1.32 million sq. miles

NASA

Arctic sea ice melts to its lowest extent. The dotted yellow line indicates the average area from 1979 to 2000

That’s the estimated minimum extent for the Arctic sea ice this summer, reached on Sept. 16, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). It breaks the record for the lowest ever summer extent in the satellite record, beating 2007 by an area equal to the size of Texas. Though the Arctic sea ice—which melts and reforms each summer and winter—usually reaches its lowest extent in mid-September, this year actually broke the record even before the end of the melting season. The fact that the ice kept melting at high rates late into the summer is even more surprising. “The strong late season decline is indicative of how thin the ice cover is,” NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said in a statement. “Ice has to be quite thin to continue melting away as the sun goes down and fall approaches.”

(WATCH: Chasing Ice: Could Time-Lapse Photography Save the Planet?)

As the summer ends and the long Arctic winter commences, the sea ice will reform, but every major melt season like this one flushes out more of the old, thick multi-year ice, replacing it with thin layers that will melt that much more easily next summer. If so, that would continue a long-term melting trend that dates back at least until satellite records of the Arctic began to be kept in 1979. This year’s minimum extent is 50% smaller than the 1979 to 2000 average, which underscores just how much sea ice has collapsed over the past decade.

The question now is whether that trend will continue—and how soon the Arctic will become ice-free. That’s a loaded question in climate science, but some researchers worry that the Arctic itself could become ice-free—during the summer at least—as soon as the end of the decade. That was one projection made by Wieslaw Maslowski, an Arctic expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, at a Greenpeace panel on the Arctic and climate change that I chaired yesterday morning. Whether or not that prediction comes true, it’s clear that the Arctic—the Last Frontier—is becoming the first frontier of climate change. And as Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement today: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

MORE: Farewell to the Arctic — as We Know It

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9 comments
Jill Louis
Jill Louis

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53underscore3
53underscore3

I recommend The Goldilocks Planet, it is a very relevant read considering that if this is true, we could see an open Arctic in a decade or two, considering the thinness of Arctic ice.

The last time there was an open Arctic in winter was in the Pliestocene.  Something to really think about, unless one wants water around their knees before they're even ready to think about it.

Here is NOAA's historical monitoring of CO2 levels. Keep these in mind while you're thinking about climate issues:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/c...

DebbieSmith1956
DebbieSmith1956

Weather records in the United States also show that there is a growing number of extreme rain and snow events, despite the fact that the country is suffering from a prolonged drought:

http://viableopposition.blogsp...

These extreme events do not provide precipitation at times when the farming community requires it to ensure good yields.

Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL
Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

Antarctic ice is now at record high levels, why doesn't this article mention that? 

www dot forbes dot com/sites/jamestaylor/2012/09/19/antarctic-sea-ice-sets-another-record/ 

"Antarctic sea ice has been growing since satellites first began measuring the ice 33 years ago and the sea ice has been above the 33-year average throughout 2012."

DoRightThing
DoRightThing

Look squirrel!

The "record" is not quite a record - it's winter in Antarctica and ice is leaving the continent like rats from a sinking ship. Surface sea water is therefore less saline, so sea ice forms slightly more easily.

You're not going to like this, but you should read it anyway:

http://tamino.wordpress.com/20...