Russian News Agency TASS reports that bad weather is delaying the rescue by icebreakers of ships stuck in Sakhalin Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk. Near zero visibility and winds of 55mph are slowing the approach of the Krasin to assist the icebreaker Admiral Makarov in the further rescue of two large ships.
Video from Reuters http://online.wsj.com/media/swf/VideoPlayerMain.swf
The area is one of the most dangerous for shipping in the winter due to the potential for rapid build up of ice through a combination of low salinity water (due to river inflow), temperature and wind.
Temperatures in Okhotsk (top middle of picture at -22°C) have been mostly below freezing since mid-October – as is fairly normal, but temperatures in December and January have been consistently cold. Further inland (the dark navy blue symbols on the image below) temperatures are as low as -50°C. Temperatures are well below the usual seasonal minima for the area and it seems to be the combination of low temperature (forming the ice) and wind pushing it down into the Gulf of Sahkalin that have caught so many ships in ‘worse than expected’ conditions locally.
The sea ice cover for the area from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute shows the ice extent well.
From Cryoshoere Today the ice in the areas overall is well below the 1979-2008 average, but has rapidly increased since the beginning of January.
A very timely paper by Japanese researchers published in December [Nakanowatari, T., K. I. Ohshima, and S. Nagai (2010), What determines the maximum sea ice extent in the Sea of Okhotsk? Importance of ocean thermal condition from the Pacific, J. Geophys. Res., 115, C12031, Abstract] reports that:
maximum sea ice extent (MSIE) is highly correlated with the sea surface temperature (SST) and ocean temperature around the East Kamchatska Current (EKC) in the Pacific in late autumn (November–December).
SST has been close to average this year. The MSIE occurs in March. The paper also says:
70% of the variance of MSIE can be predicted at the stage of 2 to 3 months before the MSIE season. The SST in the EKC and the upwind air temperature are likely to control the sea ice extent in the northeastern and center to southern parts of the Okhotsk Sea, respectively.
So there is a strong component of ‘weather driven’. This could be a good year to test that predictive relationship.