Published on 12 September 2017
This September, the extent of Arctic sea ice shrank to roughly 4.7 million square kilometres, as was determined by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Bremen and Universität Hamburg. Though slightly larger than last year, the minimum sea ice extent 2017 is average for the past ten years and far below the numbers from 1979 to 2006. The Northeast Passage was traversable for ships without the need for icebreakers.
The sea ice in the Arctic is considered a critical element in climate processes, and a valuable early-warning system for global warming. Accordingly, the September minimum extent is an important indicator of climate change. Despite an especially warm winter, the current extent of sea ice does not represent a new record low; nevertheless, the amount of ice loss is massive. As sea-ice physicist Marcel Nicolaus from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) explains, “This year’s sea ice extent is again on a very low level: the observed September value of the past eleven years has consistently been lower than in any of the previous years.”