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Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral Continues, New Record Low Extent & Thickness For March

The Arctic sea ice death spiral is continuing to accelerate, with March 2017 setting new record lows (for the month) with regard to extent and thickness. That’s based on new data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic sea ice death spiral is continuing to accelerate, with March 2017 setting new record lows (for the month) with regard to extent and thickness. That’s based on new data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The new records continue a half-year or so period of record-low or near-record-low Arctic sea ice. As you can see in the graphs below, there’s a pretty good chance that 2017 will set a new record low for Arctic sea ice — and there’s an increasing likelihood, from the looks of it, that an “ice free” Arctic Ocean (during the summer months) is only a few years off.

To put those comments another way, there was an ~452,000-square-mile expanse of open ocean that would have been ice at this time of year not that long ago this March.

Climate Central provides more: “Temperatures were up to 13°F above normal along Russia’s coastal seas. Incidentally, those areas — particularly the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk — were home to some of the largest sea ice anomalies. … Just as extent has set a record low in March, so too has thickness, according to data from the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center. NSIDC also reported that ice thinner than 6 feet ‘covers a much larger region and extends much farther north than it used to — well north of 80°N latitude on the Atlantic side of the Arctic.'”

Sea ice thickness is perhaps more interesting from the long-term perspective than sea ice extent is, as with decreasing thickness, the sea ice is much more prone to melting — meaning that there’s little doubt at this point that summer Arctic sea ice will be gone within a few decades at the most, and within just a few years at the earliest. Exact predictions of the behavior of complex systems are more or less impossible to make, but general trends can often be inferred without too much difficulty.

In this case, it’s clear that the Arctic is transitioning to an ice-free state — a change that will have an enormous affect on the weather patterns of the region, in very unpredictable but dangerous ways.

 
 
 
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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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