Big melt: Arctic sea ice hits record lows

With May seeing record lows, scientists are already concerned about what the Arctic will look like in September. 

NASA/REUTERS
An undated NASA illustration shows Arctic sea ice at a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

It was a warm spring for Arctic sea ice, with sea ice extents reaching record low levels in January, February, and April. Now, scientists say that May beat previous ice cover low records by a huge amount.

Last month, the Arctic averaged twelve million square kilometers of sea ice. The previous record low, set in 2004, was more than half a million square kilometers greater than this year’s record. 

In other words, this May’s Arctic ice cover was smaller than the previously set record by an area larger than the state of California. 

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Mark Serreze, the Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), told the Washington Post. “It’s way below the previous record, very far below it, and we’re something like almost a month ahead of where we were in 2012.”

And although this May’s low ice extents beat the previous record by a shocking amount, the unfortunate new record is even more alarming compared to recent ice averages.

This May, sea ice extents were more than a million square kilometers (or the size of three Californias) less than the average for the month between 1981 and 2010. Daily sea ice levels were also about 600,000 square kilometers less than previous years.

And the damage isn’t limited to May. Unfortunately, with ice extents at record lows already, scientists are predicting even lower ice levels for the rest of the year. 

The Arctic was around four to five degrees Fahrenheit warmer this spring than it has been in the past, accelerating sea ice melt and preventing sea ice from forming at its usual rates. In March, (NSIDC) research affiliate Walt Meier told The Christian Science Monitor that high winds in the Arctic also impeded this year’s growth.

“We’re in a bad way right now,” said Dr. Serreze.

May’s ice melt is already two to four weeks ahead of what it was in 2012, which set September records for the most ice melt in history. With this year’s heat, scientists are concerned about September.

“All we can say is that we are on a very bad footing,” Serreze told The Washington Post. “However, this is also part and parcel of a longer trend … we’ve always known that the Arctic would be the place most sensitive to climate change, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

“The Arctic is in crisis,” said NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scampos in March. “Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere.”

[Editor's note: An earlier version stated that melting sea ice causes sea levels to rise, which is incorrect as sea ice is already floating in the ocean. Melting land ice, however, can cause sea levels to rise.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.