There are approximately 3 weeks left in the Arctic sea ice melt season and ice coverage has now dropped to 2.03 million square miles only .38 million square miles more than the record minimum reached in September 2007. There is still a reasonable chance that the extent of this year’s melt will surpass last years, even though surface temperatures have dropped. The water under the ice continues to be warm and the much of the ice is thin.
After last year’s record melt, there had been speculation that this year’s melt would not be so severe, particularly given that winter sea ice had grown back more than usual. However, last years melt was of thicker older sea ice, and the new ice that formed last winter is thinner and more vulnerable. The melt pattern has been interesting because for many weeks this year’s melting lagged last year. However, now, rather late in the ice-melt season, the pace has quickened.
Animation from European Space Agency
Many scientists are now concerned that an irreversible tipping point is being reached:
“We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point,” said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the [National Snow and Ice Data Center] in Boulder, Colo. “It’s tipping now. We’re seeing it happen now.”
Within “five to less than 10 years,” the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally.
“It also means that climate warming is also coming larger and faster than the models are predicting, and nobody’s really taken into account that change yet,” he said.
Overall, the picture of what’s happening in the Arctic is getting worse, said Bob Corell, who headed a multinational scientific assessment of Arctic conditions a few years ago: “We’re moving beyond a point of no return.”
With less and less ice at the poles, less solar radiation is reflected back into space causing other parts of the planet to warm faster.