Early ice break in the Russian Arctic | Polarjournal
The town of Dudinka is located on the Yenisei River. A car drives a five-kilometre road on the frozen river to reach the other bank of the ice-covered Yenisei River. (Photo: Ilya Naymushin)

Thousands of tons of river ice are pushing through the Siberian waterway towards the Arctic Ocean almost two weeks earlier than normal. Locals in Dudinka are preparing for this year’s spectacular show on the Yenisei. Every spring, the great Siberian river breaks up and pushes huge masses of ice down the river towards the Arctic coast of the Kara Sea.

Dudinka is located on the lower reaches of the Yenisei, one of the longest rivers on earth. The city has a population of about 22,000 and is one of the coldest cities in Russia. Temperatures in January average   -21 °Cel.   to   -35 °Cel. Dudinka has a   seaport   on the banks of the   Yenisei River, which connects the eastern industrial centre   of Norilsk   to the Northeast     Passage.

This year, the spectacle takes place earlier than you can remember. According to the local authorities, the break-up of the Yenisei in Dudinka is expected to take place between 19 and 22 May. This is up to 12 days earlier than normal. The Jeniseei originates in Mongolia and flows through Siberia all the way north to the Arctic Ocean. The important transport link measures from the origin to the Arctic Ocean, with no tributaries, about 3,487 kilometers.

Too warm weather

The record-breaking break-up comes after an exceptionally warm winter and spring. “In the context of the unusually warm weather, the opening of the Yenisei and its tributaries takes place exceptionally early,” local hydrologist Igor Suchov said in a commentary. He believes the entire river will be ice-free by May 28 and 30.

Shipping to Dudinka is possible all year round with icebreakers. Only in June there is no shipping, because the ice melt makes the river rise about 15   m. All port facilities are then flooded. All port cranes are dismantled beforehand and stored at a safe distance for this period.  

The nuclear-powered icebreaker “Tajmyr” has helped open the ice in the area in recent days to facilitate breaking up. The ice break in Dudinka usually leads to an elevation of the river by up to 15 meters. This year, the situation could get even worse. According to the city administration, the river had already risen by 8.3 meters by April 13. The population in parts of the city is being prepared to be evacuated in the event of an extreme situation.

The icebreaker “Tajmyr” has been in operation since 1989. It helps to break the ice in the Yenisei, improve the backlog and the outflow of the water.

Climate change

It is not only the Yenisei that has an abnormal ice position. According to the Russian weather service Roshydromet, the ice breaks up earlier than normal on a large number of the country’s major rivers. These include the northern Dvina, the Pechora and the Ob, the service informs in its climate report.

The trend comes against the backdrop of a significant rise in temperatures in the region. According to Roshydromet, 2020 had the warmest spring since measurements began in 1936. The average spring temperatures in the Russian north, above the 60th parallel, were even 3.8 degrees Celsius higher than normal in the same year.

And at other times of the year, the temperature deviations were significant. For the whole of 2019, the average temperature in the Russian north above the 60th parallel was 2.8 degrees above normal. This is the second warmest year since records began.

Most extreme area

It is the northern Ural region, including the Jamal Peninsula and Kara Sea, which has the most dramatic temperature rise in the entire Arctic. According to Roshydromet, these areas have seen an average temperature increase of up to 1.58 degrees Celsius per decade over the past 30 years.

Russia as such had an average increase of 0.47 degrees per decade over the same period, which is about twice the global average.

Source: Eye on the Arctic

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