GREENBELT, Md., Arctic melting slowed enough in midsummer that scientists don’t expect this year’s sea ice minimum to set a new record. Yet, the latest sea ice data collected by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center suggests a dire state of affairs.
Sea ice in the Arctic shows no signs of significant recovery, researchers say. Instead, this year’s sea ice minimum offers a glimpse of the “new normal.”
“It’s still in a continued decline over the long term,” Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at Goddard, said in a news release. “A decade ago, this year’s sea ice extent would have set a new record low and by a fair amount. Now, we’re kind of used to these low levels of sea ice — it’s the new normal.”
Melting was on another record-setting pace during the spring and early summer, but a large cold and cloudy low pressure system brought low temperatures to the Arctic through much of June, slowing melting.
Warmer weather in August has once again accelerated melting, but researchers don’t expect melting as dramatic as last year.
Researchers say the last two years of melting show how much sea ice loss is dictated by weather patterns during June and July.
“If you get the right atmospheric conditions during those two months, they can really accelerate the ice loss,” Meier explained. “If you don’t, they can slow down any melting momentum you had.”
Currently, NASA relies on sea ice cover to track melting trends. Researchers are working on new techniques to measure ice thickness.
Scientists are hopeful that the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, will improve their ability to measure sea ice thickness when it launches in 2018. Until then, researchers will have to rely on research vessels or submarines to make direct measurements.
“If we want to estimate mass changes of sea ice, or increased melting, we need the sea ice thickness,” concluded Thorsten Markus, Goddard’s cryosphere lab chief. “It’s critically important to understanding the changes in the Arctic.”