Arctic ice thickness fell to record lows in November because of unusually warm Arctic temperatures. Warmer winds from the south also stopped the ice from forming. Finally, ocean temperatures remained above average. Satellites measured the ice at 3.51 million square miles. This level breaks the previous record set in November 2006 by 306,000 miles. Researchers who have been using satellites since 1981 to measure the ice’s thickness find that this is 753,000 square miles below the average.
Why Did the Artic Ice Not Form?
For most of November, ice actually grew faster than the standard rate of 26,900 square miles. Instead, during most of the month, it grew at a rate of 34,000 square miles per day.
One of the reasons that there was less ice overall was unusually warm Arctic temperatures on some days from October 20 through the middle of November. During these days, the ice actually shrank by 19,300 square miles. Air temperatures measured at the North Pole were 18 degrees warmer than normal. Temperatures across most of the Artic remained four to seven degrees Fahrenheit above average.
2016 looked like a typical year until October 20. Starting on that date, record low ice formation was recorded by scientists. Ice only covered 2.5 million square miles of the Artic setting a record low. Unusually warm Arctic temperatures caused the ice not to form.
What Happens Now?
The jet stream which is a narrow band of unyielding westerly air currents encircling the entire globe set up in an unusual pattern this year. At the Artic, these winds generally blow from Iceland across the Norwegian Sea located northwest of Norway and across the Barents Sea located between Norway and Russia.
The jet stream this year caused more southerly winds to blow across the area causing unusually warm Arctic temperatures. Winds from the Barents Sea and the Eurasian Arctic entered the Fram Strait located between Svalbard and Greenland. These winds worked to push the ice back at the same time that the unusually warm Artic temperatures slowed ice formation.
The unusual jet stream pattern caused warm water from the Atlantic Ocean to enter all seas in the area. The Atlantic Ocean located between North America and Russia has a higher salt content than the seas near the Artic. As the water from the Atlantic Ocean mixes with the water from the Artic Ocean the water looses some of its salt. Therefore, it freezes at a higher temperature. Unusually warm Arctic temperatures would have been needed for the ice to form. Scientists have noticed this trend since 2006.
A particular area of concern was the Svalbard archipelago located midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. Ice generally starts to form in this area in early November. As of the beginning of December, no ice had formed in this area. The sea water located here had hardly cooled at all because of the unusually warm Arctic temperatures throughout the fall.
Scientists also note a connection between the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a decline in the amount of Artic ice. Every metric ton of carbon dioxide added to the environment decreases the amount of ice by 32 square feet.
December has seen more rapid ice formation than normal. The ice level remains below average. Scientists still believe that the primary cause for changes in the Artic is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment. Walt Meier, a research scientist with the United State’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that studies weather, says that those families that rely on hunting and fishing will feel the impact first. He adds, however, that:
“We need people to know and understand that what happens in the Artic is going to have an impact on their lives regardless of where they live.”
Image source: Pixabay