Polynya refresher: open water in spring is due to winds & currents, not ice melt

polarbearscience

Arctic sea ice begins to open up in spring at predictable locations due to currents and prevailing winds and this was as true in the 1970s as it is today. Polynyas and widening shore leads that most often get mistaken for early sea ice melt are those in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas and in Hudson Bay.

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

But contrary to concerns expressed about possible negative implications of these early patches of open water, these areas have always been critical congregation areas for Arctic seals and are therefore important feeding areas for polar bears.

Seal habitat frozen open lead_Beaufort 2008_Miller Seals hauled out beside a lightly frozen over lead in Beaufort Sea ice, 2008. USFWS.

Polynyas and shore leads_Smith and Rigby 1981

From one of my posts three years ago on the topic (20 May 2015):

“The map of sea ice extent in Canada at 20 May 2015 is an almost-perfect example of the placement of recurring patches of open water polynyas…

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