Arctic Sea Ice Coverage Area at New Low

Arctic Sea Ice At Record Minimum Ahead Of Melt-back Season

8/25/2012 6:55 AM ET
(RTTNews) - On 22 August 2012, even before the expected season for minimal sea ice, Arctic sea ice coverage was less than it was in 2007, the year of the greatest sea ice melt-back on record. Minimal sea ice usually occurs in September just before the Arctic begins to cool again, as the sun passes through equinox.

The rapid melt-back this year is probably due to anomalous weather patterns over the Arctic which have brought temperatures one to three degrees above the decadal averages for 1981-2010, UNESCO said in a press release. As in previous years the Arctic Sea is opening up on the Atlantic side, north of Scandinavian countries and Russia. During the first weeks of August the ice has opened the NE passage along the coast of Russia.

Arctic sea ice extent on August 13 was 5.09 million km². This is 2.69 million km² below the 1979 to 2000 average extent for the date, and is 483,000 km² below the previous record low for the date, which occurred in 2007. Average monthly Arctic sea ice extent data shows a clear deceasing trend since 1979.

Based on data collected and disseminated by the Arctic Regional Ocean Observing System (Arctic ROOS) and by national observing efforts, information about the extent of the Arctic sea ice is reported every few days, providing an early warning of changing conditions in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic ROOS is part of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) led by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), which is the overarching coordination tool to observe, model and analyze marine and ocean variables worldwide. The concept of a global ocean observing system grew from the realization that understanding and forecasting climate change would require a long-term, multivariate ocean observing system. The data the system yields are used to provide accurate descriptions of the present state of the oceans, including living resources; continuous forecasts of the future conditions of the sea for as far ahead as possible, and the basis for climate forecasts.

The Arctic sea ice area is expected to continue decreasing until September. Other updated observation data may be accessed daily from the Arctic ROOS website.

by RTT Staff Writer

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Arctic Sea Ice To Reach A Record Low Within Days
John Vidal , The Guardian | Aug. 24, 2012, 11:25 AM | 1,738 | 34



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Arctic sea ice is set to reach its lowest ever recorded extent as early as this weekend, in “dramatic changes” signalling that man-made global warming is having a major impact on the polar region.

With the melt happening at an unprecedented rate of more than 100,000 sq km a day, and at least a week of further melt expected before ice begins to reform ahead of the northern winter, satellites are expected to confirm the record – currently set in 2007 – within days.

“Unless something really unusual happens we will see the record broken in the next few days. It might happen this weekend, almost certainly next week,” Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, told the Guardian.

“In the last few days it has been losing 100,000 sq km a day, a record in itself for August. A storm has spread the ice pack out, opening up water, bringing up warmer water. Things are definitely changing quickly.”

Because ice thickness, volume, extent and area are all measured differently, it may be a week before there is unanimous agreement among the world’s cryologists (ice experts) that 2012 is a record year. Four out of the nine daily sea ice extent and area graphs kept by scientists in the US, Europe and Asia suggest that records have already been broken. “The whole energy balance of the Arctic is changing. There’s more heat up there. There’s been a change of climate and we are losing more seasonal ice. The rate of ice loss is faster than the models can capture [but] we can expect the Arctic to be ice-free in summer by 2050,” said Stroeve.

“Only 15 years ago I didn’t expect to see such dramatic changes – no one did. The ice-free season is far longer now. Twenty years ago it was about a month. Now it’s three months. Temperatures last week in the Arctic were 14C, which is pretty warm.”

Scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute, the Arctic Regional Ocean Observing System in Norway and others in Japan have said the ice is very close to its minimum recorded in 2007. The University of Bremen, whose data does not take into account ice along a 30km coastal zone, says it sees ice extent below the all-time record low of 4.33m sq km recorded in September 2007.

Ice volume in the Arctic has declined dramatically over the past decade. The 2011 minimum was more than 50% below that of 2005. According to the Polar Science Centre at the University of Washington it now stands at around 5,770 cubic kilometres, compared with 12,433 cu km during the 2000s and 6,494 cu km in 2011. The ice volume for 31 July 2012 was roughly 10% below the value for the same day in 2011. A new study by UK scientists suggests that 900 cu km of summer sea ice has disappeared from the Arctic ocean over the past year.

