Artic Sea Ice Melt Reaches Second Lowest Level Ever Recorded

On thinning ice - has the Arctic passed a tipping point?Arctic sea ice reached its minimum for this season on September 12th, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), covering 1.7 million square miles, not quite breaking last years’ sea ice melt record of 1.6 million square miles, the lowest Arctic sea ice cover ever recorded.

Despite not breaking last year’s record melt, Dr. Walt Meier, a research scientist at NSIDC, says that this season enforces the overall negative trend, since cooler temperatures prevailed this year largely due to La Nina conditions in the Pacific. Meier told BBC News:

I think this summer has been more remarkable than last year, in fact, because last year we had really optimal conditions to melt a lot of ice. We had clear skies with the Sun blazing down, we had warm temperatures, and winds that pushed the ice edge northwards. We didn’t have any of this this year, and yet we still came within 10% of the record; so people might be tempted to call it a recovery, but I don’t think that’s a good term, we’re still on a downwards trend towards ice-free Arctic summers.”

The persistent retreat despite cooler conditions indicate last year was “no fluke”, as Joseph Romm states in his blog ClimateProgress, that

…human-caused global warming has become a major — if not the dominant — driver of long-term Arctic sea ice decline, which in turn could rapidly accelerate the destruction of a livable climate.”

arctic sea ice extent through sept. 2008

Before last year’s record ice melt, models projected an ice-free summer in the Arctic wouldn’t occur before the end of the century, but after the record retreat last year and then another near-record melt this year (despite cooler conditions in the Arctic), projections are at best an ice-free Arctic in summer by 2040, with some predicting it could happen within five years.

To my mind that’s a bit aggressive, but certainly not impossible,” said Dr Meier. “Five years ago that would have got someone laughed out of the room; but no-one’s laughing now”

Dr. Meier added:

We’re kind of in a new state of the Arctic basically, and it’s not a good one. We’re definitely sliding towards a point where the summer sea ice will be gone.”

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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