Ask a Climatologist: Arctic sea ice at record low for the season

(Image courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center)
(Image courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center)

This late in the fall, Arctic sea ice should be forming near the community of Utqiagvik , which until recently was know as Barrow. Instead, the ocean is open for hundreds of miles.

Utqiagvik also shattered its record for the highest average temperature for October.

Brian Brettschneider is a climatologist in Anchorage who closely tracks Alaska climate data and trends. Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with him regularly as part of the segment, Ask A Climatologist.

Brettschneider told Energy Desk editor Annie Feidt Arctic sea ice is at record lows for this time of year.

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Brian: As of October 31st, the sea ice was just over seven million square kilometers, which sounds like a lot, but it’s quite a bit lower than any other October 31st on record.

Annie: How concerning is that?

Brian: It’s very concerning because the lack of ice really affects the climate of the entire circumpolar area. So for example Barrow, Kotzebue, all the areas in the northern part of Alaska, saw record warm Octobers in very large part because there’s so much open water with lots of stored heat from the summer months that’s typically locked away by ice at this point in the season.

Annie: How warm was it in Barrow in October?

Brian: It was just over 31 degrees, and that’s by far their warmest October on record- a full 13 degrees above normal.

Annie: And is it the high temperatures making it hard to form sea ice or the lack of sea ice making the temperatures high?

Brian: That all works together- so it’s called a positive feedback. The warm temperatures are really slowing down the creation of new sea ice, and the warm temperatures are adding extra heat to the open water which makes it then even harder to freeze up. So it’s a positive feedback cycle that reinforces itself.