Arctic ice deposits are currently reaching a record low level, a new study has found.
Sea ice in the Arctic was already thin over February, climatologists report. In just 10 days, from Feb. 25 to March 7, 2015, clusters of sea ice as large as Washington State disappeared. Together, these occurrences are resulting in the lowest level of sea ice seen in the region since readings were first taken from satellites.
Sea ice in the Arctic reaches a minimum each September, after which cooling temperatures create additional coverage, which normally peaks in the first half of March. This year, growth halted on Feb. 25, two to three weeks before normal.
Over the last several years, the amount of ice has reduced during both summer and winter months. Climatologists believe this effect is due to rising global temperatures brought about by human activities releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
From 1981 to 2010, sea ice coverage in February averaged 5.93 million square miles. This year, sea ice is covering 362,900 square miles less than normal over the Arctic Ocean and northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, researchers report.
Ice on the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the Bering Sea, is currently particularly low, according to observations taken by the Terra satellite managed by NASA.
"While these localized hotspots are in part driven by the low sea ice extent and the resulting large heat fluxes from the open water to the atmosphere, they are seen to be part of a broad area of unusually warm conditions extending across most of northern Eurasia, across Alaska, and into the western part of the United States," The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports.
Warmer conditions in the Arctic as well as the extreme cold experienced by those in the northeastern United States may both be traced to an unusual jet stream pattern, investigators believe. Sitting further north than usual, this is bringing warmer temperatures to the western half of North America, and sending colder air down toward the east.
Future growth of sea ice could change during March, altering the degree of total coverage. In both 2012 and 2014, this ice became more prevalent during the third month of the year.
"Not only is Arctic sea ice essential to many ecosystems: it serves as a powerful tracer of recent warming, and its absence in summer allows open water to absorb much more heat from sunlight ... The overall thickness of the ice, and the fraction that's survived for multiple years (multiyear ice), have both suffered major losses," Bob Henson wrote for Weather Underground.
Although sea ice coverage could change during March, this new finding suggests a continued average loss over time, highlighting the dangers of global warming.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr