Scientists with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) say the amount of Arctic sea ice has set a record low for the month of January.
The Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center tracked the lowest ice extent ever for the month of January in its satellite record during what it called “a remarkably warm month,” where Arctic sea ice spanned 13.53 million square kilometres.
That’s more than a million square kilometres below ice extent averages NSIDC has tracked over the last 30 years.
The record-low ice extent was driven by unusually high air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean — more than six degrees Celsius above average.
The NSIDC also noted low ice coverage in parts of the Arctic in January, including the Barents Sea and the East Greenland Sea.
Ice conditions remained near average, however, for regions around Baffin Bay, the Labrador Sea and Hudson Bay, although the centre tracked less ice than usual in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, considered an important habitat for harp seals.
While climate scientists have said El Niño is largely to blame for the unusually high air temperatures seen this winter, the NSIDC suggested January’s high temperatures were likely related to Arctic Oscillation (AO), an opposing pattern of pressure between the Arctic and the northern middle latitudes.
While the AO was in a positive phase for most of the autumn and early winter, it turned strongly negative beginning in January.
How the AO and El Niño are linked remains an active area of research, the NSIDC said.