Threat to walrus as record low arctic sea ice predicted | WWF

Threat to walrus as record low arctic sea ice predicted

Posted on
16 August 2011
Arctic sea ice is again being pushed to record lows this northern summer, according to a report by Nick Sundt in the WWF US Climate blog, with the forced migration to shore of thousands of walrus starting three weeks earlier this year.

The blog post cites meteorologist Jeff Masters, the founder and Director of Meteorology of The Weather Underground (the weather provider for Associated Press and Google), who reported on August 12 that a strong high pressure system is developing over the Arctic north of Alaska. 

Masters explained: "Arctic sea ice extent, currently slightly higher than the record low values set in 2007, should fall to to its lowest extent for the date by the third week of August as the clear skies and warm southerly winds melt ice and push it away from the coast of Siberia.

"The 2011 summer weather pattern in the Arctic has not been nearly as extreme as in 2007, but the total sea ice volume has declined significantly since 2007, leading to much loss of old, thick, multi-year ice, making it easier to set a new low extent record with less extreme weather conditions."

This decline in total sea ice volume is alarming, as animals that spend much of their time on the ice, such as walruses and polar bears, are "literally having the ice melt from underneath them; and remaining sea ice drifts away from preferred feeding areas", Nick Sundt said on the WWF US Climate Blog.

By August 7, sea ice cover in the southern Chukchi Sea was already minimal and some radio-tagged walruses were beginning to haul-out on shore in Alaska, three weeks sooner than observed last year. The massive walrus haul-outs of 2010 began the fourth week of August (compare 2010 and 2011 animations showing daily locations of radio-tagged walruses).

Last year an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 walruses ultimately hauled-out on the Alaskan shoreline of the Chukchi Sea, mostly  near Point Lay. The long swim to shore, mostly by females and young walruses, poses risks for the animals; and they face further hardships onshore as they compete with large numbers of walruses for food and can be trampled by larger walruses.

Read the full blog post on the WWF US Climate Blog

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