Outlook: Northwest Passage Less Icy in 2019

Background:  The Outlook in 2007

From Sea Ice in Canada’s Arctic: Implications for Cruise Tourism by Stewart et al. December 2007. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Although cruise travel to the Canadian Arctic has grown steadily since 1984, some commentators have suggested that growth in this sector of the tourism industry might accelerate, given the warming effects of climate change that are making formerly remote Canadian Arctic communities more accessible to cruise vessels. Using sea-ice charts from the Canadian Ice Service, we argue that Global Climate Model predictions of an ice-free Arctic as early as 2050-70 may lead to a false sense of optimism regarding the potential exploitation of all Canadian Arctic waters for tourism purposes. This is because climate warming is altering the character and distribution of sea ice, increasing the likelihood of hull-penetrating, high-latitude, multi-year ice that could cause major pitfalls for future navigation in some places in Arctic Canada. These changes may have negative implications for cruise tourism in the Canadian Arctic, and, in particular, for tourist transits through the Northwest Passage and High Arctic regions.

The most direct route through the Northwest Passage is via Viscount Melville Sound into the M’Clure Strait and around the coast of Banks Island. Unfortunately, this route is marred by difficult ice, particularly in the M’Clure Strait and in Viscount Melville Sound, as large quantities of multi-year ice enter this region from the Canadian Basin and through the Queen Elizabeth Islands.

As Figure 5 illustrates, difficult ice became particularly evident, hence problematic, as sea-ice concentration within these regions increased from 1968 to 2005; as well, significant increases in multi-year ice are present off the western coast of Banks Island as well. Howell and Yackel (2004) illustrated that ice conditions within this region during the 1969–2002 navigation seasons exhibited greater severity from 1969 to1979 than from 1991 to 2002. This variability likely is a reflection of the extreme light-ice season present in 1998(Atkinson et al., 2006), from which the region has since recovered. Cruise ships could use the Prince of Wales Strait to avoid the choke points on the western coast of Banks Island, but entry is difficult; indeed, Howell and Yackel (2004) showed virtually no change in ease of navigation from 1969 to 2002.

An alternative, longer route through the Northwest Passage passes through either Peel Sound or the Bellot Strait. The latter route potentially could avoid hazardous multi-year ice in Peel Sound, but its narrow passageway makes it unfeasible for use by larger vessels. Regardless of which route is selected, a choke point remains in the vicinity of the Victoria Strait (Fig. 5). This strait acts as a drain trap for multi-year ice that has entered the M’Clintock Channel region and gradually advances south-ward (Howell and Yackel, 2004; Howell et al., 2006). While Howell and Yackel (2004) showed slightly safer navigation conditions from 1991 to 2002 compared to 1969 to 1990, they attributed this improvement to the anomalous warm year of 1998 that removed most of the multi-year ice in the region. From 2000 to 2005, when conditions began to recover from the 1998 warming, atmospheric forcing was insufficient to break up the multi-year ice that entered the M’Clintock Channel. Instead the ice became mobile, flowing southward into the Victoria Strait as the surrounding first-year ice broke up earlier (Howell et al., 2006).

During the past 20 years, cruises gradually have become an important element of Canadian Arctic tourism, and currently there seems to be consensus about the cruise industry’s inevitable growth, especially in the vicinity of Baffin Bay. However, we have stressed the likelihood that sea-ice hazards will continue to exist and will present ongoing navigational challenges to tour operators, particularly those operating in the western regions of the Canadian Arctic.

Fast Forward to Summer of 2018:  Northwest Passage Proved Impassable

August 23, 2018 . At least 22 vessels are affected and several have turned back to Greenland.

Reprinted from post on September 3, 2018:  News today from the Northwest Passage blog that S/V CRYSTAL has given up after hanging around Fort Ross hoping for a storm or melting to break the ice barrier blocking their way west.
20180902-1025_crystal

As the vessel tracker shows, they have been forced to Plan C, which is returning to Greenland and accept that the NW Passage is closed this year. The latest ice chart gave them no hope for getting through.  Note yachts can sail through green (3/10), so the hope is for red to yellow to green.  But that did not happen last year.
20180902180000_wis38ct_0010210949

The image below shows the ice with which they were coping.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR5778.

More details at NW Passage blog 20180902 S/V CRYSTAL and S/V ATKA give up and retreat back to Greenland – Score ICE 3 vs YACHTS 0

Current Situation in Canadian Arctic Archipelago

The current ice map of Queen Maude region shows the difference between 2019 and last year.

