Arctic sea ice at its second-lowest ever this September

by   Profile Mares   When 16th September 2016
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Sea ice thickness measurements north of Greenland in July 2016. (c) Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Esther Horvath
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The AWI research aircraft Polar 6 started its flight at Station Nord, to take measurements of the sea ice thickness. Below its hull, in a special holder, it carried a torpedo-shaped sensor which is lowered to take measurements. (c) Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Esther Horvath
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The AWI’s sea ice thickness sensor during a flight over the Arctic sea ice. The picture was taken with the camera directed vertically downwards. The camera had been built into the hull of the aircraft. (c) Alfred-Wegener-Institut/IceCam
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The AWI’s sea ice thickness sensor during a flight over the Arctic sea ice. The picture was taken with the camera directed vertically downwards. The camera had been built into the hull of the aircraft. (c) Alfred-Wegener-Institut/IceCam
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What was the summer sea ice in the Arctic? In 2016, the sea ice shrank to its second lowest ever recorded. In 1979 to 1999, the area averaged six to 7.5 million square kilometres. (c) Lars Kaleschke, CEN, Uni Hamburg
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Comparative map of sea ice concentrations in 2007, 2012 and 2016 in different colors. (c) Alfred-Wegener-Institut

In September 2016, the surface of the Arctic sea ice shrank to nearly
4.1 million square kilometres – the second smallest recorded area since
satellites started mapping sea ice. This result is second only to the
3.4 million square kilometres of sea ice recorded in 2012.

This is again a massive loss of ice in the Arctic,” said Prof Lars
Kaleschke of the University of Hamburg, in German.

This was confirmed
by Prof Christian Haas from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), who
said the trend continued, referring to the fact that the Northeast
Passage and Northwest Passage are now simultaneously passable.

Every September, when the annual melt in the Arctic comes to an end,
the sea ice that remains will be measured. This is an important
indicator of climate change.

In the winter of 2015 and 2016, the
atmosphere was more than six degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term
average in the Arctic Ocean, said Prof Kaleschke from the Center for
Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN) at the University of

Due to the higher temperatures, the ice growth is less.

The thickness of the ice has been measured at different areas of the
Arctic using high-resolution aircraft observations and measurements.

Prof Haas described the newly formed, first-year ice as very thin,
barely more than a metre thick. This was in contrast with the perennial
ice in previous years, which was about three to four metres thick.

year, the ice loss was much delayed in June and July, but made its
appearance in August due to strong winds.

The University of Hamburg and the AWI have jointly developed a new
service issuing continuous ice thickness specifications.

For the first
time, the measurements of two ESA satellites – CryoSat and SMOS – were
combined. “We were able to see the end of the Arctic winter. The ice
was ten centimetres thinner than in previous years – a significant
,” said Prof Kaleschke.

The area of sea ice was measured using satellite data. Prof Kaleschke’s
team managed to improve the process so as to allow an image to be
captured within exactly three kilometres. Thus it can be seen as north
of Alaska known as the Beaufort vortex the ice breaks up unusually
early, in April.

Based on the date, it was discovered that the area
north of Alaska, known as the Beaufort vortex, had broken up unusually
early, in April.

In May and June, the sea ice area was actually smaller
than ever.

This year, there was another unusual detail: Many areas of
open water were seen at the heart of the North Pole.

Since the end of August 2016, the Northeast Passage and Northwest
Passage became largely free of ice. Yachts and a cruise ship took the
opportunity to sail along the southern route of the Northwest Passage.

A crucial factor in the climate scenario, the Arctic sea ice serves as
an early warning system for global warming. In the 1970s and 1980s, the
minimum ice area in the summer still averaged about seven million
square kilometres.

According to Prof Kaleschke, the Arctic sea ice
retreat was a clear indication that global warming remained unchecked.

Learn about current sea ice development in the Arctic here.

Written by
Profile Mares
When 16th September 2016
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