The consequences of losing the Arctic’s ice coverage for the summer months are expected to be immense. If the white sea ice no longer reflects sunlight back into space, the region can be expected to heat up even more than at present. This could lead to an increase in ocean temperatures with unknown effects on weather systems in northern latitudes.

In a statement, a Greenpeace spokesman said: “The disappearing Arctic still serves as a stark warning to us all. Data shows us that the frozen north is teetering on the brink. The level of ice ‘has remained far below average’ and appears to be getting thinner, leaving it more vulnerable to future melting. The consequences of further rapid ice loss at the top of the world are of profound importance to the whole planet. This is not a warning we can afford to ignore.”

Longer ice-free summers are expected to open up the Arctic ocean to oil and mining as well as to more trade. This year at least 20 vessels are expected to travel north of Russia between northern Europe and the Bering straits. Last week a Chinese icebreaker made the first voyage in the opposite direction.

“Every one of the 56,000 Inuits in Greenland have had to adapt to the retreat of the ice,” said Carl-Christian Olsen, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Nuuk, Greenland. “The permafrost is melting and this is jeopardising roads and buildings. The coastline is changing, there is more erosion and storms, and there are fewer mammals like polar bears. It means there can be more mining, which is good for the economy, but it will have unpredictable effects on social change”.

Research published in Nature today said that warming in the Antarctic, where temperatures have risen about 1.5C over the past 50 years, is “unusual” but not unprecedented relative to natural variation. The research by Robert Mulvaney of the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, based on an ice-core record, showed that the warming of the north-eastern Antarctic peninsula began about 600 years ago. Temperature increases were said to be within the bounds of natural climate variability.

The difference between the rate of warming at the two poles is attributed to geographical differences. “Antarctica is a continent surrounded by water, while the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land. Wind and ocean currents around Antarctica isolate the continent from global weather patterns, keeping it cold. In contrast, the Arctic Ocean is intimately linked with the climate systems around it, making it more sensitive to changes in climate,” said a spokesman for the NSIDC.

• This article was amended on 24 August 2012 to restore to the start of the penultimate paragraph the words “Research published in Nature today”, which had been lost in the editing process.

This article originally appeared on

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Treading on thin ice: Thawing arctic puts spotlight on Harper’s northern ambitions

By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News August 24, 2012


Photos ( 1 )

NASA scientists collect data from thawing Arctic ice during the U.S. agency’s ICESCAPE mission in July. NASA

NASA scientists collect data from thawing Arctic ice during the U.S. agency’s ICESCAPE mission in July. NASA

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares to wind up his seventh consecutive annual tour of the Canadian Arctic on Friday, the circumpolar ice cover is in the midst of a record-setting thaw — the deepest meltdown yet in a six-year series of severe summertime retreats that has overlapped almost exactly with the Conservative government’s time in power.

The effect has been a cryospheric underscoring of the timeliness of several aspects of the government’s ambitious Arctic policy, including its unapologetic encouragement of northern industrial development in an increasingly unlocked treasure-house of resources, its promised investments in Arctic shipping and security, and its heightened attention to Canada’s central role in the emerging, high-stakes realm of international Arctic geopolitics.

At the same time, however, the unprecedented ice retreat — possibly pointing toward ice-free Septembers in the Arctic within a decade, a leading U.S. expert has told Postmedia News — is widely seen as the clearest sign yet that serious impacts from global climate change are already at hand, a petroleum-fuelled environmental crisis that’s not easily reconciled with Canada’s determination to exploit its increasingly accessible Arctic oil riches.

Harper’s northern tour this week has emphasized opportunity over peril. While acknowledging that economic development should be pursued in ways that “leave us with lands and territories that will continue to support good human activity and human habitation for many centuries to come,” he used the backdrop of a Yukon copper-gold mine to showcase the “expected boom in mineral exploration and development during the decades to come.”

He added, with a reference to the open-pit Minto Mine he visited on Tuesday northeast of Whitehorse, that “such is the magnitude of the North’s resource wealth that we are only, quite literally, just scratching the surface.”

The government’s campaign to cast the Canadian North as key to the country’s economic future has unfolded in perfect sync with the recent period of extraordinary Arctic ice retreats, which first caught the world’s attention in the summer of 2007. Just weeks after a Russian research sub had provocatively planted that country’s flag on the North Pole seabed, sparking sudden concerns about Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, the polar ice cover retreated to a September minimum of slightly more than four million square kilometres, by far the biggest summer meltdown since satellites began tracking the region’s ice extent in the 1970s.

