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    The Ice of the Seas in the North American Arctic

    Encyclopedia Arctica 7: Meteorology and Oceanography

    The Ice of the Seas in the North American Arctic

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_VII-0776                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oceanography (John C. Weaver)




    Arctic Sea Ice 1
    East Greenland Pack 5
    Northeastern North American Pack 15
    Hudson Bay and Strait 28
    The Northwest Passages 35
    Arctic Seas of Alaska 44

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    (John C. Weaver)



            There is perhaps no other single element which the popular mind more

    instinctively or immediately associates with the Arctic than ice, and one can

    readily imagine the awe and apprehension which flooded the minds of the early

    adventurers who first made contact with this formidable barrier of white on

    the uncharted seas before them. From the days of Erik the Red, threading

    the drift ice of Greenland in his small open ships, to Frobisher, Davis, and

    Hudson, feeling their ways northward along the unknown margins of a continent

    in search of a sea road to the West, to the crushed ships of Franklin, locked

    in the ice of Victoria Strait, down finally to the Nascopie and St. Roch of

    today, the ice of the northern North American seas has been a stern but capric–

    iously tantalizing foe.


    Arctic Sea Ice

            In the interests of simplicity, the diverse ice forms of the northern seas

    may be grouped in three major types: ( 1 ) Fast Ice, ( 2 ) Drift Ice, ( 3 ) Arctic

    or Polar Back Ice. The primary mass found in the Arctic Sea is the Polar Pack

    Ice, which occupies about 70%, or approximately 2,000,000 square miles, of the

    deeper part of the north polar basin.

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            Polar Pack . The polar pack consists of an association of massive fields

    of continually drifting ice, and derives its distinctive character primarily

    from its great power, its compact solidity, and its extensive accumulations

    of hummocky rafted ice. Varying in thickness from 7 to 8 to over one hundred

    feet, it exhibits extensive leads of open water even in the coldest months.

    During the shifting motions of the ice, fields hundreds of square miles in

    area are crushed together and piled high along lines of weakness in one sec–

    tion, while compensating open water appears in another. 1

            In speaking of the extent of this polar pack ice, Smith defines it as

    having “the same general shape as the basin (of the Arctic Ocean), with its

    margin closely paralleling the course of the 1000-meter isobath. Like the

    deeper part of the polar basin, the elliptical-shaped cap (Polar Pack) lies

    much closer to the Greenland-North American side than it does to Europe and

    Asia, with its long axis running from Spitsbergen to Point Barrow, its center —

    the Pole of Inaccessibility -- 2 offset about 400 miles toward Alaska.” 3

    1. With reference to the character and identity of the Arctic or Polar Pack

    Ice, Kolchak makes the following specific statement; “By the term ‘Arctic Pack’

    I understand the many-years-old ice of the Arctic Ocean, mostly rafted (Russian,

    nabivnoi ) and predominantly in the shape of fields, i.e. areas whose limits

    cannot be seen from a ship’s mast. The distinctive characteristics of the Arctic

    Pack are: its tremendous power, greater than that of the pressure-formed ice in

    the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean; its solidity, due to the age, of many years’

    standing, of these rafted ice formations — a solidity that gradually increases

    to such a degree that the ice masses look like a compact and homogeneous whole;

    and finally, the size of the areas of rafted ice, so large that they represent

    powerful hummocky ice fields in extent.” Kolchak, A., “The Arctic Pack and the

    Polynya,” in Problems of Polar Research , American Geographical Society Special

    Publication No. 7, New York, 1928, p. 125. 2. Stefansson estimates the position of the Pole of Inaccessibility as 135° or 140°

    E., 76° or 78° N. 3. Smith, Edward H., “Ice in the Sea,” Chapter X, Physics of the Earth , V. Ocean–

    , Bulletin, National Research Council, No. 85, June 1932, p. 398.

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            In certain backwash areas of the polar pack, as in the Beaufort Sea

    east of the Point Barrow meridian, immediately west of Prince Patrick and

    Banks Islands, and in important but lesser extent off the northern shores

    of Greenland, are found chaotically assembled ridges, blocks, and domes of

    especially old ice which represent the accumulated effects of long years of

    shock and pressure. 4 And in contrast to these formidable areas of so-called

    paleocrystic ice are large semipermanent or permanent open water areas known

    as polynyas which, like Peary’s “Big Lead” off northern Greenland, seem to

    assume certain characteristic positions in the polar basin.

            Fast Ice . Beyond the outer margins of this permanent central reservoir

    of polar pack ice are found the regions of drift ice and fast ice, which

    throughout much of the year, at least, occupy not only almost a third of the

    polar basin itself, but have an important seasonal place in the seas to the

    southward. Fast or landfast ice is the young coastal ice which, in stationary

    sheets, builds seaward from the shores of the land masses, und goes th or ro ugh a

    yearly cycle of appearance, extension, disintegration, and disappearance in

    successive seasons. By being more or less attached to the shore, or by being

    otherwise confined, it does not move or drift. Obtaining its maximum area

    in late November or early December, the fast ice of the arctic regions gen–

    erally increases in thickness until late April or early May, when disintegra–

    tion be g ins.

    4. It is in fact the great abundance of this so-called paleocrystic ice in

    the eastern Beaufort Sea, that provides one of the reasons for Sverdrup and

    Stefansson tentatively postulating the presence of a vast eddy in that region.

    According to the Sverdrup and Stefansson theory, the ice is held here long

    enough to acquire these paleocrystic characteristics, and when it ultimately

    escapes from this eddy it starts moving in the course of the Karluk , Jeannette ,

    and Fram , eventually appearing in the area between north Greenland and the Pole.

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            The extent of fast ice development will vary considerably from region

    to region and year to year. Areas with irregular coast lines, numerous

    offshore islands, and shallow depths favor the formation of wide belts of

    fast ice, especially when associated with large river discharges of fresh

    water. From the seasonal point of view, maximally abundant freezing will

    be promoted by winters with severely low temperatures and light winds, pre–

    ceeded by precipitation-rich autumns. The labyrinthine bays and passages

    of the American Arctic Archipelago are second only to the coastal waters

    of Siberia in the total volume and extent of fast ice production.

            Drift Ice . Transitionary between the fast ice and polar pack ice, and

    drawing its existence from both, is the arctic drift ice. The term drift

    ice has generalized reference to any sea ice which, under the influence of

    winds and currents, has been moved from its p o sition of original formation.

    It is distinguished from the mobile polar pack ice by its comparative light–

    ness. Drift ice may, according to the season or area, be a tightly cohesive

    formation, or may be fragmented by large or small areas of open water. Occu–

    pying about 25% of the water area of the Arctic Sea, the d ir ri ft ice may on

    its poleward margin reinforce the polar pack ice, or on its outer margin

    become frozen into the fast ice. It is in those regions where it escapes

    the polar basin to stream southward into lower latitudes that the Arctic

    Sea drift ice is best known and of greatest general concern.

            Serving as the active agent in carrying the surplus of arctic freezing

    to warmer southern waters, the polar drift ice follows the major current

    lanes of the coastal shelves where shallow waters may be quickly enough

    chilled to permit the survival of the ice in its .journey southward. In

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    cross-section the typical drift ice stream is characterized as having an outer

    zone of scatteredly detached pieces of ice, a center zone of wore compact

    and heavy floes, though with cracks and leads, and an inside zone of strongly

    compressed heavy ice, perhaps of polar pack origin. These gigantic streams

    of ice make their greatest southward penetration during the sp r ing and early

    summer and shrink in recession toward their source regions in late summer

    and early fall.

            While the total amount of observational data is quite inadequate, such

    knowle d ge as has been accumulated seems to suggest that the behavior of the

    ice in the polar basin is characterized by a slow but definite anticyclonic

    clockwise movement from east to west, under the dominant control of prevail–

    ing winds, ocean currents, and earth rotation. In this slow revolution of

    ice about the P ole, fields and floes break loose from the central polar ice

    mass to be discharged southward to the North Atlantic along two main sea

    roads: ( 1 ) the eastern coastal waters of Greenland, and ( 2 ) the continental

    margin of northeastern North America.


    The East Greenland Pack

            As the anticyclonic whorl of ice in the polar basin revolves past the

    northern entrance to the Greenland Sea, a steadily flowing stream of heavy

    ice exits southward. This is the chief outlet for the ice of the Arctic Sea.

    It is estimated that one-third of the total volume of the ice of the polar

    basin, or somewhere between 3,000 and 4,300 cubic miles of ice, are carried

    out this way every year. The motion of the central pack in the arctic basin

    has been observed to show the effects of this southerly drift up to the en–

    virons of the Pole itself.

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            This enormous volume of ice surging out of the A rctic Sea is carried

    southward down the Greenland coast by the East Greenland Current. From the

    point of its most northerly recession in late summer, in the vicinity of

    75° N., 0° W., southward to, and around Cape Farewell, and northward up the

    southwest coast of Greenland to a point about 62° N., 51° W., this ice

    stream has an average length of 1,850 miles at its maximum extent, and an

    average velocity of seven and one-half miles per day. The East Greenland

    pack is fed by polar pack and arctic drift ice in direct discharge from

    the Arctic Sea and the Barents and Kara seas, winter ice formed in the Green–

    land Sea, and fast ice made locally along the bordering coasts of Greenland.

            The most formidable part of this ice stream, that which is clearly

    distinguishible from the ice of all other sources, is the very old floe ice

    which commonly floats from 8 to 10 and at times 12 feet above the water,

    and probably has only about one-quarter of its total thickness exposed. It

    is this ice, referred to by the Danes as storis (literally, “large ice”),

    which represents the dwindling remains of the polar pack ice.

            The position of the ice limit off the ea s t coast of Greenland is very

    strongly affected by the direction and velocity of the prevailing winds.

    Winds blowing from points between east and south press the ice into a com–

    pact belt against the coast, while northerly and northwesterly winds expand

    the ice eastward. An outstanding feature of this ice cover is the northward–

    extending arm of open water to the west of Spitsbergen. This is undoubtedly

    a reflection of the counteracting effects of the poleward-extending warm

    waters of the North Atlantic drift.

            During September and early October, the East Greenland pack has usually

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    shrunk to its minimum position. In most years, early October will find

    coastal navigation possible along eastern Greenland northward to 70°, and

    only a few scattered icebergs are to be expected south of 68°. During the

    month the East Greenland pack begins its southward advance, probably passing

    the entrance to Scoresby Sound, but seldom extending south of 65° N. The

    formation of new fast ice varies considerably from season to season, but it

    certainly may be expected to have closed navigation in a majority of the

    fjords northward of Angmagssalik, and to be well advanced southward of that

    point during this month.

