Arctic Still Melting into Record Low Territory

A record retreat of Arctic sea ice continued today. Sea ice area fell to 2.35 million square kilometers and sea ice extent has fallen to 3.6 million square kilometers (Cryosphere Today and JAXA).

In almost all regions, melt continued to invade the sea ice. Especially rapid retreat occurred in the region of the Canadian Archipelago. Another area in the Laptev sea is growing very thin. Such thinning over a comparatively large area of ice is unusual so late in the season. But it appears that this region is seeing ice slowly fading into a warmer sea.

Looking at satellite data, it appears that melt may actually be experiencing a bit of an increase over the past couple of days. Since measurements tend to average data over two or three days, graphs may show a bit of a jump in melt in the next day or two.

Departures from previous records are as follows (last record year in parenthesis):

JAXA Extent: -649,000 square kilometers (2007)

Cryosphere Today Area: -555,000 square kilometers (2011)

PIOMAS Volume: -400 cubic kilometers (2011)

NSIDC Extent: -682,000 square kilometers (2007)

It is worth noting that sea ice measurements for NSIDC and JAXA are now approaching 700,000 square kilometers below the record set in 2007. End summer sea ice area is approaching the size of Greenland. Arctic basin sea ice area is now smaller than Greenland. And extremely large sections of the Arctic Ocean are now open water.

Generally, during these daily updates, we don’t usually talk about the impacts of what we are witnessing. But the demise of Arctic sea ice is as dreadful as the demise of any pristine wilderness habitat. The ice is home, not only to polar bears, but to seals, birds, and many animals and fish that live upon or beneath the ice. The Arctic peoples have, for centuries, learned to live off of the bounty the frozen Arctic provides. Now, we are seriously in danger of permanently losing that habitat — both for humans and for animals.

The frozen Arctic also provides the world with a valuable service. It serves as the world’s air conditioner, keeping the world cool. Loss of sea ice has dramatic consequences in that it makes the world a much warmer place. And we are now at risk of losing most or all the Arctic summer ice over the course of this decade, and all of the ice during any season over the course of this generation. This is a shocking and tragic loss. All the moreso because it is occurring so rapidly.


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