Arctic sea ice hits a record low, second year in a row

NASA declared January this year as the warmest month, displacing last year's record. It wasn't just living creatures, however, who were affected by the heat. Unsurprisingly, the volume of ice in our polar regions, particularly the Arctic north, were drastically affected as well. While frozen seawater normally expands during the fall and winter months, NASA has measured the Arctic sea ice area at 5.607 million square miles. While that may still sound big, it's slightly lower than that 5.612 million square miles from last year, making it the lowest recorded number since 1979.

Various factors contribute to this shrinking sea ice mass. For one, it simply follows the record highest temperatures from December to February that affected the whole globe, including the Arctic. Temperatures at the edges of the Arctic ice packs, where ice is thinnest, was recorded to be 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average.

Increasing atmospheric heat, however, isn't the only cause. Increasing ocean temperatures are also preventing sea ice from expanding further down south that it used to. Although the actual reach of sea ice border varies yearly, scientists have noted a consistent downward trend in the last few years. NASA started recording the sea ice coverage via satellite in 1979 and, since then, the area has lost 620,000 square miles. The maximum losses were recorded in the past 13 years.

Arctic sea ice plays an important role in keeping the entire planet cool. It reflects solar energy that would have otherwise been absorbed by our oceans, causing temperatures to rise further. This is especially true in summer, when the sun shines directly on the Arctic. In winter, however, the loss of sea ice is felt more in the warmer atmosphere.

The slightly good news is that the current wintertime number may not exactly result in a lower summertime number as well. At least, depending on how the summer turns out this year. Summer weather conditions impact sea ice differently though with larger implications. Warm temperatures will naturally make the ice melt faster but, if we get a cooler summer, the melting will be slower.