            In early November the unnavigable pack of drift ice will in most seasons

    have passed Angmagssalik, and by the latter part of the month have closed

    in tightly against the coast. At least a narrow advance guard of this ice

    stream will have attained a position somewhere to the southward between

    Angmagssalik and Cape Farewell. In extremely heavy ice years it has been

    known to round the cape and begin its recurved northward drift up the west

    coast as far as Arsuk.

            By December the scattered blocks and floes of drifting ice, which pro–

    vide a vanguard for the approaching storis , will almost certainly appear off

    Cape Farewell. A belt with an average width of 30 miles offshore may be

    expected southward from Angmagssalik, and an even broader stream farther north.

            The time at which the first storis rounds Cape Farewell and, under the

    influence of the current, begins its northward advance, is extremely variable.

    This has been known to occur as early as November, and as late as mid-April, but

    the average date falls in the middle of January. The southwestern coast from

    Julianehaab northward to Sukkertoppen will probably be unobstructed in January ,

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    although fast ice will be increasing in the inner fjords. In severe seasons

    the pack has been known to have rounded Cape Farewell northward to Frederiks–

    haab, and with northerly winds to be scattered as such as 80 miles to the

    south of Cape Farewell. The Baffin Bay pack from the northwest will gen–

    rally have reached the coast in the district of Egedesminde. Off East

    Greenland the pack ice belt will probably be wider than in December, but

    the open channel between it and northwestern Iceland may be expected to

    be over 70 miles wide.

            In February the pack should have begun its northwestward advance from

    Cape Farewell, passing Julianehaab Bay. Winds have an important effect

    on the pack’s position and movement and after rounding Cape Farewell it

    will not always regain inshore. Although the strong arctic current which

    curls northward around Cape Farewell appears to maintain control over its

    icy burden, there being no evidence of any part of the East Greenland pack

    ever escaping westward into American waters, northwesterly winds may carry

    the ice enough out into Davis Strait to be out of sight of land. The

    northern limit of the pack will hold a much more advanced positi o n with

    southerly winds than is the case if northerly winds prevail. During per–

    sistent northerly winds the outer edge of the pack may be 75 to 100 miles

    off shore, although a position some 60 miles from the coast is more normal.

            In most seasons, the Baffin Bay pack and the coastal fast ice will

    have closed the last of the West Greenland ports from Holsteinsborg north

    by mid-January, but those to the south of that point generally remain ac–

    cessible. Largely as a result of stormy weather, snow, low temperatures,

    and darkness, the ports of southwestern Greenland have not been used from

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    late November to April. This period of closed navigation has given rise

    to the commonly accepted belief that these ports were icebound in the winter

    season. 5 Although most of the constricted inner waters of this coast are

    closed by heavy winter ice, many of the outer fjords have no ice at all, and

    the exigencies of war have recently demonstrated that almost all of the major

    coastal harbors as far north as 66°, including Julianehaab, Ivigtut, Frederiks–

    haab, Fiskernaes, Faeringerhavn, Godthaab, and Sukkertoppen are usually avail–

    able so far as ice is concerned throughout the year.

            The interesting suggestion has been advanced by Charcot and Stefansson

    that because the increasing cold makes the arctic ice crowding into the

    Greenland Sea between [ ?] Spitsbergen and Northeast Foreland less mobile,

    and therefore more scattered southward, the northeast coast of Greenland,

    between latitudes 75° and 80° N., might be more accessible between February

    and April than at any other time. It is reasoned that at this time a ship

    could thread its way through the scattered storis to the margin of the im–

    mobile fast ice, and from there communicate with the shore.

            By March the storis will generally have passed somewhat northward of

    Arsuk. Above Julianehaab, the pack ice is deflected westward by the prominent

    island of Nunarssuit and cannot resume its northwestward movement until it has

    cleared the southwestern point of that island. These forced changes in the

    direction of the ice-bearing current commonly create large openings in the

    5. The basically erroneous concept that the harbors of this coast were unavail–

    able after the last week in November was attested by the reports of many Danish

    sea captains. It is probably fair to observe that in their preoccupation with

    the possibility of being home in Denmark for Christmas, many of these seamen

    had a compelling reason to convince their government officials of the notion

    that navigation became dangerous and difficult at this time.

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    ice belt off Nunarssuit. As a result it is often possible for ships to make

    their way through the pack off this island and gain access to the cryolite

    mine of Ivigtut, while an attempt to negotiate the ice either to the north

    or south of this point might be quite impossible. If direct penetration of

    the pack to Arsuk Fjord is not possible in this manner it will probably be

    feasible to sail northward around the northern end of the ice stream, and

    subsequently follow southward again between the inner margin of the pack

    and the coast. Quite commonly and especially in seasonswith light easterly

    winds, the pack ice belt will not touch the coast north of Nunarssuit.

            In April the main mass of heavy storis begins its advance northward

    from Cape Farewell, and the average position of the northern limit of the

    pack, its outer margin about 60 miles offshore, may be expect e d to reach

    Fiskernaes. In especially light years the northern margin of the ice may

    still be south of Julianehaab, while in severe years it has been known to

    extend over one hundred miles off the coast all the way to Godthaab. By mid–

    April the fast ice of the inner fjords along the southwestern coast of Green–

    land will begin to break up.

            Off East Greenland in April and May the ice limit reaches its maximum

    position eastward, and generally extends from the northwestern tip of Spits–

    bergen southwestward past Jan Mayen to a little north of Iceland, in some

    years it will lie much farther east, blockade the north coast of Iceland, and

    rarely even extend down the east coast of that island. In other seasons,

    however, in the vicinity of 75° N., the eastern limit may hold a position as far

    w est as 10° W.

            The pack ice limit off southwestern Greenland generally reaches its maximum

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    extent is May, or possibly early June. On the average, May will find the

    ice extending almost to Godthaab, although very light ice years have been

    known when it did not reach north of Cape Desolation. The outer limit of

    the pack is usually somewhat farther off the coast than in April, though

    the belt itself does not generally exceed 50 miles in width. Over a period

    of 110 years of observation (1820-1929) the positions of the maximum north–

    ward extensions of the pack along the southwest coast were as follows:

    Egedesminde, 2 years; Sukkertoppen, 6 years; Godthaab, 44 years; Fiskernaes,

    28 years; Frederikshaab, 15 years; Arsuk, 8 years; south of Arsuk, or incomplete

    data, 7 years. The maximum western extensions of the pack in Davis Strait

    during the same period were: 59° to 58° W., 7 years; 56° to 57° W., 23 years;

    55° to 54° W., 29 years; 53° to 52° W., 27 years; 51° to 50° W., 8 years;

    east of 50° W., or incomplete data, 16 years.

            June may be expected to witness a general decrease in the extent of

    storis all along the coast, and an inverse recession in the manner of its

    original advance sets in. Although the storis may be at its heaviest in the

    waters off Cape Farewell in this month, having been met as much as 200 miles

    offshore, the northward extension of the pack may be expected to have re–

    treated to a position near Frederikshaab. This average, however, separates

    such extremes as positions almost as far north as Sukkertoppen, and no

    farther north than Julianehaab Bay.

            Off last Greenland the ice belt will be narrower than in May and the

    pack more open. The ice is characteristically much heavier north of 75°

    than farther south, and while the entire east coast is generally inaccessible

    in this month, mild years have been recorded when heavily built vessels could

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    have made the coast anywhere from Angmagssalik southward in mid-June. By

    contrast, in some years Jan Mayen has been included within the ice belt as

    late as July.

            July witnesses an increasingly pronounced shrinkage of the extent of

    the storis . Not only is the ice belt narrower, but its northern margin is

    not likely to lie beyond Nunarssuit by the 15th and, in some years, by the

    end of the month has cleared from the west coast entirely. In severe years

    the storis still extends to Fiskernaes. There is also a very pronounced

    wastage of the pack off last Greenland in July. The ice belt typically

    dwindles to the width of 10 to 15 miles, its outer margins become scattered

    and, particularly with northwest winds, a lane opens inshore south of 68° N.

    As often as every third year the coast off Angmagssalik will became ice-free

    by the end of the month, and it may be possible to reach Myggbukta and

    Scoresby Sound before the first of August.

            The view has long been held that in the so-called “North Bay” between

    73° and 75° N., the pack is characteristically more scattered than elsewhere

    along the East Greenland coast, and that ships approaching from the east

    can reach the shore more easily here than to the southward. It has been the

    practice, therefore, for ships sailing for Scoresby Sound to enter the pack

    north of that destination and work their way southward. In recent years,

    however, ice conditions have been such as to permit a more direct approach.

    Great caution is required for ships attempting to thread their way through

    this East Greenland pack since floes 20 [ ?] or 30 feet in thickness are not

    uncommon, and if the tortuous leads of open water are suddenly closed by un–

    favorable winds, the ship may be lost. This is also true in following the

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    open water leads along the coast, since shifting winds may bring crushingly

    heavy ice in against the shore in a matter of a few hours.

            In August the southwest coast of Greenland way be entirely free of

    ice, although the final recession from a position off Julianehaab to Cape

    Farewell may take place in this month. The distance of the ice margin off

    Cape Farewell seldom exceeds 30 miles. Off the east coast, everywhere

    south of Scoresby Sound, the belt of ice will be narrow, and in at least

    half of the years the coast from Angmagsaalik southward will be largely

    ice-free. The breakup of the fast ice will probably extend as far north–

    ward as Cape Bismarck, and there is likely to be open water off Scoresby

    Sound, Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord, and Dove Bay, although north of Shannon

    Island the fast ice does not break up every year. In extremely unfavorable

    years the ice belt in August, as far south as Angmagssalik, has been so ex–

    tensive that no open water could be seen from the thousand-foot hills of

    the coast.

            By September the southwest coast should be free of drift ice and should

    continue to be so for the remainder of the year. The pack will probably

    have receded to, or past, Angmagssalik by the middle of the month, and is

    likely to have cleared Scoresby Sound by the end of August. September again

    initiates the generally most favorable period for shipping all along the

    East Greenland coast.

            In considering the cycle of ice conditions just discussed, particular

    attention is called to the series of charts showing the extreme limits of ice

    in the North Atlantic region. The enormous year-to-year variations from the

    conditions defined as “average” can not be over-emphasized. The arctic

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    navigator must expect the unexpected, and be prepared to cope with it at

    all times.

            Although drifting pack ice is present in varying amounts along the

    Greenland side of Denmark Strait during most of the year, it is a rela–

    tively more uncommon occurrence for it to approach Iceland inside the 100-

    fathom curve, some 40 to 50 miles offshore, When ice does come to the coast

    of Iceland it is not likely to [ ?]remain long, and appears most frequently in

    April and May when the East Greenland pack attains its maximum proportions.

