Sep 15, 2016

These Images Show Near-Record Low 2016 Arctic Sea Ice

Arctic
by
Brian Kahn
,
WxShift

Arctic sea ice is one of the grandaddy’s of climate indicators. And this grandaddy isn’t doing so good these days.

This year’s sea ice extent has bottomed out as the second lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It continues a troubling trend as rapidly warming air and water eats away at the briny, frozen mantle on the top of the planet.

This year’s sea ice extent has bottomed out as the second lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It continues a troubling trend as rapidly warming air and water eats away at the briny, frozen mantle on the top of the planet.

 

arctic sea ice

Arctic sea ice minimums since 1979. Credit: NSIDC

This year has been exceptional by many standards. March saw the lowest sea ice maximum ever recorded followed by a string of record low months. The Northwest Passage opened up, allowing a luxury cruise ship to travel from Anchorage to New York. And a freak storm in August turned ice thin and brittle near the North Pole.

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This year’s nadir tied 2007 for the second lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record, trailing only 2012. Sea ice extent was 1.77 million square miles, which is 630,000 square miles below average. That’s essentially an Alaska-size chunk of ice missing.

The yearly minimum came a bit early this year, but overall the trend is toward later sea ice minimum. That’s largely because of rising temperatures which are increasing the number of (relatively) warm days in the Arctic. The minimum occurs on average about five days later now that it did at the start of the satellite record in 1979.

The stats beyond single years all tell the grim story of disappearing ice. All 10 of the smallest sea ice extents on record have occurred since 2005. In the nearly four decades of satellite monitoring, sea ice has disappeared at a clip of 13.4 percent per decade.

This year’s cracked ice also continues a troubling trend of disappearing old ice. Though some of that ice will refreeze together this winter, some has disappeared for good and new ice will be left to fill in the gaps. That’s like putting a piece of paper over a hole in your wall, though.

Young ice tends to be weaker and thinner and thus more susceptible to summer melt. It’s a trend that’s already happening. Ice younger than four years comprised 97 percent of all Arctic sea ice in 2015 compared to 80 percent in 1985