Remembering that yachts need at most 1-3/10 ice conditions (light green), it is showing Peel Sound on the left side is open now, but was the obstruction last year.  Not shown but also important is open water in Barrow Strait allowing access to Peel Sound from the north.  Conversely, on the top right Prince Regent Inlet is plugged at the top and impassable for now, and perhaps for the year.

As reported at the Northwest Passage Blogspot, yachts are taking the Peel Sound route this year, rather than using Prince Regent Inlet and Bellot Strait, due to ice conditions. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Peel Sound, With Trepidation
by Randall
August 16, 2019
Days at Sea: 262
Over the last few days, charts have shown a significant reduction in ice concentrations in Peel, but there is still ice, lots of ice. One hundred miles into the Sound from the N, there is a band of 4-6/10ths ice that is sixty-five miles long and covers both the eastern and western shores. Another one hundred miles below that is a large band of 1-3/10ths ice. Below that there is open water, but it is threatened by the heavy ice feeding in from M’Clintock Channel.

Add to this an imminent change in the weather. Long range forecasts are calling for a switch from these long-running E winds to SW winds and then strong southerlies that could scramble the current ice configuration.
Add to this a paucity of anchorages in Peel. Two of the best on the W coast are icebound. The next, False Strait, is just above Bellot Strait and 165 miles from the opening.

In the evening I reach out to the ice guide, Victor Wejer, for a consult on anchorages. Mo needs a place to hide if things go badly. I show him the areas I’ve chosen.

“This is a subject I would like to avoid,” he replies. “It is not written in stone that you must take the entirety of Peel in one go, but it is the usual way. Read the Canadian Sailing Directions. The height of Somerset Island does weird things to the wind; it can go from calm to gale in an instant. Most of what look like anchorages on the chart are just not safe.”

“As to ice,” he continues, “this is also difficult. Peel is narrow and fed from M’Clintock. Most sailboat crews fight tooth and ice pole to get through. Consider that Matt Rutherford chose Prince Regent. But for you there may not be an option. Regent will not be clear for a long time; maybe not at all this year.”

By now four boats are through Peel, below Bellot Strait and on their way to Gjoa Haven. Yellow-hulled Breskell is one of them, but it has taken her four days to transit 200 miles, and I can tell from the way Olivier writes his encouraging emails that he has his doubts about doing it solo.

MO IS THROUGH THE ICE!
by Randall
August 19, 2019
1845 local
70 32S 97 27W
Larsen Sound
The Arctic

Just a quick note to report that Mo is through the ice and sailing fast on a N wind for Cambridge Bay, 235 miles SW.

I have been pushing to get to Alioth’s position for two days. She has a busted gear box and can’t make more than three knots under power. She has been hove to at the head of our last major ice plug waiting for an escort as she’d have to sail through, a tricky business.

We’ve all been sweating bullets over this last 30 miles of ice, and for four days I’ve been underway and hand steering for 18 to 20 hours a day through 3 – 5/10ths ice to get here. Only a few hours sleep a night this last week.

As it turns out, today was a piece of cake. We saw huge ice floes the size of city blocks but with wide lanes in between. Alioth and another boat, Mandregore, sailed downwind without trouble with Mo bringing up the rear under power just in case.

Advertisements

Today’s Arctic Ice Precedented 150 years Ago

This map from the Canadian Ice Service shows sea ice conditions in the western part of High Arctic islands on Sept. 8, 2018. The dark blue shows a low concentration (less than 10 per cent) of ice, while white shows a high concentration (100 per cent). At this time of the year, the Arctic ice cover is the highest it has been since 2014, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said Sept. 5.

The usual alarms are sounding again this summer to celebrate the annual melting of Arctic Sea Ice prior to refreezing again. Science Daily claims:

A new study provides a 110-year record of the total volume of Arctic sea ice, using early US ships’ voyages to verify the earlier part of the record. The current sea ice volume and rate of loss are unprecedented in the 110-year record.

Had they been willing to go a little further back in time they could have confirmed what others previously concluded from the same sources.

