Fissure in the Beaufort ice pack

During the past month, a massive piece of ice has broken off west of Banks Island, in the Canadian Arctic. This picture shows the area in question, while this animation from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The split left open water in the Bering Strait for 45 days. At the same time as the fissure, there was an unusual 45 day period of open water in the Bering Strait.

For a sense of scale, here is a map showing Banks Island in relation to the rest of Canada. While one event of this kind cannot be understood without comparison to what is happening in other areas and what has happened at other times, it is a reminder of the dynamic character of the polar icecap, even in the middle of winter. According to NOAA’s 2007 Arctic Report Card, anomolously high temperatures are yielding “relatively younger, thinner ice cover” which is “intrinsically more susceptible to the effects of atmospheric and oceanic forcing.”

It will be fascinating to see what happens the the icecap next summer: specifically, how the level of ice cover will compare to the shocking minimum in the summer of 2007.

[Correction: 15 January 2008] The open water in the Bering Sea is unrelated to this fissure, though both took place at the same time. Both pieces of information are listed in this report from the Canadian Ice Service.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Fissure in the Beaufort ice pack”

  1. Bering Strait? Don’t you mean Beaufort Sea? Or does the fissure extend out to the Chukchi Sea?

  2. Huge fracture in Beaufort Sea ice pack worries scientists

    Last Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | 11:21 AM CT

    “David Barber, a climate scientist with the University of Manitoba, said the central ice pack normally moves away from the coast during the winter as coastal ice expands and pushes it into the sea. But usually when this occurs, there is enough old ice in the central ice pack to resist the coastal ice.

    That’s not the case this year, said Barber, who noted coastal ice pushed by high pressure systems has sent the central ice pack deep into the Beaufort Sea and towards Siberia, creating a massive fissure.

    “It’s the first time we’ve seen it happening so dramatically like this because we lost so much ice last summer,” said Barber, who last year led a team of scientists aboard the ice breaker Amundsen to the Beaufort Sea to study the changes.

    “We’re starting to think this is what the future’s going to look like,” Barber told CBC News.”

  3. Neal,

    Bering Strait? Don’t you mean Beaufort Sea? Or does the fissure extend out to the Chukchi Sea?

    The two occurrences were contemporaneous, but otherwise unrelated. I posted a correction above.

  4. While one event of this kind cannot be understood without comparison to what is happening in other areas and what has happened at other times

    Quite so. Do these sorts of fissures happen frequently? What causes them?

  5. Arctic cracks in Beaufort Sea give insight into warming (01/21/2008)

    A series of massive fractures in the ice of the Beaufort Sea are giving scientists a unique view of the Arctic meltdown.

    The cracks produced massive stretches of open water in the typically frozen sea. Some cracks are more than 100 kilometers across, scientists say.

    “The fractures are huge,” said David Barber, a climate specialist at the University of Manitoba who recently returned from the Beaufort. “We drove our ship down of one of them and you couldn’t see the sides of it.”

    The stretches of open water, known as leads, are a normal occurrence for the Beaufort in winter as thick, old ice grinds past much thinner first-year ice.

    Barber said that there is so little thick, multiyear ice now that it is moving freely across the sea “like Styrofoam in a bathtub.” He added that the vast expanses of open water are causing more warm air to rise from the seawater, changing regional weather patterns.

  6. Selling out sovereignty in orbit and the North

    Launched into orbit just last month, Radarsat-2 was developed through a partnership between MDA and the Canadian Space Agency, with Canadian taxpayers paying $445 million or about 85 per cent of the total cost.

    In return for its investment, the Canadian government was promised large amounts of imagery as well as “priority access” to Radarsat-2 in emergencies. These might include floods, forest fires, oil spills – or a suspect vessel entering Canada’s North.

    Indeed, the Canadian Ice Service has been the largest domestic user of Radarsat-2’s less powerful predecessor, Radarsat-1. The Department of National Defence, Public Safety Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs have all relied on this Canadian owned and controlled technology.

    With the Northwest Passage rapidly opening due to climate change, Radarsat-2 has become an essential tool in upholding Arctic sovereignty.

    Being able to monitor ships from space, and map the presence and thickness of any remaining ice, is a necessary complement to having naval patrol vessels, Coast Guard icebreakers or helicopters available to interdict foreign vessels.

    Shockingly, Canadians began to lose control over Radarsat-2 before it was even built. When Jean Chrétien decided to privatize the construction process in 1998, MDA started marketing the satellite’s capabilities to defence contractors and foreign militaries. Six years later, the company announced a deal with the U.S. air force to support “in-theatre support for the war fighter.”

    Once Radarsat-2 is sold to Alliant Techsystems, the United States will likely replace Canada as the country with licensing authority over it. Ottawa’s ability to control what the satellite is used for – and to commandeer the equipment in emergencies – will be lost.

  7. Vast cracks appear in Arctic ice
    By David Shukman
    Environment correspondent, BBC News

    Dramatic evidence of the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap has emerged from research during an expedition by the Canadian military.

    Scientists travelling with the troops found major new fractures during an assessment of the state of giant ice shelves in Canada’s far north.

    The team found a network of cracks that stretched for more than 10 miles (16km) on Ward Hunt, the area’s largest shelf.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *