Record Lows for Arctic, Antarctic Ice Cover

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March 26, 2017

Ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic regions is a record low for this time of year, U.S. government scientists reported.

Reports from the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center showed ice caps of a size that is the smallest in the 38-year history of satelitte measurement. In this month, the ice sheet in the Arctic region is usually at its greatest size, NASA said; instead, reports showed a record low for winter. The figures for March 2017 total a span of 5.57 million square miles, a full 37,000 square miles below the previous record low, recorded in 2015.

Figures for the Antarctic region (which is finishing its summer season and so will have a minimum size) were similiar in size and scope, with reports showing a minimum of 815,000 square miles, a full 71,000 square miles lower than the previous record low, recorded in 1997.

Lower levels of sea ice can expose more of the ocean to sunlight. The darker (and warmer) ocean water will absorb more heat than the lighter (and colder) ice, leading to a warming of water temperatures. Such a warming in the Arctic region could lead to an acceleration of heating and melting of Greenland's massive ice sheet, which is already shrinking. Scientists estimate that the melting of the entire ice sheet of Greenland could raise global sea levels by 25 feet.

Similar low ice levels were reported for the Great Lakes region in January, as scientists reported the warmest temperatures for the region in 16 years. Lower ice levels in the Great Lakes and in other lakes means more evaporation of water and a corresponding subsequent water level. Scientists voiced concern for summer lake levels even after ice melts and even after recent storms and low temperatures.

Possibly not coincidentally, recent reports of world temperatures showed a third straight year of record-breaking heat.

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