Arctic Ice Seesaw

Mid February is about a month away from the annual maximum Arctic ice extent, and measurements continue to seesaw in the two dynamic places where freezing and drifting cause gains and losses in sea ice. In each region, the gains and losses teeter-totter between two basins.

Here is the Atlantic seesaw with Barents and Baffin.


And here is the Pacific seesaw with Bering and Okhotsk.

While the seesaws are tilting back and forth on the margins, the bulk of the Arctic is frozen solid. And with limited places where more extent can be added, the pace of overall growth has slowed.

The graph shows that 2017 and 2006 are virtually tied at this date. It shows both years are below average by about 450k km2, and SII adds a further deficit by showing 2017 averaging in February ~400k km2 lower than MASIE.

The table below shows ice extents in the seas comprising the Arctic, comparing day 044 2017 with the same day average over the last 11 years and with 2006.

Region 2017044 Day 044
2017-Ave. 2006044 2017-2006
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 14287848 14759423 -471575 14318694 -30846
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070445 1070111 334 1069711 734
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 966006 965614 392 966006 0
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1087137 1087131 6 1087103 35
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897845 897835 10 897773 71
 (5) Kara_Sea 908380 908367 12 932924 -24545
 (6) Barents_Sea 363927 581052 -217125 507771 -143844
 (7) Greenland_Sea 565090 633257 -68167 592221 -27131
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 1564353 1451561 112792 1209203 355150
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 853214 852984 230 852715 499
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1260903 1260476 427 1257433 3470
 (11) Central_Arctic 3209792 3215238 -5446 3178718 31074
 (12) Bering_Sea 564241 759583 -195342 889465 -325224
 (13) Baltic_Sea 59994 105815 -45822 68543 -8549
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 834828 895634 -60806 720201 114628
 (15) Yellow_Sea 17654 31061 -13407 20909 -3255
 (16) Cook_Inlet 9131 12083 -2952 9530 -399

The table indicates some differences in locations of ice surpluses and deficits. Bering Sea has been the largest deficit this year, while Barents is now matching it by losing ~100k in the last week. Greenland Sea is also down slightly compared to average and to 2006. Baffin Bay is the largest surplus to average and to 2006. Okhotsk lost more than 200k km2 in recent days, but still exceeds 2006 by 115k.

The second half of February will be interesting. The average year in the last eleven gained about 200k km2 from now to month end. But the variability ranged from 2006 losing 170K to 2012 gaining 590k km2. What will the ice do this year?

The polar bears have a Valentine Day’s wish for Arctic Ice.


And Arctic Ice loves them back, returning every year so the bears can roam and hunt for seals.


Seesaw accurately describes Arctic ice in another sense:  The ice we see now is not the same ice we saw previously.  It is better to think of the Arctic as an ice blender than as an ice cap, explained in the post The Great Arctic Ice Exchange.



  1. Michael A. Lewis · February 14, 2017

    In the archaeological work I did on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Straight, one could detect the regular variation in sea ice extent in the pattern of human occupation of the island. I used this data set in correlation with climate records to refine the chronology of human occupation of the Bering Straight region.

    Back and forth, in and out, up and down… a sea-saw consisting of climate, marine mammals and humans.


    • Ron Clutz · February 15, 2017

      Thanks for that Michael. I have lots of respect for you doing field in such conditions. The closest I came was doing community development work in the Cree community of Great Whale River at the top of James Bay.


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