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The Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice

The 28th edition of UNEP’s Foresight Brief looks at the global ecological, climate, economic and geopolitical implications of the loss of Arctic sea ice. The Arctic is a remote and sparsely inhabited area. It is connected to the rest of the world by our climate system, the atmosphere surrounding our Earth and by global ocean currents. Since satellite measurements started 40 years ago, about half of the sea ice area in the Arctic has been lost. The shrinking summer sea ice cover is a visible manifestation of global warming, and affects marine ecosystems, ocean circulation, and potentially weather events further south of the Arctic.

Small remnants of thicker, multiyear ice float with thinner, seasonal ice in the Beaufort Sea | Credit: NASA/GSFC/Alek Petty
Small remnants of thicker, multiyear ice float with thinner, seasonal ice in the Beaufort Sea | Credit: NASA / GSFC / Alek Petty

The Arctic, with the most fragile of ecosystems, is a hotspot of climate change. A visible sign of change is the steady retreat of the sea-ice cover since the 1970s. A video by NASA with the annual Arctic sea ice minimum between 1979 - 2020 with area graph, in which satellites have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer, the Arctic ice cap melts to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. This visualization shows the expanse of the annual minimum Arctic sea ice for each year from 1979 through 2020, with a graph overlay. In 2020, the Arctic minimum sea ice covered an area of 3.36 million square kilometers.

This visualization shows the expanse of the annual minimum Arctic sea ice for each year from 1979 through 2020 as derived from passive microwave data. A graph overlay shows the area in million square kilometers for each year's minimum day. Changes in Arctic sea ice can potentially affect other regions through altered weather patterns and ocean circulation. An ice-free Arctic is creating new business opportunities, political challenges, and threats to the ecosystems and local communities.


Download the emerging issue of The shrinking Arctic Sea Ice published by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The shrinking Arctic Sea Ice
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*The content is provided for information purposes only. This article is re-published from: https://www.unep.org/resources/emerging-issues/shrinking-arctic-sea-ice.

*Video Credits: https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/155/video-annual-arctic-sea-ice-minimum-1979-2020-with-area-graph/ - NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA / GSFC).

*Comments: Scientific Visualization Studio.




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