Record low Arctic sea ice – first tankers sail

The two ice-class oil-tankers "Varzuga" and "Indiga" at port in Murmansk before their voyage along the Northern Sea Route. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Two first oil-tankers left Murmansk for record early voyage along the Northern Sea Route as the Arctic sea ice has melted faster this year than ever recorded before.


Due to both the large areas covered with only one-year-ice, the less thick multiple years ice and the early melting now in June, all factors are in place for a all-time low Arctic sea ice extent by the end of the melting season in September this year.

While less sea ice is very bad news for polar bears as reported by BarentsObserver yesterday, the shipping industry take the advantage of less Arctic sea ice. From Russia’s northern port of Murmansk, the season’s two first oil tankers have already started their first voyages towards Siberia.

The tankers “Indiga” and “Varzuga” sailed from Murmansk last week loaded with fuel oil for northern settlements along the Siberian coast. This is a record early start of the season, reports Murmansk Shipping Company. The two tankers will continue to shuttle fuel oil from Murmansk to Russia’s far eastern Arctic region of Chukotka until the freezing season starts again this autumn. The two nuclear powered icebreakers “Vaigach” and “Yamal” will assist the oil-tankers in waters still covered with ice. The “Yamal” also sailed from Murmansk last week. 

After a period of rapid ice loss through the first half of June, the Arctic sea ice extent is now slightly below 2010 levels, the previous record low at this time of year. The US National Snow and Ice Data center is closely detecting the extent of the sea ice from day-to-day with the help of satellites.

Last week, the five-day average sea ice extent was 10,62 million square kilometers, or 31.000 square kilometers below the same five-day average recorded in 2010. 

Climate changes scientists from all around the world are now researching the global warming’s influences on the Arctic. Temperatures here have risen more than twice as fast as the global average over the past half century. 

Researchers from the Bjerknes Centre in Bergen, Norway, have in a recent study quantified hot Atlantic heat influences the sea ice extent in the Barents Sea, where the retreat in sea ice during the winter period is the most pronounced, Science Daily reports.

Warm water flows northward off the Norwegian coast and into the Barents Sea as an extension of the Gulf Stream. Measurements from the south-western Barents Sea and results from a numerical ocean model reveal that increased heat transport associated with Atlantic water leads to a larger area with no wintertime freezing.

Most of the sea ice retreat is thus not ice that has melted; this sea ice never froze, and is therefore a fundamentally different process than the observed summer sea ice retreat in the central Arctic, the study concludes.