Arctic Sea Ice Is Struggling to Reform in Record-Hot Temperatures

2016 is not very chill.
November 14, 2016, 10:06pm

Although the year isn't over yet, it's "very likely" that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, the UN's weather agency said on Monday, beating the record set just the year before and the year before that. Arctic sea ice is feeling the damaging effects of all this heat.

The Arctic ice cover usually starts to reform in the fall and through the winter as temperatures cool in the Northern hemisphere. But the freeze-up isn't happening on its regular schedule, shows data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).


Read More: Inuit Are Embedding Sensors in the Ice Because It's Getting Dangerously Thin

"The autumn freeze-up has […] been much slower than normal," the UN's World Meteorological Association notes in a press release. "The sea ice extent as of the end of October is the lowest on record for the time of year."

According to a graphic posted by NSIDC on Sunday, which updates the state of ice covering the Arctic on a daily basis, the current level of sea ice is well below 2012 levels and the average between 1981 and 2010.

"In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Screengrab: NSIDC

The NSIDC notes that just a few weeks ago, in mid-October, sea ice levels were regularly hitting record lows before normalizing slightly in November.

Disappearing ice in the Arctic has already had some surprising effects. A massive luxury cruise liner, for example, recently sailed through the historically dangerously ice-choked Northwest Passage. Inuit peoples have also begun wiring up the thinning ice with sensors in order to stay safe. Polar bears are also going hungry, scientists believe, as shrinking ice diminishes their opportunities to hunt for food.

This year, like the Arctic, continues to be decidedly not chill.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.