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NASA says Arctic cyclone played "key role" in record ice melt

posted 21 Sept 2012, 09:18 by Mpelembe   [ updated 21 Sept 2012, 09:19 ]

Weather data collected by NASA suggests that this summer's record Arctic ice melt may have been partially due to a powerful cyclone that scientists say "wreaked havoc" on ice cover during the month of August. That data, collected between August 1 and September 13, has been turned into an animated sequence released by NASA this week.

An animated visualisation of weather data collected by NASA satellites over the Arctic between August 1 and September 13 indicates that a powerful Arctic cyclone may have been partially responsible for this year's record sea ice minimum.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Arctic sea ice melted to its record minimum of 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers)

on September 16, 2012.

The cyclone formed off the coast of Alaska and moved to the center of the Arctic Ocean on August 5, where it remained for several days. According to scientists at NASA, the churning winds weakened ice cover, cutting off a large section of sea ice north of the Chukchi Sea and pushing it south to warmer waters that made it melt entirely. It also broke vast extensions of ice into smaller pieces more likely to melt. In the animation, the strongest winds are represented in red, with the slower winds in blue.

Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says a similar storm decades ago would have had much less impact on the sea ice "because the ice wasn't as vulnerable then as it is now."

According to the NSIDC, this year's minimum was 293,000 square miles (760,000 square kilometers) below the previous record minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred on September 18, 2007.