Sea ice in the North Pole freezes to its maximum size at the end of the winter in March, and thaws to its smallest size in September. Over the last week decades, sea ice has began to shrink drastically in both seasons in trend that is linked to man-made climate change.
On March 17, the sea ice reached its maximum of 14.6 million square kilometers (5.6 million square miles) according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center NSIDC. This total amount falls just behind 2017 as the lowest maximum ice in recorded history.
The final reading for the winter ice is roughly one million square kilometers, about the size of Egypt and bigger than Texas, is well below the long-term average maximum.
A big focus of research in the last decade is being put towards the shrinking Arctic sea ice during the summer as it is allowing new shipping routes to open up between the Pacific to the Atlantic and allows new oil and gas exploration in areas that would have been inaccessible before.
Now that researchers are seeing a significant decrease in winter ice, more is being discovered of the impact it has, especially in areas such as the Barents Sea north of Russsia and Norway which is beginning to resemble the Atlantic ocean.
One such example of that is the Shtokman natural gas field. Up till the 1980s, the area was covered by ice but is now an accessible area to develop more drilling for gas.
The warming winters in the north are also expected to impact winters further south. Researchers suspect that Arctic warmth can disrupt the high altitude jet stream and send blasts of gridig air such, resulting in more winter storms such as the “bomb cyclone that struct the eastern United States.
The melting and warming of our polar caps will have a significant impact on our environment going forward and there is still a lot we don’t know. One thing that is certain though, we will se this impact unfold right before our eyes as we are seeing change happen at a rapid pace.