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Ice cover at sea exceptionally low this winter

Ice cover over Finland’s sea areas is very low. Experts warn that the ice is now very thin over sea, and with spring slowly arriving, the situation is not likely to improve.

Jouni Vainio, jääasiantuntija, Ilmatieteenlaitos
Ice expert Jouni Vainio says the sea ice cover around Finland is quite thin. Image: Markku Sandell / Yle

Senior Ice Expert at the Finnish Meteorological Institute Jouni Vainio has been monitoring the sea ice situation off of Finland this winter. He says sea ice levels have been very low all season.

“It depends how you look at it, but this has been a tragic winter for ice. We had a promising start in November, when freezing temperatures helped the ice develop quite early. But then the winter decided to take a nap and we’ve only seen bitter cold again this week. There wasn’t much ice built up before the thaw, and there still isn’t too much to be had,” he said.

The same phenomenon has been noted in the Arctic, where ice extent lows in January continued a pattern that started last October. The Arctic Sea Ice News site says sea ice cover in January was the lowest extent in the group’s 38-year satellite monitoring records.

Vainio says the ice extent is low on pretty much all of the seas surrounding Finland.

“Only the northernmost part of the Bay of Bothnia near the cities of Tornio, Kemi and Oulu has needed the icebreaker’s help to assist the merchant ships to port. Then there’s some substantial cover along the coastline, the inner archipelago, in some ports and in the eastern Baltic Sea near Russia, where they have had to assist some ships,” he said.

No more cold temps in sight

Warmer weather has been predicted for the next few weeks in Finland, so a return to a decent ice situation yet this winter is not looking to be in the cards.

“We won’t be able to accrue decent ice cover any more this winter. Maybe if we get one more spell of low temperatures in February, we could see more in terms of ice surface, but there’s no chance that there’ll be any more thickness built up on the open sea. Even though ice along the coast does get thicker the whole time, we still won’t achieve a normal ice status this winter.”

Finland’s ice expert warns people that want to walk, skate and ski on the sea ice to beware.

“It’d be good to think about what you are doing. Sure, it’s fun to move around on the ice when it is strong enough, but it’s not like an ice rink as the thickness can vary considerably. You need to know where you are and where you are going. Wear ice picks around your neck, just to be sure. It’s hard to pull yourself out of a hole in the ice with just your fingernails,” he advises.

Lakes have stronger ice

And what about the ice cover situation on Finland’s inland waters?

“Inland water is actually the responsibility of the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, but I can say that wind is not as much of a factor over inland waters as it is at sea. Big lakes can be affected by wind, but the smaller lakes probably have a pretty reasonable amount of ice cover in many places.”

SYKE’s Friday update for ice thickness on Finland’s inland waterways shows that ice cover at southern Espoo’s Pitkäjärvi Lake was at 32 centimetres, while Ounasjärvi Lake in the northernmost Enontekiö municipality of Finland’s “left arm” had ice that was 52 centimetres thick. 

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