Don’t shutter the Port of Churchill just yet, suggests a new study on Hudson Bay’s vanishing sea ice to be presented Thursday at the Arctic Net conference in Winnipeg.

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This article was published 7/12/2016 (1657 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Don’t shutter the Port of Churchill just yet, suggests a new study on Hudson Bay’s vanishing sea ice to be presented Thursday at the Arctic Net conference in Winnipeg.

Churchill’s shipping season is lengthening by at least one day per year because of melting sea ice, says Jonathan Andrews, masters student at University of Manitoba.

Between 1980 and 2014, the period of open water via Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay to Churchill has increased by almost 40 days. That adds more than a month to Churchill’s traditional four-month shipping season.

"In some parts of the Hudson Strait, it’s almost two days per year," said Andrews in an interview. "It’s quite clear that the ice is declining rapidly."

The future of the Port of Churchill is in doubt following the decision by owner Omnitrax to shut the port last summer. Omnitrax is hoping to sell the port and Hudson Bay Railway that runs overland to the port.

The data suggest a brighter future may lay ahead for northern shipping if the port can hang in there.

"The other thing you have to think about is this is a long-term trend," said Andrews, who is with U of M’s Centre for Earth Observation Science. "Projections for the future absolutely say this trend will continue.

"A lot of scientists argue there will be an ice-free North Pole by 2050, and quite possibly trans-Arctic shipping."

The open-water season has gone from 128 days in 1982, to 165 days in 2014.

In 1982, the ice breakup date in spring for the shipping route to Churchill was July 14, and the ice freeze-up date was Nov. 17. Today, ice breakup is more like June 22, and freeze-up Dec. 4, according to Andrews’ analysis of sea ice concentration data.

However, U of M research associate Lauren Candlish cautioned break-up and freeze-up dates can be highly variable from year to year. There may be another factor in addition to global warming for melting sea ice. Winter discharges of fresh water out of the Nelson River into Hudson Bay from Manitoba Hydro generating stations could also melt ice faster, Candlish said.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca