Weather and Natural Disasters

Arctic and Antarctic sea ice at record lows during unusually warm February

Icebergs that have newly calved from glacier fronts (Marguerite Bay, western Antarctic Peninsula).
Source: Alison Cook

Sea ice cover in both the Arctic and Antarctic reached record lows during an exceptionally warm February, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Both land and ocean surface temperature averages from December through February were the second highest they have been since measurements began in 1880, and were right behind the record setting temperatures observed in the same winter period of 2015/2016.

February itself was also the second warmest February on record, again, as measured in average land and sea surface temperatures, NOAA said.

In the Arctic, the lower levels of sea ice cover, known as sea ice extent, continues a longer-term trend of losses over the last several decades.

Average Arctic sea ice extent during February totaled more than 450,000 square miles — the smallest since record-keeping began in 1979, and 7.6 percent below the 1981-2010 average. Notably this is 15,400 miles less than the previous record, set in 2016, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Antarctic decline is also remarkable. In years past, the data indicated slight increases in sea ice. Now, the sea ice cover was almost 25 percent smaller — a full 290,000 square miles — than the 30-year average, and 60,000 square miles smaller than the previous record year of 1997.

Daily sea ice extent in the Antarctic reached a record low of 884,000 square miles on Feb. 13, and continued to drop from there to hit about 822,000 square miles by the end of the month.

However, snow cover for the Northern Hemisphere was slightly above the 1981-2010 average —though North America alone received less snow than the average, the vast Eurasian region received more snow than average, bringing up the total for the hemisphere.

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