Approaching autumn, pace slows

After declining rapidly through July, sea ice extent decline slowed during the first two weeks of August. A new record September minimum is highly unlikely. Our 2018 projection for the sea ice minimum extent falls between the fourth and ninth lowest in the 40-year satellite record. Two NSIDC scientists are studying ice and ocean conditions in the western Arctic aboard an icebreaker.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for August 15, 2018 was 5.7 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

As of August 15, Arctic sea ice extent was 5.7 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles). This is 1.58 million square kilometers (610,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, but 868,000 square kilometers (335,000 square miles) above the record low at this time of year recorded in 2012. Ice retreated recently in the Kara, Laptev, and Beaufort Seas. The ice edge was relatively unchanged near Greenland and Svalbard, and in the East Siberian Sea. Much of the Northwest Passage through Canada remains choked with ice. The Northern Sea Route appears open, according to the Multisensor Analyzed Sea Ice Extent (MASIE) analysis, though ice is lingering near the coast in the East Siberian Sea. Scattered ice floes are likely present along the route. A large patch of sea ice, separated from the main pack, persists in the southern Beaufort Sea. Such patterns of ragged patchiness or large polynyas have been a more frequent feature of Arctic summers since 2006.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 15, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted red. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for July 1 to 15, 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure. Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for August 1 to 14, 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature. Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for August 1 to 14, 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

This a true-color composite from MODIS on the NASA Terra satellite. August 13, 2018.

Figure 2d. This shows a true color composite image of Cape Morris Jesup off of northern Greenland, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite on August 13, 2018.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC/NASA
High-resolution image

Through the first two weeks of August, ice extent declined at approximately 65,000 square kilometers (25,100 square miles) per day, slightly faster than the 1981 to 2010 average of 57,000 square kilometers (22,000 square miles) per day. Sea level pressure was above average over the central Arctic Ocean, a change from last month, flanked by areas of below-average pressure in the Kara Sea and northern Canada (Figure 2b). Temperatures at 925 hPa (about 2,500 feet altitude) were generally 1 to 5 degrees Celsius (2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over much of the Arctic Ocean for this period, with the area just north of Greenland reaching 5 to 7 degrees Celsius (9 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average (Figure 2c). Below average air temperatures persisted over the Kara Sea, 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and the Beaufort Sea, 1 to 5 degrees Celsius (2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit). Another feature of note is the region of open water (Figure 2d) along the north coast of Greenland, around Cape Morris Jesup, which is visible on August 13 in Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Terra true color imagery from NASA WorldView. The region normally consists of thick, consolidated ice from a general pattern of on-shore ice motion. Even when winds blow offshore, the strength of the thick ice would hold in place along the coast. However, current ice conditions appear more broken up and likely thinner, and over the past couple of weeks, offshore winds have succeeded in pushing ice off of the coast.

Estimating the September minimum extent

Figure 3. This graph shows potential sea ice minimum extents for 2018 based on ice loss rates from previous years. 2018, through August 15, is shown in blue. Projections based on 2008 rates are shown in purple dots, and 2006 rates are shown in blue dots.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC
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A simple way to project the upcoming annual minimum extent involves using the daily rates of change from previous years and applying them to the current sea ice extent. Following the 2005 to 2017 average rate of change between August 15 and the minimum, the extent is projected to drop to an annual low of 4.55 million square kilometers (1.76 million square miles), with a standard deviation range of 4.32 to 4.78 million square kilometers (1.67 to 1.85 million square miles). If sea ice extent continues at the rate of ice loss seen in 2008, the fastest recorded, the minimum at the end of summer would be 4.20 million square kilometers (1.62 million square miles), or the fourth lowest minimum in the satellite record. If sea ice extent continues with the rate for ice loss from 2006, the slowest recorded, the minimum would be 4.90 million square kilometers (1.89 million square miles), or the ninth lowest in the satellite record. It is possible that the rate of change through the remaining summer will be unprecedented in the satellite record (either faster or slower), yielding a final minimum extent outside of this range, but our estimates provide a window of the most likely minimum extent this year. Another possibility is that winds will consolidate the ice and reduce the overall extent. This was a factor contributing to the record low recorded in 2012.

