Sea ice in 2017

During the past season, I’ve regularly written about the condition of the sea ice. In contrast to last year, where there was hardly any ice from the beginning of the season, this year had a lot of ice. Especially in the early season, the ice was blocking most of our landing sites in the northern and eastern parts of the archipelago. Great for the bears, even though it was thin one-year-old ice and it only arrived very late in winter.

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Sea ice in early season

During the season the ice melted away, as usual in summer allowing us to go to our usual places again. But because it stayed for such a long time close to the shore, most bears had found their way to it, and we didn’t see many bears stranded on land.

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Arctic sea ice extent – source: National Snow and Ice Data Center, USA

Because of this unusual ice situation, we got many questions about climate change. Wasn’t it as bad as they said? Was this the turning point? For this, you have to look at the Arctic as a whole. On 13th September the sea ice in the Arctic reached its minimum extent, the 8th lowest on record. In the first half of the season, roughly until the end of July, the Arctic sea ice extent held par with the record low years of 2012. But in August and September, the melting slowed down, resulting in ‘only’ the 8th lowest year. So apparently the situation on Spitsbergen didn’t have anything to do with a change in global patterns and wasn’t exemplary for the rest of the Arctic.

Looking at the current ice chart for Spitsbergen still shows hardly any ice. Hopefully winter sets in soon, so the pregnant female bears can reach their denning sites easily…

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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