Arctic sea ice has reached its peak winter extent for the year, and it’s the lowest winter maximum on record.
OSLO — Arctic sea ice has set a new winter record by freezing to the smallest maximum extent in satellite records dating back to 1979 in new evidence of long-term climate change, U.S. data showed on Thursday.
The ice floating on the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole reached a maximum extent of 5.61 million square miles on Feb. 25 — an area slightly bigger than Canada — and is now expected to shrink with the spring thaw.
“This year’s maximum ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait,” the National Snow and Ice Data Center said in a statement.
It said that a late season surge in ice was still possible because of big natural variations. The previous lowest maximum was set in 2011.
The ice usually reaches its annual maximum in March and, with the return of the sun to the Arctic after months of winter darkness, shrinks to its smallest in summertime in September.
The U.N. panel of climate scientists links the long-term shrinkage of the ice to climate change and says that Arctic summertime ice could vanish in the second half of the century.
The thaw is affecting indigenous lifestyles in the Arctic and making the region more accessible for oil and gas exploration, mining, shipping and tourism.
Scientists say Arctic sea ice just set a disturbing new record
Two weeks ago, we noted here that the Arctic was on the verge of a scary new record — an unprecedented “lowest winter maximum” for sea ice extent. What that would mean is that during the season of the year when there is the most ice covering the seas of the Arctic, the peak extent of that ice was nonetheless smaller than in any year – at least since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s.
And now, the Boulder-based National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which tracks sea ice, has indeed announced that the peak winter Arctic sea ice extent “likely” occurred Feb. 25, and that this maximum “not only occurred early; it is also the lowest in the satellite record.” However, the agency does include several caveats. That includes not only the word “likely,” but also the observation that “a late season surge in ice growth is still possible.”
The loss of sea ice around the Arctic has a vast number of consequences. They range from climatic — exposing more dark ocean water, which absorbs more solar radiation than ice does, leading to further warming — to social and cultural: Undermining the subsistence hunting techniques that Alaskan native villages have pursued atop the ice for generations.
New record low for extent of Arctic sea ice
The extent of Arctic sea ice has set a new record low.
The U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center says the ice appears to have reached its maximum spread for the winter.
It says this year’s ice is about seven per cent below the 30-year average.
Federal ice researchers say this year’s maximum Arctic sea ice extent, reached Feb. 25, is the lowest on record during the satellite era, about 50,000 square miles smaller than the previous record set in 2011. While a shift in wind patterns could result in some additional growth, it’s unlikely the sea ice will expand past the extent reached on that date.
The maximum sea ice extent reached 5.61 million square miles, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait, according to the latest update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Read the full NSIDC post here.
Tracking the ice cover by satellite, the NSIDC reported that total growth for the winter season was slower than last winter, when there was record growth of sea ice at times. But in February 2015, a north-south looping jet stream brought warm air to the Pacific side of the Arctic and up from Iceland toward the the Barents and Kara seas.
As a result, temperatures throughout the eastern Arctic at about 3,000 feet altitude were several degrees Celsius above average, with temperatures as much as 8 to 10 degrees Celsius (14 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land.
MARCH 2015 FOOTAGE