Hawaii & Alaska
NASA Earth Observatory

'Extreme' lack of sea ice, fall heat mark 2018 weather

A stunning shortage of Bering Sea ice in spring and record warmth in autumn marked what scientists say will be one of the warmest years recorded in Alaska, raising questions about everything from the future of commercial fishing to new agricultural opportunities.

Alaska's most "extreme" 2018 climate event was the lack of Bering Sea ice, growing only to half its previous lowest size, in 2001, said Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

That had consequences in Western Alaska coastal communities, causing winter flooding in villages usually ringed by protective sea ice, and raising risks for people hunting on iffy ice, or by boat instead of snowmachines.

"It is absolutely unprecedented," said Thoman. "We've seen nothing like it" in records extending from modern satellite data back to whalers' logs in the 1800s.

The limited ice, coupled with high sea surface temperatures and a mildly warm atmosphere, ensured that 2018 will be one of the five warmest years in Alaska history. The state averaged about 30.1 degrees statewide, Thoman said, based on a preliminary estimate.

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