During a normal winter sea ice grows quickly in the Arctic Ocean, filling up nearly the entire ocean basin. This year though, unusually warm weather and storms are keeping the sea ice extent at record lows.
Climatologist Brian Brettschneider said Arctic sea ice is in pretty sad shape.
“Most of the last 200 days, the sea ice has achieved a daily record low,” Brettschneider said. “So even though it’s still mid-winter or late winter up there, we should expect a lot of growth and we really haven’t seen nearly what we would expect given the time of year.”
There are a number of reasons why sea ice growth has been particularly slow this winter. Very warm temperatures in the high Arctic is an important culprit.
“There have been times when even at the North Pole it’s hit at or above freezing, which is almost unheard of,” Brettschneider said.
Brettschneider also said that stormy conditions around Iceland and Scandinavia have promoted increased wave action, which disrupts sea ice formation.
“So just a lot of things have come together to slow and, at times, reverse the sea ice growth in winter, which is pretty unprecedented,” Brettschneider said.
Winter sea ice growth offsets the summer melt. The more ice that build up in winter, the less ice will melt in the summer.
“It is pretty alarming,” Brettschneider said. “There’s been open water not far off the North Slope of Alaska in January and February, which is really astonishing. Over to the east of Greenland, around Svalbard Islands of Norway, I don’t think they’ve had any sea ice and they’ve been above freezing. These are areas that should be locked into ice and should be below zero, so it’s very concerning about where we could end up in the summer melt season.”
Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with climatologist Brian Brettschneider each week as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist. What do you want to ask?