    Of the 109 years of record, 54 of them were ice-free or had ice of less than

    a month’s duration. It has been noted that in the years when ice has lasted

    more than a month in Icelandic waters, it has generally made its initial

    appearance in January or February. The ice which may menace the coasts of

    Iceland is generally brought in by winds from the west and northwest, and

    appears first at North Cape. If the ice masses are large enough they are

    carried along the north coast, piling up against Melrakkasletta and Langanes

    where the fields often disintegrate. If sufficient ice keeps pressing in from

    the west, however, it has been known to pass northward around Langanes and

    follow down along the east coast. Here it may, under the influence of

    easterly winds, block the fjords as far south as Gerpir. Inordinately

    severe seasons have seen this ice drift to and around Eystrahorn, and as far

    west along the south coast as Vestmannaeyjar.

            When the ice masses around North Cape are especially large, some of the

    fields say occasionally move southward along the west coast, filling the Isa

    Fjord basin. Navigation is rarely impeded south of this on the west coast,

    although some ice has been known to drift as far as Patreks Fjord.

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            Observations indicate that Jan Mayen is generally lee-free during the

    fall and winter. The pack ice rarely arrives at the island before March

    or April and then does not usually remain for extended periods. The records

    show that by coincidence Jan Mayan has happened to be most easily accessible

    in the early spring period of a number of the very same years that found

    the coasts of Iceland most heavily encumbered.

            In addition to sea ice the East Greenland Current also carries a pro–

    cession of icebergs southward to and around Cape Farewell from the tidewater

    glaciers of the East Greenland fjords. Most of these bergs come from the

    glaciers of Scoresby Sound and the fjords northward to Dove Bay. They begin

    to arrive in quantity off Cape Farewell in April, and continue to be numerous

    there until August when their numbers decrease quite abruptly.

            They are generally held off the coast by the advancing storis , and even

    though several hundreds have been sighted from a ship at one time off Cape

    Farewell, they do not spread southward into the North Atlantic. Some of

    these bergs do follow the storis drift as far up the southwest coast of Green–

    land as Godthaab, but generally no farther than Frederikshaab. Apparently

    under the influence of the East Iceland Current, a number of bergs drift into

    the waters north of Iceland, and ships navigating Denmark Strait may en–

    counter them at any time.


    The Northeastern North American Pack

            The second of the two major ice streams carrying ice from high latitudes

    to the North Atlantic is the northeastern North American pack. Marshalling

    its forces in northern Baffin Bay, and following the eastern littoral of the

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    continent southward along the eastern shores of Baffin Island, Labrador,

    and Newfoundland, this belt of drifting pock ice reaches a maximum length

    of approximately two thousand miles and travels at an average velocity of

    12 1/2 miles a day.

            It is estimated that about 60% of the ice in this southward-flowing

    pack finds its origin in the prolific ice production region of Baffin Bay

    and Davis Strait. Approximately an additional 30% of the total supply con–

    sists of formidable floes of Arctic Sea origin, received through the narrow

    defile between Greenland and Ellesmere Island and, more indirectly, via Jones

    and Lancaster sounds from the tortuous passageways of the archipelago to the

    westward. The remaining 10% of the total contribution comes from the important

    tributary flow of drift ice issuing from Hudson Strait to join the main stream

    off Cape Chidley.

            A number of intimately related basic factors combine to permit the oc–

    currence and define the essential character and behavior of this great ice

    stream: ( 1 ) the geographical arrangement and position of the North American

    land masses surrounding the elongated shallow basin of Baffin Bay which, with

    its openings at the north and the south, acts as a great funnel for the southward

    movement of arctic ice; ( 2 ) the wide continental shelf off Labrador and New–

    foundland which serves as a broad highway for the pack to travel; ( 3 ) the strong

    southward-flowing Labrador Current, the agent of transportation; and ( 4 ) the

    low water temperatures of the continental shelf from Baffin Bay to the Grand

    Banks, which play a part not only in the formation of ice but provide for its

    survival in the advance southward. It is the increasing warmth of summer and

    the shrinking supplies of ice in that season that, together with the lateral

    017      |      Vol_VII-0793                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    disruptions of the pack off Hudson Strait, and other tributary waterways

    on its western flank, sufficiently counteract these factors to prevent an

    uninterrupted flow of ice southward past Newfoundland throughout the year.

            The central reservoir of ice, the Baffin Bay pack, reaches its greatest

    extent in March or April and dwindles to its minimum in August and September.

    During its period of maximum growth in an average year it covers fully four–

    fifths of the surface of Baffin Bay, an area of approximately 165,000 square

    miles. Swelling from its central area in the western and middle waters of

    Baffin Bay, it characteristically reaches across to the West Greenland coast

    as far south as Egedesminde or Holsteinsborg. This pack is commonly referred

    to as the “ West Ice ” (originally so designated as Vestis by the Danes) to dis–

    tinguish it from the so-called “ East Ice ” or storis , which, as has already been

    indicated, reaches the southwestern coast of Greenland from the east.

            Although the extent of their occurrence varies considerably from one year

    to the next, the ice cover of Baffin Bay is commonly broken by considerable

    areas of open water which persist throughout the winter. The best known of

    these, and the most regular in its appearance from year to year, is the “North

    Water” of the northern end of Baffin Bay at the entrance to Smith Sound. Of

    great interest since the days of the early whalers, the reason for the appear–

    ance of this much discussed polynya has never been thoroughly explained. The two

    most commonly offered suggestions are: ( 1 ) that it is formed at the point of

    emergence of an upwelling source of warm water, which has proceeded to this

    district in northern Baffin Bay with a low-level current from the Atlantic be–

    neath the colder waters of Davis Strait; or, ( 2 ) that while the heavy ice of

    Smith Sound is strong enough to hold its position, a southward-flowing current

    018      |      Vol_VII-0794                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    carries the ice away in the area just to the south, leaving an intervening

    gap of open water. There is no observational data either to support or

    disprove the first of these two hypotheses, and it is conceivable that the

    basic explanation of the “North Water” could be neither or a combination

    of both of the above listed factors.

            As elsewhere in the Arctic, late September and early October will gen–

    erally witness the initial stages of the new cycle of ice formation and

    growth. Through the formation of new ice locally, and augmented by the

    arrival of floes from Smith, Jones, and Lancaster sounds, the area of pack

    in Baffin Bay may be expected to begin its expansion in October. The pack

    will probably close in against the Baffin Island coast as far south as the

    mouth of Cumberland Sound, although a lane of open water should still exist

    between the pack and the coast of Greenland all the way north to Melville

    Bay. Fast ice will begin to form in the bays and fjords of the coasts as

    far south as Hopedale harbor in Labrador, and navigation along the Baffin

    Island coast northward from Frobisher Bay will be closed by the end of the


            In November the southward-swelling Baffin Bay pack will have passed

    Cumberland Sound and Frobisher Bay and, off Cape Chidley, will join the first

    forerunners of the pack from Foxe Channel which are beginning to emerge from

    the eastern entrance of Hudson Strait. At first as scattered floes and open

    stringers, and subsequently as an increasingly powerful stream, these com–

    bined packs may be expected to arrive on the northern Labrador shelf before

    the end of the month. Fast ice, growing rapidly out along the isla n d-studded

    shore of Labrador to meet the margin of the pack, will close navigation

    019      |      Vol_VII-0795                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    southward to Hamilton Inlet. The Strait of Belle Isle will still be open in

    most years, although in particularly severe seasons it has [ ?]been closed to

    navigation by the end of this month.

            The West Ice normally closes in on the Greenland coast south to Uper–

    nivik in November, preventing access to Melville Bay. Strong fast ice

    will have formed in the western fjords of Greenland as far south as Umanak,

    and perhaps, also in the inner recesses of Disko Bay.

            During December navigation ceases in the inside channels of the Labrador

    coast. The fast ice belt now reaches out beyond the island, its outer margin

    in contact with the heavy southward-streaming northeastern North American

    pack, which in this month generally reaches to, or slightly beyond, the entrance

    to Hamilton Inlet. Newly formed fast ice, perhaps together with a vanguard

    of northern drift ice, will quite likely close the Strait of Belle Isle, and

    the Gulf of St. Lawrence will be rapidly filling with river and gulf ice.

    Shipping to Montreal and Quebec, and to most of the ports in the Gulf itself,

    is normally suspended in this month.

            Fast ice forms during December in the fjords of West Greenland as far

    south as Sukkertoppen. Owing to the rough and stormy weather which normally

    characterizes this month, the fast ice cover of Disko Bay may be broken up

    several times, and does not finally “set” until the West Ice closes in off

    the entrance to the bay in the last days of the month. In an average season

    the West Ice will have frozen to the seaward margin of the fast ice southward

    to Umanak, and will have moved down along the coast to Egedesminde.

            During January, though perhaps not until early February, the heavy pack

    ice drift will have passed the Strait of Belle Isle, where its width may be

    020      |      Vol_VII-0796                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    one hundred miles or more, and will have arrived on the northern flanks of

    the Grand Banks off southern Newfoundland. Fast ice will have formed and

    navigation will be generally blocked along the eastern coast of Newfoundland

    northward of St. John’s. A rather considerable amount of northern pack ice

    enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence through the Strait of Belle Isle, though

    just how great its proportion to the total ice mixture of the Gulf may be

    is not known.

            During this month, and as the flood of ice increases later in February

    and March, the pack tends to separate as it meets the northern buttress of

    the Grand Banks. One branch follows inshore to the southwestward past Cape

    Race and may, in years of abundant ice, swing westward around the cape to

    block the bays and harbors of southern Newfoundland as far as St. Pierre

    and Miquelon. The harbor at St. John’s and the ports of the south coast of

    Newfoundland, however, are not inaccessible to navigation for more than a

    few days at a time in an average season.

            The second, and by far the heavier branch of the ice stream, moves

    southward along the outside eastern margin of the Grand Banks. This portion

    of the flow, which carries high latitude sea ice to a more southerly position than is attained anywhere else in the Northern

    Hemisphere, may in heavy ice years follow the margins of the Grand Banks

    southward to the “Tail” at the 43rd parallel. Almost invariably, however,

    the most southerly extensions of this ice drift become open and scattered,

    and their existence will be of short duration.

            Another source of drifting ice in the western North Atlantic is the

    Gulf of St. Lawrence via Cabot Strait. Beginning in January, the main body

    of this pack, moving out past Cape North and Scatari Island, will spread

    021      |      Vol_VII-0797                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    southwar r d toward Sable Island, and later in the season may reach, or even

    surround that position. Such extreme outliers are not generally considered

    to be a menace to navigation, however. A small and generally lighter branch

    of this pack may move southwest along the coast of Nova Scotia, sometimes

    as far as Halifax. At rare intervals it may even approach Cape Sable.

