It’s no surprise that the polar ice caps grow and melt depending on the time of year, but record global heat levels have resulted in significantly slower regrowth at the end of October.
At the end of last month, scientists recorded a mere 6.4 million square kilometers (2.5 million square miles) of sea ice. This is the lowest ever recorded figure for October months, falling below the 2012 average by 690,000 square kilometers (266,400 square miles).
Ice growth continues to remain hindered as sea surface temperatures in the Beaufort, Chukchi, Barents and Kara seas rose above average by about one third to as close to a half a degree Celsius hotter than usual. Temperatures in regions near the polar caps rose to as much as 8 degrees Celsius, making it difficult for ice to regrow.
Even though the stall in growth isn’t the end of the world (just yet), scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) are paying closer attention given the number of record high temperatures being recorded.
Researchers at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have also made mention of how thin polar ice has become.
In theory, when ice is formed at the poles, a thin layer is created each year. This layer melts away as warmer, summer temperatures approach and regrows during the winter time. However, not all the ice melts and the layer becomes thicker as those thin layers become consolidated with each passing year.
In the satellite imagery below, the white sections represent older ice layers, which are much thicker as a result of multiple years of thin layers stacking on top of each other.
Beyond that, the grey sections represent the thin layer that grows and shrinks depending on the time of year.
What is most concerning is that the center, thicker layer has significantly declined as increasing global temperatures make it harder for thinner layers of ice to regrow every year.
As the older segments melt away, they are unable to provide protection to the actual ice caps, resulting in more drift as each year passes by.
The video below shows a visual degradation of the thicker sections of ice between 1984 to now. Even though there was a lot of shift from 1984 to the end of 2005, the older sections generally held firm.
From 2006 onward, rising temperatures got the better of it, resulting in major segments melting and floating away into warmer climates. In the 1980s, old ice represented 20% of the sea ice cover, but that figure has dropped to a mere 3% at the end of this year.