According to a recent report by National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic Sea ice hits record low level this year, averaging 1.53 million square kilometers.
The sea ice extent observed by satellites was much lower than the 1981-2010 average of 402,000 square miles. Experts believe that this situation was caused by high air temperatures travelling over the Arctic Ocean and a powerful negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during the first few weeks of January.
There was a record low sea ice extent noticed in the Kara Sea, the Barents Sea and the East Groenland Sea over the Atlantic side and a slightly low average extent in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotosk.
Just as troubling were the reports from Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay, the Labrador Sea and the Gulf of St. Lawrence (which is home to an important harp seal population).
Temperature reports around the Arctic region show that January was a particularly warm month for this area, with air temperatures hitting 6 degrees higher than the average during this season.
According to NSIDC, the Arctic Oscillation remained in a positive phase throughout autumn and the beginning of winter, but then in January it all changed, with the climate phase turning into a strong negative.
Existing data shows that the previous low record registered for this region was in 2011 and the one before that was in 2006. Even though 2006 and 2011 did not experience any record summer lows, they both followed years that did.
It is interesting to note that before 2005, every January extent happened to be above 14.25 million square kilometers, whereas after 2005 every monthly extent for January was below this average.
The Arctic Ocean represents a significant point of focus for many countries, due to its potential viability as a commercial lane for merchant ships. Governments are already considering the prospect of using it as a shortcut between China and northern Europe. It is no wonder that this option is taken under consideration, seeing as the travel times would be much shorter and merchants could save up to 40% in fuel costs.
This means we could be just a few short years before we start seeing official trades between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via this northern sea route. Nevertheless, as we continue to experience unexpected climate changes and unsafe ice conditions, the Arctic Institute suggests that all of this will only be possible in the early 2040s.
Image Source: Noaa.gov