Every spring, the expansive pack of sea ice that coats the Beaufort Sea during the winter starts to thin and break up when the spring sunlight arrives and temperatures rise. Normally, that breakup does not reach full swing until late May. In 2016, much of the Beaufort Sea’s ice started breaking up by mid-April.
“It really is quite remarkable,” noted Walter Meier, an ice specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There is always fracturing of the ice, but it seems to have become more prevalent and more widespread in recent years. This region used to be mostly multi-year ice, which is quite a bit thicker. Now, most of the Beaufort is seasonal, first-year ice. The thinner ice is weaker and more easily broken up by the winds.”
In 2016, unusually warm temperatures during the first few months of the year set the stage for the…
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