Climate: Arctic sea ice sets another record low in February

ice
Arctic sea ice has been near record-low levels all winter long. Graph courtesy NSIDC.

Winter brings extraordinary ‘heatwave’ to the far north

Staff Report

Arctic sea ice was at a record low extent for the second month in a row in February, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Ice researchers said sea ice grew hardly at all during the first three weeks of the month during a time of year when the sea is extent is usually nearing its peak.

According to the NSIDC’s latest monthly update, the ice did expand a bit toward the end of the month, but above-normal temperatures in the Arctic have persisted all winter long. Arctic sea ice usually reaches its maximum extent in mid to late March, but last year, it peaked early, on Feb. 25, and at a record low extent.

This year’s February extent averaged 5.48 million square miles, which is 448,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average 77,000 square miles below the previous record low for the month recorded in 2005.

In the Antarctic, sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year on February 19, averaging 1 million square miles. It is the ninth lowest Antarctic sea ice minimum extent in the satellite record.

The low Arctic sea ice extent is not surprising in the context of global and regional temperature patterns. Globally, January 2016 was the ninth straight month with record-breaking high surface temperatures for the globe.

In the Arctic, surface temperatures average about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1951 to 1980 average. Warmth persisted into February, with air temperatures running 11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1981 to 2010 average over the central Arctic Ocean near the pole.

The NSIDC update also explains that the circulation pattern developing in the Arctic during February is driving more of the Arctic’s older and thicker ice southward through the Fram Strait, leaving behind thinner ice that is more apt to melt away in summer.

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