For anyone who believes for a second that the Arctic is some benign home to only polar bears and Inuit, and ice is melting away faster than we can measure and somehow no longer an impediment to shipping, we can attest that it is not quite so. Certainly, there is indisputable evidence that overall ice cover has been reducing, but the ice is still here; it has kept us working along the Alaskan coast longer than originally planned.
Earlier this year the media made big headlines about an intensive cyclonic system that “beat up the ice” further reducing the polar pack. But, interesting to those of us up here, right now the ice is further south in the Chukchi Sea than it has been for several years now. It proves that as long as there is ice, it moves, and it doesn’t always go where it one might want it to go. The rapid melt that had been occurring in the first part of the summer slowed appreciably mid-season when colder than normal temperatures prevailed. In the last weeks the melt has picked up again somewhat, but out here in the Chukchi Sea it is still apparent this is not last year. It underscores the clear understanding that ice conditions remain variable annually, monthly, weekly, daily and hourly. One can’t assume that just because last year it was over there, and not here, that this year will be the same.
We seem to be in a bit of a traffic surge off the North Slope of Alaska, at least for here anyway. A few days ago, the tug Island Tugger with a barge in tow and research ship Aquila were close by, Tuesday morning the MY Octopus was east bound, and Wednesday, as we worked an observation station 19’ NE of Point Barrow, the Korean icebreaker Araon passed by heading SE. Though the number of vessels in the area over the last few days seems to be plentiful, it is uncommon and we are very aware that there are no dedicated search and rescue, salvage or repair resources nearby. In that regard we are alone. The USCG has no substantial resources on the North Slope this year, USCGC Healy and the one operational Polar class icebreaker are warm in Seattle, and the Canadian Coast Guard’s “western” icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier is well east of us, somewhere east of Cambridge Bay. Okay, so one vessel a day was not exactly a traffic surge. There was activity but its now back to more of a normal traffic density of just us for miles and miles and absolutely no radio chatter.
Capt David (Duke) Snider