Researchers found that ice conditions in the 19th century were remarkably similar to today’s, observations falling within normal variability. The study is Accounts from 19th-century Canadian Arctic Explorers’ Logs Reflect Present Climate Conditions (here) by James E. Overland, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory/NOAA, Seattle,Wash., and Kevin Wood, Arctic Research Office/NOAA, Silver Spring, Md.   H/t GWPF Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Overview

This article demonstrates the use of historical instrument and descriptive records to assess the hypothesis that environmental conditions observed by 19th-century explorers in the Canadian archipelago were consistent with a Little Ice Age as evident in proxy records.  We find little evidence for extreme cold conditions.

It is clear that the first-hand observations of 19th-century explorers are not consistent with the hypothesized severe conditions of a multi-decadal Little Ice Age. Explorers encountered both warm and cool seasons, and generally typical ice conditions, in comparison to 20th-century norms.

Analysis

There were more than seventy expeditions or scientific enterprises of various types dispatched to the Canadian Arctic in the period between 1818 and 1910. From this number, we analyzed 44 original scientific reports and related narratives; many from expeditions spanning several years. The majority of the data come from large naval expeditions that wintered over in the Arctic and had the capacity to support an intensive scientific effort. A table listing the expeditions and data types is located at http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/arctic/history.  The data cover about one-third of the possible number of years depending on data type, and every decade is represented.

Our analysis focuses on four indicators of climatic change: summer sea ice extent, annual sea ice thickness, monthly mean temperature, and the onset of melt and freeze as estimated from daily mean temperature. Historical observations in these four categories were compared with modern reference data; the reference period varied, depending on data availability.  Both sea ice extent and the onset of melt and freeze were compared to the 30- year reference period 1971–2000; monthly means are compared to the 50-year period 1951–2000. Modern sea ice thickness records are less continuous, and some terminate in the 1980s; the reference period is therefore based on 19 to 26 years of homogeneous record.

arctic-explorers-fig1

Fig.1.

(a) Proxy record of standardized summer air temperature variation derived from ice cores taken on Devon Island. This proxy record suggests that a significantly colder climate prevailed in the 19th century. Shading indicates temperatures one standard deviation warmer or colder than average for the reference period 1901–1960 [Overpeck,1998].

(b) Historical monthly mean temperature observations compared to the 20th-century reference period 1951–2000. Sixty-three percent of 343 monthly mean temperatures recorded on 19th-century expeditions between 1819 and 1854 fall within one standard deviation of the reference mean at nearby stations (reference data from Meteorological Service of Canada,2002; and National Climatic Data Center,2002).

(c) Onset of melt observed by expeditions between 1820 and 1906 expressed as departures from the mean for the reference period 1971–2000. The period of melt transition observed by 19th century explorers is not inconsistent with modern values.

(d) Onset of freeze observed between 1819 and 1905 compared to the reference period 1971–2000. The onset of freeze transition is frequently consistent with modern values,but in some cases occurred earlier than usual. The incidence of an early onset of freeze represents the largest departure from present conditions evident in the historical records examined in this study. Melt and freeze transition dates for the reference period 1971–2000 were calculated from temperature data extracted from the Global Daily Climatology Network data base (National Climate Data Center, 2002).

arctic-explorers-fig2

Fig.2. The ship tracks and winter-over locations of Arctic discovery expeditions from 1818 to 1859 are surprisingly consistent with present sea ice climatology (contours represented by shades of blue). The climatology shown reflects percent frequency of sea ice presence on 10 September which is the usual date of annual ice minimum for the reference period 1971–2000 (Canadian Ice Service,2002). On a number of occasions,expeditions came within 150 km of completing the Northwest Passage, but even in years with unfavorable ice conditions, most ships were still able to reach comparatively advanced positions within the Canadian archipelago. By 1859, all possible routes comprising the Northwest Passage had been discovered.

Summary

As stated here before, Arctic ice is part of a self-oscillating system with extents expanding and retreating according to processes internal to the ocean-ice-atmosphere components. We don’t know exactly why 19th century ice extent was less than previously or less than the 1970s, but we can be sure it wasn’t due to fossil fuel emissions.

arctic-explorers-fig3rev

Explorers encountered both favorable and unfavorable ice conditions. This drawing from the vicinity of Beechey Island illustrates the situation of the H.M.S.Resolute and the steam-tender Pioneer on 5 September 1850 [from Facsimile of the Illustrated Arctic News,courtesy of Elmer E.Rasmuson Library,Univ.of AlaskaFairbanks].

