Thin Ice Expanding in Arctic This Year, Not Expected to Last

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has begun to expand again.  It melted back to its minimum a couple of days ago, according to Mark Serezze, head of the national Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado.

“We’re at the seasonal minimum for sea ice.  You see it happened just a few days ago.  It takes us a while to crunch the numbers and confirm what’s happening,” Serezze said. “And as it turns out as you look at the satellite record, which starts in 1979, we ended up third lowest.”

“And the number came out to be 4.76 million square kilometers.”

That’s 1.8 square miles.

In 2007, the sea ice withdrew a record amount. Although the overall extent of sea ice this year was greater than that of 2007, both the Northwest Passage through  Canadian waters, and the Northeast Passage above Russia opened up this year.  In 2007, only the Canada route opened.

The Center will publish an analysis of its data in a couple of weeks, but already Serezze is willing to say the signs for future years are not good.  Each year, more of the thicker ice that has built up over the years, has disappeared.  This year a large amount of older ice drifted west from Canada to the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

“Through last winter, we had this tongue of this older, thicker ice creep down to the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska of course, into the Chukchi Sea.  That came from northern Canada. That’s where that older ice really tends to live.  So this stuff moved in, into the northern Beaufort and the Chukchi Sea.  And some of the thinking was ‘well, that might survive the summer melt season – it’s thicker, you know, it can take a bigger hit,’ you know, and if that was so that would kind of replenish ice conditions this year so we’d be a bit better going into autumn.  Ah, but it didn’t happen; it basically all melted.  So it really is telling you that uh things really are changing in the Arctic, and that old, multi-year ice doesn’t even survive any more.  So we’re… Heading into next year I think we’re in kind of worse shape than we even are right now,” Serezze said.

Another oddity this year was the presence of ice in the Bering Sea in the spring, even after it pulled back in the Beaufort.  But even though the Bering Sea froze up more than usual last winter, it was all what is known as “one-year ice” – not thick enough to hang around through the summer.

“That stuff in the Bering, what happened there earlier in the year was that we had this late spurt in ice growth – a kind of early spring, late winter.  And ice extent really went considerably above uh average extent in the Bering Sea.  It was one of the areas where it kind of grew.  Uh, but once spring took hold, that stuff melted out really fast.  Because we knew that of course forming late in the year it was going to be quite thin, and so once the warmth of spring kicked in, it went fast, and that’s of course just what we saw,” Serezze said.

The survey is based on an average, as the ice builds up in some places but is still pulling back in others. There is a slight chance that winds will cause more melting.

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