Watch a Time-Lapse of Arctic Ice Rapidly Melting Over the Last 27 Years

Arctic Sea Ice
The extent of ice that withstands multiple years of summer thaw has been reduced to wisps. NOAA/

The top climatologists in the country recently confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. But what's often underemphasized in discussions of rising global average temperatures is just that: They are an average. The poles, one must remember, are warming much faster than the rest of the world. As dire as the average warming trends appear, the news is always worse for the Arctic, and for its ice.

Since the 1980s, the amount of perennial ice in the Arctic has declined. This animation tracks the relative amount of ice of different ages from 1987 through early November 2014. The oldest ice is white; the youngest (seasonal) ice is dark blue. (NOAA)

This video published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday is an animation of data from the last 27 years of Arctic sea ice data. One important way to track the effect of warmer oceans on sea ice is to look at the extent of older ice each winter. Every winter, sea ice fills nearly the whole Arctic Ocean basin, and each summer, much of it melts. The shrunken ice pack moves in a looping formation through the Beaufort Gyre. The ice that manages to survive one summer in this gyre without melting tends to be thicker, making it more capable of surviving consecutive summers.

"Around the start of the 21st century, however, the Beaufort Gyre became less friendly to perennial ice. Warmer waters made it less likely that ice would survive its passage through the southernmost part of the gyre," NOAA explains. "Starting around 2008, the very oldest ice shrank to a narrow band along the Canadian Arctic Archipelago."

As one can see, the extent of the oldest ice (ice that has lasted four years or more, shown in white) has significantly dropped off since the 1980s, shrinking until it comprises a few wisps. The newest ice, or "first-year ice," is shown in darkest blue. According to NOAA, four-year or older ice comprised 26 percent of the ice pack in the 1980s. By March 2014, it had shrunk to just 10 percent.

NOAA notes that during the 2013-2014 season, the extent of perennial sea ice rose. But despite the short-term recovery, the long-term trend for perennial sea ice "continues to be downward."