Opinion The amount of floating ice in the Arctic's Bering Sea - which had long been expected to retreat disastrously by climate-Cassandra organisations such as Greenpeace - reached all-time record high levels last month, according to US researchers monitoring the area using satellites.
The US National Snow and Ice Data Center announced last week that ice extent in the Bering for the month of March has now been collated and compared, and is the highest seen since records began. The NSIDC boffins said in a statement:
As winds from the north pushed Arctic ice southward through the Bering Strait, the ice locked together and formed a structurally continuous band known as an ice arch, which acts a bit like a keystone arch in a building. The ice arch temporarily held back the ice behind it, but as the winds continued, the arch failed along its southern edge, and ice cascaded south through the strait into the Bering Sea. Sea ice also piled up on the northern coast of St Lawrence Island, streaming southward on either side of it.
This contrasts sharply with the grim future for the Bering predicted by Greenpeace. Thirteen years ago in 1999, the organisation had this to say:
The first regions to be affected will be ice-dependent seas near but outside the Arctic Ocean proper, including the Bering Sea ... These areas are currently covered in seasonal winter ice, which could vanish altogether with continued warming.
Walruses, which travel long distances on floating sea ice that allows them to feed over a wide area may be particularly vulnerable ...
Many species of seal are ice-dependent, including the spotted seal, which in the Bering Sea breeds exclusively at the ice edge in spring; the harp seal, which lives at the ice edge all year; the ringed seal, which give birth to and nurse their pups on sea ice; the ribbon seal and the bearded seal.
Polar bears would be threatened by any decline in ringed seal populations, their main food source.
Which now looks alarmist to say the least.
The NSIDC boffins add, however that overall the Arctic ice - while up on recent years - is below the average seen since records began in 1979. In fact, according to the Cryosphere Today website run by the Polar Research group at Illinois uni, it's down by 443,000 square km. However the sea ice around the Antarctic coasts is above average by 452,000 km2, so overall the planet's sea ice is at the moment slightly above average in extent - and in the Bering Sea, the walruses, seals and polar bears can quite literally chill out in comfort. ®