Arctic temperatures were at a record high in January, and sea ice extent for the normally ice-packed month was at an all-time low, within a time span that “saw the greatest departure from average of any month on record,” the Washington Post reports.
New data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies showed that Arctic temperatures were 4°C/7.2°F higher than the average for 1951 to 1980. While the warming was a global phenomenon, “the record-breaking heat wasn’t uniformly distributed,” the Post notes. “Things get especially warm, relative to what the Earth is used to, as you enter the very high latitudes.”
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Sea ice extent was one million square kilometres (400,000 square miles) below the January average.
“We’ve looked at the average January temperatures,” said National Snow and Ice Data Center Director Mark Serreze, “and it was, I would say, absurdly warm across the entire Arctic Ocean.” At an altitude of just over 900 metres (3,000 feet), temperatures were more than 6°C/13°F above average.
The extreme heat has continued into February. Scientists attribute the phenomenon to a combination of factors.
“We’ve got this huge El Niño out there, we have the warm blob in the northeast Pacific, the cool blob in the Atlantic, and this ridiculously warm Arctic,” Rutgers University climate researcher Jennifer Francis told Mooney. “All these things happening at the same time that have never happened before.”
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