Aerial shot of ice coverage on Norton Sound

Sea ice in the Eastern Norton Sound is breaking up as temperatures continue to warm and strong winds threaten to shift the Bering Sea ice back even more.

Climatologist Rick Thoman is alarmed at the amount of open water seen in the Norton Sound near Unalakleet, through satellite images. “There may be some new thin ice there but we’re running out of time to materially thicken new ice,” Thoman said via email on March 6.

Thoman works for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, or ACCAP.

A satellite image of sea ice coverage in the Norton Sound and Bering Sea. Darker colored area is open water. Photo provided by Rick Thoman of Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, 2022.

The National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for the Norton Sound and Southern Seward Peninsula Coast which is in effect through Friday morning, March 11. The region is expected to see Northeast winds gusting up to 65 miles per hour that could devastate the sea ice around Unalakleet, Nome and other Norton Sound communities.

This could mean trouble for mushers competing in this year’s Iditarod sled dog race as they approach the Norton Sound coast. The communities of Shaktoolik, Koyuk and others that are already susceptible to strong north winds will be hit harder over the next few days, Thoman pointed out.

It is unclear if this will cause reduced visibility for mushers and their dog teams once they reach the Eastern Norton Sound, but “all of this is being driven by high pressure to the Northwest, so where the winds are not howling, bright March sunshine and chilly but not especially low temperatures are expected,” Thoman said.

As of March 10, the leaders of the 2022 Iditarod have reached the Cripple checkpoint, about 300 miles away from the Norton Sound coast.

Image at top: Sea ice in Norton Sound (aerial view from Davis Hovey, KNOM)