Arctic Ice Minimum?



Imargery date refers to Google Earth capture of land forms. Ice extents are for Sept. 11, 2016 from MASIE. Click on image to zoom in.

Northabout picked her way through drift ice in the channel and is now at the mouth of Baffin Bay.  The Nunavut gauntlet is behind them, but they will seek a port soon with a storm forecasted in coming days.  Serenity exited some days ago, did some sight-seeing in Baffin Bay and is visiting ports in Greenland.

MASIE images of Arctic ice show a plateau in extent for the first 5 days of September, then a drop to ~4.2M where it has remained except for a further one-day dip on day 254. On average the lowest extent shows on day 260, but it varies a lot, from day 254 in 2009 to day 270 in 2007. So weather makes a difference each year. 2016 is uncertain because a storm is forecast in the days ahead (according to Northabout crew) and the effect on ice extent is unknown.

The decline of ice extent is shown below since August 15 (August being the month of greatest loss of ice).


It is too early to say the annual minimum occurred on Sept. 10, but all the sensitive seas are showing increases yesterday.  Ice extents this month are 340k km2 less than last year.  SII is showing ~200k km2 less ice than MASIE in Sept. The table below shows ice extents in the regions for day 255:

Region 2016255 2015255 Difference
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 4224212 4563954 -339742
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 184884 484260 -299376
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 273471 173544 99927
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 159549 263598 -104049
 (4) Laptev_Sea 310839 69273 241566
 (5) Kara_Sea 1723 1869 -146
 (6) Barents_Sea 0 18 -18
 (7) Greenland_Sea 161931 222061 -60131
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 18475 57705 -39230
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 232146 267573 -35427
 (10) Hudson_Bay 0 56252 -56252
 (11) Central_Arctic 2880143 2966659 -86516

Surpluses in Chukchi and Laptev somewhat offset deficits in Beaufort and E. Siberian seas.  Baffin and Hudson Bays are much lower this year, but they have little left to lose compared to 2015.  The most significant issue is Central Arctic being lower than last year, which may yet produce a lower September monthly minimum.  Time will tell.

Summary of Year To Date

Someone asked how the annual average ice extent was coming along this year, so I crunched the numbers.

The graph summarizes the changing extents of Arctic ice as measured by two primary datasets: MASIE (Multi-sensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent) and SII (Sea Ice Index -solely from satellite passive microwave sensors).

Arctic ice YTD Aug

Measured in M km2, the two highest lines are the monthly average extents reported for the first 8 months of 2016. The two horizontal lines show the YTD average from the 8 months. At the bottom are the deviations from 10 yr. Averages for each month (from each dataset).

It is clear that MASIE was reporting slightly more ice early on, and then the two estimates have been close together since. The deviation below average grew up through May, with SII reporting 1M km2 deficit. As of August, both MASIE and SII are showing ice extent down about 0.5M km2.

The 10 yr. Averages of extents for the YTD (8 months) are exactly 12M km2 in both datasets. So Masie YTD is ~3% below average and SII YTD is ~5% down.


There will be much to do about Arctic ice death spirals in the weeks ahead as 2016 continues to show lower extents. Most likely the September average will be lower than last year, an event lasting perhaps 2-3 weeks before refreezing brings it back over last year’s minimum. Only someone pushing an agenda would claim such a short phenomenon contained within a single month of the year shows the climate is changing.

For more on making sense of Arctic Ice graphs see Ice House of Mirrors

For those who want to see numbers, the table is below.

Monthly 2006-2015 2016 2006-2015 2016 2016 2016-10yr Ave 2016-10yr Ave
Jan 13.872 13.922 13.780 13.472 -0.450 0.049 -0.308
Feb 14.785 14.804 14.632 14.210 -0.593 0.019 -0.422
Mar 15.008 14.769 14.886 14.405 -0.364 -0.239 -0.481
Apr 14.308 13.917 14.307 13.694 -0.223 -0.391 -0.613
May 12.767 12.086 12.960 11.900 -0.186 -0.681 -1.060
June 10.952 10.419 11.192 10.353 -0.066 -0.533 -0.839
July 8.401 8.067 8.421 7.920 -0.147 -0.334 -0.501
Aug 6.066 5.531 5.838 5.390 -0.141 -0.535 -0.448
YTD Ave. 12.020 11.689 12.002 11.418 -0.271 -0.331 -0.584

September Minimum Outlook

Historically, where will ice be remaining when Arctic melting stops? Over the last 10 years, on average MASIE shows the annual minimum occurring about day 260. Of course in a given year, the daily minimum varies slightly a few days +/- from that.

For comparison, here are sea ice extents reported from 2007, 2012, 2014 and 2015 for day 260:

Arctic Regions 2007 2012 2014 2015
Central Arctic Sea 2.67 2.64 2.98 2.93
BCE 0.50 0.31 1.38 0.89
Greenland & CAA 0.56 0.41 0.55 0.46
Bits & Pieces 0.32 0.04 0.22 0.15
NH Total 4.05 3.40 5.13 4.44

Notes: Extents are in M km2.  BCE region includes Beaufort, Chukchi and Eastern Siberian seas. Greenland Sea (not the ice sheet). Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA).  Locations of the Bits and Pieces vary.

As the table shows, low NH minimums come mainly from ice losses in Central Arctic and BCE.  The great 2012 cyclone hit both in order to set the recent record. The recovery since 2012 shows in 2014, with some dropoff last year, mostly in BCE.


We are nearing the end of the melt season, and the resulting minimum will depend upon the vagaries of weather between now and September 16 or so.  Early on, 2016 was slightly higher than 2015 in March, lower in May and narrowing the gap late June and late July. Note: 2016 melt season is starting without the Blob, with El Nino over, and a cold blob in the North Atlantic.  The AO has been hovering around neutral, now possibly indicating cloud cover reducing the pace of melting.

Meanwhile we can watch and appreciate the beauty of the changing ice conditions.

Arctic sea ice in summer 2015. This photo was made during an expedition of the German research icebreaker Polarstern into the central Arctic Ocean. Credit: Stefan Hendricks

Footnote:  Regarding the colder than normal water in the North Atlantic

A 2016 article for EOS is entitled Atlantic Sea Ice Could Grow in the Next Decade

Changing ocean circulation in the North Atlantic could lead to winter sea ice coverage remaining steady and even growing in select regions.

The researchers analyzed simulations from the Community Earth System Model, modeling both atmosphere and ocean circulation. They found that decadal-scale trends in Arctic winter sea ice extent are largely explained by changes in ocean circulation rather than by large-scale external factors like anthropogenic warming. (my bold)

From the Abstract of Yeager et al.

We present evidence that the extreme negative trends in Arctic winter sea-ice extent in the late 1990s were a predictable consequence of the preceding decade of persistent positive winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) conditions and associated spin-up of the thermohaline circulation (THC). Initialized forecasts made with the Community Earth System Model decadal prediction system indicate that relatively low rates of North Atlantic Deep Water formation in recent years will result in a continuation of a THC spin-down that began more than a decade ago. Consequently, projected 10-year trends in winter Arctic winter sea-ice extent seem likely to be much more positive than has recently been observed, with the possibility of actual decadal growth in Atlantic sea-ice in the near future. (my bold)


One comment

  1. bit chilly · September 14

    nice work ron.


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