            In January the southern and western margins of the West Ice will

    probably lie about 15 miles off the coast of West Greenland somewhere between

    Egedesminde and Sukkertoppen, though in the severe season of 1934 it at–

    tained an extreme position off Frederikshaab. In many years, in this month,

    an open lane of water say exist between the coastal fast ice and the West Ice

    as far north as Disko Bay.

            Succeeding the culminating crescendo of ice in late March and early

    April, when the West Ice may have joined the winter fast ice in maximum ex–

    tension as far south along the West Greenland coast as Sukkertoppen, and

    when the southern margins of the northeastern North American and Gulf of

    St. Lawrence packs have reached their fullest development in the North

    Atlantic waters off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the inevitable recession

    of the annual cycle sets in. Although Davis and Hudson straits are still

    completely blocked by heavy pack ice, and while the steadily flowing broad

    belt of close pack off the coast of Labrador still feeds massive and dan–

    gerous accumulations of ice onto the Grand Banks, the latter weeks of April may

    be expected to witness evidences of retreat. The west Ice will probably have

    retired from its contact with the winter ice of the West Greenland coast as

    far north as Disko Bay, and perhaps even Upernivik. The fast ice in the

    fjords of the coast northward to Egedesminde will have begun to break up.

    022      |      Vol_VII-0798                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    The pack ice off Newfoundland will be receding toward the northeast corner

    of the Grand Banks, but it is still an imposing spectacle and a considerable

    hazard to shipping.

            In an average year the middle of April will see the coming end of winter

    conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Associ a ted with this break-up, and

    lasting for three or possibly four weeks, there is likely to be a great rush

    of ice out of the Gulf through Cabot Strait. The volume of the ice and the

    narrowness of the defile through which it makes its escape, frequently

    cause the piling up of an impenetrable ice barrier across Cabot Strait, and

    may thereby prevent ships from entering the Gulf until as late as the middle

    of May. Normally, however, navigation into and through the Gulf will open

    in late April, or perhaps more commonly in early May.

            During May the pack ice will retreat from the northern margins of the

    Grand Banks, although it will probably still lie across the entrance to the

    Strait of Belle Isle, and extend down along the northeastern shores of New–

    foundland. The last of the ice in the lower Gulf of St. Lawrence will finally

    disappear, the actual time being dependent upon the nature of the winds and

    temperatures of the particular season. The pack ice belt off the coast of

    Labrador will have became noticeably narrower, and the West Ice, though per–

    haps not standing far offshore, will have pulled back from the west coast

    of Greenland as far north as the Vaigat. Before the end of the month the

    winter ice in the outer part of Disko Bay, and the fjord entrances as far

    north as Upernivik, will have begun to break up.

            This diminution of the pack volume continues along the Labrador coast

    in June, and the southern margin normally retreats sufficiently to permit

    023      |      Vol_VII-0799                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    transatlantic steamers to enter the Strait of Belle Isle after the 15th of the

    month. Occasional scattered float or pans of ice say still persist southward

    to the northern margins of the Brand Banks. The fiords and inner passageways

    of the Labrador coast generally clear of fast ice sufficiently to permit

    navigation northward inside the pack to Hamilton Inlet.

            During June the strong currents from the reopening waters of Hudson

    Strait create a lateral pressure on the western flank of the northeastern

    North American pack which tends to sever and scatter the dwindling reinforce–

    ments to Labrador from the north. This is a very important factor in hasten–

    ing the dissolution of the pack ice on the Labrador shelf.

            June, along the West Greenland coast, brings the final break-up of fast

    ice northward of Disko Bay and Upernivik, and, although the West Ice may lie

    no more than 70 to 80 miles northwestward of the coast even at Egedesminde,

    the sea along the old margin of contact between the shore ice and the West

    Ice may be navigable all the way to Melville Bay. A commencement of the

    break-up of the fast ice in Smith Sound during this month may result in the

    temporary choking of the North Water.

            During July the pack, which at the beginning of the month may still have

    its scattered southern margin across the eastern entrance of Hudson Strait,

    will probably have cleared that position by the middle, or certainly the end

    of the month. In most years the entire Labrador coast will become navigable,

    although the last scattered fragments of the pack, and the final vestiges

    of the fast ice may still encumber the north coast. Occasionally unfavorable

    seasons have been known, however, when shipping along the entire Labrador

    coast has been hampered throughout the summer.

    024      |      Vol_VII-0800                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            To the northward in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, July conditions are ex–

    tremely variable from year to year, but on the average the West Ice may be

    expected to retreat to a position some 70 to 80 miles off the West Greenland

    coast, and it should be possible to navigate without difficulty along the

    eastern side of Baffin Bay northward to Smith Sound; possibly even to the

    eastern entrance to Lancaster Sound, From this month forward to October,

    the West Greenland coast should be free of sea ice northward to the inner

    recesses of Melville Bay. The fast ice along the west coast of Baffin Island,

    from Frobisher Bay and Cumberland Sound on the south, to Pond Inlet on the

    north, also begins to break up during July, although the trading posts at such

    places as Ward Inlet, Pangnirtung, Clyde Inlet, and Pond Inlet are generally

    not available to ships until August because of the dwindling, but still powerful

    Baffin Bay pack lying against the coast.

            In Au g ust and September the last vestiges of sea ice should have practically

    disappeared from the waters south of Cape Mercy on Baffin Island, and from the

    frist weeks of August to the days in late September when the fast ice once

    again begins to form, the waters of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait become more

    nearly ice-free than at any other time. Heavy ice may persist in the center

    of Baffin Bay, and however small the area of residual pack may be, and however

    open its outer margins, its central core is characteristically made up of heavy

    ice of Arctic Sea origin, and it should be scrupulously avoided by navigators.

            The coastal waters of Greenland on the east, and those of Baffin Island on

    the west should be navigable in all but the most unfavorable seasons. Unfavor–

    able winds may at any time carry the pack ice of the middle of the bay in against

    the Baffin Island shore, making the trading posts of this coast at least

    025      |      Vol_VII-0801                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    temporarily inaccessible, and fast ice is likely to persist along the northern

    shores of Melville Bay, even though the bay itself is navigable. Koch

    estimates that some of the Melville Bay fjords east of Cape York have fast

    ice which dies not break up oftener than five or six times in a century.

            Craig Harbour, on Jones Sound, is generally accessible from the middle

    of August to the middle of September, and if the heavy ice to the northward

    in upper Smith Sound, Kane Basin, Kennedy Channel, Ball Basin, and Robeson

    Channel is to break up at all, it will be in this period. The great ice jams

    in the southern approaches to Kane Basin and in the above listed waterways

    northward of Cape Sabine, however, present the greatest danger for even the

    most powerful ships. Although vessels have successfully navigated northward

    to a position at 82° N., in Robeson Channel, there are years when the waters

    north of Cape Sabine do not open at all. It is to the vagaries of the

    northern ice in this hazardous region that the tragic fate of such expedi–

    tions as that of Greely bear so eloquent testimony.

            One very important element in the total picture of ice in the north–

    eastern North American region which has not yet been mentioned, and one which

    is intimately related to the previously discussed behavior of sea ice, is

    the enormous van of icebergs produced in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait to be

    distributed southward to the sea lanes of the North Atlantic. Nowhere else

    in the world are icebergs produced in so great a number, nor is their ultimate

    destination so is important to navigation, and while the complex matters related

    to their formation and distribution can not be dealt with adequately in this

    discussion, they can hardly be omitted from mention.

            Of the some 150 to 175 sizeable glaciers which reach tidewater along the

    026      |      Vol_VII-0802                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    western coast of Greenland, perhaps 15% produce icebergs capable of

    reaching the north Atlantic. It is estimated that the annual production

    of large bergs in this region is about 7,500, of which approximately 72%

    are calved from the glacier fronts of Disko and Northeast (Nordost) bays,

    20% from the Melville Bay sector between Svarten Huk and Cape York, 4%

    from the coast between cape York and Cape Alexander, 2% from the Humboldt

    Glacier of Kane Basin, and an additional 2% from the North American side

    on Ellesmere Island.

            When they are released from the bays in which they were produced by

    the break-up of the fast ice in June or July, or even later, they begin

    on the circuitous route which may carry them ultimately to the North At–

    lantic. Because of their enormous size, and the depth of water which

    they draw, the movement of these bergs is primarily governed by currents.

    Wind seems to have little effect upon them, at least until that time when

    they have, through melting and disintegration, been reduced to extremely

    shallow draft. At the time of their emergence from the West Greenland

    fjords, they are caught up in the cyclonic circulation of the waters of

    Baffin Bay and proceed northward up the coast. On this .journey they may

    move as far as 78° N. in Smith Sound before coming under the influence

    of the southward-moving waters of the American coast.

            Along the pathway which the bergs follow are innumerable traps which

    they must elude if they are to make the complete trip southward, such as

    shallow waters, projecting points, and tributary waterways. Many are car–

    ried by the indraft of water through the eastern entrance of Hudson Strait

    and along its northern shore. A considerable number of these return to

    027      |      Vol_VII-0803                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    the Labrador shelf along the southern margin of the strait after their

    extended detour. Significant numbers are deflected through the strait

    of Belle Isle into the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they disinte–

    grate. The major stream, under the influence of the Labrador Current, like

    the pack ice, passes down along the Newfoundland coast to reach the Grand

    Banks. Here on the northern flank of the wide sub et te rranean continental

    margin, three major tracks of distribution may be distinguished. One of

    these berg streams, like a similar branch of the pack ice, follows the

    Newfoundland coast to, and possibly around, Cape Race. The bergs drift–

    ing on this course do not seem to move farther west than Placentia Bay,

    and large accumulations of disintegrating, grounded bergs may be found

    in the Cape Race region every season.

            A second group of hundreds of bergs goes aground on the northern

    margin of the central Grand Banks. There they begin to disintegrate. As

    the draft of these bergs grows shallower, they may be carried still farther

    into the shoal waters to disappear entirely, or when ungrounded they may

    rejoin the major stream eastward and southward.

            The largest of the three outstanding berg tracks, and the one which

    provides the greatest menace to shipping, is the one which continues south–

    ward around the outside eastern margin of the Grand Banks. The axis of

    this stream tends to follow westward around the “Tail” at the southern

    end of the Grand Banks, although there are many variant tracks in dif–

    ferent months and different seasons.

            While occasional bergs may be met off southern Newfoundland in any

    month of the year, they reach a very definite maximum number between

    028      |      Vol_VII-0804                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    mid-March and mid-July, and a decided minimum from mid-October to mid-February.

