From: Maria-José Viñas and Kate Ramsauer, NASA
Published August 23, 2016 07:33 AM

NASA Monitors the 'New Normal' of Sea Ice

This year’s melt season in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas started with a bang, with a record low maximum extent in March and relatively rapid ice loss through May. The melt slowed down in June, however, making it highly unlikely that this year’s summertime sea ice minimum extent will set a new record.

“Even when it’s likely that we won’t have a record low, the sea ice is not showing any kind of recovery. It’s still in a continued decline over the long term,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s just not going to be as extreme as other years because the weather conditions in the Arctic were not as extreme as in other years.”

This year’s sea ice cover of the Barents and Kara seas north of Russia opened up early, in April, exposing the surface ocean waters to the energy from the sun weeks ahead of schedule. By May 31, the extent of the Arctic sea ice cover was comparable to end-of-June average levels. But the Arctic weather changed in June and slowed the sea ice loss. A persistent area of low atmospheric pressure, accompanied by cloudiness, winds that dispersed ice and lower-than-average temperatures, didn’t favor melt.

The rate of ice loss picked up again during the first two weeks of August, and is now greater than average for this time of the year. A strong cyclone is moving through the Arctic, similar to one that occurred in early August 2012. Four years ago, the storm caused an accelerated loss of ice during a period when the decline in sea ice is normally slowing because the sun is setting in the Arctic. However, the current storm doesn’t appear to be as strong as the 2012 cyclone and ice conditions are less vulnerable than four years ago, Meier said.

“This year is a great case study in showing how important the weather conditions are during the summer, especially in June and July, when you have 24 hours of sunlight and the sun is high in the sky in the Arctic,” Meier said. “If you get the right atmospheric conditions during those two months, they can really accelerate the ice loss. If you don’t, they can slow down any melting momentum you had. So our predictive ability in May of the September minimum is limited, because the sea ice cover is so sensitive to the early-to-mid-summer atmospheric conditions, and you can’t foresee summer weather.”

“A decade ago, this year’s sea ice extent would have set a new record low and by a fair amount. Now, we’re kind of used to these low levels of sea ice – it’s the new normal.”

Continue reading at NASA.

Image credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

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