Age of Arctic Sea Ice, 1983-2011. Data on ice age show that coverage of the oldest, thickest ice types (ice four years or older) has declined over the past 28 years. National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy J. Maslanik, C. Fowler, and M. Tschudi, U. Colorado Boulder

Why did ice extent fall to a near record low without the sort of extreme weather conditions seen in 2007? One explanation is that the ice cover is thinner than it used to be; the melt season starts with more first-year ice (ice that formed the previous autumn and winter) and less of the generally thicker multi-year ice (ice that has survived at least one summer season). First- and second-year ice made up 80% of the ice cover in the Arctic Basin in March 2011, compared to 55% on average from 1980 to 2000. Over the past few summers, more first-year ice has survived than in 2007, replenishing the younger multi-year ice categories (2- to 3-year-old ice). This multi-year ice appears to have played a key role in preserving the tongue of ice extending from near the North Pole toward the East Siberian Sea. However, the oldest, thickest ice (five or more years old) has continued to decline, particularly in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Continued loss of the oldest, thickest ice has prevented any significant recovery of the summer minimum extent. In essence, what was once a refuge for older ice has become a graveyard.

Summer 2011: Arctic sea ice near record lows



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