Quantcast

Record Low Bering Sea Ice Causes 'Natural Disaster' for Alaskan Communities

Climate
Sea ice in the Bering Sea on April 29, 2013 (left) and at an historically low level on April 29, 2018 (right). NASA Earth Observatory

The impacts of the Arctic's warmest winter on record are being felt into the spring.

As April drew to a close, scientists confirmed that sea ice in the Bering Sea, the body of water between Alaska and Russia, was at 10 percent of normal levels, The Washington Post reported Thursday.


"We've fallen off a cliff: very little sea ice remains in the Bering Sea," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist Rick Thoman tweeted on April 29.

2018 also marks the earliest start on record to the ice melt season in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Sea, University of California-Irvine climate scientist Zack Labe tweeted May 2.

Sea ice extent is at a record low for both bodies of water, breaking the previous record set in 2017, Labe tweeted Sunday.

The low ice is already having a very real impact on Alaskan communities, according to a report published in April by the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The lack of stable ice cover made it difficult for Alaska residents to travel between communities on boats or snow machines or to hunt for marine life like mammals, fish and crabs, the report found.

"Without the ice, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to put food on the table," IARC climate scientist Brian Brettscheider told The Washington Post.

Less sea ice also means less protection from storms, like the one that hit Little Diomede Island in February, leading to power outages and pushing ice rubble onto the beach that damaged the island's water treatment plant and helipad.

"Fellow Americans are suffering from a natural disaster," Thoman told The Washington Post. "While low sea ice is not as dramatic as a wildfire or an Interstate 95 snowstorm, the impacts and hardships it produces are just as real," he said.

The report said the Bering Sea's record-low 2018 ice cover was due to two factors: warmer temperatures and increased storms.

Warmer air and water temperatures have interacted with lower ice levels over the past four winters to create a feedback loop leading to even greater melting.

"Open water absorbs heat more than ice-covered water. Less sea ice means warmer ocean water, and warmer ocean water generally means less and thinner sea ice," the report said.

The winter of 2018 also saw more storms than usual in the region, meaning that when ice did form, it was broken up again.

According to The Washington Post, Bering Sea ice took a major hit during an arctic heatwave in February, when one third of it melted in a week.

While ice cover increased during March, it was reversed again by storms from the south beginning March 21, leading to a low-ice spring, the IARC report said.

"Communities need to prepare for more winters with low sea ice and stormy conditions. Although not every winter will be like this one, there will likely be similar winters in the future. Ice formation will likely remain low if warm water temperatures in the Bering Sea continue," the report concluded.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less