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Arctic Sea Ice Has Hit Its Annual Maximum

April 4, 2014

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, John Bateman

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Scientists recently announced that the Arctic`s sea ice is showing signs of its annual melt, after hitting its maximum extent around the vernal equinox, March 21.

That is a little later than normal for the melt, which is typically around March 9, but despite the delayed start, the maximum was well-below normal. In fact, this year`s maximum ice cover was the fifth smallest on record, since satellites have been monitoring it from the late 1970s.

How extensive was the ice? This winter it hit a maximum of about 5.7 million square miles, which is much smaller than the maximum of 6.4 million miles in 1979, but still more than the all-time low of 5.5 million square miles set back in 2006.

The reason for the later-than-normal melt off this year appears to be caused by a late-season surge of unusually low sea level pressure across the Arctic and North Atlantic, which helped to spread the ice out over a larger area. It wasn`t due to air temperatures though, as those remained well-above the 30-year average during the last weeks of March.

Meanwhile, at the other side of the Earth, the Antarctic ice field usually hits its low point during the Southern Hemisphere`s summer. In 2014, the ice cover hit its minimum in late-February, with an extent of around 1.4 million square miles. Despite the fact that the Antarctic sea ice coverage tends to be more variable than the Arctic, it still was the fourth largest coverage of sea ice on record.

Scientists believe that climate change is what`s affecting the North and South Pole ice fields, but data appear to show that it has different impacts on sea ice in the Arctic versus Antarctic.

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Data thanks to NOAA and the National Snow & Ice Data Center

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Story image: This handout photo provided by NOAA, shows Arctic sea ice in 2013. The Arctic isn`t nearly as bright and white as it used to be because of more ice melting in the ocean, and that`s turning out to be a global problem, a study finds. AP Photo/NOAA

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