Arctic Sea Ice Levels Are Lower Than They’ve Ever Been. Again.

  • The maximum extent of sea ice was lower this year than it’s ever been.
  • A warming Arctic has drastic implications for the rest of the world.

After yet another historically warm winter, Arctic sea ice levels have hit a new low.

That’s according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center and NASA, which released findings Monday showing the maximum extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, typically set near the start of spring after the ice has grown all winter — is at the lowest it’s ever been. Lower, even, than last year’s levels — which were themselves the lowest ever.

The largest extent of sea ice this year occurred on March 24, with a total area of 5.607 million square miles of ice. For comparison, the average maximum sea ice level, based on data from 1980-2010, is 6.04 million square miles, or 431,000 more square miles of ice than there was in 2016.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” NSIDC director Mark Serreze said in a release accompanying the data. “The heat was relentless.”

A shrinking ice cap is important for a number of reasons, said Rafe Pomerance, a former climate negotiator currently serving as the chairman of Arctic 21 — a network of organizations concerned about the fate of the Arctic — and a member of the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

First, Arctic ice and snow helps reflect sunlight, directly aiding in cooling the planet. When that ice disappears, the sunlight is instead absorbed by the ocean, thereby contributing to warming and further melting the ice in a vicious cycle.

Second, as the ice melts, it’s responsible for a rise in sea level worldwide, thereby wreaking havoc on coastal communities around the world.

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