Summer Sea Ice Concentration, Motion, and Thickness Near Areas of Proposed Offshore Oil and Gas Development in the Canadian Beaufort Sea – 2009

  • Ryan J. Galley
  • B.G.T. Else
  • S.J. Prinsenberg
  • D. Babb
  • D.G. Barber
Keywords: sea ice, ice concentration, ice extent, ice motion, ice thickness, Beaufort Sea, offshore oil exploration


This study was motivated by the potential development of offshore oil exploration leases in the Canadian Southern Beaufort Sea, an area within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Sea ice concentration, extent, motion, and thickness data are vital to the success of potential oil operations in this region, and relevant data cannot be gleaned from larger-scale hemispheric studies. We therefore undertook regionally specific sea ice analyses in the southern Beaufort Sea during the summer drilling season (July, August, and September) in 2009 and over the long-term (1996 – 2010). On average, the Canadian oil lease areas contain mostly old sea ice during the drilling season and have not experienced significant decreasing trends in total or old sea ice. The average sea ice motion in the region for the period was anti-cyclonic at 20 – 25 cm·s-1, acting to transport sea ice southward toward the lease areas. Summer 2009 was used as a case study of regional ice concentration, motion, and thickness and to compare September sea ice thickness measurements to data collected in April 2009. In the summer of 2009, old sea ice was the predominant ice type in the lease areas. Sea ice motion was anti-cyclonic and faster than the long-term average, reaching 60 cm·s-1 west of Banks Island and across the north end of the lease areas. September 2009 sea ice thickness (mean = 1.03 m, σ = 0.97 m) was modal about the 0.20 – 0.29 m thickness bin. The sea ice thickness distri­bution was spatially variable, with the thickest ice occurring at the north end of the study area, in an area dominated by high old ice concentrations. Ice thicknesses greater than 10 m (the upper limit our instruments could measure) were encountered. Thinner sea ice predominated at the periphery of the core Beaufort Sea multi-year pack. Near the oil lease areas, the sea ice thickness distributions were shifted left on the histogram in comparison to those farther north, resulting in a greater proportion of relatively thick sea ice due to the thermodynamic loss of thinner (< 1.5 m) first-year ice during its southward movement. After enduring a summer’s melt, however, this thicker ice at the south end of the study region had thinned in comparison to the ice at the north end.