Decreasing sea ice thickness in the Barents Sea

The thickness of landfast sea ice during winter around the island of Hopen in Svalbard has decreased by more than 40 cm over the last 40 years.


Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute recently published a study showing that the seasonal ice thickness is considerably reduced since the first measurements were carried out in the mid 1960s. This is the first publication of long-term monitoring of the sea ice thickness in the Barents Sea.

Since the year 2000 no ice thicker than one metre has been recorded around Hopen. In the same time period, local air and sea temperatures have increased.

“The decrease in sea ice thickness around Hopen corresponds with the general reduction in ice mass in the Barents Sea and in the Arctic”, says Norwegian Polar Institute scientist Sebastian Gerland.

This study is one of few international efforts documenting the reduction of ice thickness in the Barents Sea over the last years. Previous studies have shown that the sea ice distribution in the Arctic is decreasing at high speed.

For a number of years, the Norwegian Polar Institute has monitored sea ice around Svalbard and in the strait of Framstredet. Sea ice monitoring at Hopen was initiated by the institute’s polar scientist Torgny Vinje in the 1960s. The seasonal sea ice around the island is normally starting to form prior to December, reaching a maximum in May before it disappears. Sea ice measurements are carried out by the overwintering team from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, and the data are processed by scientists. In addition to the overwintering team, Hopen is manned by polar bears and other Arctic animals.

The results from the sea ice measurements at Hopen are now published in the American scientific journal “Geophysical Research Letters”. The paper is a collaborative result of the work of scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University of Tromsø.