Canadian Arctic Last 3 Weeks

The image shows that most of the Arctic ice lost in the last 3 weeks disappeared from the two Canadian Bays: Hudson and Baffin.  Hudson lost 400k km2 from 535k km2 down to 123k km2.  Baffin lost 300k km2 from 375k km2 down to 67k km2.

The melting season in July up to yesterday shows 2019 moving toward the 12 year average.

Presently 2019 ice extent according to MASIE is about 500k km2 below the 12 year average, having been 800k km2 in deficit just 5 days ago. The pace in recent days has flattened in comparison to the average, and is now matching 2007.  SII started to diverge about the same time and is now 400k km2 lower than MASIE.

The Bigger Picture (from Previous Post)

We are about 46 days away from the annual Arctic ice extent minimum, which typically occurs on or about day 260 (mid September). Some take any year’s slightly lower minimum as proof that Arctic ice is dying, but the image below shows the third week in July  over the last 11 years. The Arctic heart is beating clear and strong.

Open image in new tab to enlarge.

These are weekly ice charts from AARI in St. Petersburg.  The legend says the brown area is 7/10 to 10/10 ice concentration, while green areas are 1/10 to 6/10 ice covered. North American arctic areas are not analyzed in these images.

Over this decade, the Arctic ice minimum has not declined, but since 2007 looks like fluctuations around a plateau. By mid-September, all the peripheral seas have turned to water, and the residual ice shows up in a few places. The table below indicates where we can expect to find ice this next September. Numbers are area units of Mkm2 (millions of square kilometers).

Day 260 12 yr
Arctic Regions 2007 2010 2012 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Average
Central Arctic Sea 2.67 3.16 2.64 2.98 2.93 2.92 3.07 2.91 2.93
BCE 0.5 1.08 0.31 1.38 0.89 0.52 0.84 1.16 0.89
LKB 0.29 0.24 0.02 0.19 0.05 0.28 0.26 0.02 0.16
Greenland & CAA 0.56 0.41 0.41 0.55 0.46 0.45 0.52 0.41 0.46
B&H Bays 0.03 0.03 0.02 0.02 0.1 0.03 0.07 0.05 0.03
NH Total 4.05 4.91 3.4 5.13 4.44 4.2 4.76 4.56 4.48

The table includes three early years of note along with the last 5 years compared to the 12 year average for five contiguous arctic regions. BCE (Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian) on the Asian side are quite variable as the largest source of ice other than the Central Arctic itself.   Greenland Sea and CAA (Canadian Arctic Archipelago) together hold almost 0.5M km2 of ice at annual minimum, fairly consistently.   LKB are the European seas of Laptev, Kara and Barents, a smaller source of ice, but a difference maker some years, as Laptev was in 2016.  Baffin and Hudson Bays are almost inconsequential as of day 260.

For context, note that the average maximum has been 15M, so on average the extent shrinks to 30% of the March high before growing back the following winter.

Arctic Heart Beat in July

We are about 50 days away from the annual Arctic ice extent minimum, which typically occurs on or about day 260 (mid September). Some take any year’s slightly lower minimum as proof that Arctic ice is dying, but the image below shows the third week in July  over the last 11 years. The Arctic heart is beating clear and strong.

Open image in new tab to enlarge.

These are weekly ice charts from AARI in St. Petersburg.  The legend says the brown area is 7/10 to 10/10 ice concentration, while green areas are 1/10 to 6/10 ice covered. North American arctic areas are not analyzed in these images.

Over this decade, the Arctic ice minimum has not declined, but since 2007 looks like fluctuations around a plateau. By mid-September, all the peripheral seas have turned to water, and the residual ice shows up in a few places. The table below indicates where we can expect to find ice this next September. Numbers are area units of Mkm2 (millions of square kilometers).

Day 260 12 yr
Arctic Regions 2007 2010 2012 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Average
Central Arctic Sea 2.67 3.16 2.64 2.98 2.93 2.92 3.07 2.91 2.93
BCE 0.5 1.08 0.31 1.38 0.89 0.52 0.84 1.16 0.89
LKB 0.29 0.24 0.02 0.19 0.05 0.28 0.26 0.02 0.16
Greenland & CAA 0.56 0.41 0.41 0.55 0.46 0.45 0.52 0.41 0.46
B&H Bays 0.03 0.03 0.02 0.02 0.1 0.03 0.07 0.05 0.03
NH Total 4.05 4.91 3.4 5.13 4.44 4.2 4.76 4.56 4.48

The table includes three early years of note along with the last 5 years compared to the 12 year average for five contiguous arctic regions. BCE (Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian) on the Asian side are quite variable as the largest source of ice other than the Central Arctic itself.   Greenland Sea and CAA (Canadian Arctic Archipelago) together hold almost 0.5M km2 of ice at annual minimum, fairly consistently.   LKB are the European seas of Laptev, Kara and Barents, a smaller source of ice, but a difference maker some years, as Laptev was in 2016.  Baffin and Hudson Bays are almost inconsequential as of day 260.

