Arctic ice cover drops to second-lowest record after 2012, are we heading towards a seasonally frost-free ocean?

'It's been a crazy year up north, with sea ice at a near-record low, 100-degree Fahrenheit heatwaves in Siberia and massive forest fires,' Mark Serreze, director of NSIDC, said


                            Arctic ice cover drops to second-lowest record after 2012, are we heading towards a seasonally frost-free ocean?
(Getty Images)

The northern part of the world has had a rough year so far. After intense heatwaves and wildfires, the ice cover in the Arctic ocean has reached a "near-record low", witnessing the second-lowest extent of sea ice recorded since 1978, according to researchers monitoring the polar region.

The findings are from scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “It's been a crazy year up north, with sea ice at a near-record low, 100-degree (Fahrenheit) heatwaves in Siberia, and massive forest fires,” Mark Serreze, director of NSIDC, said in a statement. “The year 2020 will stand as an exclamation point on the downward trend in Arctic sea ice extent. We are headed towards a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, and this year is another nail in the coffin."

According to the experts, the ice cover dropped to 1.44 million square miles -- the second-lowest after 2012. The extent of sea ice in the polar region is important because it has an impact on local ecosystems, regional and global weather patterns, and ocean circulation. "With less sea ice, phytoplankton [microscopic organisms] blooms are increasing, but for animals like polar bears, they are losing their home," Serreze told CNN.



 

Typically, the Arctic sea ice shrinks in summer and thickens and expands in spring and winter. Though they expect the extent of sea ice to recover through autumn and winter, a shift in wind patterns or a period of late-season melt could still push it to the lower end, the researchers said. The shrinking is not recent. According to NASA, it is declining at a rate of 12.85% per decade every September.

This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice on September 15, 2020, when sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year. (NSIDC / NASA Earth Observatory)

These changes are just one of many signs of a warming climate. Some examples include heatwaves in Siberia, wildfires, melting permafrost --frozen ground -- led to a massive oil spill, causing 20,000 tons of diesel fuel to spill into a river, polluting it. The ecosystem could take decades to recover.

"It was just really warm in the Arctic this year, and the melt seasons have been starting earlier and earlier," said Nathan Kurtz, a sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The earlier the melt season starts, the more ice you generally lose."

The Bering Strait is one of the few outlets through which sea ice exits the Arctic Ocean. (NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens and George Riggs using data from Terra MODIS.)

"As the sea ice cover extent declines, what we're seeing is we're continuing to lose that multiyear ice," Serreze said. "The ice is shrinking in the summer, but it's also getting thinner. You're losing extent, and you're losing the thick ice as well. It's a double whammy."

"It seems like 2020 is going to down as the year when it's the end of any plausible denial of climate change. Any individual event can be blamed on the weather, but putting it all together with the heatwaves, the fires, the hurricanes, and tropical storms, nature is telling us something," Serreze told CNN. "It's us. This is all us. Our heatwaves are getting hotter, the cold waves are not as cold. As Pogo said, we have met the enemy, and they are us."

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