New ice on Hudson Bay a week earlier than 2017: another early freeze-up ahead?

Last year, an early freeze-up of Western Hudson Bay sea ice almost ruined the Polar Bear Week campaign devised by Polar Bears International to drum up donation dollars and public sympathy for polar bear conservation. Many bears were on the ice hunting by 7-8 November in 2017 before the celebratory week was done (the average date that bears left the ice in the 1980s): sea ice charts suggest the same may be happening this year.

Polar bears off Churchill_2000-11-20_wikipedia

Ice is forming along the Hudson Bay coast more than a week earlier than it was last year (barely discernible on the map below but detailed ice charts show it clearly), consistent with early build-up of ice in the Canadian Archipelago, East Greenland, and Foxe Basin since mid-September.

Sea ice Canada 2018 Oct 23

The question is: will the ice continue to build over the next few weeks or get blown offshore? See the ice charts below for this year and 2017.

Today’s ice chart for Hudson Bay, from the Canadian Ice Service (23 October 2018), shows gray ice already in place along most of the NW coast:

Hudson Bay North daily stage of development 2018 Oct 23 new ice

Conditions similar to today’s did not develop last year until the first of November:

Hudson Bay North daily ice stage of development 2017_Nov 1

However, an early freezeup is not guaranteed: in 2016, there was ice developing along shore on the 8th of November (see below) but a south wind came along and blew it offshore. Bears didn’t leave the ice for another 4 weeks (early December, which is quite late):

Hudson Bay North 2016 concentration Nov 8

Time will tell.

Most bears have been onshore for almost 4 months (15 weeks) and reports from the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill for the third week in October (below) show that activity is picking up:


Last year at week 16 (week 15 was not reported), there had been somewhat less activity than this year (only 105 incidents vs. 173) but the message to the public was very similar:

Churchill PB reports_week 16_23-29 Oct_2017_week 10 and 13 missing

In 2016, the situation was more similar to this year:

2016 Oct 17-23_week 15_week 11 missing

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