Warming temps drop Arctic sea ice to record low levels

Loss of ice leads to even more warming, and rising sea levels.

Warm temperatures in the Arctic region have resulted in the lowest amount of sea ice in the month of January since satellite technology began recording the levels, according to a discovery.com story.

The extent of the sea ice averaged 5.2 million square miles during January 2016, some 402,000 square miles lower than the average set from 1981 through 2010.  The previous low was recorded in 2011 and the 2016 measurement is about 35,000 square miles lower than that mark.  Researchers attribute the loss of sea ice to the regions around the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the East Greenland Sea in the Atlantic, and also the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Lower air pressures brought warmer than normal air to the Arctic regions, forcing the colder air southward and away from the area.  The result was an average January temperature that was 13 degrees above normal for the Arctic Ocean, according to numbers released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).  The agency said even after allowing to natural yearly fluctuations, the trend is evident that Arctic sea ice is in rapid decline, averaging 3.2 percent per decade.

The researchers also noted that Antarctic sea ice was also below average for the month of January, just one year after recording record high levels, but overall, sea ice in the Antarctic region is still on the increase, despite warming ocean temperatures surrounding the ice.

Some scientists believe the Antarctic ice gain is due to changing wind and water patterns, or possibly an increase in snowfall, but many think the melting freshwater glaciers in the area are refreezing on the sea surface on the edges of the continent.  Ice shelves, made from frozen fresh water, float on the ocean, although still connected to the shore.  As they melt and collapse, they add to the total volume of the ocean and increase sea levels.

Many are concerned the ice shelves are holding the ice sheets that cover Antarctica back from the sea, and should they collapse or melt away, the release of the massive land ice sheets could dramatically cause a rise in sea levels that could impact many coastal communities across the globe.

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