One of the world’s most biologically productive regions on earth is the largest open ocean area in the northern hemisphere. This open area of the Arctic ocean has historically been surrounded by sea ice for millennia, permanently protected by the wind and currents that are set in motion by the rotation of the planet. It is located between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland. 

In common scientific circles, this phenomenon is known as a polynya; in this specific case, it is called the North Water Polynya (NWP).  The Inuit, the indigenous people who have cared for and depend on the bounty in the open water as their lifeline call the water Pikialasorsuaq, in Greenland, is known as the great upwelling. Upwelling is the wind-driven motion of deep cold nutrient-laden water that replaces the depleted nutrients of the existing surface.

In the spring, when life in the Arctic explodes, plankton blooms along the edges of the polynya attracts cod which then ushers in an incredible migration of such species as walrus,  narwhals, polar bears, seals, and multiple species of whale.

This source of stability in the Arctic has been reeling from warming temperatures more than 3 times as fast as the rest of the planet. This warming has been a curse on an ice bridge that the NWP depends on.

This bridge is known as the Fram Strait Ice Arches, and it acts as a plug trapping the multi-year-old ice from spilling ice into the world’s oceans. 

From Arctic Today:

The ice that is typically lost through the Nares Strait flows out during the summer. The rest of the year, ice dams, known as ice arches because of their shape, at the northern and southern ends of the strait prevent this from happening.

However, the length of time each year that ice is being held back is remarkably shorter than in the past, according to Kent Moore, a physicist with the University of Toronto Mississauga and the lead author of the paper. And the research suggests that the pace of change is accelerating.

Using satellite images dating back to 1995, the authors of the paper found that while these ice dams previously held back ice for between 200 and 300 days each year, they now only do so for about 150 days annually, amounting to a loss of about a week a year on average.

From Glacier Bytes on the northern end of the NWP:

Looking towards the future, we suggest that the Kane Basin Ice Arch – which forms the northern border of the polynya – will become less stable under climate change. This means that the ice arch will collapse more regularly, as has been observed over the recent satellite record, allowing sea ice to flow south into the North Open Water. This influx of sea ice will likely result in a less stable and less productive polynya.

This unfolding calamity has been brought to you by the fossil fuel industry, extraction industries, along corrupt leaders who refuse to act with the resources necessary for the scale of the existential problem. 

Arctic Today writes in a separate article on a Nature Communications study that the polynya is on its way to collapse.

The Nature Communications study, by an international team of scientists, traces the polynya’s past ups and downs through the diatoms and chemical fingerprints in the region’s marine and lake sediments. One bird species, the little auk, is used as a marker of polynya health.

Little auks now number about 33 million in the North Water Polynya area and are considered critical to the ecosystem there. But the species declined dramatically starting about 2,700 years ago and virtually disappeared about 2,200 years ago, the study found through its sediment analysis. That corresponds with human abandonment of the area. There was “a long-term void in the human prehistory of Greenland,” overlapping a time of climate instability, which veered from the Roman Warm Period to the Dark Ages Cold Period, the study notes. The little auk population recovered about 800 years ago, the study found.

Before the collapse of the polynya, the area was inhabited by pre-Inuit groups, and after the gap that is marked by the absence of little auks, Greenland was settled by the Thule Inuit, said Sofia Ribeiro of the Geological Survey of Greenland and Denmark.

The imminent new threat to the icy habitat that surrounds the polynya has been clearly documented, Ribeiro said by email.

Two signs of instability can be readily witnessed through satellite observations, she said. “One is that the ice arches are breaking up earlier than they used to, due to sea ice being thinner and warming temperatures, and the other is that they are failing to form at all some years. This was first observed in 2007 and has occurred several times since, indicating that it will become the ‘new normal,’” she said by email.

Though an expanded area of open water might bring more biological productivity through more widespread phytoplankton blooms, it would also negate the physical characteristics that make the polynya such a special biological oasis, Ribeiro said.

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Inuit classical throat singer, rock and punk singer Tanya Tagaq Retribution video below. She will freak you out, but she isn’t wrong; dare you not to hit play again once it is finished.

Lyrics

Our Mother grows angry. Retribution will be swift. We squander her soil and suck out her sweet black blood to burn it. We turned Money into a god and salivate over opportunities to crumple and crinkle our souls for that paper that gold. Money has spent us. Left us in small boxes dark rooms bright screens empty tombs. Left Investing our time in hollow philosophies to placate the fear of our bodies returning back to the earth. Demand awakening. The path we have taken has rotted. Ignite. Stand upright and conduct yourself like lightning because The retribution will be swift.

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