Variability, trends, and predictability of seasonal sea ice retreat and advance in the Chukchi Sea



As assessed over the period 1979–2014, the date that sea ice retreats to the shelf break (150 m contour) of the Chukchi Sea has a linear trend of −0.7 days per year. The date of seasonal ice advance back to the shelf break has a steeper trend of about +1.5 days per year, together yielding an increase in the open water period of 80 days. Based on detrended time series, we ask how interannual variability in advance and retreat dates relate to various forcing parameters including radiation fluxes, temperature and wind (from numerical reanalyses), and the oceanic heat inflow through the Bering Strait (from in situ moorings). Of all variables considered, the retreat date is most strongly correlated (r ∼ 0.8) with the April through June Bering Strait heat inflow. After testing a suite of statistical linear models using several potential predictors, the best model for predicting the date of retreat includes only the April through June Bering Strait heat inflow, which explains 68% of retreat date variance. The best model predicting the ice advance date includes the July through September inflow and the date of retreat, explaining 67% of advance date variance. We address these relationships by discussing heat balances within the Chukchi Sea, and the hypothesis of oceanic heat transport triggering ocean heat uptake and ice-albedo feedback. Developing an operational prediction scheme for seasonal retreat and advance would require timely acquisition of Bering Strait heat inflow data. Predictability will likely always be limited by the chaotic nature of atmospheric circulation patterns.