Nature follows its own break-up calendar
Looking seaward over the last week from almost all points along the coasts of Norton Sound, folks have been dazzled by bright blue horizons colored by open water.
Scientists say there has not been such an extensive and early ice recession in the Arctic for over 150 years since 1850.
Where did the ice go?
Passengers and biologists looking down to check the ice as they have been traversing Norton Sound in commuter planes have been mystified. Winter ice has made a clean getaway, leaving behind a few pieces of pancake ice and a narrow fringe of shore-fast ice. Shards of buckled ice in pressure ridges have jumbled the start of subsistence hunting season.
A Wales resident, who identified himself as Terrin Magby at the Wales IRA office, reported by phone a narrow fringe of shore ice separating the Bering Sea village from open water.
There is just a narrow strip along the shore, Magby said Monday. “But that ice has a pressure ridge along it that keeps people from getting their boats in the water.”
Another issue is timing. Open water had come sooner than usual, Magby said, making it hard to prepare for spring hunting to satisfy eager appetites for traditional subsistence foods—ring seal, bearded seal, spotted seal.
People are chipping their boats out of the snow and ice along the coast. “The open water came earlier than last year,” Magby said. “People aren’t ready to go hunting yet!”
Gay Sheffield, biologist with UAF Sea Grant Program looked down through the window of an airplane April 18, and saw open water. “It’s a stunner!” she told other members of the Nome Port Commission at a meeting the next day. Mayor Richard Beneville appointed Gay Sheffield to the Nome Port Commission last month, with unanimous approval of Council.
Sheffield, from informal aerial observations reported sea ice all gone off Norton Sound coastal villages of Golovin, Elim, Shaktoolik, Unalakleet, north and east of Stebbins and Saint Michael.
The Port of Nome expects its ice-free shipping season to start around June 1. Sheffield warned Port of Nome administrators and appointed officials at the April 19 meeting to buckle up and be ready for an open harbor—soon.
New ways of climate change have disrupted old ways of old days, for food gatherers in coastal and land locked villages. Inland hunters report that fall’s legal hunting seasons and weather and land conditions have gone separate ways. When the season opens for caribou, subsistence advisory committee members report a lack of snow for snow machine travel, or the rivers to the hunting grounds flowing along late in fall offering no firm footing to allow hunters’ access to hunting camps and traditional foraging areas.
A summary of highly unusual sea ice conditions provided by the International Arctic Research Center, in collaboration with NOAA through University of Alaska Fairbanks, says that winter freeze-up came late this past winter. In February, the sea ice cover was lowest in the past 168 years. In the Bering Strait, sea ice moved in and out of the region repeatedly, the summary said. When ice returned, it was broken up and choppy, according to residents. Air and water temperatures were warmer than usual.
There were frequent storms from December to February with strong south winds, which broke up the ice often so that in some areas it could not form strong thick ice.