The Nares Strait is the smaller of two passages that can funnel ice from that area toward the Atlantic.
The Fram Strait, on the east side of Greenland, carries “significantly more,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado — “But every little bit counts.”
And the loss of multi-year ice is already a chronic problem in the Arctic. It forms the heart of next year’s sea ice and provides habitat for whales, seals, and birds.
“It’s also playing a role to reduce the amount of heat the ocean can take in during the summer,” Moon said. If less ice is floating on the surface of the Arctic ocean, the dark-colored sea will absorb more of the Sun’s energy — “and of course, more heat in the ocean reduces our sea ice further, and we get a runaway effect.”
“Each of these small events adds up, and they’re not good news,” she added.
RELATED: Despite Debate, Estimates of Humanity’s Impact on Climate Change Are Accurate
This year’s event isn’t unprecedented: Something similar happened in 2007. But when that occurred, “that led to the largest flux of Arctic Sea ice through Nares Strait in at least the last 15 years,” Dyke said.
“Multi-year ice has been steadily declining over the last two decades, and this early break-up will surely destroy another large portion of it,” he said.
Since sea ice is floating in water already, its melting doesn’t add to sea-level rise — which a recent study suggests has accelerated dramatically since the 1990s. But the warming of the surrounding oceans is already starting to eat away at the miles of ice that cover Greenland.
Dykes was part of a 2015 expedition to study the Greenland’s massive Petermann Glacier, which overlooks the Nares Strait, and said that the loss of sea ice is starting to affect that structure.
RELATED: The Arctic Ocean May Soon Have Its Very Own ‘Garbage Patch’
Sea ice buttresses the glacier, keeping it from breaking apart. And there’s some evidence that less sea ice may result in warmer water making contact with the edges of the ice sheet, further eating away at it. In the last decade, the glacier has seen two calving events in which Manhattan-sized chunks of ice broke off into the ocean, and scientists are watching a new crack that has emerged this spring.
“You can think a bit about it as a canary in a coal mine,” Dyke said. “It’s almost the most northerly glacier in the whole of Greenland, so if there are changes happening up there, you can be sure that the rest of Greenland is feeling those effects as well.”
WATCH: A Rare Look Inside the Arctic Doomsday Seed Vault