For context, note that the average maximum has been 15M, so on average the extent shrinks to 30% of the March high before growing back the following winter.

June 30 Arctic Ice Update

The image above, supported by the table later on shows that in June water has opened up as usual this time of year.  On the North American side, Bering and Okhotsk (bottom left) were already ice-free, so that Chukchi and Beaufort opened (bottom center).  Meanwhile, in Baffin Bay and Hudson Bay (bottom right) ice has retreated, and given the shallow depth of Hudson Bay it will go ice-free soon.

The picture is more mixed on the Euro-Russian side.  East Siberian (left) is nearly normal, with Laptev and Kara down (upper left) below the 12 year average.  Barents (upper center) has more ice than usual, and is still hanging onto Svalbard.

The graph below shows the surprising discrepancy between MASIE and SII  continued in June, but disappeared by month end.

Note that the  NH ice extent 12 year average declined from 11.8M km2 to 9.8M km2 during in the last 30 days.  MASIE 2019 shows a slower decline from 10.9M km2 to 9.3M km2.  Thus the current deficit to average has reduced during June from 778k km2 to 506k km2, or 5.2% of average. That track is close to 2010 and below other years. 

Region 2019181 Day 181 Average 2019-Ave. 2010181 2019-2010
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 9318729 9824939  -506210  9245692 73037 
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 766793 910839  -144047  861079 -94286 
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 614737 721838  -107101  705357 -90619 
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1000185 1022188  -22003  1040103 -39918 
 (4) Laptev_Sea 600733 726543  -125810  693533 -92800 
 (5) Kara_Sea 494380 571373  -76993  623806 -129427 
 (6) Barents_Sea 188963 116290  72674  82722 106242 
 (7) Greenland_Sea 487331 509216  -21885  464399 22932 
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 431660 512914  -81254  416820 14840 
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 777670 778719  -1049  735649 42020 
 (10) Hudson_Bay 754193 729807  24386  401862 352331 
 (11) Central_Arctic 3196694 3203485  -6791  3191924 4770 
 (12) Bering_Sea 1129 5122  -3994  594 535 
 (13) Baltic_Sea 0 -4  0
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 3248 17144  -13897  26683 -23435 

The table shows where the ice is distributed to make the 5.2% defict to average.  Beaufort Chukchi and Laptev Seas make up most of the NH deficit to average, while Kara and Baffin contribute the rest.

Illustration by Eleanor Lutz shows Earth’s seasonal climate changes. If played in full screen, the four corners present views from top, bottom and sides.

Arctic Ice In Perspective

With Arctic ice melting season underway, warmists are again stoking fears about ice disappearing in the North.  In fact, the pattern of Arctic ice seen in historical perspective is not alarming. People are over-thinking and over-analyzing Arctic Ice extents, and getting wrapped around the axle (or should I say axis).  So let’s keep it simple and we can all readily understand what is happening up North.

I will use the ever popular NOAA dataset derived from satellite passive microwave sensors.  It sometimes understates the ice extents, but everyone refers to it and it is complete from 1979 to 2018.  Here’s what NOAA reports (in M km2):

We are frequently told that only the March maximums and the September minimums matter, since the other months are only transitional between the two.  So the graph above shows the mean ice extent, averaging the two months March and September.

If I were adding this to the Ice House of Mirrors, the name would be The X-Ray Ice Mirror, because it looks into the structure of the time series.   For even more clarity and simplicity, here is the table:

NOAA NH Annual Average Ice Extents (in M km2).  Sea Ice Index v3.0 (here)

Year Average Change Rate of Change
1979 11.697
1996 11.353 -0.344 -0.020 per year
2007 9.405 -1.949 -0.177 per year
2018 9.506  +0.102 +0.009 per year

The satellites involve rocket science, but this does not.  There was a small loss of ice extent over the first 17 years, then a dramatic downturn for 11 years, 9 times the rate as before. That was followed by the current plateau with no further loss of ice extent.  All the fuss is over that middle period, and we know what caused it.  A lot of multi-year ice was flushed out through the Fram Strait, leaving behind more easily melted younger ice. The effects from that natural occurrence bottomed out in 2007.

