Ice build up in Sea of Okhotsk

Icebreaker “Krasin”. Photo: RIA Novosti

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.

Map of area (image source: Google maps) with outline of region covered by satellite image below.

The development of ice in the area in 6 days from satellite images (Source http://exploreourpla.net)

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.

Weather in the area (approx. 12:00 local time 9th January 2011) (Source: Weather Underground Wundermap)

The sea ice cover for the area from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute shows the ice extent well.

Sea Ice Cover 04 January 2011 (AARI)

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.

Graph of sea ice area anomaly in the Sea of Okhotsk (Cryosphere Today)

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.

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8 Responses to Ice build up in Sea of Okhotsk

  1. John F. Hultquist says:

    Perhaps you could pass along to Julia Slingo that the Washington Cascade Range at a latitude of about 47 degrees is expecting about 600 mm of global warming Tuesday night and Wednesday. It is rumored that Al Gore just flew over on his way between Heathrow and the Sea of Okhotsk. But I don’t believe that.

  2. Grumpy Old Man says:

    @ Verity Jones 11/1/2339. Unfortunately, Mr. Gore is anything but a mythical benevolent construct.

  3. alexjc38 says:

    The Russian icebreaker story has been a very interesting one, but doesn’t seem to have been covered by the mainstream media all that much, as far as I know; I’ve been following it via EU Referendum.

    Searching on Google with the Timeline function brings up quite a few accounts of similar episodes from the past. In December 1935, 100 passengers from a trapped vessel in the Sea of Okhotsk had to trek to safety across 8 miles of ice. And in May (!) 1967, 12 Japanese fishing boats got trapped in ice near Kamchatka and were rescued by a Soviet icebreaker.

  4. lapogus says:

    alexjc38 –
    The Russian icebreaker story has been a very interesting one, but doesn’t seem to have been covered by the mainstream media all that much…

    Yes, likewise the story of the two Swedish icebreakers which had to come to the aid of the passenger ferry in the Baltic last winter – this was given a very brief mention on the BBC but I never heard anything more about it. Usually our media love to cover such human interest/adversity stories, especially if there are passengers on a plane, train or boat involved.

    • Verity Jones says:

      Yes, noted that last night. It is one hell of a rescue operation. I wonder how often this happens. I mean I’m sure it is not the first time ships in this region have been caught out or misjudged worsening conditions.

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