When autumn falls on the Laptev Sea, which borders the northwest coast of Siberia, sea ice typically starts to form in vast quantities that flow into the Arctic Ocean over the winter.
But this year, for the first time on record, the Laptev Sea’s seasonal ice pack has not started to freeze by late October, reports The Guardian. The delayed production of sea ice in such a critical region is yet another dire omen of the climate crisis, and its disproportionate disruption of the Arctic.
“It is quite unusual how slowly the ice is forming this winter in the Eurasian sector,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, in an email. “Looking at the sea surface temperatures we can see that ocean temperatures are still several degrees above freezing and also that means the near surface air temperatures are also elevated.”
Normally, the Laptev Sea acts as an “ice factory,” Stroeve added, due to offshore winds that spur sea ice formation. But the rise in global temperatures, which is driven by human activity, has caused a decline in Arctic sea ice. This long-term trend of ice loss kicks off feedback loops that could ultimately accelerate the dangerous environmental changes occurring in the Arctic.
The delayed Laptev Sea ice is just the latest of several climate anomalies in the Arctic this year. The region logged its hottest temperature ever, topping 100°F in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk in June. Unprecedented heat-waves exacerbated a devastating wildfire season that released a record-breaking amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Last spring, the sea ice retreated earlier than usual, exposing Arctic Ocean waters to a prolonged dose of sunlight that is also “leading to warmer ocean temperatures and a delay in winter ice formation,” Stroeve said.
“It does show that while summer ice loss is remarkable, the departures from average conditions are starting to be larger in autumn (and sometimes also spring), so the spring/fall are also starting to become more anomalous,” she added.
Scientists think we will witness the first ice-free summer in the Arctic—an event that has not happened for tens of thousands of years—within the next few decades.