Northwest passage open for shipping
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The August sea ice extent in the Arctic reached the second lowest level for the month and tracked near record low levels for much of the summer. The latests readings underscore the continued decline in Arctic ice cover, according to the monthly update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
The Arctic sea ice extent w ill probably reach its lowest level in the next few weeks before starting to reform in the cold autumn and winter days ahead.
Average ice extent for August 2011 was 5.52 million square kilometers (2.13 million square miles). This is 160,000 square kilometers (61,800 square miles) above the previous record low for the month, set in August 2007, and 2.15 million square kilometers (830,000 square miles), or 28 percent below the average for 1979 to 2000. Sea ice coverage remained below normal everywhere except the East Greenland Sea. In addition, several large areas of open water (polynyas) have opened within the ice pack.
On August 31, 2011 Arctic sea ice extent was 4.63 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles). This is 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) higher than the previous record low for the same day of the year, set in 2007.
As of September 5, ice extent had fallen below the minimum ice extents in September 2010 and 2008 (previously the third- and second-lowest minima in the satellite record). If ice stopped declining in extent today it would be the second-lowest minimum extent in the satellite record.
Conditions in context In August, sunlight wanes in the Arctic and the sea ice decline starts to slow down. Although the decline slowed somewhat during August, ice extent retreated at a faster pace than average, at a pace of 67,700 square kilometers (26,100 square miles) per day. In comparison, the average rate of decline for August 1979 to 2000 was 53,700 square kilometers (20,700 square miles) per day.
Air temperatures were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average (relative to the 1981 to 2010 climatology) over the Arctic Ocean (measured approximately 1000 meters above the surface). The strongest anomalies were over the Northwest Passage region. High pressure persisted over much of the central Arctic Ocean, associated with a wind pattern that helped to push ice from the Beaufort Sea westward into the Chukchi Sea. This may have slowed some ice loss in the Chukchi Sea region. However, the wind pattern also transported ice into open waters warmed during the summer, fostering melt.