Arctic Sea ice at second lowest level on record

Arctic Sea ice retreated to its second lowest level on record this summer. Scientists announced today the ice likely reached its lowest extent on September 10th. The Arctic Ocean ended the summer season with 1.6 million square miles of ice, tying 2007 for the second lowest amount.

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Ice floes float in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland above the Arctic circle on July 10, 2008. The seven lowest levels of sea ice cover have all been recorded in the last seven years. Photo by Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press.
Ice floes float in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland above the Arctic circle on July 10, 2008. The seven lowest levels of sea ice cover have all been recorded in the last seven years. Photo by Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press.

Mark Serreze is director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He said sea ice extent has been on a downward trend since 1979:

“But it looks like over the past decade the loss rate is starting to accelerate,” Serreze said. “It probably has to do with the fact that the ice cover is thinner now, so it doesn’t take as much energy to melt out big portions of it, so we do see to be in the fast lane, so to speak.”

Serreze said the Arctic Ocean is headed for ice free summers sometime in the next few decades.

There was so little Arctic sea ice at the end of the winter, scientists thought 2016 may beat the previous record low, set in 2012. But conditions over the Arctic Ocean this summer were generally cool and cloudy, limiting the rate of sea ice loss.

The ice near Alaska in the Chukchi Sea is still holding up over an important walrus feeding area called Hanna Shoal. Anthony Fischbach is a walrus biologist with the United States Geological Survey.

“The regional presence of sea ice here makes a big difference for Alaskans and the wildlife that we have that depends on it,” Fischbach said.

Fischbach doesn’t expect walrus to haul out this year on shore in Northern Alaska in huge numbers like they have most years since 2007. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there haven’t been any reports of a large haul out near Point Lay.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie