We’re witnessing the fastest decline in Arctic sea ice in at least 1,500 years

The Arctic Ocean once froze reliably every year. Those days are over.

Arctic sea ice extent has been measured by satellites since the 1970s. And scientists can sample ice cores, permafrost records, and tree rings to make some assumptions about the sea ice extent going back 1,500 years. And when you put that all on a chart, well, it looks a little scary.

In December, NOAA released its latest annual Arctic Report Card, which analyzes the state of the frozen ocean at the top of our world. Overall, it’s not good.

“The Arctic is going through the most unprecedented transition in human history,” Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic research program, said at a press conference. “This year’s observations confirm that the Arctic shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen state it was in just a decade ago.”

The report, which you can read in full here, compiles trends that scientists have been seeing for years. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. And 2017 saw a new record low for the maximum sea ice extent (i.e., how much of the Arctic ocean freezes in the coldest depths of winter).


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