Kwok et al say this about the Variability of Fram Strait ice flux:

The average winter area flux over the 18-year record (1978–1996) is 670,000 km2, ;7% of the area of the Arctic Ocean. The winter area flux ranges from a minimum of 450,000 km2 in 1984 to a maximum of 906,000 km2 in 1995. . .The average winter volume flux over the winters of October 1990 through May 1995 is 1745 km3 ranging from a low of 1375 km3 in the 1990 flux to a high of 2791 km3 in 1994.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261010602/download

Conclusion:

Some complain it is too soon to say Arctic Ice is recovering, or that 2007 is a true change point.  The same people were quick to jump on a declining period after 1996 as evidence of a “Death Spiral.”

Footnote:

No one knows what will happen to Arctic ice.

Except maybe the polar bears.

And they are not talking.

Except, of course, to the admen from Coca-Cola

Mid June Arctic Ice Lopsided

In the first half of June 2019, the shift from ice to water is unusually lop-sided in two respects. The image above, supported by the table later on shows that in the last two weeks water has opened up faster on the Pacific side, and much slower on the Atlantic side, with the exception of Baffin Bay.  The other surprise is that MASIE shows much less ice than does SII, a reversal of the typical situation.

The graph below shows the surprising discrepancy between MASIE and SII appearing in May and continuing in June.

Note that the  NH ice extent 12 year average declined from 12.7M km2 to 10.9M km2 during in the last 30 days.  MASIE 2019 shows about the same decline from 11.9M km2 to 10.3M km2.  That track matched 2016 in May, but is now closest to 2010 and below other years.  Interestingly SII showed a much slower rate of ice extent loss, starting nearly the same as MASIE, but ended this period 400k km2 higher. and close to average and 2018.

I have no explanation for the differential between MASIE and SII.  Note that ice extents in both datasets are levelling off mid-June.

Region 2019166 Day 166 Average 2019-Ave. 2010166 2019-2010
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 10340833 10933549 -592716 10534077 -193244
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 761369 968193 -206823 933194 -171824
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 680432 799211 -118778 839873 -159441
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1049046 1054090 -5045 1068901 -19856
 (4) Laptev_Sea 750164 778536 -28372 772185 -22021
 (5) Kara_Sea 671900 722641 -50741 717539 -45640
 (6) Barents_Sea 261587 215180 46408 138264 123324
 (7) Greenland_Sea 549038 568045 -19007 524612 24426
 (8) Baffin_Bay_
Gulf_of_St._Lawrence
558105 733399 -175294 667457 -109352
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 787036 798742 -11706 766642 20394
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1014530 1004832 9698 826781 187749
 (11) Central_Arctic 3229461 3221030 8431 3206453 23008
 (12) Bering_Sea 17768 33002 -15234 21317 -3550
 (13) Baltic_Sea 0 7 -7 0 0
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 9381 35292 -25911 83076 -73695

The table shows where the ice is distributed to make the 5.4% defict to average.  Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are more than half of the NH deficit to average, while Baffin has lost 175k km2 to average.

Illustration by Eleanor Lutz shows Earth’s seasonal climate changes. If played in full screen, the four corners present views from top, bottom and sides.

May Arctic Ice Mixed Signals

The image above shows that ice began to disappear in earnest during May.  On day 120 (April 30), Bering and Okhotsk Seas (left bottom and far left) were already mostly water.  Elsewhere the first 10 days added some water, and then more rapidly in the last 20 days. The Central Arctic core is intact, including East Siberian and Laptev Sea on the Russian side (left) and Canadian Archipelago (center right) and Hudson Bay (far right).

Meanwhile Beaufort and Chukchi (bottom center) are opening up, along with Baffin (center below Greenland).

The graph below shows a surprising discrepancy between MASIE and SII appearing in May.

Note that the  NH ice extent 12 year average declined from 13.6M km2 to 11.8M km2 during May.  MASIE 2019 shows about the same decline from 12.7M km2 to 10.9M km2.  That track matches 2016, but well below other years.  Interestingly SII showed a much slower rate of ice extent loss, starting nearly the same as MASIE, but ended the month 600k km2 higher. and matching 2018. Some thoughts later on why the discrepancy and the below average extent this year.

