Arctic sea ice maxes out at record low extent

‘The Arctic is in crisis’

This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016, which averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles) on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory.
This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016.  Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory.

Staff Report

After a winter that saw average temperatures across most of the Arctic hover between 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit above average, sea ice in the region peaked at a record low extent for the second year in a row.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” National Snow and Ice Data Center director Mark Serreze said in a press release that also explained how this year’s maximum sea ice extent came much later than average. See the full NSIDC report here.

“The Arctic is in crisis. Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

This year’s maximum sea ice extent was 431,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average and 5,000 square miles below last winter’s record low. The date of the maximum has varied considerably over the years, occurring as early as February 24 in 1996 and as late as April 2 in 2010.

Sea ice extent was below average throughout the Arctic, except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. The Arctic heatwave that persisted most of the winter is certainly a  factor, according to the NSIDC. In early March, temperatures north of Svalbard ratcheted up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

Ice extent was especially low in the Barents Sea.

“A decrease in Barents Sea ice extent for this winter was predicted from the influence of warm Atlantic waters from the Norwegian Sea,” said Ingrid Onarheim, with the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway.

Scientists are watching extent in this area because it will help them understand how a slower Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation may affect Arctic sea ice.

“Some studies suggest that decreased heat flux of warm Atlantic waters could lead to a recovery of all Arctic sea ice in the near future,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Julienne Stroeve. “I think it will have more of a winter impact and could lead to a temporary recovery of winter ice extent in the Barents and Kara seas.”

 

 

 

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