Arctic sea ice reached record low level for May

Glacial melting off Greenland's northwest coast.

NASA/JPL

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports that May saw the Arctic sea ice recede to its lowest levels in 38 years. The figures are particularly bleak in that they set the stage for what could ultimately be the smallest Arctic sea ice extent ever.

While these numbers are still tentative given that the center used preliminary satellite data, the figures were backed up by other data sources. On its website, the center's researchers wrote that these below-average conditions have been pushed primarily by an abnormally sea ice retreat in the Beaufort Sea and warm air pockets flowing into the Arctic from northern Europe and eastern Siberia.

"We just didn't break the old May record, we're way below the previous one," Mark Serreze, the center's director, told Climate Central.

The center reported that May's average ice extent is about 224,000 square miles below the previous record-low for May that was set back in 2004. It is also 537,000 square miles below the long-term average from 1981 to 2010.

The NSIDC satellite and survey data revealed that ice thicknesses in parts of the Arctic aren't very different from those that were recorded in 2015, but what is shocking is that the entire Arctic region is thinner compared to the last five years.

These latest findings are in keeping with a year that has seen exceptional melting in the Arctic. Back in April, the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) reported that spring thaw would be coming earlier than normal. This was expected to bring a melt area that makes up 12 percent of Earth's northernmost ice sheet.

Those findings were so alarming, DMI climate scientist Peter Langen wrote in a blog post that he and his team had to check and see if their "models were still working properly."

Serreze stressed to Climate Central that what is being observed right now could be a prelude to even more examples of global warming's impact on Arctic ice melt throughout the remainder of the year.

"Will we end up with very low sea ice extent this September? I think pretty much absolutely," he added.

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