Region 2019151 Day 151 
Average
2019-Ave. 2007151 2019-2007
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 10939662 11844796 -905134 11846659 -906997
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 848114 1000716 -152602 1059461 -211347
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 738661 872393 -133732 894617 -155956
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1059805 1069104 -9299 1069198 -9393
 (4) Laptev_Sea 820403 831752 -11349 754651 65752
 (5) Kara_Sea 760439 849220 -88780 895678 -135239
 (6) Barents_Sea 268245 330718 -62473 323801 -55556
 (7) Greenland_Sea 500951 575983 -75031 591919 -90968
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 756455 931604 -175149 934257 -177802
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 789111 748381 40730 818055 -28944
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1103650 1104185 -535 1077744 25906
 (11) Central_Arctic 3224969 3218320 6649 3230109 -5141
 (12) Bering_Sea 27192 135798 -108606 112353 -85161
 (13) Baltic_Sea 0 188 -188 0 0
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 40429 105988 -65559 83076 -42647

The table shows where the ice is distributed to make the 7.6% defict to average.  The Pacific Basins of Bering and Okhotsk are ~170k km2 of the difference.  Baffin is 175k km2 below average. Chukchi and Beaufort are the other two large contributors to the 905k km2 deficit.

What’s Going on with Arctic Ice in May?

From Susan Crockford at Polar Bear Science

This is the time year when declining sea ice gets some people all worked up. However, declining ice is normal at this time of year and there is always variation in where the most open water appears first. At this time of year, there isn’t much ice ‘melt’ going on. Rather, what we are seeing is the opening up of shore leads and polynyas by winds.


A polynya (po·lyn·ya) is an area of year-round open water surrounded by heavier, thicker sea ice cover. Polynyas are marine oases in the Arctic, their nutrient-rich waters providing a place to feed, mate and overwinter for a wide range of species.

The North Water Polynya is fed by freshwater from melting ice caps in Greenland and Canada that mix with Pacific water columns snaking through underwater channels in the Northwest Passage and Lancaster Sound. These icy waters merge with a warmer Atlantic current and are carried up the west coast of Greenland.

Dr. Judah Cohen AER Arctic Oscillation and Polar Vortex Analysis and Forecasts
May 24, 2019 says:

Last year at this time, the Arctic was dominated by below normal geopotential height anomalies and this year the Arctic is dominated by above normal geopotential height anomalies. High heights/blocking in the Arctic favors troughing and cooler temperatures in the mid-latitudes and in that regard the high heights in the Arctic, especially on the North Atlantic side, favor troughing and relatively cool temperatures in Europe. If high heights/blocking in the Arctic especially near Greenland, can persist for much of the summer then parts of Europe could experience below normal temperatures this summer.

All forecasts predict a relatively warm summer for East Asia. Again, I think the trend is your friend in East Asia as well and the warm forecast is likely to verify. However as in Europe, persistent high heights/blocking to the north could flip the summer from hot to cool at least regionally.

Finally, if polar cap geopotential height anomalies remain on the warm/positive side for much of the summer, this could result in accelerated sea ice loss relative to recent summers.

Pacific, Not Arctic Ice Melting April 30

The image above shows the disappearing ice in the two Pacific basins over the last 16 days of April.  Okhotsk on the left melted steadily, losing 400k km2 of ice during this period, with only 260k km2 or 20% of its March maximum remaining. Bering Sea on the right actually gained 150k km2 ice extent up to 315k km2, before losing 215k km2 in the last four days, with only 100k km2 of ice left.

Meanwhile the Arctic core, Russian ice shelves and Canadian Archipelago remain frozen  The image above shows ice extent waxing and waning at the margins, especially in Bafffin Bay left of Greenland, and in Greenland Sea in the center.  Barents Sea on the right ended up about the same as it started this period.

The graph below shows how the April Arctic extents compared to the 12 year average and to some years of interest.
MASIE shows NH ice extents 800k km2 below the 12 year average at both the beginning and end of April.  SII ended the month slightly higher.  At this point 2019 is also tracking below 2018 and 2007.  The deficit is mostly due to open water in the Pacific basins.
The green line shows the average NH extents excluding Bering and Okhotsk ice,  The purple line shows the same for 2019, excluding B&O ice.  On day 90, the 12 year average included 1.7M km2 of B&O ice, which dropped to 0.9M by day 120.  In contrast 2019 started the month with 1.3M km2 of B&O ice, with only 0.3M left at month end.  As the table below will show, the over all deficit to average is 800k km2, and 550k km2 is due to Bering and Okhotsk melting.