    Over the 41-year period, from 1900 to 1941, the average annual number of bergs

    sighted south of the 48th parallel in the Grand Banks region was 428. In

    extreme years this has varied [ ?] from 0 to well in excess of 1,300 bergs, Ice–

    bergs of all sizes, shapes, and descriptions have been seen throughout the

    more than 2,000-mile pathway which they follow from West Greenland to the

    Grand Banks. With reference to their varied appearance, Sverdrup has com–

    mented: “There is nothing between heaven and earth that has not taken on from

    in the mighty fantasy of cold.”


    Hudson Bay and Strait

            The ice found in the narrow waters of Hudson Strait for 8 or 9 months

    each year is derived from four major sources. The stoat important of these

    is the previously discussed northeastern North American pack, which, flowing

    southward off the eastern entrance to the strait, contributes a formidable

    array of heavy floes and bergs. The current movements branching off from

    the main Labrador stream carry tremendous quantities of ice through Gabriel

    Strait, as well as southward around Resolution Island, to move westward along

    the northern shores of Hudson Strait. With the aid of easterly winds the

    ice will be carried westward as far as Big Island before being caught up in

    the easterly flowing waters along the south coast of the strait to be car–

    ried out past Cape Chidley and a rejoining of the main pack on the Labrador

    shelf. The icebergs, which take this westerly detour from the main Baffin

    Bay-Labrador route, are most plentiful between Resolution and Big Island,

    though they are set anywhere between Resolution and Charles islands, and may

    029      |      Vol_VII-0805                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    occasionally even make their way westward as far as Nottingham Island, before

    starting their return journey along the southern side of the strait.

            “Foreign ice” gains admittance to Hudson Strait from the western end as

    well as the eastern. The second important source of the heavy floe ice in

    the strait is received from Foxe Basin via Foxe Channel. Much of this ice

    is formed locally in Foxe Basin, an area of prolific ice production, but

    very heavy reinforcements of old arctic ice are also received from the con–

    gested masses of the Gulf of Boothia via Fury and Hecla Strait. This admix–

    ture of ice poured into the western end of Hudson strait through Foxe Channel

    will in large part have thicknesses varying from 7 to 19 feet, with occasional

    floes ranging up to 30 feet. Flowing in a southeasterly direction between

    Southampton Island and Foxe Peninsula, this ice drifts toward Nottingham

    Island and Cape Wolstenholme and proceeds eastward on the southern side of

    the strait. At times it effectively closes Evans Strait and the western end

    of Hudson Strait between Digges and Nottingham islands, but it seldom, if ever,

    enters Hudson Bay proper. It is probable that the contributions of ice from

    this sector are received largely during the spring, summer, and autumn periods.

    Owing to heavy freezing in this almost completely enclosed catchment area, it

    is assumed that the ice of Foxe Basin is rather generally held fast from Decem–

    ber, or at least January, to May.

            A third important source of ice in Hudson Strait is the fast ice formed

    locally each winter. Increasingly broad belts are formed on both the northern

    and southern shores of the strait as winter progresses. The central portion

    of the strait, serving as it does as a gigantic sluiceway for the pack ice

    entering from both east and west, does not freeze over. Broad Ungava Bay like–

    wise is not covered by a solid sheet of fast ice.

    030      |      Vol_VII-0806                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            The fourth and final source of ice in Hudson Strait is Hudson Bay,

    where large quantities of ice are manufactured every winter. The volume

    received from this quarter, however, is believed to be cooperatively small

    since apparently most of the ice formed in Hudson Bay disintegrates there.

            Unlike Hudson Strait, the ice of Hudson Bay is almost entirely winter

    ice formed locally. Beginning in the fall of each year, fast ice forms in

    the inlets and along the coasts, and in succeeding months builds a fringing

    shelf outward into the bay. At the time of its maximum development this

    belt of coastal ice extends off the shallow eastern shores for 60 or 70

    miles to include the islands, and a distance of 1 to 7 miles elsewhere. Until

    [ ?] quite recently it has been believed that the entire central portion of the

    bay did not freeze, and that save for the drifting floes broken away from

    the coastal fast ice, it was generally ice-free. Aerial reconnaissance in

    recent years, however, has indicated that vast fields of ice do form, in some

    years at least, over the central sector, although in such instances there is

    commonly open water between these masses and the shore ice.

            The Hudson Bay fast ice normally attains thicknesses of [ ?]from 3 to 5 feet.

    Periodic storms, however, break the shore ice up along its outer margins, and

    heavy winds may pile sheets on top of one another, resulting in rafted ice

    thicknesses of several tens of feet.

            Although navigation is generally possible throughout almost the entire

    Hudson Bay and Strait region in October, this month usually witnesses the

    beginning of the ice season. In Roe’s Welcome Sound, Repulse Bay, and Wager

    Bay to the northwest, winter ice begins to form early in October, and naviga–

    tion will probably be closed by the middle, or certainly the end of the month.

    031      |      Vol_VII-0807                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    Elsewhere, in Hudson Bay northward from Churchill on the west and port Har–

    rison on the east, and in Hudson Strait, fast ice begins to form in the

    latter part of this month.

            In November, at almost any time after the first of the month, the Baffin

    Bay pack may be expected to envelop the eastern entrance to Hudson Strait.

    In some years its arrival off and entry into the strait may be delayed by

    southerly or westerly winds, but it normally appears early in the month.

    The Foxe Channel pack may also be entering the western entrance of the strait

    during the first week in November, and be arriving via the south coast at

    the eastern entrance two weeks later. Fast ice generally seals up the ports

    of both the northern and southern sides of the strait by the middle of this

    month, and local navigation is commonly regarded as being undependable, if

    not impossible.

            From Chesterfield Inlet in the northwest, the southern shores of South–

    ampton Island in the north, and Mansel Island and Cape Smith in the northeast,

    where the fast ice begins to set in heavily at the beginning of November, to

    James Bay on the south, where its formation is delayed until the end of the

    month, true winter conditions have usually brought the coastal navigation

    season to an end everywhere by the first of December. Although, in mild

    seasons, heavy fast ice has not formed in some of the Hudson Bay ports until

    as late as Christmas, as much as three feet of solid young ice is to be ex–

    pected in and around the harbor at Churchill in this month.

            Throughout the succeeding months, until reaching maximum development in

    late March or early April, the ice throughout the region increases both in area

    and in thickness. In James Bay, where the waters are shallower and fresher

    032      |      Vol_VII-0808                                                                                                                  
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    than elsewhere, the fast ice becomes especially thick and reaches out from

    the shore to cover at least 50% of the bay. By the middle of February the

    winter ice surrounding the Belcher Islands is joined to the fast ice belt

    extending out from the eastern shore, a condition which normally persists

    until the middle of April. The crowding shore ice and floes of Hudson Strait

    reduce the open water of this seaway to only 15% of its total area, a condi–

    tion of extreme congestion which may be expected to last from February to May.

            Sometimes in late April, but more commonly in May, the rivers of southern

    Hudson Bay will begin to open, and throughout May and early June the ice gen–

    erally begins to disintegrate. Characteristically, open water will appear

    early along the tidal margins of the coast, separating the fast ice belt

    from the shore line.

            By the first of June the fast ice of James Bay has usually broken up

    sufficiently to permit coastal shipping by the first of the month. Northward

    to the Belcher Islands, and to Fort Severn, fort Nelson, and Churchill along

    the southwestern coast, the disintegration of the winter ice should be well

    advanced by the middle or end of the month. Although, if as a result of a

    stormy winter there has been considerable rafting of ice, its ultimate disap–

    pearance may be delayed until July. Sever winters have been known when the

    ice around the Belcher Islands has persisted until as late as August.

            During the first half of July, in most seasons, the last of the winter

    fast ice, both in Hudson Bay and Strait, is likely to break up and only oc–

    casional drifting patches still survive. To the northwest in Roe’s Welcome

    Sound, Wager Bay, and Repulse Bay, the ice is likely to persist until August.

    In many years July may find Hudson Strait still encumbered with drifting ice.

    033      |      Vol_VII-0809                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    A great deal depends on the winds of the particular season. With westerly

    winds to aid in the disgorging of its floes into the North Atlantic, the

    strait will clear earlier than if easterly winds prevail. In some unfavor–

    able seasons the Baffin Bay pack may continue to enter the strait throughout

    July, and, though in diminishing amounts, even during August, September, and

    October. It is generally conceded, however, that in average years mid-July

    should bring 90% open water and an unquestionably navigable Hudson Strait.

            There has probably never been a sore hotly debated question concerning

    the navigability of ice-infested waters than that posed by the Hudson Bay route.

    The railhead at Churchill brings the agricultural produce of the Canadian

    Prairie Provinces many hundreds of miles closer to Liverpool than the conven–

    tional transcontinental shipping route via Montreal, and greatly reduces

    transshipment problems and expensive overland freighting. The usefulness of

    the route obviously turns upon the problem of the navigability of this inner

    continental deep-sea waterway.

            In the final analysis, since extensive observations in early summer and

    late fall have not been made, and since experimental efforts with powerful

    icebreakers in this region have not been undertak e n, the arguers of both sides

    of the proposition have been reduced to what amounts to little more than per–

    sonal opinion. The general consensus seems to be that in substantially every

    season the navigation of this route is practical during the three months of

    August, September, and October, and that in most years the last two weeks in

    July, and the first two of November, can be added to the total of a four-month

    navigation season. Conservative insurance companies will cover ships entering

    the strait past Cape Chidley from August 5 to leaving Churchill October 15.

    034      |      Vol_VII-0810                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            It seems clear that in many years it would be possible to reach

    Churchill as early as June and to leave Hudson Strait as late as the end

    of November, and there are s e veral individuals familiar with these waters

    who feel that it would be possible to extend the navigation season to

    include May and December. Indeed there are competent mariners, such as

    Bernier, Smellie, and others, who have contended that, if serious attempts

    to examine the essential validity of the matter were made, it could be

    demonstrated that Hudson Bay and Strait are navigable throughout the year.

            Bajkov, who has painstakingly collected all of the broad diversity

    of opinion on this subject, and who believes that at least “the period of

    navigation from Churchill to England could be lengthened probably until

    after Christmas,” makes the following interesting observation at the conclu–

    sion of his valuable survey: “Even if they (Hudson Bay and Str ia ai t) are open,

    there still remains the problem of finding a winter harbour suitable for

    merchant ships. The only port of any commercial importance in the Bay is

    Churchill. Its harbour is icebound from December to May, and at the end

    of the winter the thickness of the ice may be in places up to seven feet.

    This additional thickness is due to tidal water flowing over the ice.

