MARK KAUFMANJun 13, 2019
The Arctic summer has a long way to go, but already sea ice levels in great swathes of the sprawling Arctic ocean are at all-time lows for this time of year. The most striking declines are in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, located above Alaska.
The melt is exceptional, but right in line with accelerating melting trends occurring as the Arctic warms.
“Every year we smash a record that we’re shocked at,” said Jeremy Mathis, a longtime Arctic researcher and a current board director at the National Academies of Sciences
We should get used to these Arctic records, emphasized Mathis. “The extraordinary change is a given,” he said. “The Arctic is superseding any projection we had for how quickly sea ice was going to go away.”
The climate regime in the Arctic has changed sharply over the last few decades. The Arctic was once blanketed with older, thicker ice. But now the ice is younger, thinner, and easily melted.
“This is due to the long-term warming of the Arctic,” said Zack Labe, a climate scientist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine. “Air temperatures are now rising at more than twice the rate of the global mean temperature — a phenomenon known as ‘Arctic Amplification’.”
This warm air means thinner and less hardy ice that’s more susceptible to melt during the summer, noted Labe.
And with warmer air temperatures comes warmer oceans. The Arctic suffers from a vicious feedback loop, wherein the bright, reflective ice melts, and then more of the dark ocean absorbs sunlight. This drives even more melting.
“I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.”
And the oceans in large parts of the Arctic are indeed warmer than usual, said Lars Kaleschke, a sea ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Kaleschke, who has been watching the recent melting with “great interest,” noting that the waters in the Pacific Arctic and parts of the inner Arctic are warmer than average. The ice is thinner there, too.
“In consequence, the thinner ice now retreats much faster than usual,” said Kaleschke.
For the many of us viewing the melting Arctic on satellite images from thousands of miles away, the rate of change there can be difficult to grasp. But not for scientists like Mathis, who have traveled around these icy oceans.
“I’m losing the ability to communicate the magnitude [of change],” said Mathis. “I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.”
Though the longer term melting trends are clear, in the shorter term, like this summer, Labe noted that cooler weather patterns can still swoop in and potentially chill the region. Although ice is now at record lows in many places — and overall is currently the second-lowest in the satellite record
There’s some really intense melting in the Arctic right now
MARK KAUFMANJun 13, 2019 The Arctic summer has a long way to go, but already sea ice levels in great swathes of the sprawling Arctic ocean are at all-time lows for this time of year. The most striking declines are in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, located above Alaska. The melt is exceptional, but right… [Read More]