Losing Arctic Ice

This satellite image of Arctic ice, taken June 30, 2010, shows the Nares Strait open and sea ice flowing through it. Normally Nares Strait remains plugged by an "ice arch" through early July, but this year it was clear by May.
© National Snow and Ice Data Center

New data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that ice in the Arctic Sea melted at record numbers for the month of June. Researchers worry that the ice will continue to melt at an increasing rate as current weather conditions mimic those of 2007, the year in which sea ice was at a record minimum. Arctic sea ice plays an important role in moderating climate, reflecting sunlight to keep the polar regions cool.

A report released July 6 from the NSIDC said that "in June, ice extent declined by 88,000 square kilometers (34,000 square miles) per day, more than 50% greater than the average rate of 53,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles) per day. This rate of decline is the fastest measured for June." The daily decline in ice is greater than the total area of Maine.

The numbers highlight the immense threat of current atmospheric conditions. June ice extent numbers are the lowest in satellite data records, from 1979 to 2010.

Within the report, the NSIDC cited "weather conditions, atmospheric patterns, and cloud cover" as playing lead roles in the melting ice. High winds, lack of cloud cover, and direct sunlight are combining to melt ice at faster and faster rates.

June also saw the summer Arctic dipole anomaly return. Last seen in 2007, this atmospheric pressure pattern contributes to increased ice melting via high, strong winds.

SOURCE: The National Snow and Ice Data Center.