Antarctic Polar Regions

Drifting ice

The pack ice does not stay in the same place. Driven by the wind at just one-fiftieth of the wind's speed, the pack ice drifts from 25° to 45° compared with the direction of the air.
The wind, however, does not always blow. When the wind is lacking in strength or if there is no wind, the icecap moves solely with the action of sea currents.
In what direction? To help us answer this question, we have a number of sources of information available: wood from rivers in Asia can be found along the coastline of Greenland according to observations brought back by some thirty Soviet expeditions, as well as from the analysis of satellite images and information extracted from automatic Argos beacons.
So we now know that the pack ice floats on top of the water and that it is driven along by the powerful trans-polar drift current that starts in the Bering Straits, runs along the north of Russia and heads in the direction of Greenland's northern coast.
After passing to the north of Greenland and past Ellesmere Island, the current splits into two, one part heading down the east coast of the "green land" and the other setting course westwards towards the tip of the Canadian Queen Elizabeth archipelago to end up in the Beaufort Sea, where it feeds into the circular current of the same name that twists clockwise in the heart of the Arctic Ocean.
The current to the east of Greenland represents the largest exit from the Arctic basin as it allows the ice to pass through on its way to melt in the sub-Arctic seas, with only that part of the current that hugs the coastline managing to get past Cape Farewell, in the south of Greenland, to flow back up along the south-west of the country.
For its part, the Beaufort current is active between the Canadian archipelago, the north of Alaska and the North Pole. As the current circulates in a closed circuit, it traps any ice that has not drfited towards the west of Greenland. Which is why, in the centre of this current, we find the oldest ice in the Arctic Ocean.

To find out more about ice and the Arctic climate
Meeting with Thierry Fichefet