds, in a comment that really hits home: "Or we can talk about the only European story in which anybody outside this euro-village is interested, which is, Silvio Berlusconi and the hookers".

That's the rub. Journalism, and the media generally, has degenerated to such an extent that it has become a parody of itself, its writers infantile, venal and largely ignorant, the output a pathetic composite of low-grade entertainment and trash. Even when they try to do serious stories, they get details wrong so often that they cannot be relied upon as sources.

It is as well to recognise that the newspapers – despite their huffing and puffing, and their clever-dick, know-all tendencies - are part of a failing industry. Equally, broadcast news would not survive without cross-subsidy and, in the case of the BBC, state-mandated taxes.

But the race to the bottom, it seems, knows no constraints. We can echo Mary Ellen's complains with some observations on the Okhotsk Sea story, of which we will have more news tomorrow. But imagine my surprise when reviewing the online coverage of the Okhotsk Sea, I suddenly find multiple entries on Google News, more than I have even seen on one day since the crisis started.

Then I find that the media is following the fate of some rare grey whales, swimming out of the Sea and into Alaskan waters. Completely uninterested in the fate of over 400 men in a life-or-death drama, give them a "fluffy bunny" story and they're crawling all over it.

It was the same over the weekend. While Booker did the hard-edge story about how the warmists might have actually caused the Brisbane flooding disaster, the Sundays – including his own paper – were largely concerned with "stream of consciousness" and human interest stories, most often conveying the experiences of survivors. Such stories have their place, but generally, they were the only fare on offer. That is unhealthy.

Today, two stories rush into print, so to speak, on this blog. First, there is the suspension of the European carbon market, after suspicions of fraud. More than €2bn (£1.7bn) of trade is likely to be disrupted after the EU commission said it would prevent transactions until 26 January.

The suspension follows allegations that 475,000 carbon credits worth €7m were stolen in a hacking attack on the Czech carbon register. It appears that the allowances were bounced between eastern European countries before disappearing without a trace.

This is the latest of such a long line of incidents and could spell the slow death of a one of the flagship (and hideously expensive) schemes devised by the EU, supposedly to combat global warming. With billions already involved, and potentially trillions over term, of our money, a major fraud on top of other major frauds, with more frauds to come, is of some considerable concern.

Such a story, in an adult world, with adult newspapers and adults for journalists, would be on the front pages. You will struggle to find it in the business pages – one of the last repositories of adult reporting.

But The Daily Telegraph is currently leading on a story that has Baroness Warsi complaining that "prejudice against Muslims has become widespread and socially acceptable in Britain" because Islamophobia has "passed the dinner-table test". It is, of course, nothing to do with the fact that so many are murderous bigots, wife beaters, child molesters and ... murderous bigots.

One could, of course, say that this is a leading newspaper, and the journalists know their business. They certainly think they do, and are nothing if not opinionated. But these are not the giants of old. Let us keep reminding ourselves: these are failing businesses, haemorrhaging customers and money. They don't know what they are doing. And just in case you think they do, read this offering from the venal fools.

Thus you will struggle hard to find details of the second mega-story in our list, which we would also put on the front page – how the Irish are printing huge amounts of money, some €51 billion, or nearly 45 percent of their GDP, to shore up their banks. This is economic suicide, which is dangerous for them, the rest of euroland and us as well.

But the media – as we also saw with yesterday's raft of "Galileo" stories - don't do "serious" any more. They have lost the art, lost the skills and retreated into childhood. These are dire times, and it is virtually impossible to describe quite how bad the output is getting. We have not got time for this. These fools are selling themselves down the river, which is fine - except they are taking us down with them.


Richard North 20/01/2011 link

It's not over


I was not expecting to be writing about the Okhotsk Sea today, but in yesterday's account there were warnings that the crisis was not quite over. And indeed that is the case, with Voice of Russia observing that the rescue operation "will not be over today". Conditions appear to have deteriorated sharply and, last night, the four-ship convoy covered "no more than three miles". A helicopter is out reconnoitring the ice situation today.

Once again, we are left to piece together the story from diverse sources (with no input from the Western media). From TASS we learn the intriguing detail that the Bereg Nadezhdy fish carrier needed refuelling, an operation that appears to have been completed. She now "stays on the ice waiting for her turn for the pilotage", we are told. We also get an idea of the weather, said to be "favourable" with the wind about 20 miles per hour and the air temperature at -10°C.

But there is also the detail, then added, that "further movement is impossible due to the engine malfunction on the Bereg Nadezhdy ship and the lack of fuel".

It is then to Ria Novosti that we turn, finding that strong winds and heavy ice floe in the area are making difficulties. Weather conditions in the area are normal, but strong winds are "causing quick shifting and thickening of ice floe", which has "seriously hampered" the rescue efforts. This seems to be the 1983 shipping crisis all over again, when wind-driven ice-floes also thickened suddenly, causing ice to close round the ships, too fast for them to escape.

There is this still no indication when the ships will be totally in the clear, and you get some hint also that this is creating political stresses, with a report that Putin has "serious problems" in controlling his self-serving bureaucratic machine. He "may pretend to be in charge of the rescue operation in the Sea of Okhotsk," the report says, "but in fact it is directed through the bargaining between the company owning the fishing fleet and the company that owns the ice-breakers."

Oblivious to all this then comes Roger Howard in The Daily Telegraph telling us that "regional sea ice is retreating fast, threatening to raise global sea levels, destroy traditional habitats and ways of life, and accelerate the rate at which the planet as a whole is warming up".

Notwithstanding the flash of scientific illiteracy (since when does melting sea ice raise sea levels, global or otherwise?), the sailors trapped in the Okhotsk Sea would be surprised to learn that "regional sea ice is retreating fast." While Howard points to the "silver lining" to come out of global warming, causing an ice retreat which allows exploitation of oil, gas and mineral reserves, this current crisis underlines the fickle nature of the ice.

There are very great dangers in working in this region, as today's events demonstrate. Nature still has the capacity to surprise.


Richard North 18/01/2011 link

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