            “The local ice conditions in Churchill harbour, in fact, decide the

    closing date for navigation by the Bay route. Open water during the second

    part of the winter extends to within three to one half miles from the shore —

    three small miles that may render the remaining 2,933 to Liverpool imprac–

    ticable for the winter months.” 6

    6. Bajkov A. D., “The Ice Conditions of Hudson Bay,” The Beaver, March

    1941, p. 19.

    035      |      Vol_VII-0811                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice


    The Northwest Passages

            The maze of interconnecting waterways which separate the innumerable

    islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are, for ten or more months of

    the year, choked by ice with two major sources of origin. The passageways

    between the islands along the northwestern front of the archipelago, from

    northern Ellesmere Island in the northeast to Mackenzie Bay in the southwest,

    permit the steady infiltration of heavy Arctic Sea ice both into and through

    this region. In addition to these tremendous receipts of ice from outside

    the region, is the vast quantity of fast ice which forms locally during the

    extended high latitude winter.

            By the middle of September, and in some seasons even earlier, fast

    ice begins to set along the shores, and by the end of October the young ice

    is usally sufficiently heavy to support coastwise sled communication through–

    out the region. In succeeding months the winter ice grows out into the

    straits and sounds, and if the separated islands are comparatively close

    together they will be joined by an unbroken bridge of ice. Some of the

    larger straits will not freeze over entirely, but their central portions

    are effectively closed by crowding heavy ice from the Arctic Sea. From time

    to time these floes will freeze together to provide a stationary connection

    from shore to shore across even the broadest gulfs and straits.

            Ice thicknesses will increase until May, and possibly eves June.

    Normally by at least the end of June the early signs of break-up begin to

    appear along the margin of the continental mainland, probably first in

    Mackenzie Bay off the distributary mouths of the Mackenzie River. Indeed

    036      |      Vol_VII-0812                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    in some seasons the break-up of the Mackenzie at the head of the delta

    occurs by the first of June or even in the closing weeks of May. It is

    generally not until July, however, that the fast ice really begins to

    loosen its hold on the waters of the southern part of the region. The

    processes of disintegration a r e first most pronounced in Mackenzie Bay and

    Coronation and Queen Mud gulfs in the extreme south, and in Pond, Navy

    Board, and Admiralty inlets, and Lancaster Sound in the east.

            In the latter part of July or in early August the region generally

    becomes accessible to ships from outside, 7 and while ice never completely

    disappears from these inland waterways, the most open period may be ex–

    pected between mid-August and mid-September. As so many explorers, traders,

    and adventurers have learned by such bitter experience, however, the

    observed behavior of the ice in these straits and sounds in one year can

    be counted upon to guarantee nothing for the next. The months of August

    and September are to be regarded as a potential and not a dependably demon–

    strated navigation season even south of 76°, and north of that latitude,

    or at any time prior to the last week in July or subsequent to the last

    week in September, navigation, if not impossible, is to be counted as pre–

    carious in the extreme, The successful movement of ships in these waters

    is always in large measure dependent upon skilled and experienced navigation

    techniques, but to no lesser extent upon the good fortunes associated with

    a favorable season.

    7. In saying that this region generally becomes accessible to ships from the

    outside around the end of July or the first of August, is is not meant to

    imply that ships have never attained positions within it at earlier dates.

    For example, in at least one especially favorable season, Herschel Island has

    been reached from around Point Barrow in early July.

    037      |      Vol_VII-0813                                                                                                                  
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            Groping their way northward along the eastern margin of the North American

    continent in search of a Northwest Passage, the early explorers were ulti–

    mately compelled to center their search in the tortuous waterways of this region.

    The essential fact was soon discovered, that access to the region was practical

    by one major route from each direction, Lancaster Sound on the east, and the

    waters of the continental margin of Alaska and Mackenzie Bay on the west.

    Between Lancaster Sound and Mackenzie Bay lie a variety of theoretical or ac–

    complished routes of Northwest Passage around the American continent.

            The first discovered, and, with minor variations, still the seemingly

    most practical navigation route through this region, is that which, beginning

    in Lancaster Sound in the east, follows westward into Barrow Strait, and then

    southward through Peel Sound, Franklin, Sir James Ross, and Rae straits to

    the southeastern corner of King William Island, and then westward again through

    Simpson Strait, Queen Maud Gulf, Dease Strait, Coronation Gulf, Dolphin and

    Union Strait, Amundsen Gulf, Mackenzie Bay, and the Alaskan coastal waters

    westward from Herschel Island. It is this route which Sir John Franklin so

    nearly accomplished during the 1840’s. Having sailed through Lancaster Sound

    and Barrow Strait, and taking Peel Sound to the southward into Franklin Strait,

    this expedition made the fatal error of attempting to gain admittance to the

    open waters of Queen Maud Gulf through Victoria Strait, rather than by the

    then unknown waterways to the east and south of King William Island.

            As such men as Rae and Collinson in the early 1850’s, and M’Clintock

    later in the same decade, were qu i ck to recognize, Victoria Strait could never

    be considered to be a link in any Northwest Passage route, since the heavy ice

    of Arctic Sea origin which enters the archipelago through M’Clure Strait and

    038      |      Vol_VII-0814                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    Viscount Melville Sound streams down M’Clintock Channel, and pressing against

    King William Island, piles up in Victoria Strait. The narrow island-studded

    exist from Victoria Strait on the south serves not only to protect Queen Maud

    Gulf from the continual invasion of this powerful northern ice, but prevents

    Victoria Strait from ever clearing. As M’Clintock wrote in his [ ?] journal with

    reference to the fate of Franklin whose ships were crushed in the powerful

    ice of this strait: “How different the results might , and probably would ,

    have been had he known of the e x istence of a ship-channel, sheltered by King

    William Island, from this tremendous polar pack!”

            Over 50 years later, in 1903, profiting by this hard-won knowledge,

    Amundsen began the first successful negotiation of the Northwest Passage by

    a single vessel. In his 47-ton ship, the Gjoa , this Norwegian explorer enter–

    ing Franklin Strait via Peel Sound from the north, rounded King William Island

    to the east and south, and after two winters at Gjoa Haven (Peterson Bay), on

    the southeastern corner of that island, succeeded in following the northern

    continental margin westward to emerge in Bering Strait in 1906.

            The first commercial use of the eastern portion of this passage was made

    in 1928 when the Hudson’s Bay Company schooner, Fort James , brought supplies

    via Lancaster and Peel sounds to the trading post at Gjoa Haven. The western

    portion of the route, between the Mackenzie Delta and Queen Maud Gulf, has

    been more extensively used than any other waterway in the region, especially

    by the trading schooners of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The major base for

    these late summer operations is Port Brabant (Tuktuk), which serves as the

    main transshipment point between the Mackenzie River and the trading posts

    farther east. Aside from the ice conditions which restrict the use of the

    039      |      Vol_VII-0815                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    entire Lancaster Sound--Franklin Strait--Queen Maud Gulf route to no more

    than six to eight weeks of the year, the major dr a wback of this passageway is

    the fact that, especially in the eastern Queen Maud Gulf-Simpson Strait sector,

    the waters are so shallow that only very small ships can be used.

            One major variation to the northwest Passage just discussed has been to

    turn southward from Lancaster Sound into Prince Regent Inlet, and to gain

    access to Franklin and Sir James Ross straits via Bellot Strait. Both Parry

    and Ross failed in their attempts to find this route via Prince Regent Inlet

    in the 1820’s, and M’Clintock was unsuc c essful in using Bellot Strait because

    of a narrow but persistent band of ice off its western entrance. The first

    commercial importance of this variant route came in 1937 when the Hudson’s

    Bay Company icebreaker, Nascopie Nascopie , opened the trading post of Fort Ross at

    the eastern entrance of Bellot Strait, and here met and exchanged freight with

    the small Hudson’s Bay Company schooner Aklavik which had proceeded to this

    point from Mackenzie Bay around King William Island. Thus Fort Ross became

    a meeting point for the local trade of the eastern and western Arctic.

            The Bellot Strait route was also taken by the Royal Canadian Mounted

    Police Schooner, St. Roch , on her historic trip of 1940-42 when she became

    the first ship to negotiate the entire Northwest Passage from west to east.

    As a pertinent example of the uncertainties of the ice along this route, it

    is interesting to point out that although the St. Roch managed under difficulty

    to escape through Prince Regent Inlet in the early days of September, 1942, the

    Nascopie , coming from Lancaster Sound was unable to make her annual visit to

    Fort Ross a few days later.

    040      |      Vol_VII-0816                                                                                                                  
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            A second variant to this major route wh i ch has been followed in recent

    years by the Hudson’s Bay Company and Royal Canadian Mounted Police ships,

    has been to use the waterway inside Bylot Island (Pond Inlet, Eclipse Sound,

    and navy Board Inlet), rather than the direct eastern entrance of Lancaster

    Sound. This alternate passage has had the advantage of permitting communica–

    tion with the trading post at Pond Inlet.

            The second major route of possible Northwest Passage which has long

    been the subject to exploration and speculation, is the more direct line of

    travel down Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait, into Viscount Melville Sound

    and beyond. The possibilities of this route were first explored as early

    as 1819 by Edward Parry, who, wintering on the south shore of Melville Island,

    became the first navigator in the Northern Hemisphere to cross the 110th

    meridian. On this trip Parry was the first to make contact with the formid–

    able floes of Arctic Sea ice which enter M’Clure Strait and appear in such

    massive volume in Viscount Melville Sound and M’Clintock Channel. These heavy

    floes blocked his fu r ther progress westward in the next season, and the failure

    of his expedition on this route was followed by a century or more of doubt as

    to its feasibility.

            It was not until 1944 when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Schooner,

    St. Roch , finally broke through the ice of Viscount Melville Sound, that a

    Northwest Passage northward of Victoria Island was accomplished. Entering

    the archipelago from the east via Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait, the

    St. Roch followed the northern margin of Viscount Melville Sound to western

    Melville Island, and then turning south maneuvered the heavy pack to enter

    041      |      Vol_VII-0817                                                                                                                  
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    and pass through Prince of Wales Strait, 8 and proceed through Amundsen Gulf,

    Mackenzie Bay, and the coastal waters of Alaska. Making this trip in 86 days,

    the sturdy St. Roch became the first ship in more than t h ree and a half cen–

    turies of effort to navigate a northwest Passage in a single season.

