This isn't a final update as such, because I will certainly be mentioning events in the Beaufort Sea in upcoming ASI updates. But it is the last in a series of blog posts I have written (one, two and three) about this unprecedented event that started over 6 weeks ago and has led to a heavily cracked ice pack and a huge amount of open water on the American side of the Arctic.
The event has received some attention on other blogs and in the mainstream media. Just yesterday this image was posted on NASA's Visible Earth website, comparing this year to 2015 and 2014 (mind you, the Beaufort Sea opened up early last year as well):
The image is accompanied by a text, quoting Walt Meier:
“It really is quite remarkable,” noted Walter Meier, an ice specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There is always fracturing of the ice, but it seems to have become more prevalent and more widespread in recent years. This region used to be mostly multi-year ice, which is quite a bit thicker. Now, most of the Beaufort is seasonal, first-year ice. The thinner ice is weaker and more easily broken up by the winds.”
There are some links to other articles at the end of the Visible Earth article.
As I mentioned two weeks ago it looked as if that persistent high-pressure area was shifting away from the Beaufort, which would probably put "an (temporary) end to the massive cracking and ice movement". The animation below shows there has been some movement, but not as much as in prior weeks. Cloudiness makes it difficult to perceive, but if you focus on one of the two larger ice floes in the red circles, you can get an idea of the scale of movement/change:
There are two other things I notice when looking at this animation. The first is that there is almost no snow left on the Canadian and Alaskan mainland. This is early for the time of year and could have further consequences for temperatures and melt pond formation over the remaining ice away from the coast.
The other thing is that there is actually not that much ice left between the large polynya (expanse of open water) in the Beaufort Sea and the smaller one in the Chukchi Sea:
Once this ice is gone, there will be open water all along the American coast of the Arctic Ocean. My guess is this could happen within two weeks or maybe even faster, which would be extremely early, given that the earliest time this has happened in the past decade (and probably much, much beyond that), was between July 1st and 7th in both 2009 and 2011.
It all depends on the winds, of course, so here's the ECMWF SLP forecast for the coming 6 days:
It looks like we have another persistent high-pressure area on our hands, and even though the pressure isn't as high as a month ago (1025 vs 1040 hPa) and there won't be a very strong wind pushing ice away from the coast, the isobars - the white lines indicating the pressure gradient in 5 hPa increments - show that for at least the next four days the scattered ice floes will probably be pushed some more towards the Central Arctic Basin. Whether that's enough to open up the entire American coast right away, remains to be seen.
Never mind that all this high pressure means that there's going to be lots of open skies over almost the entire Arctic, while temperatures are over 0 °C, and melt pond formation is going to...
But I'll leave that for the first ASI update of the 2016 melting season.