The Northwest Passage in 2021

Prompted by a comment on the Northwest Passage thread from last year I’m opening the 2021 equivalent earlier than usual, in part because there’s already a lot going on of interest. First of all let’s get our bearings with the help of this map of the area:

and another map detailing the routes through Canadian Arctic Archipelago that have previously been successfully traversed:

The forecast high pressure has arrived and the skies have cleared over the Beaufort Sea, which reveals that the land-fast ice off the Mackenzie Delta has started breaking up:

In addition the snow has been melting along the valley of the Mackenzie River, and the resulting increased flow at the mouth of the delta is flooding the fast ice:

Further east Barrow Strait and Lancaster Sound are also crumbling:

But what about the sea ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago that isn’t already falling apart at the seams? To get a feel for what might happen during the coming melting season let’s take a look at the Canadian Ice Service’s “stage of development” charts. Here’s the most recent one, from May 10th:

Several of the assorted routes along the Northwest Passage are currently clear of multi-year ice, so let’s also try and check the thickness of the ice along those routes. Here is the latest available merged CryoSat-2/SMOS thickness map for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago :

All in all it looks to me as though the Northwest Passage will open earlier than “normal” this year, but as always everything depends on the summer weather.

[Edit – May 28th]

The skies were clear over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago yesterday, which revealed several patches of open water across the CAA and a long stretch of Route 1 already “open for business”:

[Edit – June 26th]

Melt ponds are currently visible across most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago:

As a consequence sea ice area in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is now the lowest for the date in the nearly 10 year AMSR2 record:

AMSR2 concentration data for 2012 doesn’t begin until August, so it’s conceivable that area on June 25th 2012 was lower than this year.

Watch this space!

4 thoughts on “The Northwest Passage in 2021

      1. It seems as if they will. From February 4th:

        Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, announced two new Interim Orders, which prohibit pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. This means:

        Adventure-seeking pleasure craft are still prohibited from entering Arctic waters.

        Passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people are still prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters, including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, and the Labrador Coast.

        Cruise vessels carrying more than 100 people are still prohibited from operating in Canadian waters.

        Pleasure craft used by local Arctic residents will not be affected by these measures.

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