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Arctic Sea Ice reaches its Annual Maximum Extent

March 26, 2013; 3:58 PM ET

It's unofficial, but it appears that the Arctic Sea Ice has reached its annual maximum extent, according to the folks at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

The latest (March 25, 2013) Arctic sea ice extent. Image courtesy of the NSIDC.

Arctic sea ice likely reached its annual maximum extent of 5.84 million square miles on March 15th.

This maximum extent was 283,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average and occurred five days later than the 1979-2000 average maximum date of March 10th.

This was the sixth lowest maximum on record. The ten lowest maximums in the satellite era have also occurred in the last ten years.

View of the latest Arctic sea ice extent (March 25, 2013). Image courtesy of the NSIDC.

Arctic sea ice also grew a record 4.53 million square miles this season. However, the main reason for this was the record low extent set back in September, which left a much greater area than normal to get covered by thin, first-year ice over the winter.

The increasing ratio of thin, first-year ice to thicker, multi-year sea ice could also lead to another dramatic loss of sea ice extent this coming summer. However, other factors such as cloud cover and prevailing wind direction will play a key role as well.

The image below from the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington shows the estimated sea ice volume in the Arctic during the five years with the lowest volume and also including this year. The black lime is the mean volume for the 1979-2012 period. Last year had the lowest volume on record.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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