Region 2019120 Day 120 
Average
2019-Ave. 2007120 2019-2007
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 12845831 13636708 -790876 13108068 -262237
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070463 1068049 2414 1059189 11273
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 908742 957319 -48578 949246 -40504
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1082230 1085731 -3500 1080176 2054
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897845 891192 6653 875661 22184
 (5) Kara_Sea 921837 912762 9075 864664 57173
 (6) Barents_Sea 564996 551830 13166 396544 168452
 (7) Greenland_Sea 544988 647270 -102283 644438 -99450
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 1128210 1256132 -127923 1147115 -18905
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 853337 847923 5414 838032 15305
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1255410 1243542 11868 1222074 33336
 (11) Central_Arctic 3245152 3237039 8114 3241034 4118
 (12) Bering_Sea 100108 515469 -415361 475489 -375381
 (13) Baltic_Sea 9715 22746 -13032 14684 -4969
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 261111 396325 -135214 295743 -34632

Other than B&O losing ice, the other sizeable deficits to average are coming from Baffin Bay and Greenland Sea.  Of course, all of these basins will be ice-free as usual before September.

Drift ice in Okhotsk Sea at sunrise.

 

Bering Sea Ice Blues Mid April 2019

“Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose.” (Kris Kristofferson)

In April, Arctic ice extent is declining as usual with the notable exception of Bering Sea, along with ice retreating in nearby Okhotsk.  Bering still has some ice to lose, but at 178k km2 it is only 31% of the ice there January 27, the largest Bering extent this year.  It is unusual since the Bering ice is only 25% of the 12 year average for this date.  Nearby Chukchi Sea is hardly showing any open water, down only 10k km2 from its maximum.  Open water is also gaining in Okhotsk, the other Pacific basin, but ice extent there is still 6% above the 12-year average.

Elsewhere things are mostly typical with Russian and Canadian basins still frozen with high extents.  The other two places losing ice are Barents and Baffin Bay/Gulf of St. Lawrence shown below.
On the right side is Barents losing ice along the Russian coastline, while holding onto Svalbard.  On the left, water in Baffin Bay is pushing north along the western Greenland coast.  On the extreme left is open water taking over in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The graph below shows how the Arctic extent has faired since the March maximum compared to the 12 year average with and without the Pacific basins of Bering and Okhotsk.  The green line is the 12yr. average without B&O, while 2019 appears in purple when Bering and Okhotsk are excluded.
As of day 105, 2019 ice extent is 858k km2 below the 12yr. average, a gap of 6%.  529k km2 of that difference comes from the combined losses in Bering and Okhotsk.

The graph below shows March/April 2019 compared to average and some years of interest.

All years are tracking below the 12-year average.  2019 MASIE and SII are the same and well below 2018, largely due to Pacific ice losses. 2007 is only slightly higher than 2019 at this point.  The table below shows ice extents by regions comparing 2019 with 12-year average (2007 to 2018 inclusive) and 2007.

Region 2019105 Day 105 
Average
2019-Ave. 2007105 2019-2007
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 13443363 14301788 -858425 13588722 -145359
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070498 1069781 717 1068692 1806
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 955995 965240 -9245 961638 -5643
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1087137 1086417 721 1078666 8471
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897845 893203 4642 843501 54344
 (5) Kara_Sea 932750 922684 10066 890594 42156
 (6) Barents_Sea 586518 611095 -24577 439904 146614
 (7) Greenland_Sea 601126 652308 -51182 673585 -72458
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 1133317 1349987 -216669 1215526 -82208
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 853337 852527 810 848812 4526
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1238689 1252970 -14281 1208588 30101
 (11) Central_Arctic 3241460 3236044 5416 3235648 5811
 (12) Bering_Sea 177335 714883 -537548 600281 -422946
 (13) Baltic_Sea 16987 48771 -31784 23534 -6547
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 648664 640205 8459 491121 157543

Of course both of these basins will melt out long before the September minimum, along with the Russian shelf seas.

As indicated earlier, Bering supplies almost 2/3 of the deficit to average, with Baffin Bay providing most of the other 1/3. Of course both of these basins will melt out long before the September minimum, along with the Russian shelf seas.