… but being an alarmist, I choose to view it as bad news:
The pace of sea ice loss sharply quickened in the past ten days, triggered by a series of strong storms that broke up thin ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Amundsen’s historic Northwest Passage is opening up; the wider and deeper route through Parry Channel is currently still clogged with ice.
Overview of conditions
Arctic sea ice extent on August 10 was 6.54 million square kilometers (2.52 million square miles), a decline of 1 million square kilometers (390,000 square miles) since the beginning of the month. Extent is now within 780,000 square kilometers (300,000 square miles) of last year’s value on the same date and is 1.50 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.
Conditions in context
Ice extent has begun to decline sharply. The decline rate surged to -113,000 square kilometers per day on August 7 and as of August 10 was -103,000 square kilometers per day. This compares to the long-term average decline of -76,000 square kilometers per day for this time of year. Normally, the peak decline rate is in early July.
Many of the areas now seeing a rapid retreat saw an early melt onset (see July 2, 2008); this helped set the stage for rapid retreat (July 17 and April 7). However, the more fundamental issue is that these regions started the melt season covered with thin first-year ice, which is especially vulnerable to melting out completely. Thin ice is also vulnerable to breakup by winds; the last ten days have seen a windy, stormy pattern that has accelerated the ice loss.
Opening of Amundsen’s Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage that Roald Amundsen navigated with great difficulty starting in 1903 is opening for the second year in a row, as shown in the AMSR-E sea ice product from the University of Bremen (Figure 4).
The most recent operational analysis from the Canadian Ice Service and the U.S. National Ice Center on August 8 showed a small section of Amundsen’s historic path still blocked by a 50-kilometer (31-mile) stretch of sea ice, although that should melt within the next few days.
Amundsen’s route requires sailing through treacherous narrow and shallow channels, making it impractical for deep-draft commercial ships. The more important northern route, through the wide and deep Parry Channel, is still ice-clogged. The northern route opened in mid-August last year; it may still open up before the end of this year’s melt season.