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Arctic Sea’s Low Levels of Ice to Impact Climate

The sea ice floating in the Arctic has seen one of its lowest years ever, with the fifth lowest ice cover since satellite records began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Data from the center that was published last week shows that the winter ice cover reached its peak on March 6, and will continue to shrink as the Northern Hemisphere warms up towards summer.

The ice extent on the day of the peak was 5.64 million square miles, around 398,000 square miles short of the 1981–2010 average maximum. For comparison, this year’s ice was below average by an area larger than the entirety of Egypt.

Arctic sea ice is ice floating in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, Canada and northwest Europe. The ice in the Arctic fluctuates naturally with the seasons, shrinking in the warmer summer months to reach a minimum in September around 50 percent the size of the winter extent, before growing in the colder winter.

In recent years, however, the sea ice in both the winter and summer months has been shrinking. The 10 lowest maximums have all occurred since 2006, and the past 16 years (2007 to 2022) have seen the 16 lowest minimums, according to the NSIDC. This is thought by some to be due to the summer melting season growing increasingly longer over the past few decades due to climate change, heating up the oceans more and therefore allowing less ice to form in the subsequent winters.

“Low minimums are typically seen as more important than low maximums because the minimums are directly tied to how much multi-year ice survived in a given year in the Arctic,” Nathan Kurtz, a sea ice scientist who leads the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA Goddard, said in a NASA Earth Observatory statement. “The long-term trend towards lower minimums means an overall loss of multi-year ice, which has significant impacts on the climate.”

The NSIDC reported that the lowest recorded ice maximum occurred on March 7, 2017, with only 5.56 million square miles of ice, followed by the second-lowest in 2018 where 5.59 million square miles of ice was measured. The third and fourth lowest years were 2016 and 2015, which measured in at 5.6 and 5.61 million square miles of ice, respectively.

This mimics the trends seen in ocean temperatures as a result of climate change, with NASA data showing that there is an upwards trend over the past few decades. According to its data, 2020 and 2016 were the hottest years on record, and 2022 was the ocean’s warmest recorded year.

Meanwhile, the sea ice provides habitats and crucial support to vast numbers of species, ranging from polar bears and seals to fish and sea birds. Without the ice, there could be devastating effects on the Arctic ecosystem.

The sea ice levels have already dropped 77,000 square miles since the maximum on March 6, having primarily lost ice in the Labrador Sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Barents Sea, according to the NSIDC.

The amount of ice present in the summer months is also decreasing, and is shrinking by 12.6 percent per decade, according to NASA. One study published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment on Monday has found that it’s likely that the summer months may see sea ice disappear entirely from the Arctic, and soon.

“Climate models have suggested that summer sea ice in this region will melt in the coming decades, but it’s uncertain if it will happen in 20, 30, 40 years, or more. This project has demonstrated that we’re very close to this scenario , and that temperatures only have to increase a little before the ice will melt,” Christof Pearce, an assistant geosciences professor at Aarhus University in Denmark and co-author of the paper, said in a statement.

He added: “The study is a wake-up call, because we know that it will happen. This news is not making the situation more depressing, just more urgent. We have to act now so we can change it.”

Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about Arctic sea ice? Let us know via

The sea ice floating in the Arctic has seen one of its lowest years ever, with the fifth lowest ice cover since satellite records began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

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