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Ice, ice data

The current of youth

The oldest sea-ice is about to be pushed out of the Arctic Ocean

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The age of sea ice is about to take a great leap backward. Monthly sea-ice data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, a Colorado-based research outfit, finds that while the amount of the oldest sea ice remaind unchanged between March 2016 and March 2017, its movement over the past 12 months suggests that ocean currents will push it into the Atlantic Ocean sometime this summer (maps above and at right).

Once it does, the proportion of first-year ice will increase. As the overall volume of sea ice has shrunk in recent decades the proportion of this youngest ice has grown, to as much as 70%, or a near doubling since the mid 1980s (see graph at right).

The age of sea ice is important for scientists, since it gives a picture of its thickness, which is itself an indicator of how resilient it is to warmer air and water temperatures.

SEE RELATED: Young and thin (and that’s no compliment)

The amount of old ice (formed at least five years ago) has declined precipitously since the 1980s, when it made up about a third of all sea ice. Today, is is less than 5%. The share of four-year ice has also declined, while second and third-year ice has remained constant.

In March 2106, according to the NSIDC, most of the oldest sea ice was concentrated in two parallel bands, north of Alaska and Canada. By this March, the ice had clustered north of the coast of Greenland. Prevailing ocean currents are expected to carry this ice into the Greenland Sea, along the eastern coast of Greenland.

In addition to its forecast on the movement of sea ice, the NSDIC also reports that a string of record or near-record lows extending back to October continued in April, which matched the previous record for the month, set last year.

According to the NSIDC, April saw above-average temperatures on the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean, western Alaska and eastern Siberia while cooler than normal conditions prevailed over much of northern Canada and Greenland.

Sea ice began its summer melting season on March 7. The winter extent this year was the lowest ever recorded.