Arctic Sea Ice Is ‘Well Below Average’ for November
Sea ice on both sides of the Arctic Ocean was well below average in November, according to an update released Wednesday by the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
According to the center, sea ice covered 3.9 million square miles of the Arctic Ocean at the end of November—an area 351,000 square miles smaller than the 1981–2010 average extent, although 89,000 square miles greater than 2006’s record-setting low.
“At the end of the month, extent was well below average in both the Barents Sea and the Bering Strait regions,” the center reported. “Extent was above average in eastern Hudson Bay, but below average in the western part of the bay.”
The low growth of winter sea ice is a continued signal that climate change is rapidly transforming Arctic conditions, which are important drivers of climate and weather conditions around the northern hemisphere.
Sea ice is also crucial to the survival of polar bears, narwhals, ice seals, and other species. U.S. federal wildlife officials declared polar bears a threatened species in 2008 because of diminishing Arctic sea ice and gave similar protections to populations of Arctic bearded and ringed seals in 2012.
The Pacific walrus is also being considered for endangered species protection. For the past several years, the walruses have been turning up in unprecedented numbers during early autumn on shorelines around the Chukchi Sea, in Alaska and Russia, as the loss of Arctic sea ice forces them to come to land.
Above-average air temperatures above the region contributed to the slow growth of winter sea ice, reported the snow and ice data center. “The area north of the Barents Sea, between Svalbard and the Taymyr Peninsula, was unusually warm, at 11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit above average,” the agency noted, and two to seven degrees above average in other parts of the Arctic.
The absence of sea ice around Svalbard this fall could affect the region’s pregnant polar bears, which need the ice to reach traditional denning sites in the archipelago’s eastern islands. University of Alberta biologist Andrew Derocher, a polar bear expert, noted in a tweet that it could affect their hunting as well:
Correction Dec. 2, 2015: An earlier version of this article misstated the difference between the area of Arctic sea ice in November 2015 and the area in November 2006. The 2015 extent was 89,000 square miles greater than the 2006 extent, which set a record low.