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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

2016 Arctic Summer Ice – possibly 2nd lowest in recorded history

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August 31st, 2016 By Andrea Thompson http://www.climatecentral.org/news/despite-melt-arctic-sea-ice-miss-record-20654

… despite beginning the summer at unprecedentedly low levels, this year’s minimum won’t break the stunning record of 2012, experts say, thanks to cloudy weather that slowed the rate of melt. Depending on how the weather plays out over the next few weeks, that minimum is likely to fall somewhere between second and fifth place, they estimate — still a remarkably low level that shows how precipitously sea ice has declined in recent decades. “There hasn’t been any recovery in any ice at all,” Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center, said.

The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice naturally waxes and wanes with the seasons, reaching its peak at the end of winter and its nadir at the end of summer, usually in mid-September. But the steady increase in heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere has fueled an intense warming of the Arctic region; temperatures there are rising at twice the rate as the global average. That has caused a dramatic melting of the sea ice that floats atop the frigid ocean waters.

Since the beginning of satellite records in 1979, the winter peak has declined by 3.2 percent per decade, while the summer minimum has declined by 13.7 percent per decade.

That loss of ice has significant ramifications for the animals that depend on it for access to food and coastal communities that need it for protection from intense Arctic storms. The loss of ice has also fueled interest in opening shipping routes through the region, as well as exploiting natural resources, such as oil, found beneath the seafloor. But the effects of melt aren’t confined to the Arctic: Ice reflects the sun’s rays, so as it disappears, more ocean waters, which absorb those rays, are exposed, intensifying regional and global warming. Some research also suggests that the loss of ice could be impacting extreme weather in Europe, Asia and North America. This winter, Arctic weather stayed remarkably warm, to the extent that it surprised even veteran sea ice researchers. That balmy weather stymied sea ice growth and caused sea ice extent to hit a record low winter peak for the second year in a row……..

…In a recent study in the journal Geographical Review, researchers compiled historical records of sea ice from ships’ logs and other sources and found that sea ice hasn’t been this low in at least the last 150 years. The rate that sea ice is declining is also unprecedented over that timespan. However, despite some recent reports that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summer in the next year or two, that is not the case, Stroeve said. Most projections suggest that that point will be reached sometime in the middle of the century, and, as another recent paper found, scientists’ ability to pin down that date is limited by the natural variability of the sea ice system to within a couple of decades. Any prediction of ice-free conditions in the next few years doesn’t take into account the physics of the system, Stroeve said. “I agree it’s going to go away eventually,” she said. “But it’s not there yet.”

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