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article imageThe sea ice near Alaska's shores has all melted due to heatwave

By Karen Graham     Aug 9, 2019 in Environment
July 2019 now stands as Alaska’s hottest month on record, the latest benchmark in a long-term warming trend with ominous repercussions ranging from rapidly vanishing summer sea ice and melting glaciers to raging wildfires.
On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its monthly climate report for July, officially declaring that Alaska's statewide average temperature rose to 58.1 degrees Fahrenheit (14.5 degrees Celsius), 5.4 degrees above normal and almost one degree above Alaska's previous hot month record.
More troubling is the fact that July was the 12th consecutive month in which average temperatures were above normal nearly every day, said Brian Brettschneider, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, tweeted: “Alaska waters now completely clear of sea ice as last ice in the Beaufort Sea offshore Prudhoe Bay melted away. The closest ice to Alaska is now about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Kaktovik.”
This event does not mean the sea ice won't return. The ice should return in the fall as the Arctic moves away from the sun and the temperatures start to drop again. Alaska has seen a complete ice melt before, just two years ago. However, it has never happened this early before, reports Reuters.
Thoman noted that "It's cleared earlier than it has in any other year." And the melting sea ice is not confined to Alaskan waters. Greenland and Siberia have also seen record melting due to various heatwaves, with Siberian forests experiencing a rash of wildfires, still going on this week.
Professor Peter Wadhams from the University of Cambridge said: “At this time of year ‘normally’ (ie 30 years ago) there would be sea ice in southern Alaska waters, but, more importantly, sea ice across the north coast of Alaska leaving only a narrow slot between ice and land for ships attempting a northwest passage."
“The latest shrinkage is part of an Arctic-wide phenomenon which is leading towards an ice-free summer as the future norm,” he said, according to the Independent.
Record low sea ice extent
Arctic sea ice extent for July 2019 set a new record low of 7.59 million square kilometers (2.93 million square miles). The monthly average extent was 80,000 square kilometers (30,900 square miles) below the previous record low set in 2012 and 1.88 million square kilometers (726,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
Copernicus Sentinel data shows a number of fires  producing plumes of smoke. The smoke has carried a...
Copernicus Sentinel data shows a number of fires, producing plumes of smoke. The smoke has carried air pollution into the Kemerovo, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Altai regions. (July 28, 2019)
European Space Agency
There is another factor that plays a role in ice melt. The dark soot from wildfires deposited on the highly reflective snow and ice surfaces, darkens the reflective surface, allowing more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed. Since the beginning of June, over 100 large wildfires have been observed over the Arctic, including Alaska, Greenland and Siberia.
Besides the loss of sea ice impacting local economies and communities along Alaska's coastline, the impact of no ice is affecting the Pacific walruses population. Normally, walrus females perch on ice floes and dive for their food while nursing their newborn calves.
With no ice in sight, thousands of walruses have been crowding onto the Chukchi Sea shoreline. This event occurred earlier this year than at any time in the past, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials. Beach crowding can be dangerous to these large tusked mammals.
Aerial view of walrus haul-out at Point Lay  Alaska on Sept. 28  2014.
Aerial view of walrus haul-out at Point Lay, Alaska on Sept. 28, 2014.
Screen grab
However, walruses are not the only marine mammals suffering through the hot Alaska summer. So far this year, 32 dead gray whales have been found n Alaska waters this year. Carcasses of seabirds are littering the beaches for the fifth straight year in a row, and thousands of salmon, apparently overcome by the heat before getting the chance to spawn, have been found floating dead in rivers and streams around western Alaska.
More about Alaska, July heatwave, Sea ice, Arctic sea ice, Climate crisis
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