End of summer measurements of sea ice in the Arctic have revealed the region has hit the eighth lowest extent in modern record keeping.
Satellite data show the Arctic reached its yearly lowest extent on September 13, at 1.79 million square miles (4.64 million square kilometers).
While the Arctic hits its summertime minimum around this time every year, the experts say the extent has been decreasing rapidly as a result of climate change, seeing dramatic declines since the late 1970s.
Satellite data shows the Arctic reached its yearly lowest extent on September 13, at 1.79 million square miles (4.64 million square kilometers). The minimum extent was 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square kilometers) below the 1981-2010 average minimum, NASA says
‘How much ice is left at the end of summer in any given year depends on both the state of the ice cover earlier in the year and the weather conditions affecting the ice,’ said Claire Parkinson, senior climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
‘The weather conditions have not been particularly noteworthy this summer.
‘The fact that we still ended up with low sea ice extents is because the baseline ice conditions today are worse than the baseline 38 years ago.’
The new analysis comes from data by NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.
According to the researchers, the temperatures this year were relatively moderate given the high latitude.
In some regions, they were even cooler than average.
But, the minimum extent was still 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square kilometers) below the 1981-2010 average minimum, NASA says.
The Arctic hit its lowest extents in 2012, 2016, and 2007, when unusual weather conditions broke up the ice and sped up its melt.
‘In all of those cases, the weather conditions contributed to the reduced ice coverage,’ Parkinson said.
‘But if the exact same weather system had occurred three decades ago, it is very unlikely that it would have caused as much damage to the sea ice cover, because back then the ice was thicker and it more completely covered the region, hence making it more able to withstand storms.’
Antarctica, on the other hand, is moving into its maximum yearly sea ice extent.
After a record high streak from 2012-2013, Antarctica saw dramatic lows in both 2015 and 2016.
This typically takes place in September or early October – but, experts expect the maximum to be among the five lowest in the satellite record.
While the Arctic hits its summertime minimum around this time every year, the experts say the extent has been decreasing rapidly as a result of climate change, seeing dramatic declines since the late 1970s. A stock image is pictured
‘What had been most surprising about the changing sea ice coverage in the past three decades was the fact that the Antarctic sea ice was increasing instead of decreasing,’ Parkinson said.
‘The fact of Arctic sea ice decreases was not as shocking because this was expected with a warming climate, although the overall rate of the decrease was greater than most models had forecast.’
And, globally, the satellite record also shows that Earth has been losing sea ice since the late 1970s in each part of the annual cycle.
‘In fact, this year, every single month from January through August experienced a new monthly record low in global sea ice extents,’ Parkinson said.