Polar bear sea ice habitat highs and lows in early February

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Posted on February 10, 2021 | 

Sea ice across the Arctic in the first week of February is a mix of highs and lows. Bering Sea is back up to almost normal coverage, as is the Barents Sea. However, ice coverage on the East Coast of Canada is the lowest its been in four decades. This is not yet a worry for polar bears because harp seals don’t pup until mid-March in this region so there is at least four weeks of potential ice growth that can happen before the seals are forced to pup on much reduced ice – where polar bears are sure to find them.

Here is a close-up look at sea ice conditions by region at the edges of the Arctic.


All of the ice coloured brown in the chart below from the Alaska Sea Ice Program for 10 February is multi-year ice while the yellow and green is first year ice:

Bering Sea ice at the end of January was well below average in 2018 but was close to normal levels in 2021, as it was in 2020 (see below):

Few polar bears venture into the Bering Sea on their hunt for seals, which means low ice over the Bering Sea in winter and spring is not the end of the world for the bears. The Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Strait, is their primary habitat.


After low ice coverage since mid-summer, ice coverage is back up in early February (above), with more ice off the west coast of Novaya Zemlya than there’s been in years and Svalbard ice is back up to almost ‘normal’ levels (below):

You’ll see from the graph below from the Norwegian Ice Service that sea ice is back up to where it was in 2020 and much higher than it was in 2012.

As a consequence, it’s not surprising that ice has again reached Bear Island (Bjørnøya) to the south of Svalbard (below) although earlier than it did in 2020 (yellow line in graph above): ice reached the island a few days before 8 March when a polar bear was spotted by the crew of the Meteorological Station:


All the red in the chart below is ‘much less’ ice than usual in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off Labrador and Newfoundland:

For the first week in February, this is the lowest that ‘East Coast’ ice has been since 1981. In a future post, I’ll address the issue of whether or not harp seal pupping (which occurs about mid-March) is likely to be impacted by such low ice levels.

Here is a closeup from the Canadian Ice Service showing the pitiful amount of ice present for the week of 8 February 2021 over the East Coast:

For comparison to the above, below are the same charts for 2018 (a fairly heavy ice year), same week (light green is thin first year ice, 30-70 cm thick):

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February 11, 2021 10:28 pm
February 11, 2021 10:30 pm

The lower than usual sea ice in Baffin Bay is the flip side of the below normal cold in Europe, USA and Siberia.

A warmer than usual patch has been sitting over the Baffin Bay region for a few weeks now.


Meandering polar vortex.

Outside the Arctic Ocean on the other side, The Sea of Okhotsk is 2nd highest its been in 15 years.

Last edited 1 year ago by fred250
Krishna Gans
Reply to  fred250
February 12, 2021 6:03 am

The Baltic Sea in Northern Germany starts freezing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
Coeur de Lion
February 11, 2021 11:54 pm

I see NASA has a video ‘Disappearing Arctic Ice’. Says it all.

Rod Evans
Reply to  Coeur de Lion
February 12, 2021 12:43 am

It is good of NASA to give an explanation of why they do that. They have a well earned reputation to maintain. They always manage to come up with things completely out of this world 🙂

February 12, 2021 2:51 am

Another study shows that Icelandic sea ice and glaciers have been at their highest (in 2500 years), within the last 200 years.

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What we have currently, is only a slight recovery from that highest extent in at least 2500 years.

The anomaly was the LIA and late 1970s, we currently have a slight return towards “normal”.

John Tillman
Reply to  fred250
February 12, 2021 5:23 am

The cooling trend of the past at least 3000 years is intact. The Modern Warm Period, like the Medieval and Roman Warm Periods, were counter-cyclic excursions from the secular temperature downtrend. So the Greek Dark Ages, Dark Ages and LIA Cool Periods were the secular trend cycles. Sadly, Earth is headed out of the current interglacial back toward another glacial, ie big ice age, whether in 3000 or 30,000 years, depending upon which Milankovitch cycle you think rules.

Ron Long
February 12, 2021 2:56 am

I wonder what the harp seals think about this report?

Bill Rocks
February 12, 2021 6:53 am

This is a welcome report and the graphics are superb.

Krishna Gans
February 12, 2021 7:19 am

Interesting development of actual global temperautes

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February 12, 2021 8:10 am

“You’ll see from the graph below from the Norwegian Ice Service that sea ice is back up to where it was in 2020 and much higher than it was in 2012.”

Not just Svalbard (why is that place on my bucket list? Am I crazy?) but, taking total Arctic sea ice from NSIDC, yesterday (02/11) was higher than 2005, 2006 and 2007, amongst others.

Just doing that Griff thing while he’s in hiding (presumably reflecting on current global warming in England).

Last edited 1 year ago by philincalifornia
Mickey Reno
February 12, 2021 9:57 am

Hallelujah, there’s more sea ice. WE’RE SAVED!


Reply to  Mickey Reno
February 12, 2021 5:46 pm

Too much sea ice, like during the LIA and late 1970s, is an absolute nuisance for all Arctic creatures, sea and land.

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