Thick sea ice in the Western Arctic is not good habitat for polar bears, seals, or walrus

A few weeks into the Arctic summer (July-September), sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is dominated by thick, multi-year ice.

At this time of year, multi-year ice is an important refuge habitat for many polar bears when seasonal ice melts out. However, it provides few opportunities for hunting seals. In fact, it is nearly as devoid of food as is the shore during the melt season. Consequently, most polar bears eat little over the summer whether they are on land or on sea ice due to the scarcity of seals.

Overall, there is a lot of open water in the Kara and Laptev Seas, but ice is persistent in the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas off the Russian Far East.

Beaufort Sea

In the detailed chart below, brown is thick, multi-year ice and dark green is thick, first year ice (>1.2m thick). This is still above average for early summer, as it was this spring.

Compared to the longterm average the western Canadian Arctic has slightly less ice than usual this year due to much more ice than usual in the eastern Beaufort (blue) being offset by less ice in the western Beaufort/Chukchi Sea:

Chukchi Sea

Like the CIS chart above, this chart from the Alaska Sea Ice Program shows thick, multi-year ice in brown and thick, first year ice (>1.2m thick) in dark green. Pacific walrus won’t be getting to important feeding grounds around Wrangel Island or off the coast of Chukotka anytime soon, which means polar bears won’t have access to carcasses from accidental deaths. That thick ice continues into the East Siberian Sea, which is causing problems for Russian shipping to Asian markets, as it did last fall.

This could be a repeat of last year, when there was so much Chukchi Sea ice over the summer that not a word was heard from the media and doomsday conservationists about supposedly ‘starving’ Pacific walrus ‘trapped’ on Alaskan and Russian beaches due to lack of ice, described in detail in my book, Fallen Icon.

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