Ice free.

And all those facing outward, towards the planetary, the geologic, the unknown, raised a great cry, a witnessing of the very tide that had been predicted. Homo Colossus did not stir from its dream of currency.  The Greenland Ice Sheet.

All of the sea ice has melted around the Alaskan coast for up to 150 miles. All of it!  The hot summer and the July heatwave is the cause (air temperatures in the high 80’s and low 90’s were common as were sea temperatures above 60F). The dramatic loss is not the first time this phenomenon has occurred —  just two short years ago all of Alaska’s sea ice melted. What is remarkable this year is that the ice has never melted this early before, sea ice should hopefully form in the Fall when temperatures plunge. Even in winter, the ice melted.

In March the Bering, and to a lesser extent the Chuckchi and Barent, Seas were ice-free. What is horrifying is that “new research shows that changes in the heat flow of the northern Pacific Ocean may have a larger effect on the Arctic climate than previously thought.”  The rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is being rapidly funneled out of the Pacific and into the Atlantic via Greenland’s Fram Strait



(“The Arctic dipole anomaly is a pressure pattern characterized by high pressure on the arctic regions of North America, and low pressure on the Eurasia region. This pattern sometimes replaces the Arctic oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation).

Ice free.

Warming sea temperatures and sea ice loss are wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems in Alaska and Russia. The very web of life in the Arctic is threatened and the leading suspect is abrupt climate change.

The Arctic is warming up to three times faster than anywhere else on Earth due to feedback loops that were not expected for decades. The devastating phenomenon is known as Arctic Amplification and haunts climatologists as more and more evidence surfaces that humanity may be well beyond any effort on our part to control.

A line of krill washed up on a beach.
Marine die-off of Krill washed up on an Alaskan beach. Add krill and mussels to the list of unusual marine deaths in Alaska

Arctic Today reports on the crisis that is washing up on the Bering Sea coastline for all to see. It is a must-read – filled with links that are worth exploring.

The toll of discovered dead animals as of mid-July: 137 ice-dependent seals and five gray whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; dozens of walruses, piles of bird carcasses — marking what has become the latest in five consecutive years of bird die-offs in the region; carcasses of salmon that never got the chance to spawn clogging rivers and streams; and in some spots, stretches of dead blue mussels and krill have coated beaches.

Sometimes animals are found alive, but only barely so. A walrus found in June near Solomon, a village 30 miles east of Nome, was so thin that its ribs were visible and so weak its head was down on the ground, according to a local report. “It was having trouble keeping its head out of the mud,” said the report filed with the Local Environmental Observer network operated by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The animal die-offs and strandings, part of a series hitting the Bering Strait region since at least 2016, are sobering, residents say. “To see that many dead whales, it’s weird,” said Adelaine Ahmasuk, who spotted a dead baleen whale of some sort, a dead beluga and a dead bearded seal on a single fishing trip with her family.

Algae Bloom in the Bering Sea.
Algae Bloom in the Bering Sea — The region may be primed for large-scale harmful algal blooms, experts said at a two-day Nome workshop organized by the Alaska Sea Grant program of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Ocean Observing System.
The algae that produce saxitoxin, Alexandrium, need water temperatures of at least 46 degrees Fahrenheit to thrive, experts said at the July 16 and 17 workshop. That threshold has been well exceeded this summer in almost all parts of the Bering Strait region, with near-shore temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the near-shore Alaska areas and, as of mid-July, most of the region had sea surface temperatures at least 7.5 degrees above normal, according to NOAA.

If harmful algal blooms happened in the past, the magnitude of current risk is likely unprecedented, said Dean Stockwell, a University of Alaska Fairbanks oceanographer. He fears that the plentiful toxin-producing algae are being swept by currents and storms from southern parts of Alaska to the far north, where waters are now more receptive to blooms. In the past, the region’s people, for all their traditional knowledge, “weren’t dealing with these temperatures,” he said at the workshop. “It’s changing, and that’s what you have to know.”

Monthly SST Anomaly: global. The darker the shade of red or blue, the larger the difference from the long-term average or “usual” sea surface temperature. Locations that are white or very light show where sea surface temperature was the same as or very close to its long-term average.
Monthly SST Anomaly: global.  The darker the shade of red or blue, the larger the difference from the long-term average or “usual” sea surface temperature. Locations that are the white or very light show where sea surface temperature was the same as or very close to its long-term average.

When there is little or no ice, seals and walruses cannot find platforms to rest in between food-foraging dives and during key life events like birth and nursing of young. More light penetrates the water, boosting phytoplankton blooms and upsetting a prior balance, benefitting fish and pelagic species in the upper reaches of the ocean water but reducing the amount of nutrition that drifts down to the deep-dwelling benthic species like tiny amphipods, clams, crabs and snails that are crucial to the marine-mammal food web.

The absence of a winter freeze also means lack of the usual “cold pool” of ultra-salty, super-chilled water that normally serves as an underwater barrier separating the high-fat, nutrition-dense species in the northern Bering Sea from the lower-fat species that live in the southern part of the sea.

Arctic storm from the Bering Sea in 2011 blasted remote coastal towns with winds of up to 89 mph and white-out blizzards.
During two consecutive years of record-low sea ice, coastal communities lost the ice buffer that protects the land from winter storm surges. “Pollock and cod, two valuable fish species, may be running out of spawning habitat in the Bering Sea, and it's not clear they've found a replacement area. snip “Last year, with no sea ice and no pool of deep, cold water, pollock were found in the north Bering Sea where they don't usually go. The question was if they will they spawn in the new location or not, and it doesn't seem that they did,” he said. “When this happens two years in a row, it becomes really important. The Bering Sea is now in a state we've never seen before.” Inside Climate News


  • August 14, 2019
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