When it comes to climate change and warming temperatures on a global scale, one of he canaries in the coal mine has always been the Arctic and Antarctic ice. These cold regions of the planet have withstood the changes in temperature that seemed to be impacting other parts of the planet for a long time, but now they are starting to feel the impact of warming conditions as well. Case in point, the sea ice in the Central Arctic basin, which melts off during the summer and like clockwork begins to reform in the autumn and winter. But this year, that isn’t happening and it could be a harbinger of the further impact of climate change.
The Central Arctic basin is a stretch of the Arctic Ocean that covers an area of about 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million sq. miles). Typically by late August, this section of frigid water has usually reached its lowest point of the year in terms of the amount of ice that is found in that region. Warm temperatures throughout the spring and fall causes the ice to retreat to a degree before temperatures begin heading the other direction late in the summer and the ice rapidly starts to regenerate. That isn’t happening this year and usually warm weather is to blame.
At the moment, temperatures over the high Arctic have been hovering around 18ºF (10ºC) above their normal readings for this time of year. That is preventing the ice from forming and filling in this large area as it has typically done in the past. According to meteorologists, a massive high pressure front that stretches across Alaska all the way to the North Pole is keeping the warmer temperatures in place, This is having an adverse effect on the regrowth of the ice. But climatologists are also quick to point out that ocean temperatures are also warmer than usual, which isn’t something that changes quickly with the weather. That is the result of years of climate change slowly bringing water temps up. The two factors –– warming oceans and an Arctic heatwave –– are stalling out the ice growth.
According to historical records, the Arctic sea ice is at its second lowest point ever recorded for this time of the year. Back in 2007, conditions were also warmer there and the ice failed to regenerate as quickly as it should. If the heat wave moves on and temperature return to normal, the growth of the ice should pick up again. Just how much of it will rebound remains to be seen and of course it could have an impact on anyone who is considering skiing to the North Pole early next year. I know of at least one or two such expeditions that are in the planning phases, but the lack of ice could make such a journey all but impossible.
Again, this isn’t solely the work of climate change, as a massive weather front is playing its part too. But, clearly the warming ocean temperatures are having an impact on the Arctic. Hopefully this is just an anomaly, although as more and more data continues to mount, it is starting to look more like a trend.
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