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Arctic Sea Ice Volume on Thin Ice

By Climate Central,

Volume of Consequences

While extent is a traditional measure of sea ice, volume is also important. The lowest volume estimated this year was less than 36 percent of the 1979 minimum. Even though the annual minimum usually happens in mid-September, ice had already reached its 5th-lowest annual volume on record at the end August. Climate models suggest that by the end of the century, volume will decrease twice as fast as the extent.

Sea ice melt impacts local and global temperatures in a feedback loop. When the global temperature increases, Arctic ice melts faster. As this ice melts, less sunlight is reflected back to space, leading to more absorption of solar energy into the ocean and atmosphere, further increasing global temperatures. There is research showing that Arctic warming could lead to both oceanic and atmospheric changes in circulation, while also having devastating impacts to Arctic communities and their way of life.

Recent Arctic Ice Trends

  • This year’s Arctic sea ice minimum was about 700,000 square miles (2.5 times the size of Texas) below the 1981-2010 normal.
     
  • Last February, Arctic sea ice hit its lowest maximum extent on record, and this September it hit the fourth lowest minimum extent on record.
     
  • September Arctic ice thickness is down 85 percent since 1975.
     
  • Since the 1980s, old sea ice (multi-year ice) has decreased considerably. Arctic sea ice that is older than 5 years has decreased from over 30 percent of the total ice pack to only 8 percent today.