The gradual melting of glacial sea ice in the Arctic has long been known as a byproduct of climate change, but recent research has shown that such melting is not gradual — rather, it has significantly accelerated.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced in March that the Arctic sea ice maximum extent is the lowest recorded since data keeping began.
Arctic sea ice usually expands during the winter months and hits a maximum around mid-March. This year, Arctic sea ice has already started to melt two weeks earlier, setting off a troubling trend of thinner ice sheets as the year progresses.
A jet stream pattern in early February that formed across North America has contributed to the low Arctic sea ice maximum.
The jet stream factor has contributed to unusually cool temperatures in Canada and the eastern and southern United States. New York’s abnormally cold winter can be attributed to this.
At the same time, this weather pattern supplied unusually warm conditions to the Bering Sea and the Arctic, giving comparably less time for the Arctic to grow sea ice.
The recent study observing the lowest recorded Arctic sea ice maximum extent comes at the heels of controversy.
When Antarctica witnessed record-high ice levels, climate change skeptics used this headline to keep the debate around man-made climate change going, suggesting that ocean ice has witnessed no net disappearance.
Lately, many climate change skeptics have also emphasized the fact that this winter was the coldest on record and are using it as a trump card to underplay the effects of global warming, even throwing a debate on the U.S. Senate floor.
A recent study published in the Journal of Climate debunks the skeptics’ assumptions. In this study, satellite records comparing the two poles found a clear and alarming loss in sea ice.
Study author and sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Claire Parkinson confirmed that Arctic ice loss far outweighs any gains. Parkinson stated, “I hope that these results will make it clear that globally, the Earth has lost sea ice over the past several decades, despite the Antarctic gains.” She observed that the global trend of sea ice loss closely mirrored decades of decreasing Arctic sea ice amounting to a loss of 13,500 square miles each year.
According to NOAA researcher James Overland, “Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere.”
The loss of Arctic sea ice is not new — decreases have been recorded every year since 1979.
Low Arctic sea ice measurements will continue to the point that there will be a virtually ice-free Arctic region by the year 2050, according to an Albany study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists
Scientific evidence has shown that a low Arctic sea ice maximum is telling of a global trend that melting is actually accelerating.