Arctic Sees Sharp Decline in Coverage of Sea Ice

(CN) – As the Arctic enters the traditionally cold darkness of winter, the region experienced a record low extent of sea ice in November, following an “almost unprecedented” period of sea-ice reduction.

Record lows for Arctic sea-ice extent have been recorded for seven months this year, including 19,300 square miles lost in mid-November, according to a report published Tuesday by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

Heading into its summer, Antarctica’s average extent of sea ice was 5.61 million square miles in November – 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average and less than half of the previous record low for the month.

“The Arctic has typically been where the most interest lies, but this month, the Antarctic has flipped the script and it is southern ice that is surprising us,” said Walt Meier, an affiliate scientist at NSIDC.

The Arctic’s record low sea-ice extent – which beat a mark set in 2012 – was due to unusually high temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and persistent winds that push ice northward. Some areas of the Arctic have been more than 46 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual.

Arctic sea-ice extent generally grows over winter, peaking in March. However, this trend has not continued in 2016.

“Typically, sea ice begins to form in the fjords at the beginning of November, but this year there was no ice to be found,” said NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve.

In the Antarctic, air temperatures were 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average in November, while strong westerly winds helped disperse the sea ice pack.

The recent trend of warming temperatures in the Arctic has disrupted indigenous communities and wildlife.

The Arctic is expected to be ice-free during summer within decades.


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