Ominous Projections For Arctic Sea Ice This Year

As Chris Mooney writes for the Washington Post, weak sea ice conditions in the Chukchi Sea north of Kotzbue, Alaska, can now be seen with the naked eye. In some areas the sea ice does not reach the shore, and fractures can be observed in many locations, which is surprising for February.

Study confirms reports from inhabitants

The inhabitants of the threatened village of Kivalina confirmed that the ice was dangerously weak, a situation which has been confirmed by a recent study which evaluated the state of Arctic sea ice as a whole.

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The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), in Boulder, Colorado, is the best source of information on the Arctic sea ice. Over the course of the year, the ice reaches its winter maximum around now and then retreats to its yearly minimum in September.

The minimum extent gets the most attention in the global media because of the headline grabbing lows of the past few years, with the lowest extent ever recorded coming in 2012. The importance of sea ice maxima should also be appreciated, given that a lower high can lead to a lower low.

Extent of Arctic ice decreasing

On that note, the NSIDC has released a report on ice conditions in February. The results are worrying, with this February seeing the third-lowest ice extent ever, based on satellite data dating back to 1979. Even worse, there is a general trend towards lower Arctic sea ice extent in February.

The worst news of all is that the NSIDC predicts that there could be a new record on its way. “If the current pattern of below-average extent continues, Arctic sea ice extent may set a new lowest winter maximum,” the agency wrote.

The current record holder is the year 2011, when a sea ice maximum of just 14.63 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles) was recorded. This February the extent of sea ice measured 14.41 million square kilometers.

Although the ice has grown over the course of the month of March in years past, if it does not then 2015 will take the record low. We will know for sure around early April, which could bring even more attention to the effects of rapid climate change in the Arctic.