Arctic sea ice near record lows: National Snow and Ice Data Center
The sea ice cover on the NW Passage also at record lows
Arctic sea ice extent will likely reach its lowest point for the year sometime during the next two weeks, and may yet set a new record low in 2011.
Whether a new record low is set hinges on three factors, says the National Snow and Ice Data Centre:
• how much heat remains in the ocean to eat away at the ice edge and bottom;
• whether wind patterns will blow the ice together and reduce ice cover or spread the ice apart and expand ice coverage; and,
• how thin the remaining ice cover is because thin ice quickly melts away when it is surrounded by warm water.
What’s already known is that last month Arctic sea ice extent — that is, how much of the Arctic Ocean is covered by ice — reached the second lowest level for the month from 1979 to 2011.
“If ice stopped declining in extent today, it would be the second-lowest minimum extent in the satellite record,” the NSIDC stated Sept. 6.
Both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea route appear to be open, the Colorado-based center said.
And sea ice in the Northwest Passage also stands at record low levels.
Sea ice is now almost completely gone from the Northwest Passage channels, with the exception of a small strip of ice across a stretch of the Parry Channel, the NSIDC said.
According to the Canadian Ice Service, sea ice extent in the western Parry Channel has now reached the lowest at this time of year since record keeping began in 1966. Very little multi-year ice remains.
Throughout August, sea ice extent was near the record lows of 2007, underscoring the continued decline in Arctic ice, the NSIDC said.
Average sea ice extent for August was 5.52 million square kilometres, 160,000 sq. km above the previous record low for the month, set in August 2007, and nearly one-third below the average from 1979 to 2000.
Sea ice coverage remained below normal everywhere except the East Greenland Sea. In addition, several large areas of open water opened within the ice pack.
Although the decline of sea ice extent slowed somewhat during August, the ice retreated at a faster pace than average.
Air temperatures were one to four degrees Celsius higher than average from1981 to 2010 over the Arctic Ocean, with the strongest increase over the Northwest Passage region, the NSIDC said.