The latest sea ice data are out, and they aren’t pretty. Here’s the latest:
- Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center believe that Arctic sea ice reached its smallest extent for this year on September 9, at 4.33 million square kilometers. If this is the case, the only year since 1979 with less ice was 2007, but they note that if wind conditions change, the area covered by ice may still shrink.
- The University of Washington’s Polar Science Center Arctic ice estimates, which measure volume of ice rather than area, find that this year’s minimum extent is the smallest on record (since 1979), with August sea ice volume at less than half the recorded average.
- NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center has announced that globally this August was the eighth hottest since 1880—and when measuring only land temperatures, August 2011 was the second hottest on record.
The sea ice data in particular are drawing a lot of attention because sea ice maintenance affects weather patterns around the globe, melting ice contributes to warmer oceans and rising sea levels, and unusual ice patterns can wreak havoc on the lives of native humans and animals, particularly polar bears, which can drown, and walruses, which can starve.