ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Though the winter started out with an almost normal growth of sea ice in the Chukchi and Bering Seas, storms throughout February have broken up or melted almost all of it, including on the shores of Norton Sound near Unalakleet.
"Every year I was in high school and younger and growing up, we had sea ice every year," said John Wilson of Unalakleet. "And the last, probably 10 to 12 years, it's been spotty."
Arctic sea ice influences the entire region from animals to weather, and directly impacts the people who rely on the sea for food and their livelihoods.
"Not having the sea ice, the seals go farther out away from town and that means we have to travel farther out away from town,” Wilson said.
Wilson learned how to hunt seals from his parents and grandparents and wants to pass that skill along to his children.
"Last year was the first year I didn't kill a seal...so that affected my family," he said. "Just by not having that food and this year again, it looks like it's going to be the same way."
Mary-Beth Schreck, Sea Ice Desk Lead at the National Weather Service, says the weather pattern that caused the sea ice to disappear is changing, and new ice is likely to form as the winds shift and ocean water is primed to refreeze.
"At the beginning of the season — a typical season — you're waiting for the water temperatures to cool down enough so that sea ice can form," says Schreck. "But now, since we had sea ice and then it melted and now we're waiting for it to come back, that water is still ready to go. It's just the atmosphere and the waves that need to cooperate."
But even as that ice returns, it will be thin.
Schreck doesn't think this situation is going to occur every year. "I think this is going to be maybe a new extreme within a new normal," she said.
As for Wilson, he says there's only one thing to do.
"Adapt and overcome. I mean, there's nothing else you can do."