FOR GENERATIONS, THE inhabitants of the Arctic have counted on seasonal sea ice, which grows and retreats during the year. Polar bears and marine mammals rely on it as a hunting spot and a place to rest; Indigenous people fish from openings in the ice known as polynyas, and use well-known routes across the ice to travel from place to place. But the Arctic air and water has warmed three times faster than the rest of the planet since 1971, according to a May 2021 report by the Arctic Council, and this warming is causing the ice to expand and contract in unpredictable ways.
Some scientists and research firms are now deploying tools powered by artificial intelligence to provide more accurate and timely forecasts of what parts of the Arctic Ocean will be covered with ice, and when. AI algorithms complement existing models that use physics to understand what’s happening at the ocean’s surface, a dynamic zone where cold underwater currents meet harsh winds to create floating rafts of ice. This information is becoming increasingly valuable for tribal members in the Arctic, commercial fishers in places like Alaska, and global shipping companies interested in taking shortcuts through open patches of water.