Arctic hits another record low

Arctic hits another record low

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Thursday that Arctic sea ice hit a record low maximum extent for 2017 on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles.

That makes the third straight year with a record Arctic sea ice max.  There were two significant contributing factors.  

First, the arctic air temperatures were 4.5F degrees above average with higher temperatures recorded above the northern Chukchi and Barents Seas.  

Second,the sea ice in the Arctic is also thinner than it has been in recent years. The warmer and shorter freeze seasons are making it harder for the ice to freeze as thickly as the past, setting up thinner, more fragile ice going into the melt season. 

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the globe at the South Pole, Antarctic sea ice extent also set a record low this year on March 3 at 815,000 square mile beating the previous minimum record sea ice extent from 1997. Antarctic sea ice has been highly variable the past few years. Just two years ago, the Arctic was setting record high daily sea ice extent readings and recorded a record high maximum winter extent in September 2014.

Sea ice goes through an annual freeze and melt cycle. For the Arctic, that melt bottoms out in September before refreezing, which usually maxes out in late February/early March. It is the opposite schedule in the Antarctic. Even though melting sea ice does not lead to sea level rise, it does set up a vicious feedback cycle that leads to more warming: more open water absorbs more heat, that warms the oceans, more sea ice melts and heat is added to the atmosphere. Also, less sea ice has been connected to increasing coastal erosion for Arctic communities, melting permafrost (which releases methane - a strong greenhouse gas), and altered fishing practices and animal.

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