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Published: Mon, December 12, 2016
Science | By Carlton Santiago

Sea Ice Hit Record Lows In November


One data point that the extent numbers don't touch is the loss of old, thick ice in the Arctic.

The center also reports each fall the yearly minimum low for Arctic sea ice. As the ice-covered area collapses, more and more meters-thick ice that's been there for years begins to melt, and the mass of ice in the Arctic sea becomes even lower.

The first one suggests a proportional decline in sea ice and the population of polar bears.

In addition, as a greater area of the Arctic Sea turns from white ice to darker water, less light and heat gets reflected back into space.

Combined, the extent of polar sea ice on 4 December was about 3.84 million sq km below the 1981-2010 average, according to NSIDC satellite measurements.

Here's some perspective from NOAA ice experts via the piece from Oliver Milman at the Guardian.

Air temperatures almost 20 degrees below normal, driven by consistent winds out of the south, combined with already warm water temps to keep the Arctic ice at bay. The paper, published September 14 in The Cryosphere, is the first to quantify the sea ice changes in each polar bear subpopulation across the entire Arctic region using metrics that are specifically relevant to polar bear biology. This more than doubles the previous record low for the month of November.

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"There are some really insane things going on", said Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, saying temperatures in parts of the Arctic were 20 degrees Celsius above normal some days in November.

The 26,000 polar bears on Earth are classified as "vulnerable" under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

The Washington Post's Chris Mooney further elaborates. The world's largest bear is constantly threatened to disappear especially with the melting of the Arctic sea ice. In fact, there was even a super anomalous period during the month when it actually shrank, "an nearly unprecedented occurrence for November over the period of satellite observations", says the center. Extending from northeast of Greenland towards Svalbard and Severnaya Zemlya, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) were up to 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for the month.

In contrast, Antarctica's behavior is more mysterious.

NSIDC scientists said unusually high temperatures over the Arctic Ocean, persistent winds from the south, and a warm ocean worked together to drive the record low Arctic extent.

For the last few decades, Antarctic sea ice has experienced a growth trend due to shifting wind and oceanic currents.

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