Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the lowest levels since record-keeping began in 1979. Scientists say the new measurements indicate a fundamental change in the Arctic's sea ice coverage.
Here at the top of the world, the news that Arctic sea ice has reached a new low — the smallest footprint since satellites began measuring it three decades ago — is not much of a surprise.
The Arctic seas off the Alaska coast have been increasingly ice-free in recent years. On Monday, the gray, wind-driven surf churned vigorously along the northern coast, with no sign of ice anywhere under the low, fog-shrouded skies.
But it has been a strange summer here. Until a few weeks ago, there was more ice spread across the near-shore waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas than anyone can remember for the last several years — a curse for the engineers waiting to begin plumbing oil wells into the sea floor, but a blessing for Inupiat hunters, who have had an unusually easy time catching seals from ice floes close to home.
“It really seemed kind of like it was back in the days when the ice was like it used to be,” said Nayuk Leavitt, a Barrow resident who works on one of Shell Alaska’s oil spill response crews.
But the late-lingering near-shore ice in Alaska, now in full retreat, was not representative of what is going on most everywhere else in a gradually melting Arctic, scientists say. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to 1.58 million square miles, the lowest expanse recorded since satellites began taking measurements in 1979.