Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO)

Update

  • Status: The first report of the 2016 SIWO season is now available!

To share comments or images about the conditions in your area, send them to Kristina Creek (creek [at] arcus.org) or join the conversation on the SIWO Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/seaiceforwalrus.

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Photo by Maggie Prevenas - PolarTREC/ARCUSPhoto by Maggie Prevenas - PolarTREC/ARCUS

The Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO), an activity of the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook started in 2010, is a resource for Alaska Native subsistence hunters, coastal communities, and others interested in sea ice and walrus. The SIWO provides weekly reports from April through June with information on sea ice conditions relevant to walrus in the Northern Bering Sea and southern Chukchi Sea regions of Alaska.

If you are a local hunter, expert, or a scientist with observations on sea ice, please send your comments to creek [at] arcus.org (Kristina Creek); your comments will be posted to this page.

This collaboration includes weather and ice forecasters, climate scientists and sea-ice researchers at NOAA, the National Weather Service, the University of Alaska, and the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS, with funding from the National Science Foundation's Division of Arctic Sciences), who are teaming up with Alaska Native sea-ice experts and the Eskimo Walrus Commission.

SIWO on Facebook Follow #SIWO (via @ArcticResearch) on Twitter

Webcams

UAF's Wales Sea Ice Webcam: http://seaice.alaska.edu/gi/observatories/wales_webcam

Walrus/Whale Tracking

USGS Walrus Tracking Website: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/tracking.html

AK Department of Fish and Game Bowhead Tracking Website: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=marinemammalprogram.bowhead

Press & Outreach

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska Native Knowledge Merges with Modern Research to Help Study Arctic (27 June 2015)

KNOM Radio: Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (27 April 2012)

Alaska Public Radio Interview: New Sea Ice Report to Chronicle Arctic Conditions (27 April 2012)

SIWO Highlighted in the U.S. Arctic Research Commission Report on the Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research 2011-2012

Arctic Sounder: Ice-forecasting Project Uses Facebook to Improve Safety for Walrus Hunters and Whalers (24 May 2011)

Webinar hosted by Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) (May 24, 2011).

NYTimes: Another Symbol of the Arctic's Complex Ecosystem Finds Itself on Thin Ice (10 August 2010)

Webinar hosted by Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) (15 June 2010)

Documents

SIWO Flyer (PDF - 415 KB)

creek [at] arcus.org (Kristina Creek), ronnie [at] arcus.org (Ronnie Owens), helen [at] arcus.org (Helen Wiggins) - Sea Ice Outlook Central Office, ARCUS
Vmetcalf [at] kawerak.org (Vera Kingeekuk Metcalf) - Eskimo Walrus Commission
hajo.eicken [at] gi.alaska.edu (Hajo Eicken) - University of Alaska Fairbanks and SEARCH Science Steering Committee
Gary Hufford, Don Moore - National Weather Service
Jim Overland, Nancy Soreide, Tracey Nakamura, Nick Bond - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (NOAA/PMEL)
Sue Moore - NOAA Office of Science & Technology and SEARCH Science Steering Committee (SSC)

Assessment of Current Ice Conditions Relevant to Distribution and Access of Walrus

28 April 2016 - Current Conditions:

State of the Ice at Season’s Start

Contributed by Matthew Druckenmiller, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and SEARCH Sea Ice Action Team

Conditions in the Bering Sea region this year are generally consistent with much of the Arctic. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported the 2016 maximum winter extent of Arctic sea ice to be the lowest in the satellite record (1979-present), noting that unusually warm conditions have undoubtedly played an important role. This was due to a combination of factors, including unusually high winter air temperatures and well above normal water temperatures in the northeast Pacific (see January AOOS post), which was in part due to a strong El Niño. With reduced winter ice extent this year, the open ocean is able to take up more heat from the sun during spring, which may then also cause more rapid and extensive ice retreat in the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas later in the season.

By March 1st, the shorefast ice off Wales was reported thinner than normal, owing to mild winter conditions. Based on observations from Winton Weyapuk, Jr. (see the SIZONet observation database), the pack ice was rarely seen off the village throughout March due to both poor visibility from fog and vast amounts of open water in the Strait and toward the southwest.

21 April 2016 Terra / MODIS image showing mostly open water across the Bering Strait.21 April 2016 Terra / MODIS image showing mostly open water across the Bering Strait.

The northeast Bering Sea near Nome and Norton sound experienced an unusually low presence of pack ice throughout most of winter and spring. At Nome, Local Environmental Observer Network (LEO) member Anahma Shannon described the unusual conditions of 2016:

“I think that this is the first year we've only had shorefast ice. Generally the larger ice pans in the ocean push up against the shorefast ice and sometimes ebb and flow but this is the first time it's been absent more than present. This presented a safety problem for travelers snowmachining between villages or out to their crabbing pots on the ice.” [See the full observation post from 18 April 2016 here.]

The southern coast of the Seward Peninsula also experienced relatively narrow and absent shorefast ice in certain areas, for example, along the coast between Nome, Port Clarence, and Cape Mountain near Wales.

Additionally, the southeast Bering Sea experienced a very late onset of ice formation, with some locations not having seen ice until mid-March. For example at Toksook Bay, LEO Observer Anna John noted that:

“It's February! Middle of the winter. Our bay isn't frozen yet. People usually start jigging for tomcods by this time of the year on the bay. It hasn't been cold enough to freeze the bay….Incredibly, we are fortunate to have more snow this year. Some men are able to go hunting and fishing, to surrounding villages by snowmachines, and there were some people that were able to go to timberline to get wood for maqi (Yupik steam house)...” [See the full observation post from 1 March 2016 here.]

