Global Sea Ice at Record Low: What Happens When All the Ice Melts?

2017-02-14T12:30:14+00:00 February 14, 2017|
Sea ice cover remains at record-low levels globally. (Credit: © trebro / Fotolia)

(Click to enlarge) Sea ice cover remains at record-low levels globally. (Credit: © trebro / Fotolia)

We’re in the final month of meteorological winter, and Arctic sea ice extent continues to set record lows.

(From The Weather Channel / By Brian Donegan)– The low amounts of ice, compared to average, in the Arctic region have been an ongoing concern since November, and hasn’t let up through the start of February.

 Ice extent in the Arctic region set daily record lows through most of January, leading to the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Despite setting daily records every day in December, the ice extent  for a few days in late January was slightly greater than 2006, a year that also featured many daily record lows in January. By Jan. 30, however, the extent began tracking below 2006 again.

For January, Arctic sea ice extent averaged an area of about 13.38 million square kilometers (5.17 million square miles), about 1.26 million square kilometers (487,000 square miles) below the 1981-2010 average for that month.

January 2016 also had very low ice extent in the Arctic, ranking as the smallest in size in records back to 1979. January 2017 broke that record, with ice extent 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) below last January’s extent.

Well-above-average temperatures in the Arctic have played a role in the lack of ice growth. The graphic below from Zack Labe, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, shows the abnormally mild temperatures  in place since the start of the freeze season on Oct. 1.

In addition to the ice extent running low, the concentration of the ice where it does exist is below average in some areas.

Areas shaded blue in the image above show where ice concentration was below the average for January 2017. Standing out is the Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska, the Hudson Bay in northern Canada and a large area north of Russia, which includes part of the Barents and Kara seas.

Human carbon pollution is directly linked to the loss of sea ice the Arctic has seen in recent years, according to a study published last year by Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, and Julienne Stroeve, a climate scientist at the NSIDC and University College, London.

If the current level of carbon dioxide output continues, the Arctic region could be completely ice-free by the middle of this century at its annual minimum in September, the study says.

Based on 1981-2010 averages, Arctic sea ice extent typically reaches its annual maximum level in March, before melting to its annual lowest level in September. Last September featured the second-lowest ice coverage when it reached the minimum point, trailing only 2012.

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