WASHINGTON (AP) -
The frigid top of the Earth just set yet another record for low levels of
sea ice in what scientists say is a signal of an overheating world.
The extent of
floating ice in the Arctic hit a new low for winter: 5.57 million square
miles (14.42 million square kilometers). That’s about 35,000 square miles
(97,000 square kilometers) - an area about the size of Maine - below 2015’s
record. Last year had a shade more than 2015, but nearly a tied record.
This puts the
Arctic in a “deep hole” as the crucial spring and summer melt season starts
and more regions will likely be ice-free, said Mark Serreze, director of the
National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, which released the findings
“It’s a key part of
the Earth’s climate system and we’re losing it,” he said. “We’re losing the
ice in all seasons now.”
At the other end of
the world, Antarctica, where sea ice reaches its lowest point of the year in
March, also hit a record low mark. Antarctic sea ice varies widely unlike
Arctic sea ice, which has steadily decreased.
The ice data center
measures how wide sea ice extends based on satellite imagery. It’s harder to
measure the thickness and overall volume, but data from the University of
Washington show that as of late last month ice volume levels were down 42
percent from 1979, said polar science center chief Axel Schweiger.
called the sea ice loss disturbing.
“It’s evidence that
the climate at the top of the world continues to change faster than anywhere
else on Earth with impacts to us that are still frankly unknown,”
Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor and retired admiral
David W. Titley, said in an email.
Scientists blame a
combination of natural random weather and man-made global warming from the
burning of coal, oil and gas. The winter of 2016-2017 was unusually toasty
and the Arctic saw three “extreme heat waves,” Serreze said.
A new study earlier
this month in the journal Nature Climate Change found that natural causes
can explain between 30 and 50 percent of plunging September sea ice lows,
while Serezze and others give climate change an even bigger role in sea ice
A relatively new
idea - that still divides meteorologists - links the shriveling ice cap at
the North Pole to a weaker polar vortex and weak and ambling jet stream,
which can mean more extreme weather for a good part of the rest of the
“Recent cold spells
and big snowstorms that we have experienced over the past few winters have
occurred when the polar vortex is weak,” top winter weather forecaster Judah
Cohen, of the private Atmospheric Environmental Research in Lexington,
Massachusetts, said in an email.
It’s not just the
As more regions
become free of ice, shipping lanes will open in the Arctic, there will be
more drilling for oil and gas and more overall economic activity. And that
may mean rising tensions between countries over newly available resources,
“The Arctic is the
canary in the climate’s coal mine,” said Texas Tech climate scientist
Katharine Hayhoe. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
This entire planet is interconnected.”
National Snow and
Ice Data Center: www.nsidc.org