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Low Sea Ice Extent Continues in Chukchi and Bering Seas

Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea

Sea ice currently in the Bering Sea is the lowest on record for this time of year, although sea ice data says the extent isn’t too different from the past several years.

Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, describes the sea ice conditions that exist in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

“As of December 20th, we’ve got plenty of ice in Norton Sound, although most of it is fairly mobile, there is very little shore-fast ice. We are struggling to get ice into the Bering Strait, there has been ice coming and going a couple of times. Some of that is because of the very late ice-over of the Chukchi Sea.”

From the NWS Sea Ice forecast (December 20th, 2019)

According to the sea ice forecast from the National Weather Service, today [December 20th] the Chukchi Sea still has a few gaps of open water amidst the frozen ice pack. 

The reason for the late freeze up in the Chukchi, according to Thoman, has more to do with this summer in the Bering Sea, than the current season’s storminess.

“What we’re really seeing is the effects of the very warm water that we had during the summertime and into the fall.”

And that reinforced trend of less sea ice leading to warmer waters in the Bering Sea looks to be the norm going forward.

So as Thoman puts it, having a completely ice-covered Chukchi soon is important for the Bering Sea and southern waters.

“With the cooler weather coming up for probably the better part of the rest of the year, we will get the Chukchi iced-over here, and we expect to see ice forming in the Bering Strait and then southward.”

A warning however from Thoman, that if the Bering Sea region gets into a stormy pattern with back-to-back winter storms this season, then the limited sea ice currently forming will be primed to retreat as it has the last couple of years.

Image at top: Small patches of sea ice in the Chuckchi Sea, seen from the US Coast Guard cutter Healy, 2011. Photo from public domain.