But that was just the beginning. Since scientists first rang alarm bells about the state of the ice five years ago, the Arctic has experienced the five biggest summer retreats on record over the past five years, with this year’s extreme melt — still about three weeks from ending — already making it six in a row, and likely to mark the first time in the satellite era that Arctic ice cover will shrink to less than four million square kilometres by summer’s end.

“Our best estimate, based on the decline rates we’ve seen in this decade at this time of year, is that the minimum will be below four million square kilometres,” said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, a Colorado-based institute that closely tracks the annual ebb and flow of Arctic sea ice.

While discounting the notion that Arctic ice is subject to a meltdown “tipping point” from which it couldn’t recover, Scambos told Postmedia News that “what is clear is that the present temperatures — for the past decade — and the rate of warming in the Arctic will likely lead to an ice-free late summer within 10 to 20 years.”

“Ice-free” is defined by the NSIDC as less than one million square kilometres of ice coverage, a virtual vanishing act for a planetary feature that typically grows to a winter maximum of 14 million square kilometres.

Scambos noted that overall ice volume in the Arctic is “about 40 per cent of what it was four decades ago,” and that “September ice extent is about 55 per cent of what it was then.”

The trend toward an ice-free Arctic in a near-future September or even August has added a sense of urgency and — for development advocates — considerable appeal to the Canadian government’s resource-focused northern strategy.

The government’s own mission statement on the plan, its 2009 report titled Canada’s Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future, made clear that the retreating Arctic ice, for all of its potential impacts on northern communities, was a factor that fortuitously favoured increased economic activity, shipping and tourism in Canada’s North.

“Reduced ice coverage and longer periods of navigability may result in an increased number of ships undertaking destination travel for tourism, natural resource exploration or development,” the government stated in the document.

“International interest in the North has intensified because of the potential for resource development, the opening of new transportation routes, and the growing impacts of climate change,” it was also noted in Canada’s Northern Strategy. “In September 2007, satellite imaging verified that the Northwest Passage had less than 10 per cent ice coverage, making it, by definition, ‘fully navigable’ for several weeks.”

While opposition critics have slammed the Conservative government for paying too little attention to the negative consequences of climate change in the North, Harper’s published plan for the Arctic did acknowledge that “the effects of environmental change, such as shifting and melting permafrost, melting glaciers, shrinking ocean ice and a shortened season for ice roads could have significant cultural and economic consequences for the people of the North, and the entire nation.”

The strategy also conceded that “new development projects may increase the number of pollutants, threatening Northerners’ health and the region’s fragile ecosystems” — fears highlighted, for example, by international concern over the future of Canada’s polar bears and their ice-dependent hunting strategies.

“The changes in the Arctic are, no doubt, good for the economy of the Arctic (from a ‘Western’ perspective) — mining, drilling, logging, fishing, and transportation all stand to benefit,” Scambos said in an email message.

“But most of the people in Canada live much further south. The changes in the Arctic are having an impact on temperate-latitude weather, and will increasingly do so in the future. It may be a mixed bag.”
© Copyright © The Montreal Gazette

Original source article: Treading on thin ice: Thawing arctic puts spotlight on Harper’s northern ambitions

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From the NEVEN website:

During the melting season I’m writing (bi-)weekly updates on the current situation with regards to Arctic sea ice (ASI). Central to these updates are the daily IJIS sea ice extent (SIE) and Cryosphere Today sea ice area (SIA) numbers, which I compare to data from the 2005-2011 period (NSIDC has a good explanation of sea ice extent and area in their FAQ). I also look at other things like regional sea ice area, compactness, temperature and weather forecasts, anything that can be of particular interest.

Check out the Arctic Sea Ice Graphs website for
daily updated graphs, maps and live webcam images.

