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Arctic Deeply: New May record for arctic sea ice

June 20, 2016 — 

Arctic sea ice coverage has fallen below average for this time of year; a new record-low was recorded in May 2016. This has left many wondering if summer sea ice will hit a new low. Arctic Deeply writer Hannah Hoag interviewed U of M researcher David Barber about this recent trend.

“There have been a lot of dramatic events going on in the Arctic this year,” said Barber. Warm air over the Arctic in December, the opening of the Arctic ice pack through the winter, storms and the strong El Niño have all weakened the sea ice. “This has been a year-long phenomenon,” he added.

So far, the area of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean is more than 1 million square kilometers smaller than in May 2012. In that record year, the sea ice melt accelerated in June. It will take a cloudy and cold summer to keep a record-breaking year at bay.

Arctic sea ice plays several roles in the global climate system. Its bright white surface reflects some of the sun’s heat back into space and keeps the heat stored in the ocean out of the atmosphere. When it retreats in the summer months, the dark ocean water absorbs more heat. In the winter, when the Arctic is dark, open areas of water release heat from the ocean and this warms the atmosphere.



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