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Arctic sea ice coverage second lowest in decades

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2020 at 6:23 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - It’s not only time to celebrate fall by placing decorations around and about, digging up those coats and boots and finding that tasty candy corn, but the period around the autumnal equinox is also something called the Arctic Sea Ice Minimum.

The Minimum is the time of year when the sea ice coverage is at its lowest as the arctic region transitions from the full-sunshine of summer into the dark months of winter.

There have been changes with this minimum over the last several decades, according to scientists. The amount of ice around the Ice Minimum coverage has dropped from 7.05 million square km in 1979 to 3.57 million square km in 2012 according to NASA.

Despite some slight gains in ice coverage after 2012, the coverage dropped to 3.74 million square km for the 2020 minimum according to NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This year’s measurement, released on Monday, showed that it was the second-lowest amount in the 42-year satellite record.

Human-induced climate change is to blame as the global temperature increases while greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, continue to climb. The melting in the Arctic is expected to increase as the water and the air continue to heat up. Also, as the lighter-colored ice melts, this leaves the darker-colored water in place. The lack of sunlight-reflecting ice creates a feedback loop of continuous warming and melting of the Arctic water.

It’s important to note that the melting of the ice on the water will not raise sea levels, but ice from the land (e.g. Greenland) will help increase levels.

As for the weather patterns, some scientists argue that the lack of temperature contrasts between the Arctic and the lower latitudes would make jet streams weaker, wavier and slower moving. The slower moving jet streams would keep extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts in a location for a longer period of time. But there is still debate over the topic as some researchers have yet to show a clear pattern of causation when running model simulations. For instance, one paper published in 2020 noted that they found a lower influence in the mid-latitudes and a greater impact in the higher latitudes. The research on this topic continues.

But the planet continues to warm, and there is a chance that the Arctic could be essentially ice-free by the end of this century.

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