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What would NSIDC and our media make of a photo like this if released by the NAVY today? Would we see headlines like "NORTH POLE NOW OPEN WATER"? Or maybe "Global warming melts North Pole"? Perhaps we would. sensationalism is all the rage these days. If it melts it makes headlines.

uss-skate-open-water.jpgSkate (SSN-578), surfaced at the North Pole, 17 March 1959. Image from NAVSOURCE

From John Daly:

For example, one crew member aboard the USS Skate which surfaced at the North Pole in 1959 and numerous other locations during Arctic cruises in 1958 and 1959 said:

"the Skate
found open water both in the summer and following winter. We surfaced
near the North Pole in the winter through thin ice less than 2 feet
thick. The ice moves from Alaska to Iceland and the wind and tides
causes open water as the ice breaks up.
The
Ice at the polar ice cap is an average of 6-8 feet thick, but with the
wind and tides the ice will crack and open into large polynyas (areas
of open water), these areas will refreeze over with thin ice. We had
sonar equipment that would find these open or thin areas to come up
through, thus limiting any damage to the submarine. The ice would also
close in and cover these areas crushing together making large ice
ridges both above and below the water. We came up through a very large
opening in 1958 that was 1/2 mile long and 200 yards wide. The wind
came up and closed the opening within 2 hours. On both trips we were
able to find open water. We were not able to surface through ice
thicker than 3 feet."

- Hester, James E., Personal email communication, December 2000

Here are some screencaps from the newsreel:

uss-skate-ice2

Note the feet of the deckhand for thickness perspective

uss-skate-ice1

Ice going over the side after chipping

It was that way again in 1962:

Seadragon (SSN-584), foreground, and her sister Skate (SSN-578) during a rendezvous at the North Pole in August 1962

Seadragon (SSN-584), foreground, and her sister Skate (SSN-578) during a rendezvous at the North Pole in August 1962

And of course then there's this famous photo:

3-subs-north-pole-1987

But contrast that to 1999, just 12 years later, lots of ice:

USS Hawkbill at the North Pole, Spring 1999. (US Navy Photo)

USS Hawkbill at the North Pole, Spring 1999. (US Navy Photo)

But in 1993, it's back to thin ice again:

USS Pargo at the North Pole in 1993. (US Navy Photo)

USS Pargo at the North Pole in 1993. (US Navy Photo)

The point illustrated here: the North Pole is not static, ice varies
significantly. The Arctic is not static either. Variance is the norm.