Alaska’s Bering Sea Lost a Third of Its Ice in Just 8 Days

In just eight days in mid-February, nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast disappeared. That kind of ice loss and the changing climate as the planet warms is affecting the lives of the people who live along the coast.

At a time when the sea ice should be growing toward its maximum extent for the year, it’s shrinking instead—the area of the Bering Sea covered by ice is now 60 percent below its average from 1981-2010.

“[Bering sea ice] is in a league by itself at this point,” said Richard Thoman, the climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska region. “And looking at the weather over the next week, this value isn’t going to go up significantly. It’s going to go down.”

In places like Saint Lawrence Island, where subsistence hunting is a way of life and where there are no land mammals to hunt, thin ice can mean the difference between feeding a family and having to worry about where the next meal will come from.

The Arctic is often referred to as the world’s refrigerator—cool temperatures there help moderate the globe’s weather patterns. This winter, which has seen deep freezes at lower latitudes while temperatures have soared in the North, it seems like the refrigerator may have come unplugged.

The last two years were the Arctic’s warmest on record as the region continued to warm at about twice the global average.

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