Arctic Sea Ice Extent at Record Lows as Winter Temperatures Soar

Five point five degrees Celsius above average.

That’s how much warmer than ‘normal’ the entire region of the Arctic above the 66 degree North Latitude Line was earlier today. Areas within this large warm pool saw temperatures spike to a range of 15 to 25 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 1981-2010 base period. And broad regions saw temperature between 10 and 20 C above that 30-year average.

(The entire Arctic is an incredible 5.5 C warmer than normal today. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice extent has plunged, once-more, into record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just a snapshot. But day after day, week after week, month after month, the story has been much the same throughout Fall and Winter of 2017-2018.

And as during last year’s ridiculously warm Arctic winter, the sea ice has taken a considerable pounding. Yesterday dropping to a new record low extent of 13.774 million square kilometers. Beating out the previous record low for the day set just last year. And dipping more than 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-1990 average. A period that already featured greatly reduced Arctic sea ice cover when compared to extents seen in the early 20th Century.

(Arctic sea ice extent for 2018 [lower pink line above] dipped into new record low ranges during recent days. Note that the 1979 – 1990 extent average is indicated by the green line at top. Image source: NSIDC.)

The primary cause of these ice losses is warming both of the ocean and of the air. And, as we can see in the ongoing trend, the Arctic is getting more than its fair share of both. Such polar amplification is a direct upshot of the massive volume of harmful greenhouse gasses being injected into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. And we are seeing the dark fruits of that burning now in the massive and ongoing winter losses of sea ice, the harm to various Arctic life forms like puffins and polar bears, and the risk of increasing sea level rise, ocean circulation destabilization, and increasingly extreme weather events that all result from the heating-up of polar environments.

Arctic Sea Ice Measurements Mixed, Values Bumping Along Near New Record Minimums

Today, an average of sea ice monitors showed that sea ice was more or less stable. The NSIDC extent value, shown above, stayed about level at around 3.499 million square kilometers. JAXA sea ice extent fell from its newly revised value yesterday to touch 3.671 million square kilometers. Cryosphere today showed some growth in sea ice area with values reaching 2.368 million square kilometers.

Temperatures over much of the Arctic remain high for this time of year, but average ranges for air temperatures above the 80th parallel are at or near the temperature which sea water tends to freeze/melt. Temperature alone would indicate a near equilibrium. But weather conditions, at this point, would normally favor equilibrium or refreeze.

Current trends do seem to indicate we are at or near a bottom for this melt season. The question is whether or not another minor bought of melting pushes this year’s records into even further decline, whether we begin a slow re-freeze soon, or whether we bump along at bottom for a bit longer. Based on trends, it would seem we are most likely experiencing the latter.

This year’s melt season has reached a number of important milestones that makes it increasingly difficult to ignore the impacts of human caused global warming. Since the 1950s, the world has lost more than 65% of its sea ice extent coverage in the Arctic. Since 1979, when satellite records began, the world has lost more than 50%. And over the past decade alone, the world has lost more then 37% of its sea ice extent coverage. This year’s loss is about 15%.

The story for sea ice volume is even worse. 78% of Arctic sea ice volume has been lost since record tracking began in 1979.

At current trends, the Arctic will be ice free or nearly ice free within a decade. If those trends continue, the Arctic will be ice free year round by the mid 2030s. Even if these trends slow somewhat, which is increasingly in doubt, a much more rapid than expected melt will occur in the Arctic. These are the rampant impacts of human caused global warming.


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