First Alert Weather In-Depth: Arctic ice is shrinking

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There is some new data that came out from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) over the last couple of weeks that analyzes Arctic sea ice. Specifically, they are looking at the overall coverage, the age and the longevity of that ice.

But how do they get that data from such a remote location? NASA uses polar orbiting satellites to help reach their conclusions. This satellite takes a very small slice of the Earth which produces a high resolution image. These images go back to the 1970s and the data appears to be pretty reliable. I want to emphasize that they are not looking at the glacial ice sheets such as Greenland. What they are looking at is floating ice right over the Arctic Ocean.

This is measured in the month of September because this is the culmination of maximum heating for the previous summer season and it makes for a more consistent comparison from year to year. In charting the data over the years, the amount of the coverage did drop off slowly before the turn of the last century and the percentage of loss was overall rather small. But as we go through the last few decades, the percentage of ice drops off more significantly over the last 20 years.

In summary, there are a couple of things to highlight. First, we have 45 years of record keeping on this satellite data. Ideally, we would prefer to have more data to analyze over a longer time period. That would obviously add to the confidence level. Second, this year was the sixth lowest ice extend on record. Third, on average, ice coverage in the Arctic is dropping at the rate of almost 13% per decade.

So, no matter where you fall on the science of climate change, this data certainly warrants further discussion.