The Breakup

  • Released Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:52PM
  • ID: 11238

Visualizations can give the impression that the Arctic ice cap is a continuous sheet of stationary, floating ice. In fact, it's a collection of smaller pieces that constantly shift, crack and grind against one another as they are jostled by winds and ocean currents. Especially during the summer, but even during the height of winter, cracks can open up between pieces of ice. That's what was happening during February and March 2013, when extensive fracturing took place in the Beaufort Sea. A series of storms passing over central Alaska intensified the cracking, but the age of the sea ice involved also played a role. The area was covered almost completely by thin, first-year ice, rather than older and sturdier ice because of the ongoing retreat of Arctic sea ice associated with climate change. Watch the video to see a time-lapse view of the breakup from images taken by the Suomi NPP satellite.

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NASA's Earth Observatory