    8. This was the first accomplishment of a north-south passage through the ice

    of eastern M’Clure Strait and western Viscount Melville Sound. The long-standing

    [ ?] respect for the ice accumulation of this district has good foundation is fact,

    but as the following statement from the recently published United States Navy

    Sailing Directions for northern Canada indicate, the problems of navigation

    here are perhaps fully soluable with increased knowledge and understanding:

    “Viscount Melville Sound, because of the prevalent easterly current

    through McClure Strait, is usually so full of ice that it cannot be looked upon

    as a body of water that is navigable in any desired direction. This current

    runs eastward along the northern side of Viscount Melville Sound, and in the

    middle and southern parts of the sound there is probably a clockwise eddy, which

    tends to hold the ice within this area. Larsen is, however, of the opinion that

    there is probably never a season when a vessel under steam cannot get through

    Viscount Melville Sound along its northern side as far as Winter Harbor.

    Stefansson and Larsen have observed that on occasions when McClure Strait is

    jammed with ice from shore to shore by westerly winds, which are probably fre–

    quent, Viscount Melville Sound, because of its greater width, will allow room

    for sufficient slackening of this ice jam to afford good sailing in its western

    part whenever during the navigation season there is a westerly wind. So if a

    vessel succeeds in making Winter Harbor she can await a westerly wind and be

    reasonably sure to get across western Viscount Melville Sound southward to

    Prince of Wales Strait rhough scattered ice. Larsen’s experience indicates

    that the revolving motion of the ice in the middle of Viscount Melville Sound

    makes it advisable to make this crossing as far west as possible, usually between

    Cape Providence, Melville Island, and Russell Point, Banks Island. The St. Roch

    in 1944 required three days to work across the sound from Winter Harbor to Peel

    Point because of heavy fog and much revolving ice, in which they got entangled

    through being too far east, so they entered Collinson Inlet, mistaking it at

    first for Prince of Wales Strait. Larsen states, however, that the summer of

    1944 was undoubtedly a season of unusually heavy ice.

    “Observations of the ice conditions is McClure Strait made in 1908 by

    Bernier, who reached Cape Hay, indicated that is that year the strait could

    have been navigated across from the middle of August to the end of September. Mem–

    bers of Stefansson’s expedition in the summer of 1916 observed from the southern

    end of Melville Island near Cape Providence that McClure Strait was fairly open.

    Stefansson was of the opinion that the Polar Bear , one of the expedition’s

    vessels, would have had no trouble in crossing from Prince of Wales Strait to

    Melville Island, had the attempt been made as planned.” Sailing Directions for

    Northern Canada , Hydrographic Office Publication No. 77 , Washington, 1946,

    pp. 480-481.

    042      |      Vol_VII-0818                                                                                                                  
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            Exciting though this accomplishment was, one must not forget the cau–

    tionary statement of Captain Larsen upon his arrival in Vancouver, a statement

    which applies not only to the route which he had just negotiated, but to any

    other in this region: “We were lucky . . . . No one can predict ice or naviga–

    tion conditions in the Arctic. What we accomplished this year might be re–

    peated the next, or it might be many years. Much would depend upon the type

    of vessel used, and the ice conditions of that particular year. Our voyage

    showed that the Northwest Passage can be traversed in a single year, but does

    not prove that this could be accomplished every year.” 9

            An especially pertinent observation of Captain Larsen has to do with his

    conviction that on the average the most difficult and dangerous port o ion of

    any Northwest Passage route is that segment along the Alaskan coast line

    between Herschel Island and Point Barrow. This is particularly significant

    with regard to speculation about future possibilities of navigation in the

    North American North, inasmuch as this admittedly dangerous link in the chain

    has actually been successfully negotiated oftener than any other seaway between

    Point Barrow and Lancaster Sound.

            A much discussed possible variant from the route followed by the St. Roch

    on her 1944 voyage, is the one to the westward through M’Clure Strait and

    along the western shore of Banks Island to Mackenzie Bay. The two outstanding

    hazards of such a route are the heavy ice so characteristically found in

    M’Clure Strait, and the ever-present threat of the arctic pack and drift ice,

    which even in the most favorable seasons, lies close to the Banks Island shore,

    9. Robinson, J. Lewis, “Conquest of the Northwest Passage by R.C.M.P. Schooner

    St Roch”, Canadian Geographical Journal , February, 1945, p. 23.

    043      |      Vol_VII-0819                                                                                                                  
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    and may with unfavorable winds come in against this coast with crushing force

    at any time.

            During the search for Sir John Franklin, M’Clure approaching from Mackenzie

    Bay to the west, succeeded in rounding the western side of Banks Island before

    being locked against the coast at Mercy Bay on the strait which now hears his

    name, a position from which he was unable to extricate his ship. This voyage

    lent credence to the belief of Bernier, who on the basis of his trip westward

    into M’Clure Strait in 1908 concluded that this was the most logical passage

    with which the eastern Arctic might communicate with Mackenzie Bay. Because

    he did not have orders to proceed westward of M’Clure Strait, Bernier did not

    attempt to navigate a Northwest Passage along this route, but he claimed that

    if such had been the purpose of his voyage it would have been possible to do

    so in the fall of that year.

            This deep-sea route would have obvious advantages over the shallow and

    circuitous passageways of the continental margin, but it is only fair to point

    out that on attempting such a route two years later, Bernier found the Arctic

    Sea entrance to M’Clure Strait barred by impenetrable ice. Furthermore,

    Stefansson’s ships the North Star and Polar Bear attempted to round the shores

    of western Banks Island from the south in August and September of 1915, after

    the manner of M’Clure. The North Star was unable to get northward of a position

    20 miles north of Norway Island in August and the Polar Bear was halted con–

    siderably farther to the south by solid pack at Cape Kellett in early September.

    The possibility should probably be conceded that in occasional seasons, at

    least, this route could be followed, and that perhaps with powerful icebreaker

    assistance, it could be navigated in many seasons, but the fact that [ ?] has

    never yet been accomplished leaves the matter one of speculation.

    044      |      Vol_VII-0820                                                                                                                  
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            There is one additional waterway, long discussed as a potential link

    in a Northwest Passage, which has not yet been mentioned. That is the narrow

    defile of Fury and Hecla Strait which connects Foxe Basin and the Gulf of

    Boothia. Both the Gulf of Boothia and Foxe Basin are catchment areas for

    heavy arctic ice, and navigation in them is known to be uncertain and

    hazardous. Many navigators, from the indefatigible Parry, in 1821, to

    Captain Robert A. Bartlett over one hundred years later, have followed the

    comparatively open waters of western Foxe Basin in late August and early Septem–

    ber northward to the eastern entrance of Fury and Hecla Strait, but none has

    succeeded in passing through this narrow waterway to the Gulf of Boothia.

    Captain Bernier failed in his attempt from the north via Prince Regent Inlet,

    and though the statement still persists in much of the literature that Fury

    and Hecla Strait may be a practical route of entry to, or exit from, the

    archipelago region, it has yet to serve this function.

            It seems fair to remark, in conclusion that the Northwest Passages around

    North America will not soon attain the stature of a commercial shipping route

    comparable to that being developed by the Russians in the arctic seas off

    Siberia. In the North American area the present resources for trade are too

    limited, and the risks and undependability too great. The new age of air

    transportation makes this seem doubly certain.


    The Arctic Seas of Alaska

            The Alaskan waters to the north and east of Bering Strait are dominated

    throughout most of the year by the movements of the never distant and always

    powerful polar pack and the marginally flanking heavy drift ice of the Arctic Sea.

    045      |      Vol_VII-0821                                                                                                                  
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    Of considerable importance, though overshadowed in significance by the arctic

    pack and drift ice, is the heavy fast ice which for 10 or more months of the

    year covers the bays and fringes the shores of northern Alaska.

            The Bering Sea, included as it is between two massive land areas with

    severe continental climates, is filled each year by a tremendous volue of

    ice of primarily local formation. Very little of the Arctic Sea ice formed

    in the polar basin finds its way south of the Arctic Circle, and only oc–

    casionally do small floes pass through Bering Strait to mix with the pack

    of the Bering Sea. The seaward margins of the belts of fast ice which build

    out from the coasts surrounding the Bering Sea, are continually broken off

    by the tempestuous winds of this region to join the vast quantities of ice

    growing in the open waters of the sea itself, in the formation of a formidable

    southward-swelling area of pack.

            At no time is Bering Sea covered by one solid sheet of ice, and save for

    the inner coastal margins, is characterized by a drifting mass of detached

    fields, floes, and cakes which are constantly breaking up, piling and tel–

    escoping in response to the variable forces of wind and current. As this

    Bering Sea pack is forming in the early winter the shifting fields are more

    open and scattered than in the late winter and spring when the congestion

    reaches its maximum intensity. The ice is commonly differentiated into two

    types: ( 1 ) the heavily rafted masses created by the gales of fall and early

    winter; and ( 2 ) the more level and less hummocked ice formed during the late

    winter and early spring in the interstices of open water provided by the

    piling up of the older ice.

    046      |      Vol_VII-0822                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            The most ice-free period in Alaska waters generally occurs during

    late August and e a rly September. At this time, Bering Sea and Strait should

    be clear, and the coast will be free of fast ice northward to Point Barrow,

    and mostly so eastward to Herschel Island. The heavy ice of the Arctic Sea,

    which has retreated to its most northerly position of the year, will never

    be far off the coast between Point Barrow and Herschel Island, and may

    come grinding in upon the projecting points of this shore line at any time.

    Westward of Point Barrow the pack seldom lies more than a few miles offshore

    southeastward to Ice Cape, where its margin characteristically lies against

    Blossom Shoals, 6 to 8 miles from the coast. Beyond this point the southern

    margin of the pack will generally follow in a west-southwesterly direction

    to a longitudinal position somewhere between 165° and 168° W., there to

    bend northwestward to a position north of Herald Island. It will then prob–

    ably trend southwest, east of Wrangel Island, to about latitude 70° N., where

    it turns gradually southeastward to approach the Siberian coast somewhere

    between Cape Schmidt (North Cape) and Cape Dezhnev.

            In most seasons it should be possible for ships to reach the vicinity

    of Point Barrow sometime during the latter half of July, and fr o m this time

    until the early days of September, essentially not much more than the month

    of August, occurs the brief and ca rp pr icious navigation season along the

    Alaskan coastal waters eastward to Mackenzie Bay. Ships have on occasion

    managed to pass Point Barrow eastward bound as early as late June, but surely

    such rare attainments should not be translated into expectations of gen–

    erally probable future accomplishment. The heavy drifting ice of the arctic

    basin, in its generally clockwise swirl, tends to revolve in against the

    047      |      Vol_VII-0823                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    exposed northeastern Alaskan shore line, and the existence of an open

    coastal waterway in this sector, even in the optimum weeks, is strongly

    dependent upon favorable winds. Moderate winds from easterly or southerly

    directions hold the pack off the coast, while northerly and westerly winds

    will bring the powerful floes hard up against the shore, effectively seal–

    ing any navigable waterway.

