Sea ice in the Arctic is continuing to drop this year
Sea ice in the Arctic is continuing to drop significantly this year, with measurements in May reaching an all-time low.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), last month Arctic sea ice spread over an area of 4.63 million square miles — 224,000 square miles below the previous record low for May reported in 2004 and 537,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average.
“Current sea ice extent numbers are tentative due to the preliminary nature of the DMSP F-18 satellite data, but are supported by other data sources. An unusually early retreat of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea and pulses of warm air entering the Arctic from eastern Siberia and northernmost Europe are in part driving below-average ice conditions,” the NSIDC said in a statement. “Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was the lowest in fifty years for April and the fourth lowest for May.”
Climate change, coupled with this year’s extreme El Niño, pushed the average air temperature over the Arctic Ocean 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981-2010 average. If this trend continues, it is likely that the Arctic will have the lowest amount of sea ice it has ever had during the peak of melt season in September.
“Air pressure patterns were not particularly unusual, but two areas of southerly winds in northern Europe and Alaska pushed higher than average temperatures into the Arctic Ocean, producing hot spots noted above and generally above-average temperatures across the Arctic,” the NSIDC said in the statement.
The impact of a warming Arctic is already being felt in Alaska and Canada, where almost a third of the land is now showing a “greening” trend with over 30 percent of the 4 million-square-mile region witnessing an increase in vegetation between 1984 and 2012.
“Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than elsewhere, which has led to longer seasons for plants to grow in and changes to the soils,” NASA said in a statement released last week.
“Scientists have observed grassy tundras changing to shrublands, and shrubs growing bigger and denser — changes that could have impacts on regional water, energy and carbon cycles.”