CBS/AP March 22, 2017, 6:11 PM
The frigid top of the Earth just set yet another record for low levels of sea ice in what scientists say is just the latest signal of an overheating world.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado says the Arctic this month set a record low for winter peak sea ice area: 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers).
That’s about 35,000 square miles (97,000 square kilometers) — an area about the size of Maine — below 2015’s record. Last year had a shade more than 2015, but nearly a tied record.
This puts the Arctic in a “deep hole” as the crucial spring and summer melt season starts and more regions will likely be ice-free, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, which released the findings Wednesday.
“It’s a key part of the Earth’s climate system and we’re losing it,” he said. “We’re losing the ice in all seasons now.”
The record ice melt comes at the end of a season marked by unusually warm temperatures in the Arctic. During Christmas week, the North Pole soared to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, a weather pattern Paul Mayewski, professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, described as “remarkable.”
At the other end of the world, Antarctica, where sea ice reaches its lowest point of the year in March, also hit a record low mark. Antarctic sea ice varies widely unlike Arctic sea ice, which has steadily decreased.
The ice data center measures how wide sea ice extends based on satellite imagery. It’s harder to measure the thickness and overall volume, but data from the University of Washington show that as of late last month ice volume levels were down 42 percent from 1979, said polar science center chief Axel Schweiger.
A relatively new idea — that still divides meteorologists — links the shriveling ice cap at the North Pole to a weaker polar vortex and weak and ambling jet stream, which can mean more extreme weather for a good part of the rest of the world.
“Recent cold spells and big snowstorms that we have experienced over the past few winters have occurred when the polar vortex is weak,” top winter weather forecaster Judah Cohen, of the private Atmospheric Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, said in an email.