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Arctic sea ice extent is 3rd lowest ever

NSIDC 2009 sea ice coverThe good news: Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its low for the summer, and there’s more of it than there was in the record-breaking low years of 2007 and 2008.

The bad news: the extent of sea ice is still the third-lowest ever since satellite measurements began in 1979.

This year’s September minimum extent is still significantly below the long-term average and well outside the range of natural climate variability, according to Walt Meier, a research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). The rapid changes in the Arctic are being blamed on rising temperatures caused by ever-growing concentrations of man-made carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere.

While there’s a bit more ice left this year than in the record-breaking years, thanks to atmospheric circulation patterns that helped it spread out more in August, researchers don’t view it as a sign of recovery. Most of the Arctic sea ice remaining in September is thin, first- or second-year ice, rather than thicker, multi-year ice that used to dominate the region, Meier said. This year’s minimum is also well below — by some 620,000 square miles — the average minimum measured between 1979 and 200.

“We are still seeing a downward trend that appears to be heading toward ice-free Arctic summers,” Meier said.

Thanks to the dwindling sea ice cover, two ships operated by Germany’s Beluga Group recently completed a journey across Arctic waters from Korea to Rotterdam without the aid of icebreakers. The trip saved some 4,000 miles compared to the conventional route along the southern coast of Asia and through the Suez Canal … and saved the Beluga Group about £180,000 in costs per ship.

Which likely means we’ll be seeing a lot more Belugas of the commercial variety making their way through Arctic waters in summers to come.

5 Comments

  • Chris
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I know this winter in the continental U.S. had several record breaking individual low days (more than usual) across the Nation. Also 2009 had several top 5 coldest months and a very cool year. I am wondering if that will help the sea ice or are the two non related…ie has Arctic sea ice decreased when continental U.S. temperatures were below the mean? If the Arctic ice can decrease with low temps across the U.S> I wonder about the NW passage? Is there correlation there at-least?

  • David Godfrey
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Scaremongering! As pointed out before – it’s not the 3rd lowest ever. It’s the 3rd lowest since 1979.
    So…2007 was the lowest ‘ever’? And then 2008 was the second lowest ‘ever’? And then 2009 was the third lowest ‘ever’? Hmmm, I bet 2010 will be the fourth lowest ever wont it? Do you detect a trend there? In fact you could spin it the other way around and using your own standards report that the growth of ice in 2008 and 2009 was absolutely record breaking. pah!

  • Rabbit
    Posted September 20, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    A few points:

    First, “3rd lowest ever” is a ridiculous heading. What you mean is “3rd lowest since we started accurately measuring in 1979”.

    Second, 2007 had, without doubt, an unusually severe melt. What are the expected ramifications for this for the few years after?

    Well, we expect 2008 to also have a severe melt because of the loss of mult-year ice from the year before. And we expect 2009 to suffer a similar effect for the same reasons, but not as bad as 2008.

    And this is exactly what we see. The fact that the amount of melt from one year affects the next year’s melt should be mentioned in the name of honest reporting.

  • Greenbang
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    You’re absolutely correct, Jon — our mistake. We’ve corrected to post to include the accurate record-low years.

    Thanks for the heads-up!

  • Jon Torrance
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    “and there’s more of it than there was in the record-breaking low years of 2005 and 2007.”

    Pardon me, but don’t you mean the record-breaking low years of 2007 and 2008? Granted, 2005 was the record breaking low at the time but the 2009 minimum is lower than the 2005 minimum.

Comments are closed.

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