Barrow, Alaska: Heatwave Hosts Early Sea Ice Break-up

Sea Ice Breakup Barrow

(Image source: Barrow Ice Cam)

Sea ice break-up, characterized both by melt and off-shore movement of surface ice, has now occurred off Barrow, Alaska. The event usually happens around July 8th. Since break-up was confirmed by visual yesterday, we are about three weeks early. If you want to see the video of off-shore ice breakup and movement, you can view it here.

Satellite images provided by Lance-Modis shows break-up and off shore ice motion between the days of June 19 and June 20.

Barrow Before Jun19

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Here’s the image of Barrow just as sea ice is starting to break up on June 19th. Barrow is located on the point of land near the lower left-hand portion of the image. Now, note how open water expands as ice shifts away in the second image below:

Barrow After June 20

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

This early ice break-up off Barrow came in conjunction with a powerful Alaskan heatwave that sent temperatures in some places to the high 90s. Barrow didn’t experience the same extremes of temperature, but it did see highs in the 50s and 60s on some days. When temperatures usually hit highs around 39 degrees during this time of year, consistent highs in the mid 40s to the mid 60s is a heat-wave. And that’s what we’ve seen for more than a week now. Today’s high for Barrow is supposed to top off at around 50 degrees.

Barrow may soon see ice-free seas as a rapidly expanding melt front advances through the Chukchi and into the Beaufort Sea over the coming days. This region of melt hosts much higher than above average water temperatures that were likely fueled by the recent Alaskan heatwave which pumped air temperatures in Prince William Sound above 90 degrees. A pulse of warmer water feeding from Alaska’s estuaries and into this growing body of ice free area is likely fueling above average water temperatures.

Chukchi Beaufort Melt June 21

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Expect a large area from Barrow to Wrangle Island to be vulnerable to rapid melt as this front of warmer ocean water advances northward. The image above shows this region of open water advancing along the north coast of Alaska and into a region of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off shore on June 21rst.



Barrow Ice Cam

Large Melt Ponds Forming at Barrow, Alaska

Large Melt Ponds, Barrow

(Image source: Barrow Ice Cam)

Over the past week, large melt ponds emerged off the coast of Barrow Alaska. These ponds formed after successive days of ‘warm’ weather with highs ranging between 40 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Constant sunlight and above-freezing temperatures in this region have also contributed to the formation of numerous smaller melt ponds and large holes in the sea ice.

Break-up of sea ice off Barrow usually occurs in early to mid July and is characterized by off-shore ice moving parallel to the coast. On the films provided by the Barrow Ice Cam site, sporadic ice motion was visible during a number of days over the past week. So it appears that ice break-up is currently ongoing, if not quite complete. If confirmed, the break-up at Barrow for this year will be a few weeks ahead of schedule.

Between February and March of this winter, powerful off-shore winds drove ice away from the coast even as it created an upwelling of warm water currents from beneath. The result was a rare appearance of open water during winter. But freezing temperatures and an abating of the winds caused the sea ice to rapidly return and re-freeze.

The current melt is well under-way and will be far more permanent than the brief opening of water that appeared in March. The ice near Barrow has suffered a long pummeling from sunlight and above-freezing temperatures. Now it appears ready to relinquish its grip on this frozen city, if only for a brief time.


Barrow Sea Ice Cam

%d bloggers like this: