Arctic sea ice is defined as that which forms and floats in Arctic waters, growing over the course of the winter and usually reaching its peak in March. However a new report from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) claims that the ice reached its peak early this year, covering 5.61 million square miles as of February 25, writes Denise Chow for Livescience.
Lower than average yearly maximum
The report shows that ice conditions were below-average everywhere apart from two regions of the North Atlantic Ocean: the Labrador Sea and the Davis Strait. Although researchers have noticed yearly fluctuations in the date of the sea ice’s peak, this year it was 15 days earlier than the March 12 average calculated from 1981 to 2010. The earliest observed date was February 24 in 1996, and the latest was April 2, 2010.
The extent of Arctic sea ice is influenced by variations in sunlight, temperature and weather conditions, as well as the obvious seasonal fluctuations. Worryingly this year’s maximum extent was 425,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average of 6.04 million miles, and even lower than the previous record low, which was recorded in 2011.
According to the NSIDC, winter ice growth was slower this year, due in part to strange patterns in the jet stream which led to the creation of warm pockets over the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, in the western Pacific Ocean. However there is still hope for further ice growth. “Over the next two to three weeks, periods of increase are still possible,” wrote NSIDC scientists. “However, it now appears unlikely that there could be sufficient growth to surpass the extent reached on February 25.”
Although it seems likely that this year will set a worrying record for the yearly maximum extent of Arctic sea ice, there is still hope that 2015 will not be the owner of such a dubious accolade. A full report of the winter sea-ice conditions will be published in early April, leaving a few more weeks for a late-season boost in the ice.
Strange weather patterns could have had an undue influence on the sea-ice, but there is an overall trend towards decreasing yearly maximum extent of Arctic sea ice, which is a real concern.