Arctic sea ice shrinks to record levels

Space scientists have warned that 2020 Artic ice has shrunk 958,000 square miles below 1981-2010 average.

The Arctic

The Artic region reaches the most northern part of our planet. Home to huge stretches of cold tundra, temperatures oscillate between a numbing -43°C – +13°C. The boundary stretches south to encompass parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

There is no physical North pole, since there is no land here. The Arctic is made up of floating sea ice that changes seasonally. On September the 15th 2020, the ice reached its likely annual lowest. However, this year was no ordinary low. It logged the second lowest level of sea ice ever recorded. 1.44 million square miles of it, to be precise.

Rising temperatures

Unsurprisingly, the lower levels of sea ice correlate with warmer temperatures. In spring, the Arctic experienced a Siberian heat wave with temperatures soaring 8-10°C above average. This started the ice melt season early.

Nathan Kurtz, a NASA sea ice scientist spoke “The earlier the melt season starts, the more you generally loose.” As temperatures increase, the ice is beginning to not only shrink, but also thin out. Ice that has built up over many winters begins to diminish.

“The Artic tundra is one of the coldest biomes on Earth, and it’s also one of the most rapidly warming,” reports Logan Berner, global change ecologist. The increasing water temperatures and loss of ice are resulting in Arctic greening. Which is, an undeniable sign of climate change.

The ‘greening’ affect

As the polar climate warms, changes to the Arctic tundra have been observed. Landsat data from 1985-2016 has shown a ‘greening’ at 38% of tundra sites across Alaska, Canada and western Eurasia.

“This Arctic greening, we see is really a bellwether of global climatic change – it’s a biome-scale response to rising air temperatures,” said Logan.

Consequences

Arctic greening can mean an increase in plant growth and density. While this might sound good at first, it can have harmful consequences.

“When the tundra vegetation changes, it impacts not only the wildlife that depend on certain plants, but also the people who live in the region and depend on local ecosystems for food. While active plants will absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, the warming temperatures could also be thawing permafrost, thereby releasing greenhouse gasses,” reads an article from NASA Goddard Space Flight.

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