Publication Date September 1, 2016

Arctic sea ice will miss record low despite major melt, experts say

Depending on the weather over the next few weeks, the sea ice minimum is likely to fall somewhere between second and fifth place. Photo: AP

Depending on how the weather plays out over the next few weeks, that minimum is likely to fall somewhere between second and fifth place, they estimate — still a remarkably low level that shows how precipitously sea ice has declined in recent decades.

“There hasn’t been any recovery in any ice at all,” Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center, said.

The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice naturally waxes and wanes with the seasons, reaching its peak at the end of winter and its nadir at the end of summer, usually in mid-September.

But the steady increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere has fueled an intense warming of the Arctic region; temperatures there are rising at twice the rate as the global average. That has caused a dramatic melting of the sea ice that floats atop the frigid ocean waters.

Since the beginning of satellite records in 1979, the winter peak has declined by 3.2 percent per decade, while the summer minimum has declined by 13.7 percent per decade.

That loss of ice has significant ramifications for the animals that depend on it for access to food and coastal communities that need it for protection from intense Arctic storms. The loss of ice has also fueled interest in opening shipping routes through the region, as well as exploiting natural resources, such as oil, found beneath the seafloor.

But the effects of melt aren’t confined to the Arctic: Ice reflects the sun’s rays, so as it disappears, more ocean waters, which absorb those rays, are exposed, intensifying regional and global warming. Some research also suggests that the loss of ice could be impacting extreme weather in Europe, Asia and North America.

This winter, Arctic weather stayed remarkably warm, to the extent that it surprised even veteran sea ice researchers. That balmy weather stymied sea ice growth and caused sea ice extent to hit a record low winter peak for the second year in a row