Arctic Sea Ice Missed a Record Low This Winter. Barely.

Arctic sea ice behaves a bit like a human waistline, packing on weight in the winter and slimming down in the heat of summer. But while many of us struggle to lose weight, the Arctic has been struggling to gain it.

The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice cover this winter was the second-lowest since satellite record-keeping began, researchers said Friday.

The loss of sea ice is a bellwether of global warming, suggesting that climate change is not just something to worry about far off in the future: It is here.

“We’ve probably known for 100 years that as the climate warms up in response to loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, we would see the changes first in the Arctic,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which issued the new data. “This is what we expected and this is exactly what has happened. It’s a case where we hate to say we told you so, but we told you so.”

With each passing decade, the ice grows a bit less in winter, and melts a bit more in summer. The record for the least amount of sea ice gained in the winter was set last year, when the ice covered 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers) at its peak. This winter’s maximum extent was slightly greater, at 5.59 million square miles (14.48 million square kilometers), according to the data center.

Despite the small increase this year, the downward trend in winter ice coverage is unmistakable, and the past four years have been the four lowest on record.

Maximum Winter Sea Ice Extent

The disappearing sea ice is a key indicator of a warming Arctic. And the consequences of a warming Arctic can be felt further south. A growing number of researchers are linking the changes up north to unusual winter weather in North America and Europe.

In recent weeks, the Northeastern United States faced four nor’easters in as many weeks, and Western Europe encountered subzero temperatures that were far lower than at the North Pole.

These weather patterns are influenced by the jet stream, the river of wind that encircles the Northern Hemisphere, said Jennifer A. Francis, an Arctic researcher at Rutgers University. Temperature differences between the Arctic and the lower latitudes help create the jet stream. Because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth, that temperature difference is getting smaller. As a result, the jet stream is getting weaker and shifting its behavior, sending cold air south from the Arctic and pumping warm air north.

The weakening jet stream also helps keep weather patterns locked in place, Dr. Francis said. “We’ve been in this pattern along the East Coast that is very conducive to the formation of nor’easter-type storms,” she said. “Part of the reason for that is because we’ve had this pattern in the jet stream that’s been so persistent.”

Dr. Francis’s theory is not settled science, Dr. Serreze said. Other researchers have posited that changes in ocean currents in the tropical Pacific are the source of the recent weather events in the midlatitudes.

“But I would say that the weight of evidence is resting on the side of a significant Arctic influence,” Dr. Serreze said.

The loss of Arctic sea ice should concern everyone, he added. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he said.

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Op-Docs: Arctic Boyhood

I started making documentaries by shooting fragments of my family’s life on their farm, in the snow-covered mountains of Jura, in eastern France. My fascination with documenting rural, snow-covered and remote worlds on film is what led me to Greenland.

I first visited Greenland in 2015. That was when I met Julius, a villager who guided me through the five villages around Tasiilaq, which with around 2,000 inhabitants is the largest town on Greenland’s east coast. It quickly became obvious I would focus my film on Julius’s own village, Tiniteqilaaq. The village has only around 60 inhabitants and is isolated from the rest of the world by ice for about nine months every year. Over the course of the next year, I spent several months there and learned to share the lifestyle of its inhabitants: I went hunting and fishing with the men, shared family dinners of seal and narwhal, and attended baptisms and funerals. Little by little, I was accepted by Julius’s friends and family. After all, we shared more in common than it might have seemed: Since I come from a village of 250 in Jura, there is nothing less exotic to me than a village half that size.

Ultimately, I wound up using my time in Julius’s town to make my fourth feature film, “A Polar Year,” from which this short documentary is adapted. Just as my feature film traces the village’s life over one year, through the changing seasons and rhythms of life and death, for this short I followed one of its young residents during the routine of a single day.

The result is a portrait of Asser Boassen, an 8-year-old Tunumiit boy who wants to become a hunter. Like many children of his village, Asser has not been raised by his biological parents. Instead, he lives with his grandparents, Thomasine and Gert Jonathansen. In many ways, Asser’s daily life as a young boy, fed by the hunting tradition passed on by his grandfather and by the mythical stories told by his grandmother, represents challenges many in modern Greenland are navigating. When Asser turns 12, he will have to leave his village to attend middle school in the city, far away. When he returns to his village, he will be 16, effectively an adult, and uprooted from the traditions and knowledge he spent his childhood absorbing from his grandparents. Across the country, Inuit children are torn between two conceptions of education, one rooted in their native identity and the other imposed by a globalized world — knowledge that is essential for navigating that very world. The outcomes are often problematic. But for now Asser is just a child dreaming to become a great hunter. As great as Qajaarngaa, the mythical hunter who triumphs in Asser’s grandmother’s tale.

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Both Climate Leader and Oil Giant? A Norwegian Paradox

While Norway wants to wean its own citizens off fossil fuels, it remains one of the world’s biggest petroleum producers and is revving up exports.

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Trillions of Plastic Bits, Swept Up by Current, Are Littering Arctic Waters

The scientists sampled floating plastic debris from 42 sites in the Arctic Ocean aboard Tara, a research vessel that completed a trip around the North Pole from June to October 2013, with data from two additional sites from a previous trip. They scooped up plastic debris and determined the concentration of particles by dividing the dry weight of the plastic collected, excluding microfibers, by the area surveyed.

Almost all of the plastic, measured by weight, was in fragments, mostly ranging from 0.5 millimeters to 12.6 millimeters. The rest of the plastic appeared in the form of fishing line, film or pellets. This mix of plastic types is roughly consistent with the kinds of plastic that collect in the subtropical gyres, though those parts of the ocean amasses a higher concentration of fishing line.

The researchers did not find many large pieces of plastic, nor did they find much plastic film, which breaks down quickly, suggesting that the plastic has already been in the ocean for a while by the time it gets to the Arctic.

If the plastics were coming directly from Arctic coastlines, it would mean that people in the sparsely populated Arctic were depositing many more times the plastic in the ocean than people in other parts of the world, which is unlikely. Shipping is also relatively infrequent there and, the authors write, there is no reason to think that flotsam or jetsam in the Arctic would be so much higher than in other parts of the world.

The lesson from the study, Dr. Cózar Cabañas said, is that the issue of plastic pollution “will require international agreements.”

“This plastic is coming from us in the North Atlantic,” he said. “And the more we know about what happens in the Arctic, the better chance we have” of solving the problem.

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