Great Siberian Polynya


The Great Siberian Polynya is a historical name for a very large, stable system of polynyas that occurs each winter over the shelves of the Laptev and East Siberian seas. Most species of fish and almost all the seabirds and marine mammals in the Laptev Sea are dependent on the Great Siberian Polynya to some extent. The ice that forms in the polynya is continually transported away by currents. Together with the rest of the Laptev Sea, the Great Siberian Polynya is one of the most important ice-exporting areas in the Arctic.

The Great Siberian Polynya waters provide key winter habitat for the endemic Laptev walrus population, once considered a distinct subspecies, but recently identified as a population of Pacific walrus. The persistence of the Great Siberian Polynya allows walruses to stay in the Laptev Sea all year round, and Laptev walruses do not perform long-distance seasonal migrations as do other Pacific walrus populations. The Great Siberian Polynya is also important habitat for ringed seal populations and their main predator, the polar bear, and serves as a major spring migration stopover site for seabirds. IUCN Red-Listed species include Steller’s eider, long-tailed duck, spectacled eider, ivory gull, polar bear, the Laptev population of Pacific walrus, beluga and grey whales. 

Changes in ice and in oceanographic regimes related to climate change may alter the area and duration of the polynya system, which could significantly affect the functioning of the whole local marine ecosystem. Currently, almost the entire area of the Great Siberian Polynya is covered with oil licenses. Major threats include accidental oil spills, and the use of seismic surveys, which may have significant adverse impacts on cetaceans and other marine life in the shallow waters of the polynyas.