Alaska’s Sea Ice Is Melting Unusually Early, ‘Another Sign Arctic Is Unraveling’

The huge area of open water off the coast is something you would normally see in early July, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The rapid disintegration of the Chukchi Sea ice is an “exclamation point” on a remarkable series of rapid fire Arctic changes, he said.

Disappearing Arctic sea ice map

“It’s another sign that the Arctic is unraveling. We had heat waves in the central Arctic last winter, record-low winter sea ice coverage, and even periods of ice retreat when it should be growing. These extremes are moving from place to place,” Serreze said. The Arctic climate change underway is caused by the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The rapid recent decline in ice coverage and thickness has led researchers to believe that most of the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice in the summers as soon as the mid-2020s.

NSIDC researcher Julienne Stroeve, currently based at University College, London, said at a recent science conference that each of the last 10 years saw record-low sea ice coverage, and that there were seven months of record-low sea ice conditions during 2016, setting the stage for a Chukchi Sea meltdown.

Sea ice conditions were so unusual in late 2016 that NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos called it a black swan event in December, after reporting record low ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctica, far below natural historic variations. In mid-November 2016, much of the Arctic—spanning an area as large as the lower 48 states—was 30 to 35 degrees above average.

a large part of the world’s coast is Arctic, and that erosion, on average, is taking a 1.5-foot bite out of that coastline each year, said Michael Fritz, a polar and ocean researcher with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

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