On September 16, sea ice reached record lows in the Arctic. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that sea ice in the region reached its annual minimum, covering an area of just 3.41 million square kilometers or 1.32 million square miles.
That might seem like a lot, but the NSIDC says that the amount is, in fact the “lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.” (Record-keeping began in 1979.)
Their findings are preliminary, and there won’t be a full report until October, so there is the potential that the area of sea ice could decrease even further.
“Overall there was a loss of 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) of ice since the maximum extent occurred on March 20, 2012, which is the largest summer ice extent loss in the satellite record, more than one million square kilometers greater than in any previous year.”
In a NASA press release, they explain why this year has been particularly bad:
This year, a powerful cyclone formed off the coast of Alaska and moved on Aug. 5 to the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it churned the weakened ice cover for several days. The storm cut off a large section of sea ice north of the Chukchi Sea and pushed it south to warmer waters that made it melt entirely. It also broke vast extensions of ice into smaller pieces more likely to melt.
“The storm definitely seems to have played a role in this year’s unusually large retreat of the ice”, Parkinson said in a statement. “But that exact same storm, had it occurred decades ago when the ice was thicker and more extensive, likely wouldn’t have had as prominent an impact, because the ice wasn’t as vulnerable then as it is now.”
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