It's time to have another look at the region surrounding Novaya Zemlya, and see how the current situation compares to previous years, as the situation in the Kara and Barentsz Seas has been mightily intriguing this year. In the western Kara Sea, the basin between Novaya Zemlya and the Siberian coast, we saw a very early retreat, that except for last year has been unparalleled. Just like last year it froze over again when the winds turned, opened up again around the start of the month, and is yet again closing (see animation below), probably for the last time, with solar radiation coming into play now.
Here's the comparison with previous years, based as always on images from the Uni Bremen sea ice concentration map archive:
Things are looking much more 'normal' than they did over a month ago, except for the Barentsz Sea that seems to have reached an all-time low this year. As already mentioned the western Kara Sea has frozen up again. Not completely, but the difference with many other years is negligible. Another big difference is how the edge of the ice pack, under the influence of a persistent and large high pressure system over the central Arctic, has moved southwards in the past couple of weeks, enveloping both Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. That's quite a difference with the situation a little over a month ago, when both Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya looked circumnavigable on the LANCE-MODIS satellite images for a day or two:
For developments in the first four weeks (March 9th - April 5th) I refer you to the 2012 Novaya Zemlya animation (with 2011 for comparison here). Here's an animation of the second retreat of the ice cover between Novaya Zemlya and the Siberian coast (March 29th - April 17th):
Of course sea ice concentration images don't tell the whole story. The fact that the sea ice between Novaya Zemlya and the Siberian coast has shown a significant retreat twice, is an indication that the ice is thin and thus very susceptible to changes in weather patterns. But all of this is of trivial importance, as the melting is about to start for real in the Barentsz and Kara Seas. I will do another comparison in a month or so.