Throughout the year, the Arctic Ocean and nearby seas have withstood notable weather and climatic events that provoked the rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice.

2013 Daily Arctic Sea Ice from AMSR2 May - September 2013 STILL IMAGE
(Photo : NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio AMSR2 data courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). / Wikimedia Commons)
A still image of the Arctic sea ice on September 12th, 2013 when the sea ice reached the annual minimum extent of 5.22 million square km.

What is the Arctic Sea Ice?

Put merely, sea ice is frozen seawater formed in both the Antarctic and Arctic that floats on the ocean surface. It often retreats in the summer but does not completely fade. 

On the other hand, glaciers, icebergs, and ice shelves originate on land and float in the ocean throughout most of the year and are typically covered in a blanket of snow. 

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sea ice covers approximately 25 million square kilometres of the Earth. Because most of us do not live in polar regions, many live without ever seeing sea ice. 

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Why is Sea Ice Important?

Although sea ice does not directly affect human civilization, it is a critical component of our planet. Not only does it influence the climate, but it also has effects on wildlife and those that live in the Arctic.

Because of its bright surface, sea ice helps reflect sunlight into space. This results in much of the sea ice-covered areas having minimal solar energy absorption and low temperature.

Sea ice is also responsible for ocean water movements. 

With the impending threats of climate change and the warming of temperatures, more sea ice is projected to melt over time, resulting in the disruption of the melting and freezing cycle of the Arctic sea ice.

Decline of the Arctic Sea Ice

According to NASA's Earth Observatory, the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas have endured severe weather and climatic conditions throughout the year.

By the end of the summer of 2020, Arctic Ocean ice melted to the second-lowest minimum extent ever recorded. At the same time, the annual replenishing and freeze-up had a slow start.

Over 40 years of satellite imaging shows that 2020 was only the latest addition in a decades-long decline of the Arctic sea ice.

In a study published in IOPScience, polar scientists Dirk Notz and Julienne Stroeve outlined the drastic changes. In addition to shrinking sea ice coverage and longer melting seasons, the sea ice is also losing its longevity.

According to the study, the longer melting seasons are due to the increasingly early spring melting and later starts of the autumn freeze-up. The data map shows that from 1979 to 2019 every decade, the Arctic Ocean ice freeze-up is late by a week.

Despite the drastic changes and the lingering decline of the Arctic sea ice, summers are still not entirely free from ice.

Experts are hopeful that there is enough time to understand sea ice fully and possibly stall or overall reverse the effects of climate change.

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