After last year's corny title (Bering in mind) I naturally had to continue the tradition. But this year the pun is quite appropriate, as it seems that the Bering Sea is indeed bearing the load of anomalous ice cover that offers a counterweight to what's happening on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, and thus keeps total sea ice extent and area figures in balance. If it weren't for this chances of a new winter maximum ice cover would be very great indeed.
On the Cryosphere Today sea ice area map for the Bering Sea region figure we can see how anomalously high sea ice over is at the moment (red line):
The NASA Blue Marble on the NSIDC Sea Ice Index confirms:
The NSIDC also had this to say about the Bering Sea in the latest monthly summary:
Arctic sea ice extent in the Bering Sea was the second highest in the satellite record for the month of January. Ice extent in the Bering Sea was 562,000 square kilometers (217,000 square miles), which is 104,600 square kilometers (40,400 square miles) above the 1979 to 2000 average. The record high ice extent for the month occurred in January 2000, at 629,000 square kilometers (242,900 square miles).
The above-average sea ice extent in the Bering Sea stemmed from a weather pattern that brought cold air from the Arctic into the Bering Sea, driving sea ice southwards. The weather pattern, which has persisted since November, features unusually low surface pressure south and east of the Alaskan coast, which leads to winds from the north or northeast that blow into the Bering Sea region. This weather pattern also brought moist air from the Pacific Ocean to the southern Alaska coast, helping to explain record snowfalls in towns such as Cordova, Alaska, which received over 15 feet of snow between early November and mid-January.
Just like last week I have downloaded Uni Bremen sea ice concentration maps from years of the recent new Arctic regime (2004-now), and cropped them, so they can be compared to the current situation (click for a larger version):
The ice pack is clearly bulging outwards when compared to previous years. Especially in record year 2007 the Bering Sea was slow to freeze, probably having to do with a rather large inflow of warm water from the North Pacific.
I don't think the ice cover will grow much more in this region. A low-pressure system in the right spot (to the southwest of Bering Strait), pushing in warmer air from the northeast Pacific, could even bring down the number a bit. I'm not seeing that low in the weather forecasts right now though. Insolation will soon start to play a role too, as this ice is at the most southern edge of the pack (same latitude as Hudson Bay).