Warmer Arctic Ocean temperatures delay sea ice formation

In this July 18, 2011 photo, an Inuit fisherman pulls in a fish on a sea filled with floating ice left over from broken-up icebergs shed from the Greenland ice sheet in Ilulissat, Greenland. (Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)
In this July 18, 2011 photo, an Inuit fisherman pulls in a fish on a sea filled with floating ice left over from broken-up icebergs shed from the Greenland ice sheet in Ilulissat, Greenland. (Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)
New satellite data is proving what Canada’s Inuit have been saying for years: the oldest and thickest multiyear ice is thinning and melting away, leaving the younger seasonal sea ice more vulnerable to warming ocean and atmosphere.

The darker ocean attracts more sunlight, making it more difficult for new ice to form even when the winter sets in in the northern latitudes.

Despite a quick initial freeze-up during the second half of September, Arctic sea ice growth slowed substantially during early October, according to the U.S.-based National Snow & Ice Data Center.

Record low

In October 2016, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 6.40 million square kilometers, the lowest October in the satellite record, according to the Colorado-based centre.

“This is 400,000 square kilometers lower than October 2007, the second lowest October extent,” the NSIDC said in a statement. “The average extent was 2.55 million square kilometers below the October 1981 to 2010 long-term average.”

Ice extent was especially low within the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, and Kara Seas, the data analysis centre said.

Double whammy

Arctic sea ice has not only been shrinking in surface area in recent years, it’s becoming younger and thinner as well, according to NASA.

“What we’ve seen over the years is that the older ice is disappearing,” Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a recent report. “This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice.”

But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be, Meier said.

In this NASA animation, Meier describes how the sea ice has undergone fundamental changes during the era of satellite measurements.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Arctic sea ice nears its minimum extent for 2016, Radio Canada International

Finland: Puzzling migration fluke brings thousands of Siberian birds to Finland, Yle News

Greenland: New model predicts flow of Greenland’s glaciers, Alaska Dispatch News

Norway:  Record heat sends shockwave through Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Ancient virus found in Arctic permafrost, Alaska Dispatch News

Sweden:  Sweden’s climate minister worried about Trump’s stance on global warming, Radio Sweden

United States:  Alaska: Barrow’s record-warm October continues pattern associated with low sea ice, Alaska Dispatch News

 

 

Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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