Sea ice up close and personal

Figure 5a. This photograph, off the starboard side of the Araon on 9 August 2018 (21:00 UTC) at 76N/179W, shows dirty ice amidst bright white ice. Photo credit: J. Stroeve

Figure 4a. This photograph, off the starboard side of the RV Araon on August 9, 2018 (21:00 UTC) at 76 degrees N and 179 degrees W, shows dirty ice amidst bright white ice.

Credit: J. Stroeve, NSIDC
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Figure 5b. The team has spotted their first sighting of a polar bear. |Credit: A. Khan ||

Figure 4b. The team’s first sighting of a polar bear.

Credit: A. Khan, NSIDC
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Two NSIDC scientists are currently aboard the Korean icebreaker Araon as it travels through the Chukchi Sea. NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve wants to better understand how changes in the sea ice regime (e.g. ice thickness, snow depth, date of melt onset) influence the availability of sunlight under the ice, which plays a key role in phytoplankton blooms and grazing habits of zooplankton. Another objective is to quantify how layering of salty and fresh water in melt ponds evolves over time. To meet these objectives, the researchers will deploy several instrumented to measure seasonal snow accumulation, salinity, and temperature within selected salty and fresh melt ponds. A bio-optical buoy will measure the light and oxygen below the ice, and other buoys will measure the ice growth and melting on different types of ice floes.

As the icebreaker travels through the Arctic Ocean, NSIDC scientist Alia Khan is measuring the amount of sunlight that reaches the ice surface to assess the accuracy of incoming solar energy from weather models. Additionally, she is collecting atmospheric aerosol particles, such as smoke and dust, to measure their size distribution. On the ice, she will collect spectral reflectance measurements (reflectance of the surface in different solar energy wavelengths) of different ice types, such as thin first-year versus thick multiyear ice, snow-covered versus bare ice, and melt ponds. Lastly, she will collect snow and ice samples for analysis of black carbon and algal biomass. Black carbon comes from the incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. When the dark particles are deposited on snow and ice surfaces, the darker surface absorbs more solar radiation than the surrounding, lighter surface, reducing reflectance of solar energy and enhancing melt. The pigment of ice algae has a similar impact. Collecting these data will help scientists better understand the effects of ship traffic and long-range atmospheric transport that deposit black carbon on the sea ice.

The team left Nome, Alaska, on August 4, and is currently traveling eastwards between 74 and 75 degrees N and 167 degrees W. Before reaching the ice camp where the instruments will be deployed, the ship is retrieving and installing moorings. Ice conditions have been varied since the first sightings of sea ice occurred at 72 degrees 58 minutes N/168 degrees 18.2 minutes W. The first ice sighted mostly consisted of small multiyear ice remnants about 1 meter thick (3.3 feet) and less than 20 meters (66 feet) in size. Now the majority of the ice floes are thin, first-year ice floes between 50 to 200 meters (164 to 656 feet) in size, and 50 to 100 centimeters (1.6 to 3.3 feet) thick. While most of the ice is level ice, some large ridging has been observed. Almost all the ice floes have melt ponds, some discrete and some linked, especially on the thinner first-year ice. Most melt ponds have thaw holes. So far, the majority of melt ponds have a thin top ice layer as air temperatures are hovering around -3 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit). However, once the ship reached 179 degrees W, air temperatures approached 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and the melt ponds thawed. The most interesting feature thus far has been dirty ice in the midst of bright white ice (see Figure 4a). It is unclear if these dirty ice floes are a result of ice algae, dust, or soot deposits from this summer’s forest fires. The team has also been rewarded with sightings of polar bears (see Figure 4b).

Erratum

Readers alerted us to an error. On August 16, we reported the August 15 sea ice extent as 7.3 million square kilometers (2.82 million square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Instead, it is 1.58 million square kilometers (610,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. On August 17, 2018, we corrected the number.

Ice loss speeds up during second half of July

Arctic sea ice extent declined rapidly the latter half of July, despite the persistence of low sea level pressure over the Arctic Ocean and generally cool conditions. At the same time, unusually high sea level pressure persisted over the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, where several new record high temperatures were reached, fostering extensive wildfires.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 2018 was 8.22 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 2018 was 8.22 million square kilometers (3.20 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for July 2018 averaged 8.22 million square kilometers (3.20 million square miles). This was 1.25 million square kilometers (483,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average sea ice extent, and 550,000 square kilometers (212,000 square miles) above the record low for the month set in July 2012. July 2018 was the ninth lowest July extent in the satellite record.

