NASA calls Arctic sea ice decline 'new normal,' here's why
Saturday, August 20, 2016, 5:26 PM - While the Arctic's sea ice melt has slowed down after setting a record low extent in March, NASA says there are still no signs of recovery, calling low levels the "new normal."
Rapid ice loss continued through May due to record-breaking warm temperatures, however, there was a lull in June and officials say it is highly unlikely that 2016's summertime sea ice extent will set a new record.
"Even when it’s likely that we won’t have a record low, the sea ice is not showing any kind of recovery," Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said in a report. "It’s still in a continued decline over the long term. It’s just not going to be as extreme as other years because the weather conditions in the Arctic were not as extreme as in other years.”
“A decade ago, this year’s sea ice extent would have set a new record low and by a fair amount. Now, we’re kind of used to these low levels of sea ice – it’s the new normal.”
Meier uses a refrigerator door analogy to explain how Arctic Sea ice has dramatically declined over the past three decades.
"As we're losing the ice, as we've been seeing over the previous decades and especially in recent years, we're replacing that with the dark ocean that absorbs all that energy and the ocean heats up and the whole Arctic heats up, and basically it's like we're opening up the refrigerator door so the Arctic's cooling mechanism is becoming less and less efficient as we lose the sea ice," Meir told Reuters.
WATCH BELOW: NASA's climate summary, for 2016 so far, is really not looking all that good.
The Arctic is connected to the entire climate system and the region has the potential to change weather patterns across the globe, according to Meir.
"We're already seeing evidence of that in terms of how the jet stream is changing,” the sea ice scientist told Reuters. “It’s becoming less of a west to east flow and more of a loopy flow, kind of more north to south which leads to more extreme event things like droughts, torrential rains and flooding."
A strong cyclone in early August of 2012 caused an accelerated loss of ice and a similar storm is currently moving through the Arctic. However, it does not appear to be as strong as the cyclone that hit four years ago and ice conditions are less vulnerable compared to 2012.
"This year is a great case study in showing how important the weather conditions are during the summer, especially in June and July, when you have 24 hours of sunlight and the sun is high in the sky in the Arctic,” Meier said in the NASA report. “If you get the right atmospheric conditions during those two months, they can really accelerate the ice loss. If you don’t, they can slow down any melting momentum you had. So our predictive ability in May of the September minimum is limited, because the sea ice cover is so sensitive to the early-to-mid-summer atmospheric conditions, and you can’t foresee summer weather.”
Scientists measure the thickness of sea ice by using airborne instruments, research vessels and in time, satellite lasers will provide more complete answers.
"If we want to estimate mass changes of sea ice, or increased melting, we need the sea ice thickness," he said. "It's critically important to understanding the changes in the Arctic."