Each year at the end of the warm season, falling temperatures cause ice to form atop Arctic waters and spread ever more widely during winter. The geographic extent of this ice typically reaches a maximum in the first or second week of March. After that, warming temperatures inexorably cause it to shrink until a minimum is reached, typically in September.
But this year, February saw the third lowest extent of Arctic sea ice for the month and by 25 February the ice had stopped expanding and had begun shrinking.
In fact, between the 25th and March 7th, sea ice coverage shrank by 175,000 square kilometers, or 67,568 square miles. That’s slightly smaller than Washington state.
There’s still a faint hope that more ice may still form.
In 2012, and 2014, Arctic sea ice rallied during much of March, growing in extent past the usual peak. And it’s entirely possible that this will happen over the next few weeks. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Scientists predict that Arctic summers could be completely free of sea ice within the next 20 or 30 years.
Related report: US Navy prepares for an ice-free Arctic.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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