            Ships unprepared to encounter ice should not venture eastward around

    Point Barrow, for even when the main body of the Arctic Sea ice has receded

    from the coast, there are drifting marginal floes and bands of fast ice in

    the inshore waters. It is also inadvisable for any ship to attempt this

    passes if she is not equipped to spend at least one winter in the Arctic.

    Many ships have been imprisoned or crushed when suddenly shifting winds have

    brought the never distant ice margin in against the coast. Small vessels

    have the advantage of being able to escape destruction in the shallow in–

    shore waters as the powerful polar ice grounds itself on the outer shoals.

    The Russians have demonstrated that strong icebreakers cannot penetrate the

    polar basin ice, and even the large ship caught in its grip is certain to

    be detained, if not lost.

            After the first week in September the winds along the northern coast

    of Alaska blow with increasing frequency from northerly sectors, and in

    direct response the heavy Arctic Sea ice closes in eastward of Point Barrow,

    By mid-September young ice begins to appear along the margins of the drift–

    ing ice westward of Point Barrow to Icy Cape, and a week later will be

    forming rapidly along the shore and in such open water as may exist between

    the coast and the pack. It is generally conceded that ships from Mackenzie

    048      |      Vol_VII-0824                                                                                                                  
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    Bay should be west of Point Barrow by the 10th of September, and it would

    be the exceptionally favorable season when a vessel could remain with safety

    in the Point Barrow area itself until the middle of this month or later.

            The current flowing northward from Bering Strait normally keeps the

    Alaskan coast ice-free, at least as far north as Cape Lisburne, throughout

    September, but the southern margin of the mobile arctic ice in the Chukchi

    Sea, unpredictably affected by winds, may be expected to begin growing south–

    ward before the end of the month. Young ice will appear in the vicinity of

    Herald Shoal and along the margins of the central pack and drift ice itself.

    And before the first of October the drift ice, which earlier has held the

    Siberian shore, may begin to slip around Cape Dezhnev into the western side

    of Bering Strait.

            Ice formation proceeds rapidly in early October, and ships are generally

    cautioned that it is unsafe to remain north of Bering Strait after the 10th.

    Prevailing northeast and north winds shatter the southern margin of the central

    pack and drift ice mass and pile large accumulations of floes against the

    Siberian shore, and ships navigating this region are normally compelled to

    keep to the Cape Lisburne-Point Hope side of the southern Chukchi Sea in

    reaching Bering Strait.

            Between Point Barrow and Icy Cape the drift ice will recede from the

    coast at brief intervals, and the young ice which forms quickly in the inter–

    vening water is piled up in heavy masses along the shore by its return. South–

    ward from Icy Cape, fast ice fringes the coast line in a heavy band and closes

    Kotzebue Sound and Bering Strait during middle and late October. Navigation

    is considered dangerous in Norton Sound by the third week is October, and while

    049      |      Vol_VII-0825                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

    heavily built vessels may reach the roadstead at Nome as late as early

    November, St. Michael Bay is generally inaccessible by October 15. Naviga–

    tion on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers closes in this month.

            During November fast ice increases southward to close the ports of

    inner Kuskokwim and Bristol bays, and the congregating floes of the Bering

    Sea pack will have closed southward around St. Lawrence Island and the

    offing of Norton Sound by the end of the month. December is characterized

    by an enormously increasing accumulation of drifting floes which, by the

    last week of this month or early in January, swell southward to attain a

    position of maximum extent from which they do not retreat until the latter

    part of April. The irregular southern limit of the Bering Sea pack around

    the turn of the year lies at about the latitude of 56°. Its margin, marked

    by indentations, projecting tongues, and outlying floes and stringers, char–

    acteristically extends from southern Bristol Bay to a position about 35

    miles south of the Pribilof Islands, and thence northwestward to the vicinity

    of Cape Olyutorski on the Siberian coast.

            The truly massive heavy central core of the Bering Sea pack does not

    reach much farther south than St. Matthew Island, and navigation by heavily

    built vessels is probably possible northward to 60° throughout the winter.

    The as yet unsubstantiated claim is made by some experienced observers that

    it would be possible for powerful icebreakers to force their way northward to

    points off Nome and St. Michael, and to unload supplies across the shore ice

    even in the heaviest months. The most powerful ice of the Bering Sea is found

    in the Gulf of Anadyr, the offing of Cape Navain, and to the north of St.

    Lawrence Island.

    050      |      Vol_VII-0826                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            Southward of St. Matthew Island the pack characteristically becomes

    increasingly scattered and bro ek ke n. In some particularly light ice years

    the pack may not reach the Pribilof Islands at all, and seldom, even in

    severe winters, will it be tightly massed around them. Under the Influence

    of persistent northerly winds, detached floes may in some seasons make a

    brief appearance as far southward as Isanotski Strait, the northern offing

    of Unimak Pass and Akutan Pass and Unalaska Bay in the eastern Aleutians.

    It is occasionally cold enough in January and February for ice to form

    locally in some of the sheltered coves and bayds of the Aleutian Islands,

    but never in amounts sufficient to interrupt navigation.

            The harbors of the southeastern side of the Alaska Peni n sula are open

    to navigation throughout the year. From December to April the upper reaches

    of Cook Inlet are likely to be more or less obstructed by floating ice formed

    over the flats and shallow inner waters. Except along the western side of

    this inlet, where large floes are sometimes carried as far as Augustine

    Island, briefly to close Iliamna Bay, this ice does not generally interfere

    with navigation south of Anchor Point, and full-powered vessels can probably

    reach the head of the inlet throughout the winter. To the east and south some

    winter ice usually forms in the upper reaches of Prince William Sou n d, and in

    Glacier Bay above Willoughby Island.

            The massiveness of the Bering Sea pack continues to increase until well

    into April, and the freezing of new ice throughout the basin usually occurs,

    at least intermittently, until the second week in May. However, the increas–

    ingly persistent southerly winds of late April generally start to drive the

    southern margin of the pack northward, and the waters around the Pribilof

    Islands will probably have been cleared by the first of May.

    051      |      Vol_VII-0827                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            As the northward recession of the ice begins, the margins of Bering Sea

    clear more rapidly than the center. Under the influence of local winds,

    northerly setting currents, and opening river mouths, the ice of the coastal

    waters breaks up to provide shore leads extending well to the northward of

    the position held by the southern margin of the central pack. Whether the

    offing of the Alaskan or Siberian shore opens the earlier is dependent upon

    the prevailing spring winds of a particular season, although observations

    seem to indicate that in more than half of the years the western side of the

    basin becomes accessible sooner than the eastern. After the middle of May,

    at which time the southern margin of the pack will probably have retreated

    to the vicinity of St. Matthew Island, the heavy winter ice will finally

    clear from Bristol and Kuskokwim bays, and, though Norton Sound will still

    be closed, the effects of the advancing spring break-up are in evidence,

    especially off the distributaries of the Yukon River.

            In most years the continuing shrinkage of the Bering Sea pack will have

    carried the retreat of its southern margin northward to St. Lawrence Island

    by the first of June. During the early weeks of this month, drift ice,

    escaping from the especially heavy concentrations to the north and east of

    St. Lawrence Island, will be encountered across the approaches to Norton Sound

    and southeastward to Nunivak Island. As the disintegration of the pack north

    of St. Lawrence Island progresses during June, open water will appear first

    to the westward of that island, and northward from Cape Chaplina to the

    Diomede Islands on the western side of Bering Strait. The heaviest and most

    persistent ice floes hold their position between St. Lawrence and King islands

    well into July.

    052      |      Vol_VII-0828                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            Heavily built vessels are accustomed to reach the roadstead at Home by

    the first week is June, but ordinary navigation is generally not safe in

    Norton Sound earlier than the 15th, and in some years has been delayed as

    long as the first week in July. Over a period of 44 years the earliest ship

    to reach St. Michael arrived on the 25th day of May, and the most delayed

    arrived on the 3rd of July. This port becomes accessible on the average

    around the middle of June. The ice of Norton Sound is heaviest along its

    northern shores, and the final disappearance of drifting ice is not to be

    expected here before the last days of June or the first of July.

            Port Clarence is commonly accessible a week or two later than Nome,

    and the coastal approaches to Bering Strait are generally navigable be fore the

    end of June. By the first of July open passage through Bering Strait is

    to be expected, although rough and hummocky ice will probably bar further

    progress northward at the Arctic Circle. A branch of the current flowing

    northward through Bering Strait follows the Alaskan coast, sets eastward

    into Kotzebue Sound, and then northward to Point Hope and Cape Lisburne.

    The effect of this current, combined with the increasing warmth of the ad–

    vancing season, is to disrupt the connection which, since November, has

    existed between the fast ice and the offshore drift ice. This action pro–

    vides a shore lead which has permitted whalers to pass northeastward around

    Cape Prince of Wales to Cape Sepenburg, and then northward to a rendezvous

    at Point Hope by the end of the first week in July. The ice of Kotzebue

    Sound, which during, its break-up piles especially large quantities of ice

    along the coast between Cape Blossom and Point Hope, does not finally dis–

    integrate until mid-July or even later.

    053      |      Vol_VII-0829                                                                                                                  
    EA-Oc. Weaver: Arctic Ice

            Northeastward from Cape Lisburne, and especially beyond Icy Cape,

    the periodic onshore and offshore movements of the peerful arctic ice,

    which serve to destroy the already weakened fast ice belt, makes navigation

    extremely hazardous, if not impossible, to Point Barrow before the third

    week in July. Even as mid-September is to be regarded as the time of the

    onset of winter conditions in this section, mid-July typically represents

    the moment of reopening.

            Unlike the coastal waters of eastern North America, icebergs do not

    seriously menace navigation along the western margin of the continent.

    There are no iceberg-producing tidewater glacier along the Arctic Sea

    or Bering Sea coasts of Alaska, and while moderate quantities of glacial

    ice are set adrift in Huka Bay, Prince William Sound, and Icy, Uakutat, and

    Lituya bays along the south coast of Alaska, the pieces are comparatively

    small, and do not generally affect shipping because their distribution is

    restricted almost entirely to the inner waters of their formation.

            The only place in the North Pacific basin where glacial ice occurs

    in any quantity along an imp o rtant shipping route is in the Inland Passage

    of southeastern Alaska. Although these pieces of ice are extremely small

    when compared to the gigantic bergs which infest the northwestern North

    Atlantic, they are of sufficient size and quantity to be dangerous to

    vessels in these narrow waterways. Bergs may be encountered throughout

    the year in the eastern part of Frederick Sound, in Stephens Passage

    (between Point Hugh and the western end of Douglas Island), in Taku Inlet,

    Icy Strait, Cross Sound (between The Sisters and Cape Spencer), and in

    Glacier Bay.


    John C. Weaver

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