Despite finishing ninth lowest in the monthly average, ice loss was rapid during the month. As a result, by July 31 daily extent tracked fourth lowest in the satellite record, just below the extent seen last year at this time, and also just above that seen in 2007, 2011, and 2012. Extent remained unusually low in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic, including the Barents, Kara, Laptev, and East Greenland Seas, whereas the ice edge in the Beaufort and East Siberian Seas remained near average. By the end of July, the ice within Hudson Bay had all melted out and the ice edge in the Chukchi Sea had also retreated far north of its average position for this time of year. This pattern is in stark contrast to last year when by July’s end, the ice edge was located far north of its usual position in the Beaufort and East Siberian Seas while with ice on the Atlantic side, extent was near average.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 31, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 31, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Total ice loss during July was 3.27 million square kilometers (1.26 million square miles), or a rate of -105,400 square kilometers (-41,000 square miles) per day. This was faster than the 1981 to 2010 long-term average rate of retreat for the month of -86,800 square kilometers (-34,000 square miles) per day. Ice retreat occurred primarily within Hudson Bay and the Kara, Laptev, and Chukchi Seas, and to a lesser extent within Baffin Bay, the East Greenland Sea and the East Siberian coastal regions. In contrast, ice expanded slightly in parts of the Beaufort Sea. While there was little overall change in ice extent in the Beaufort Sea, ice concentration remained low over much of the region, with large areas of open water developing between ice floes. Open water areas between floes readily absorb the sun’s energy and help to enhance lateral (from the side) and basal (from the bottom) melting. However, by the end of July the sun is lower in the sky as compared to June, so this effect is diminishing.

Continuing the pattern of the last two summers, low sea level pressure persisted over the central Arctic Ocean during July, a pattern that historically has tended to slow summer ice loss. Low sea level pressure also persisted over Greenland, paired with high sea level pressure over northern Europe and Siberia to the east, and high sea level pressure over Alaska and Canada to the west. This led to air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2,500 feet above the surface) ranging from -0.5 to -4.0 degrees Celsius (-0.9 to -7.0 degrees Fahrenheit) below average over the Kara and Laptev, and from -0.5 to -2.0 degrees Celsius (-0.9 to -4.0 degrees Fahrenheit) over the Beaufort Sea. Near the pole, air temperatures were near average or slightly above average (+0.5 to +1.0 degrees Celsius or +0.9 to +2.0 degrees Fahrenheit). Air temperatures -0.5 to -3 degrees Celsius (-0.9 to +5.0 degrees Fahrenheit) below average also persisted over central and northern Greenland.

Meanwhile, over in Scandinavia several new record high temperatures were observed during the month. In Turku, Finland, temperatures soared to 33.3 degrees Celsius (91.9 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 17, the highest temperature recorded since 1914. In central Norway, the Trondheim airport reported a temperature of 32.4 degrees Celsius (90.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 16, the highest on record, while Bardufoss, just south of Tromsø within the Arctic circle, saw a new record of 33.5 degrees Celsius (92.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 18. In Sweden, more than forty forest fires raged across the country during the unprecedented heatwave in mid-July. Fires were also burning within Lapland and Latvia. However, it was not only Scandinavia experiencing hot and dry conditions. Western Europe continued to experience prolonged heatwaves. Wildfires in Greece have already killed nearly ninety people, while Japan declared their extreme heatwave as a natural disaster, as more than sixty-five people have died and 22,000 have been treated in hospitals.

July 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly July ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 7.2 percent per decade.

Figure 3. Monthly July ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 7.2 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for July sea ice extent is 68,700 square kilometers per year (27,000 square miles per year) or 7.2 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Beaufort on the brink?

Figure 4a. This shows a true color composite image of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite.

Figure 4a. This shows a true color composite image of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC/NASA
High-resolution image

Figure 4b. This image shows sea ice concentration in the Arctic, based on data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2).

