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By the end of June, daily ice volume loss escalated rapidly , falling to just 12, cubic kilometers 2, cubic square miles , which was cubic kilometers 25 cubic miles lower than June 30, , the previous record-holder. At the beginning of August, no ice remained in the waters around Alaska.

The closest remaining sea ice was then in the Canadian portion of the Beaufort Sea. This early ice loss has wreaked havoc on ecosystems and human systems in the northern Bering Sea region. For example, Southern Bering Sea fish species have come rushing north. Meanwhile, there have been reports up and down the Alaskan coast of non-spawning salmon showing up dead in rivers, which would be linked to warmer water temperatures.

More importantly, has shown that was no fluke, with sea ice extent and volume continuing to play tag with annual record lows, and threatening to go lower. This year demonstrates that the Arctic Death Spiral has not stalled, but remains underway.

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The Arctic is browning

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The average volume for July, for example, fell to 8, cubic kilometers 2, cubic miles , a new record low. Whether will set a new all-time extent or volume record at the September sea ice minimum remains to be seen, with ice extent shrinking less quickly since mid-August, possibly putting this year in second place, though certainly among the top five record lowest minimums.

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The big news this year was the relentless heat in the Arctic, with record heat waves over Alaska, Scandinavia and Greenland, resulting in massive glacial runoff into the sea. Wildfires were rampant, with reindeer and fish including salmon possibly adversely impacted by very hot air and water temperatures. Ice crystals appear on the sea's surface, and if the air is cold enough, the crystals expand to form a slushy mix, then a solid covering of ice that can thicken over time. Early observations of sea ice coverage in the Arctic come to us both from the oral histories of native populations and from the records of early European mariners who were seeking a "Northwest Passage" to the lucrative markets in Asia.

Plastic snow falling in the Arctic

For as long as humans have been keeping track, large areas of the Arctic Ocean have remained covered by sea ice throughout the year. The gold line is the median extent for half of years had smaller extents, half had larger. Earlier years are in shades of light blue; recent years are in dark blue. The daily extent line is in dark pink. NOAA Climate. However, over the past 40 years, the area covered by ice has shown a dramatic decrease.

Since satellite-based measurements began in the late s, data show a trend of more ice melting away during summers and less new ice forming during winters. On September 18, , the sea ice cover reached its annual summer minimum, tying with and for second-smallest on record: the area of the Arctic Ocean where sea ice concentration was at least 15 percent sea ice was 1.

In the early twentieth century, explorer Roald Amundsen took three years — to traverse the Northwest Passage. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, that passage has experienced relatively ice-free conditions multiple times, though it's not yet a dependable pathway for commercial ships.

The Northern Sea Route along the coast of Siberia has begun experiencing summertime sea ice declines that may transform it into a reliable shipping route. The opening of shipping lanes across the Arctic may provide shippers with viable alternatives to traveling through the Panama Canal or around the southern tip of South America. This new reality will have impacts not only on the environment, but also on the world economy and national security, as nations compete to gain rights to shipping lanes and newly accessible resources in the Arctic.


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Climate scientists are particularly concerned about the decrease of sea ice because its white surface reflects up to 80 percent of incoming sunlight, deflecting additional energy away from the planet. With less ice present, the dark surface of ocean water absorbs considerably more sunlight energy, leading to further warming of the atmosphere and more melting of ice, which leads to further warming Scientists are actively studying the effects of this positive feedback loop to help them understand and predict how the observed decrease in Arctic sea ice will affect the global climate system.

Sea ice concentration on March 17, —the maximum extent of the year—compared to the median winter maximums between gold line. Full story. These maps show the age of sea ice in the Arctic winter maximum ice pack in March left and March right. This animation tracks the relative amount of ice of different ages from through early November Seasonal ice is darkest blue.

Ice that is 9 or more years old is white. Video produced by the Climate.

Arctic Ice Is Crashing, and That’s Bad News For Everyone - VICE

Data processing by Hunter Allen. Editing by Bruce Sales. Clouds often obstruct the view and floes must be identified and marked by hand. The engineers used image-processing algorithms to remove clouds, sharpen details, and separate individual floes. They then used image analysis algorithms to map the movement of floes over a period of days.

The resulting ocean current maps were about as accurate as maps made using more labor-intensive traditional methods.

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Tracking sea ice will help scientists better understand the sources driving sea ice transport. The analysis will help researchers quantify how the interactions between ocean currents, climate, and sea ice have changed in the last two decades. This will ultimately improve ocean models, which for the most part, do not resolve at the scales necessary to study these interactions.

The rate at which ice spreads apart affects how fast it melts.


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  • Ice that rapidly spreads away from other ice melts more quickly than ice that stays close together, similar to how a handful of ice cubes in a glass of water will melt more slowly than a handful of ice cubes in a bathtub. This affects how fast and how much fresh water from the ice blends into the salty sea water, which in turn affects how the ocean current moves.