This satellite image of the ice pack on the Atlantic side of the Arctic was taken last Saturday and tells a story you have never heard in February: The entire Kara Sea east of Novaya Zemlya is ice-free.
While central Europe and Russia are freezing and covered with snow, the story is different in the high Arctic. In late January BarentsObserver reported on abnormal heat on Svalbard with weeks with temperatures over freezing, rain and smelting snow. The situation at sea in the Arctic is even more abnormal.
A climate blogger writing for Climate Progress has posted this series of satellite images of the extent of the sea ice over the last nine years, a period with dramatic changes in Arctic. But, while the sea ice has melted earlier in the spring and come back later in autumn, February has been a stable month with ice nearly everywhere as the sun is under the horizon. Until this year.
Image courtesy of the University of Bremen
Look at the image from February 11th 2012. No sea ice in the Kara Sea even north of Novaya Zemlya. It is practically possible to sail all round the archipelago without crushing through any ice. The only plug is at the Kara Gate.
The Barents Sea is ice-free up till 76° to 78° North between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya. Also, the areas west of Spitsbergen on Svalbard are ice-free. Polar bears on the Atlantic side of the Arctic migrate between Svalbard, Franz Josef’s Land and Novaya Zemlya. Less ice means more trouble later in the spring and summer.
This polar bear is dependent on sea ice for hunting seals. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
The blogger argue that the retreat of sea ice cover has already started, some two months earlier than normal. This is first and foremost due to the last weeks high-pressure system over northern Russia that has swept the cold towards Europe. Simultaneously, the high-pressure has drew the winds with warm air from the west and pushing the ice north in the Barents- and Kara Seas.