August 25th 2012

I apologize for having provided so little analysis lately, but things are moving so fast that analysis can’t keep up. Now I know what an IPCC regional model for the Arctic must feel like. :wink:

Basically, I’m at a loss for words, and not just because my jaw has dropped and won’t go back up as long as I’m looking at the graphs. I’m also at a loss - and I have already said it a couple of times this year - because I just don’t know what to expect any longer. I had a very steep learning curve in the past two years. We all did. But it feels as if everything I’ve learned has become obsolete. As if you’ve learned to play the guitar a bit in two years’ time, and then all of a sudden have to play a xylophone. Will trend lines go even lower, or will the remaining ice pack with its edges so close to the North Pole start to freeze up?

Basically I have nothing to offer right now except short posts when yet another of those record dominoes has fallen. Hopefully I can come up with some useful post-melting season analysis when I return from a two-week holiday.

I’m at a loss at this loss. The 2007 record that stunned everyone, gets shattered without 2007 weather conditions. The ice is thin. PIOMAS was/is right.

Sea ice extent (SIE)

WindSat or no WindSat, the 2012 trendline on the IJIS SIE graph has dropped like a rock:


I had to adjust the Y-axis on this graph already once (compared to the one in the last ASI update), and it looks like I’ll have to adjust it again. I already announced the new IJIS SIE record minimum yesterday, although it was based on the preliminary number. But after the revision the record is still standing and IJIS still hasn’t stopped producing century breaks.

The current difference between 2012 and other years (without the unrealistic last data point that gets revised upwards) is as follows:

Continue reading “ASI 2012 update 10: (wh)at a loss” »

Posted by Neven on August 25, 2012 at 22:39 in Air Temperature, Arctic Basin, Arctic storms, ASI update 2012, Atmospheric Pressure, CAPIE/compactness, Cryosphere Today, DMI, IARC-JAXA (IJIS), Ice extent and area, SST, Weather forecast | Permalink | Comments (19)

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Record dominoes 8: NSIDC daily sea ice extent

There are several scientific organisations that keep an eye on the Arctic sea ice cover and put out graphs to inform us of the amount of ice that is left. You can see most, if not all, of them on the ASI Graphs webpage. I expect the record on most of these graphs to be broken in weeks to come.

The daily sea ice extent graph of the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, one of the foremost and best-known organizations observing the Arctic, is showing a new record. Actually, the graph went crazy and is showing new record year 2012 only (will be fixed soon, I’m sure; edit: smart crandles says “it performs exactly what was asked i.e. display current year and year with the record low.”):N_stddev_timeseries

Edit 2: the graph has been fixed and updated, so I have made an animation that shows how the trend line dropped from the Arctic storm onwards:NSIDC2
But we have the numbers this time, because NSIDC decided - kudos to them - to release their daily numbers (hat-tip to Larry Hamilton):

Continue reading “Record dominoes 8: NSIDC daily sea ice extent” »

Posted by Neven on August 25, 2012 at 17:17 in Ice extent and area, NSIDC, Records | Permalink | Comments (74)

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Record dominoes 7: Arctic ROOS sea ice extent

There are several scientific organisations that keep an eye on the Arctic sea ice cover and put out graphs to inform us of the amount of ice that is left. You can see most, if not all, of them on the ASI Graphs webpage. I expect the record on most of these graphs to be broken in weeks to come.

This used to be the last bastion of fake skeptics who cannot come to terms with what is happening in the Arctic and have to keep misleading till the bitter end (über-conservative IMS is now providing them refuge, like a cardboard box provided shelter to a Pakistani family in 2010’s monsoon that wouldn’t stop), but Arctic ROOS sea ice extent has fallen too:Ssmi_ice_ext

Have to rush now, another big domino has fallen: NSIDC daily sea ice extent.

Posted by Neven on August 25, 2012 at 17:04 in Ice extent and area, Records | Permalink | Comments (5)

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Record dominoes 6: IJIS sea ice extent

There are several scientific organisations that keep an eye on the Arctic sea ice cover and put out graphs to inform us of the amount of ice that is left. You can see most, if not all, of them on the ASI Graphs webpage. I expect the record on most of these graphs to be broken in weeks to come.

After Uni Bremen extent, Arctic ROOS area, Cryosphere Today sea ice area, DMI sea ice extent and CT Arctic Basin SIA, another big domino has fallen, one of the most popular graphs in recent years, mostly because they have downloadable daily updated data: IJIS sea ice extent.


