Everything You Need to Know About Arctic Sea Ice Melt, in One 10-Second Animated Gif | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Everything You Need to Know About Arctic Sea Ice Melt, in One 10-Second Animated Gif

The Arctic is melting,

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Down and down and down it goes. Arctic sea ice extent, 1979 to 2012. Photo: Grant Foster

Trying to fit all of the subtle, stacking cycles that affect the Arctic into one image is a difficult feat. You’ve got your annual cycle, with summer melt and winter freeze. You’ve also got your interannual variability, where weather makes some summers see more melt than others. And you’ve got your decadal or centennial variations, that guide the long arc of the melt. That is what makes the above graphic, by statistician Grant Foster, so interesting.

Though data analysts and artists do their best, pictures that try to show all these things simultaneously often come out as a mess of squiggly lines.

Others opt to split it up, and show only one part of the story at a time. The National Snow and Ice Data Center does this, with two different views of ice extent: a snapshot  and a long-term trend.

Foster also has additional graphics for sea ice extent and sea ice volume. The thing that differentiates sea ice extent from the similar-sounding sea ice area is that sea ice extent uses a cut-off value. So, where sea ice area tries to capture the surface area covered by Arctic ice, extent counters partition the ocean into a grid and count the surface area of grid squares that have at least 15% (or some other threshold) ice coverage.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Miners, Drillers Push Into Void Left By Melting Arctic Ice

Stunning View of Arctic Could Be Last of its Kind

Who Discovered the North Pole?

 

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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