In recent years, 2013 and 2014, the ice in Toksook Bay was 2-3 feet thick by early March, according to observations from ice expert Simeon John (see observations here under 'Tooksok Bay').

Near St. Lawrence Island

Shorefast ice remains secure along the northern coastline of St. Lawrence Island with consolidated first year sea ice stretching approximately 20 to 40 nautical miles to the north of the coastline from Gambell to Savoonga. Beyond this ice area lies mainly new and young sea ice with isolated first year ice floes drifting to the south through the Bering Strait. Along the west coast of the island first year sea ice floes are drifting to the southwest past the coastline. Off the east coast of the island lies a larger belt of close to very close first year pack ice also drifting to the southwest down past the coastline. Along the southern coast of the island is a very large area of open water to ice-free conditions at this time.

Wales to Shishmaref

Shorefast ice along the coast from Wales to Shishmaref remains in place at this time with very close first year pack ice beyond the shorefast boundary through much of the southern Chukchi Sea at this time. Near the Bering Strait the main ice pack is beginning to collapse and shift to the south as it breaks apart near the Diomede Islands continuing south into the northern Bering Sea. Sea ice near the Bering Strait region consists of first year ice floes in very open pack ice. Open water conditions with the occasional first year ice floe drifting through may be found near the coastline from just south of Wales to the coast near Port Clarence.

Forecast Discussion

Ice Forecast

For the St. Lawrence Island region, we expect the consolidated ice to remain along the northern coastline of the island through the coming week. First year ice floes will likely continue to be pulled to the southwest past the coastline near Gambell and past the eastern coastline of the island. We do not expect any first year ice floes off the southern coastline of the island, with ice-free to open water conditions persisting in that area through the coming week.

For the Wales to Shishmaref region, we expect the very close pack ice to continue to slowly destabilize and collapse just north of the Diomede Islands in the southern Chukchi Sea through the coming week. The shorefast ice is expected to remain in place from Wales to Shishmaref, but beyond the shorefast ice near Wales first year ice floes will likely continue to drift to the south through the Bering Strait.

Weather System/Wind Synopsis

High pressure over Chukotka will persist through May 4th. Low pressure will move into the western Alaskan Interior on May 2nd and then weaken. These features will bring north winds 10 to 20 kt (15 to 25 mph), from Ikpek to Wales and across the St. Lawrence Island region. South of the Bering Strait higher gusts are likely at times through May 2nd. From Ikpek to Shishmaref, winds will be north 10 to 20 kt (5 to 15 mph) through May 2nd then turn more northwest at similar or slightly lower speeds on May 3rd and 4th.

Temperature Trend

Generally above normal temperatures will persist through May 10. Daytime temperatures around 25 to 35 °F. Overnight temperatures of 20 to 30 °F are anticipated. After May 5th daytime temperatures will generally be near or above freezing.

Daily Weather, Wind, and Temperature Updates

The National Weather Service provides twice-daily, text only updates on the weather, wind, and temperature conditions in specific geographical zones:

For Shishmaref: http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/fpopcap/lfpfcst.html?z=AKZ207
For Wales, Gambell, and Savoonga: http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/fpopcap/lfpfcst.html?z=AKZ213

An interactive map for access to other Alaskan zones: http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/fpopcap/?leaf=1.

Assessment of Current Ice Conditions Relevant to Distribution and Access of Walrus

Observations of Sea Ice Development

In this location, you will find comments about ice development based on information provided by local ice experts and other researchers based on ground observations and satellite images.

Additional comments and images are regularly posted to the SIWO Facebook page.

Current Outlook Observations

  • Observations from Nome

    26 April 2016 - Boogles Johnson

    The ice has been hanging around Nome. Over the weekend it was like a big lake in front of Nome with open water east of Cape Nome. There's minor shorefast ice and the ice that is in front of town is getting rotten quickly. There's a lot of slush and small pieces of ice but still good ice for walrus to haul out on. Two hunters have reported to me that they have seen a few walrus approximately 20/25 miles out.

  • Observations from Shishmaref

    26 April 2016 - Curtis Nayokpuk

    With constant northerly winds, yesterday's map of the shorefast ice shows solid ice. According to crabbers, the ice is 2 to 3 ft. thick along the North coast of Seward Peninsula and has been frozen in place for over two months. Looks like an early season for hunting if ice is thin and breaking up in Norton Sound.

Remote Sensing Data

Wales to Shishmaref Wales to Shishmaref
Bering Strait Bering Strait
St. Lawrence Island St. Lawrence Island

Additional Resources

Ice Imagery

Additional satellite images can be found at the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA) website: http://gina.alaska.edu.

For those with low-bandwidth internet connections, there is also a direct feed to the most recent satellite images for the Bering Strait, St. Lawrence Island, and the Barrow region. You can access these images at: http://watch.gina.alaska.edu/.

Information on Ice Conditions

For the current sea ice concentration analysis (updated daily)
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/ice.php?img=CT

For the current sea ice stage (thickness) analysis (updated daily)
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/ice.php?img=SA

For the current sea ice forecast map (updated M/W/F)
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/ice.php?img=Forecast

For the corresponding sea ice forecast text product (updated M/W/F)
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/marfcst.php?fcst=FZAK80PAFC

For the sea surface temperature map (updated daily)
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/ice.php?img=SST

For an interactive google map to see the concentration/stage/thickness:
http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/icemap.php

SAR Imagery from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency