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DATE: May 23, 2017

SNIP: Sea ice this spring in the Chukchi Sea, off northwest Alaska, is breaking up and melting earlier and much more extensively than is typical for May. While small areas of open water in this region during mid-May are normal, it appears to be unprecedented in the satellite era to have this much open water north of 68°N latitude (Point Hope) at this time of year.

Why is this melt happening now? First, open water persisted in a large area in the western Arctic until mid-December. This was very unusual—possibly unprecedented—and it reduced the time available for ice growth by a month or more. Also, virtually no multi-year ice moved into the area from the northeast, as typically happened in decades past. Finally, the winter was exceptionally mild. Utqiaġvik (Barrow) recorded an average temperature for October through April of +5.4°F, the warmest winter in nearly a century of climate observations.