If you happen to be oblivious to the fact that the calendar claims it is almost Thanksgiving but the weather doesn’t agree, you can count yourself lucky. However, if you are among the many people who know first hand that something must be happening to the planet—because it is just so darned hot when it shouldn’t be—then you may very well be concerned over the fact that temperatures in the Arctic are ten degrees higher than normal for this time of year. More importantly, the Arctic sea ice, a key indicator for the overall health of the system, is responding to the heat accordingly.
On Nov 19, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the extent of Arctic sea ice was approximately one million square kilometers lower than it was on the same date from the most recent low year on record: 8.633 million (sq km) today versus 9.504 (sq km) in 2012. By the next day—November 20—the gap had increased again: 9.632 million sq km in 2012 to 8.625 million sq km, this year.
“I think that it’s fair to say that the very slow ice growth is a response to the extreme warmth (still ongoing as of today),” explains Mark Serreze, who is the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “Over the past few days, extent has actually decreased in the Arctic, and while I don’t think that such a short term decline is unprecedented for this time of year, it is highly unusual, for November is a month when we normally see a quite rapid ice growth.”
The whole of the data set goes back all the way to 1979.
Unfortunately, things look equally poor at the other pole, too: Antarctica.
Serreze goes on to say, “Why Antarctic extent is also very low right now is something we are still puzzling over. However, there’s really no connection between the extreme mutual anomalies in the two hemispheres that we are aware of. We have to wait and see what happens. Having said this, things are getting weird in the polar regions.”
While the Arctic shifts make more sense, the decline in Antarctic sea ice continues to puzzle scientists, particularly because floating Antarctic sea ice pushed upwards of record highs only a few years ago.