Arctic Sea Ice Is Failing To Grow At The Expected Rate

Polar bears rely on sea ice to survive, so their future is not looking great. Anette Holmberg/Shutterstock

The latest data coming out of the Arctic does not look good. While a drop in temperature during the dark months of winter is meant to signal the growth of sea ice, it seems that this year it is struggling to expand. Some regions in the Arctic are experiencing worryingly anomalous temperatures, meaning that the growth is currently around 10 percent lower than average.

“Although sea ice usually grows rapidly after the minimum extent each September, this year’s growth has been far slower than we’d expect – probably because this winter has been warmer than usual in the Arctic,” explains Rachel Tilling, from the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), in a statement. “Because CryoSat can measure Arctic sea ice thickness in autumn, it gives us a much clearer picture of how it has fared during summer.”

CryoSat is a satellite managed by the European Space Agency with the aim to monitor variations in sea-ice thickness in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and has been doing so for the last six years. Using a radar altimeter, Cryosat is able to track the surface height variation of ice in the most precise detail to date.

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The team found that while the average sea-ice thickness for November this year was 130 centimeters (4.3 feet), actually above average, the overall volume ties for the lowest on record with November 2011. This means that although areas have regained height, which can be influenced by a range of factors such as snowfall and compaction rate, the extent or area of the ice is expanding at a significantly lower rate than would be expected for this time of the year.

This is almost certainly related to the abnormally warm temperatures in the far north of the Arctic. Some recordings found that the region was around -5°C in places where usually the temperature at this time of year is a chilly -25°C. This is a deeply worrying discovery that has sent some polar researchers into something of a tailspin.

No one knows exactly how this is going to play out, because this dramatic shift has never been experienced before. But with recent political events throwing the historic Paris climate agreement into doubt, it seems even less likely that something will be done in time to prevent such catastrophic events from occurring.

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