“Even the most pessimistic projections have turned out to be too conservative so far, as pulses of unusually mild air and milder-than-average ocean temperatures have eroded the unusually thin sea ice cover from above and below.”
Arctic sea ice set a record low every single day in May
2 May, 2016
After Arctic sea ice set a record low annual maximum in March, it was widely expected that this summer melt season would rank among the top 5 or 10 lowest melt seasons on record since the dawn of satellite observations there in 1979.
However, even the most pessimistic projections have turned out to be too conservative so far, as pulses of unusually mild air and milder-than-average ocean temperatures have eroded the unusually thin sea ice cover from above and below.
Unusually thin and even totally absent sea ice cover is emerging on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Arctic, raising the possibility of a new sea ice record low and possibly a hastening of when the first ice-free Arctic summer takes place.
During every day in May, for example, sea ice extent — which measures how much ocean is at least 15% ice-covered — was lower than ever observed since 1979. This means the 2016 sea ice extent is melting faster than at the same time of the year in 2012, when sea ice set a record low. And unless a major weather pattern change happens soon, it is becoming more likely that a new record low could be set this year.
"Yes, from what I can see, since early May we have been at record daily lows as assessed over the period of satellite observations," said Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado.
A satellite sensor used for measuring sea ice extent failed in April, adding some uncertainty to the data, but that has been resolved, Serreze told Mashable in an email. "This is not a calibration issue," he said.
"As has been the case for awhile, extent is quite low in the Atlantic side of the Arctic, but big open water areas have opened up in the Beaufort Sea" as well, Serreze said. The Beaufort Sea is situated north of Alaska, on the Pacific side of the Arctic.
Satellite images show that sea ice is poised to break up between the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, about two months ahead of schedule.
Zack Labe, a PhD student at the University of California at Irvine who is conducting sea ice research, told Mashable via Twitter that record warmth in the Arctic this winter "has really preconditioned the ice for the peak summer melt season."
"We are entering the melt season with the worst sea ice conditions in our satellite era during the residuals of the likely warmest year on record. It just can't mean good things are to come unfortunately for the sea ice."
What happens with the sea ice cover will have widespread ramifications for the approximately 400,000 residents of the Arctic region, as well as the iconic plants and animals that inhabit this region. Species such as seals, walruses and polar bears depend on sea ice cover for breeding, hunting and rest, and without it they can suffer from malnutrition and experience population declines.
Due to the dwindling sea ice cover, walruses have been showing up by the tens of thousandson beaches in Alaska and Russia, seeking rest in between arduous treks of hundreds of miles for food.
Sea ice melt is also making the region more accessible for cargo ships, military vessels and oil and gas drilling. This summer, the 1,725-person vessel Crystal Cruises' Serenity, plans to make the first transit of the Northwest Passage by such a large passenger hip.
Up until a decade ago, the Northwest Passage was still inaccessible, as it had been throughout all of human history.
In addition, sea ice loss can alter weather patterns in the Arctic, with some scientists proposing connections to storms affecting far broader regions, such as the U.S. and Europe.
Sea ice melt does not directly raise sea levels, however, since the ice is already floating in the water.
Beautiful view tonight from Hotel Arctic near the Ilulissat Icefjord, #Greenland http://hotelarctic.com/om_hotel_arctic/webcam/ …