Global Sea Ice Is Now At The Lowest Extent It Has Ever Been

The ice at both ends of the planet are at the smallest extent they have been for a long time. NOAA

Sea ice is probably covering the smallest area of the globe that it has in millennia. The latest data from the satellites that monitor how much sea ice there is at both ends of the planet has revealed that it's at a shocking low, something that is thought to be, at least in part, driven by the warming of the planet, though this is not the only factor at play.

The driving force behind this latest record is down to the interplay of what is occurring in the Arctic and Antarctic. At this time of year, the Arctic is experiencing its winter and sea ice extent should be rapidly growing during the long polar nights. But with an unseasonably warm winter this year, coupled with surface air temperatures increasing at a rate two to three times the pace of the rest of the planet, the ice has actually been observed shrinking in area.

Credit: Wipneus

This is undoubtedly due to man-made climate change, as it's thought the warming air is altering the air currents that historically keep the cold air over the North Pole. This slip in the currents is thought to have let warm air from further south creep up, while at the same time has meant that the cooler weather usually confined to the north has slipped south, contributing to the harsh winter being experienced in Northern Europe.

Credit: NSIDC

The Antarctic, on the other hand, is experiencing its summer, when sea ice extent is expected to drop. However, it has been doing so at a rate much faster than usual. This is not linked to climate change, since disentangling the current drop from the natural variability in sea ice extent at the southern pole is basically not possible at the moment. However, it’s possible the rate has been expedited in part by the weakening of winds around the southern continent.

Credit: NSIDC

Both of these situations have combined into a perfect storm to produce the lowest global sea ice extent since records began in the 1970s. But others have suggested that based on modeling of what the polar ice extent over hundreds of years probably looked like, this could be the lowest sea ice level seen in thousands of years.

 

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