Figure 4b. This image shows sea ice concentration in the Arctic, based on data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2).

Credit: University of Bremen
High-resolution image

Ice concentration over much of the Beaufort Sea has rapidly declined over the past couple of weeks. July 27 imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite showed a large off-shore region with broken-up ice and small ice floes vulnerable to rapid melt by the surrounding ocean (Figure 4a). Sea ice concentration data provided by the University of Bremen from the higher resolution Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Advance Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) showed an expanding open water area within the ice pack between mid-July and August 1 (Figure 4b). By August 1, substantial open water was found throughout the Beaufort. On the other hand, near the coast to the east of Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), more compact and likely thicker ice remains, which is less likely to rapidly melt away. How much of the Beaufort ice cover survives the summer and how much more melts away will depend considerably on the weather conditions over the next four to six weeks.

Melt onset a mixed bag

Figure 5. These maps show preliminary melt onset (left) and melt onset anomaly (right) in the Arctic relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. White areas are open ocean or areas with no melt detected.

Figure 5. These maps show preliminary melt onset (left) and melt onset difference from average (right) in the Arctic relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. White areas are open ocean or areas with no melt detected.

Data courtesy Jeffrey Miller, NASA GSFC.
High-resolution image

This summer the ice retreated quite early in the Bering Sea in late April and early May, leading to record low extent in the region. This is partly because the melt started nearly two months earlier than average in certain parts of the Bering Sea, while the regional average melt onset date was 38 days earlier. Melt also began several weeks earlier than average in the Barents Sea, stretching up through the Kara Sea and the southern Laptev Sea. In contrast, melt was later than average in most of the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas as well as parts of the Beaufort Sea. While melt onset generally happens earlier in the southern parts of the Arctic and later as one moves further north, exceptions do occur. For example, already in March some melt onset was detected over the central Arctic Ocean, but it did not continuously melt since that date.

Reconstructing sea ice extent in the Kara and Barents Seas

Figure 6. This graph shows reconstructions of sea ice extent in the Barents and Kara Seas from 1289 to 1993 (red line). The gray line shows the 30-year average, the blue line shows observed sea ice extent, and the green line shows the trend.

Figure 6. This graph shows reconstructions of sea ice extent in the Kara and Barents Seas from 1289 to 1993 (red line). The gray line shows the 30-year average, the blue line shows observed sea ice extent, and the green line shows the trend.

Credit: Qi Zhang (Institute of Polar Meteorology, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Bejing, China) and Cunde Xiao (Stake Key Laboratory of Earth Surface and Resources Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Bejing, China)
High-resolution image

While we now have forty years of consistent sea ice observations from satellite, this data record is still relatively short, especially for trying to better understand drivers of current sea ice loss and issues such as potential impacts on mid-latitude weather. A new study from a team of Chinese researchers relied on climate proxies from ice cores and tree ring data from coastal forests to provide estimates of autumn sea ice within the Kara and Barents Seas back to 1289. This new data record suggests that between the 13th and 18th centuries, sea ice extent in the Kara and Barents Seas was more extensive than today and was increasing slightly. This period coincides with the Little Ice Age. After the end of the 18th century, sea ice in this region began to decline and the downward trend became significant during the second half of the 19th century until about the 1930s to 1940s. The sea ice then expanded until the 1970s, after which it has continually declined. Based on this reconstruction, current ice loss in the Kara and Barents Seas is viewed as unprecedented, both in duration and rate of change. While the study is only regional and does not indicate overall Arctic-wide sea ice changes, it provides useful context for the recent decline relative to the long-term variability.

Antarctic sea ice update

Sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere grew at a slightly faster-than-average pace from June through mid-July, but then slowed through the second half of July. At mid-July, ice extent was near average in all sectors except the region north of Dronning Maud Land. In the last two weeks of July, an area of below-average ice extent developed north of Wilkes Land in response to warm winds from the northeast, reducing the overall ice growth and bringing the Southern Hemisphere ice extent down relative to the 1981 to 2010 average (below the range of 90 percent of the past observational years). Above average temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) occurred over the northern West Antarctic coast and the southern Peninsula, where the Peninsula high pressure ridge brought winds from the north. Temperatures 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average also occurred along the Wilkes Land coast.

