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Heavy ice off East Coast 2017 caused by winds, cold temperatures, and icebergs

Written by Dr. Susan J. Crockford

Heavy sea ice off Newfoundland and southern Labrador has been an issue for months: it brought record-breaking numbers of polar bear visitors onshore in early March and April and since then has hampered the efforts of fisherman to get out to sea.

Let’s look back in time at how the ice built up, from early January to today, using ice maps and charts I’ve downloaded from the Canadian Ice Service and news reports published over the last few months.

The tour is illuminating because it shows the development of the thick ice over time and shows how strong winds from a May storm combined with an extensive iceberg field contributed to the current situation.

Bottom line: I can only conclude that climate change researcher David Barber was grandstanding today when he told the media that global warming is to blame for Newfoundland’s record thick sea ice conditions this year.  I suspect that because Barber’s expensive research expedition was scuttled, he simply had to find a way to garner media attention for his project — and the media obliged. Read to the end and decide for yourself.

As of the first week in January, sea ice off Newfoundland was “normal” (i.e. average), with less ice in the Strait of Belle Isle and in the nearshore of southern Labrador than usual (pink and red areas), although there was more ice than usual further offshore (blue areas):

East Coast freeze-up 2017 Departure from normal Weekly_Jan 2

By the middle of February (below), there was extensive ice off southern Labrador and Newfoundland but it would have been mostly thin first-year ice at this point:

East Coast freeze-up 2017 Concentration Weekly_Feb 13

The first “stage of development” chart I saved for this region this year was for 27 March (below), which shows mostly thin first year ice off Newfoundland (light green), medium thick ice off Labrador (0.7-1.2m), and a quite extensive field of icebergs off the entire coast (red triangles):

East Coast 2017 Stage of development Weekly_March 27

By the week of 10 April, the field of icebergs is huge and there is more medium first-year ice (0.7-1.2 m) than thin first-year ice and some of those icebergs have made it south of the Strait of Belle Isle:

East Coast 2017 Stage of development Weekly_April 10


The first reported trouble with ice in the Strait of Belle Isle that I came across was 14 April (National Post), over the Easter weekend (my bold):

The Canadian Coast Guard tweeted Friday afternoon that an icebreaker is escorting the Apollo ferry to port after being stranded near Blanc-Sablon, Que., since Thursday.

The ferry departed from St. Barbe on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula Thursday morning, but the normally less than a two-hour trip to Blanc-Sablon was delayed when the ship got stuck in the ice in the Strait of Belle Isle.

On 19 April, the CBC published an update on conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle, where the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Terry Fox was busy trying to clear a path for ferry traffic:

Rebecca Acton-Bond, the acting superintendent of ice operations with the Canadian Coast Guard, said icebreakers have been busy, with the ferry in the Straits needing assistance nearly every day….

She said there’s a high concentration of medium and thick ice, some as much as four feet thick, with a significant flow size.

“There’s always ice in the Straits, but it’s very, very thick ice,” said Acton-Bond.

Acton-Bond said currents and tides play a factor in the ice conditions, but the wind is the largest determinant in the movement of ice, and she expects some help from the wind in the coming days.

Ice was thick in the Strait in February 2015 and made headlines at the time: there was extensive pack ice at that time but not many icebergs.

Read rest at Polar Bear Science

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