Rising temperatures in the Arctic have reduced the ice covering the polar ocean this year to its second lowest extent in four decades, scientists announced, in a further sign of how the climate crisis is rapidly transforming the region. .
Satellites recorded this year’s minimum sea ice at 3.74 square meters on Sept. 15, only the second time ice has been measured below 4 square meters in 40 years of recording, the researchers said. of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“It’s pretty devastating that we’ve had such consistently low sea ice. But unfortunately, that’s not surprising,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the Boulder, Colorado research center.
The record low of 3.41 million sq km, reached in 2012 after an end-of-season cyclone storm broke the remaining ice, is not much less than what researchers are seeing today.
This year’s decline was particularly rapid between August 31 and September 5, thanks to pulses of hot air from a heatwave in Siberia, according to the NSIDC. The rate of ice loss during those six days was faster than in any other year recorded. Another team of scientists discovered in July that the Siberian heat wave would have been nearly impossible without human-caused climate change.
When Arctic sea ice fades, it leaves patches of dark water open. Those dark waters absorb solar radiation rather than reflect it out of the atmosphere, a process that amplifies warming and helps explain why Arctic temperatures have risen more than twice as much as the rest of the world in the past 30 years.
Sea ice loss also threatens Arctic wildlife, from polar bears and seals to plankton and algae, said Tom Foreman, polar wildlife expert and Arctic guide.
“The numbers we get in terms of sea ice extent decreasing every year put us pretty much on red alert in terms of the level of concern we have, our concern for the stability of this environment,” Foreman said.
The same warming that is opening up the summer Arctic waters is also devouring the ice sheets that cover the Arctic lands in Canada and Greenland. The faster these ice sheets melt into the surrounding ocean, the faster the sea level will rise worldwide.
Given that a warmer Arctic could impact weather patterns around the world, Moon said the world shouldn’t wait for another new sea ice record before taking action to limit climate change.
“We should work very hard to make differences in our polluting gas emissions so that we don’t see so many records being created in the future,” Moon said.