References

Divine, D. V. and C. Dick. 2007. March through August ice edge positions in the Nordic Seas, 1750-2002, Version 1. Boulder, Colorado USA. NSIDC: National Snow and Ice Data Center. doi: https://doi.org/10.7265/N59884X1.

Zhang, Q., C. Xiao, M. Ding, and T. Dou. 2018. Reconstruction of autumn sea ice extent changes since AD1289 in the Barents-Kara Sea, Arctic. Science China Earth Sciences, doi:10.1007.s11430-017-9196.4.

Smoke on the frozen water

Sea ice declined at a near average rate through the first half of July as low sea level pressure dominated the Arctic Ocean. Wind patterns caused smoke from Siberian forest fires to sweep over the ice.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 15, 2018 was 3.3 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 15, 2018 was 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

As of July 15, Arctic sea ice extent was 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles). This is 1.24 million square kilometers (479,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, but 670,000 square kilometers (259,000 square miles) above the record low for this day in 2011. While total Arctic sea ice extent was tracking at record low levels during winter, the rate of summer ice loss has been unremarkable thus far. Thus far in July, ice retreat has been most pronounced in the Kara Sea, whereas in the Beaufort Sea, the ice edge expanded slightly southwards. The ice edge has changed little within the Barents and East Greenland Seas on the Atlantic side, and retreat has been sluggish in the Chukchi Sea on the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 15 , 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2015 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 15, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for July 1 to 15, 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure.

Figure 2b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for July 1 to 15, 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Through the first two weeks of July, ice extent declined at a rate of 134,000 square kilometers (52,000 square miles) per day, which is near the 1981 to 2010 average. The spatial pattern of ice loss has not changed much since the end of June, with minimal ice loss around the entire ice edge. The Beaufort Sea saw some increase in extent due to the transport of ice from the north. Low sea level pressure dominated the central Arctic Ocean and Greenland. Typically, this pattern, associated with counterclockwise (cyclonic) winds is associated with cool conditions and also causes ice divergence, helping to spread the ice cover over a larger area. However, air temperatures over the pole and the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2,500 feet above the surface) ranged 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for the first part of July. Regions with below average air temperatures were found in the Kara, Laptev, and Beaufort Seas (-1 to -3 degrees Celsius or -2 to -5 degrees Fahrenheit below average).

The passive microwave data show a decrease in ice concentration in several areas of the Arctic Ocean, particularly in northern areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. This is not necessarily a real decrease—it manifests as surface melt and the development of melt ponds on the ice surface. Microwave emission is sensitive to the freeze-thaw state of water. Liquid water atop the ice surface changes the returned signal, mimicking a reduced sea ice concentration. Because the calculation of ice extent does not consider concentration (except for the 15 percent concentration threshold), extent values are much less sensitive to this melt effect. During the melt season, ice extent provides a more consistent and reliable measure of total ice cover.

Siberian smoke over the Arctic Ocean

Figure 3. These images from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor show the Arctic Ocean and surrounding land from July 3 to 6, 2018. Blue arrows indicate smoke that had drifted from fires in Siberia. ||Credit: NASA| High-resolution image

Figure 3. These images from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor show the Arctic Ocean and surrounding land from July 3 to 6, 2018. Blue arrows indicate smoke that had drifted from fires in Siberia.

Credit: NASA
High-resolution image

Fires in the western United States have been much in the news lately. Less noted are significant fires in Siberia. Over several days at the beginning of July, smoke from these fires was brought into the Arctic Ocean by winds associated with the pattern of low pressure in the region. The smoke streamed over the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas and eventually across Alaska into northern Canada.

The smoke has two potential effects on sea ice. First, as it drifts over the ice, the smoke particles scatter solar radiation and reduce how much is received at the surface. This has a cooling effect that will tend to reduce the rate of ice loss. However, smoke particles that settle onto the ice will darken the surface, thus decreasing the reflectivity of the surface, or albedo. This increases the amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and enhances melt. The atmospheric scattering effect of the smoke is short term and dissipates after the smoke drifts away. The surface albedo effect has a longer-term impact and could serve to enhance melt rates through the summer. The magnitude of the effect will depend on how many smoke particles are deposited on the surface, the albedo of the surface that the particles fall on, and the amount of cloud cover which reduces the incoming sunlight. The biggest effect would be on bright, snow-covered ice. It would be smaller on darker melting ice and melt ponds, and there would be no effect in open water areas.

