The US National Snow & Ice Data Center has revealed that Arctic sea ice extent for the month of November set a new record low, reflecting unusually high air temperatures, winds from the south, and a warm ocean.
Antarctica also saw its sea ice extent hit a record low for the month, caused by moderately warm temperatures and a rapid shift in circumpolar winds — unsurprising, maybe, to those who followed the news of a key glacier in the western part of the icy continent breaking apart from the inside.
According to the US National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSDIC), Arctic sea ice extent for the month of November averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (or 3.51 million square miles) — that’s 1.95 million square kilometers (or 753,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for November. And although the rate of Arctic ice growth was slightly faster than the average, the total extent actually decreased by 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) for a brief period in the middle of the month, observed mostly in the Barents Sea. NSIDC scientists said “the decrease in extent is almost unprecedented for November in the satellite record,” though there was a “less pronounced and brief retreat of 14,000 square kilometers (5,400 square miles) in 2013.”
This is not news easily ignored, especially considering that it is the seventh month this year to have hit a record low extent in the 38-year satellite monitoring period.
NSIDC scientists pointed to “unusually high temperatures over the Arctic Ocean, persistent winds from the south, and a warm ocean” as responsible for the record low Arctic ice extent. “It looks like a triple whammy — a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.
Moving down to the opposite side of the planet, sea ice surrounding Antarctica declined very quickly in November, and remained far below the range of past November daily extents. The average extent for November was 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles), 1.81 million square kilometers (699,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average — more than twice the previous record-below-average set in November 1986.
Found responsible for the record low was higher-than-average air temperatures combined with a rapid shift in the Antarctic circumpolar winds.
“Antarctic sea ice really went down the rabbit hole this time,” explained NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos. “There are a few things we can say about what happened, but we need to look deeper.”
“The Arctic has typically been where the most interest lies, but this month, the Antarctic has flipped the script and it is southern sea ice that is surprising us,” added NASA scientist and NSIDC affiliate scientist Walt Meier.