(Doug O'Harra/Alaska Dispatch, 4 April 2012) -- After growing to one of the biggest polar packs seen during the past decade, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean has officially maxed out for the winter and begun its slow, seasonal melt into another summer of retreat. “Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 18, after reaching an initial peak early in the month and declining briefly,” according to the newest analysis posted by the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). “Ice extent for the month as a whole was higher than in recent years, but still below average.” Driven by record-breaking floes in Alaska’s Bering Sea, and above average ice cover in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada, the ice cap averaged about 5.87 million square miles last month — the greatest March ice cover seen since 2008. The total was tempered by below-average ice cover in the Barents and Kara seas north of Europe and Russia (though the Kara rebounded somewhat in March), where temperatures remained 7 to 11 degrees F above normal. Only eight seasons have produced smaller March ice footprints in the Arctic during the 34 years of satellite coverage. [Follow title link to see] a chart making comparisons to several of those years, and another image showing the current status updated every day.
Posted 6 April 2012; 1:42:23 PM. Permalink