Here’s how the graph I use for ASI updates is looking right now:


The 2012 has plunged below all previous minimums, but I have to add the caveat that this is based on a preliminary data point for August 24th, which will be revised tomorrow. It needs to be revised upwards by 66 thousand square km for this record not to remain standing. Even if this happens, the record will almost certainly be broken tomorrow.

Here are the numbers for the IJIS SIE minimums in the 2005-2012 period:

2005: 5.315 million square km
2006: 5.781 million square km
2007: 4.255 million square km
2008: 4.715 million square km
2009: 5.250 million square km
2010: 4.814 million square km
2011: 4.527 million square km
2012: 4.189 million square km (and running)

Another caveat is that the IARC-JAXA Information System (IJIS) - an international collaboration between the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) in corporation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) - has switched from the AMSR-E to the WindSat sensor, when AMSR-E stopped functioning last year. WindSat isn’t as sophisticated as AMSR-E, so this could cause slight inconsistencies between the yearly numbers.

However, it seems that IJIS is soon switching to ASMR-2, the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2, that is similar to predecessor ASMR-E, but better. All data will be consistent again when that happens. More on that later.

Next up is NSIDC daily sea ice extent or Arctic ROOS sea ice extent…

Posted by Neven on August 24, 2012 at 12:59 in IARC-JAXA (IJIS), Ice extent and area, Records | Permalink | Comments (182)

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Peeking through the clouds 5

Commenter dabize has sent me the latest ‘declouded’ version of the False-Colour Composite images Environment Canada makes of the LANCE-MODIS satellite images. They give us an excellent view of week to week changes that are blocked by cloudy conditions in the Arctic.

Changes in the ice pack really stand out, but also keep an eye on the Canadian Archipelago and Northwest Passage, where in situ melting is jaw-dropping this year:


Posted by Neven on August 23, 2012 at 11:59 | Permalink | Comments (58)

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Record dominoes 5: Arctic Basin sea ice area

There are several scientific organisations that keep an eye on the Arctic sea ice cover and put out graphs to inform us of the amount of ice that is left. You can see most, if not all, of them on the ASI Graphs webpage. I expect the record on most of these graphs to be broken in weeks to come.

This is just a regional sea ice area graph put out by Cryosphere Today, but it happens to be the most important regional graph out there. This is the place where the last ice is expected to be if and when the Arctic is approaching an ice-free state. On this graph we clearly see the minimums for all the years in the satellite period (click for a larger version):Region.all.anom.region.1
The data on this graph has been the source of a recurrent discussion on the ASI blog, revolving around the question: Was a plateau of around 2.3 million square km reached in 2007? This year might give us a clue. The trend line has already surpassed 2.25 million square km, but maybe things will level off now. Or it could dip below 2 million square km. We’ll know in a few weeks, but either way, this is yet another record that was broken this year.

Posted by Neven on August 23, 2012 at 04:37 in Arctic Basin, Cryosphere Today, Ice extent and area, Records | Permalink | Comments (137)

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Record dominoes 4: DMI sea ice extent

There are several scientific organisations that keep an eye on the Arctic sea ice cover and put out graphs to inform us of the amount of ice that is left. You can see most, if not all, of them on the ASI Graphs webpage. I expect the record on most of these graphs to be broken in weeks to come.

If I were addicted to records, I’d have OD-ed by now. Out of the approximately 9 sea ice extent and area graphs on the ASI Graphs page, 4 have broken their record so far. After Uni Bremen extent, Arctic ROOS area, Cryosphere Today sea ice area (big one), we have a new sea ice domino: Danish Meteorological Institute sea ice extent. DMI uses a 30% threshold instead of the more habitual 15% (meaning every grid cell containing a concentration higher than 30% gets counted for total extent).


Larry Hamilton sent me graphs and numbers:


 Year | min(totaldmi)

2005 | 4.138
2006 | 4.336
2007 | 3.0523
2008 | 3.4441
2009 | 3.8455
2010 | 3.6416
2011 | 3.3207
2012 | 3.0311


Thanks, Larry!

As a bonus I’ve made an animation of the daily DMI graphs from the moment that cylcone hit to the new minimum:

Continue reading “Record dominoes 4: DMI sea ice extent” »

Posted by Neven on August 22, 2012 at 10:02 in DMI, Ice extent and area, Records | Permalink | Comments (87)

A side by side comparison of several ice data models.

The extent of the Arctic ice free area continues to set new records.