 

 

 

A sluggish June

Arctic sea ice extent declined at a slightly slower-than average pace in June. Despite the slow loss, warm conditions and winds from the south developed a large area of open water in the Laptev Sea.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center High-resolution image

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for June 2018 was 10.7 million square kilometers (4.1 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for June 2018 averaged 10.7 million square kilometers (4.1 million square miles). This was 1.05 million square kilometers (405,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and 360,000 square kilometers (139,000 square miles) above the record low June extent set in 2016. This was the fourth lowest June average extent in the satellite record.

Extent at the end of June remained below average in the Chukchi Sea, but because of slow retreat through June in the region, extent in the Chukchi is now closer to average than was the case at the end of May. The Barents Sea and East Siberian Sea also have extents well below average at the end of June. Most of the ice in the Sea of Okhotsk has melted. Ice has been retreating in the west side of Hudson Bay where extent is below average. However, this is countered by above average extent in the eastern side of the bay. Notably, a large area of open water has developed in the Laptev Sea, leading to record low extents in that region during the first half of June.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July, 4, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012, the year with record low minimum extent. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 3

Figure 3a. This plot shows the average sea level pressure in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in millibars, for June 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
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Figure 3b

Figure 3b. This plot shows departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

The salient features of the atmospheric pattern for June include a region of low sea level pressure centered over the northern Barents Sea, and a high pressure cell centered over the Laptev Sea. A ridge of high pressure also extends eastward into northern Canada (Figure 3a). Winds from the south between the low pressure area in the Barents Sea and the high pressure area in the Laptev Sea gave rise to a pronounced region of above-average temperatures centered over Central Siberia and extending over the Laptev and East Siberian Seas (Figure 3b). However, elsewhere over the Arctic Ocean, temperatures were near average or slightly below average.

The temperature pattern is consistent with the early development of open water in the Laptev Sea. Extents in this area oscillated between slightly above and below the record low extent set in June 2014. Parts of the Laptev Sea opened as early as mid-April, likely due to winds transporting ice away from the fast ice zone (ice that is locked to the shoreline). While new ice formed in these open water areas, this ice was thin and prone to melting out once the summer melt season started.

Also of note was the passage of a strong cyclone in early June. This system moved into the Kara Sea on June 6, and reached a minimum central pressure of less than 970 hPa on June 7. By June 10, it had migrated into the Beaufort Sea. It dissipated on June 13.

June 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 4. Monthly May ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.6 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 4. Monthly June ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 4.1 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for June sea ice extent is 48,000 square kilometers (18,500 square miles) per year, or 4.1 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Ice loss during the month was 1.6 million square kilometers (618,000 square miles), somewhat slower than the 1981 to 2010 average loss of 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) for the month. Clearly the early ice losses in the Laptev Sea, associated with warm conditions over the region, could not make up for slower retreats elsewhere.

New insights into warming in the northern Barents Sea

An interesting feature of recent years is a region of unusually high winter air temperatures, or a winter hotspot, over the northern Barents Sea. Previous studies have provided evidence linking the hotspot to a halocline retreat, which is a retreat or weakening of the cold, fresh waters at the ocean surface that prevent ocean heat imported from the Atlantic from mixing upwards. A new paper by Lind et al. (2018) argues that the hotspot is driven by the lack of sea ice transport. Sea ice is mostly fresh water (low salinity) and less is being transported into that region. Hence the ocean surface becomes less fresh over the northern Barents Sea, allowing the warm Atlantic water to mix upwards.

Antarctica in June

Figure 5

Figure 5. This plot shows departure from average air temperature in Antarctica at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Sea ice expanded at a faster-than-average pace in June in the Southern Hemisphere, bringing Antarctic sea ice extent closer to typical ice extents for this time of year. This follows on the heels of a period of below-average ice extent since austral winter in 2016. Sea ice extent is near average in all sectors except the northeastern Weddell Sea, and a small area in the northern Davis Sea. Higher-than-average air temperatures prevailed in these regions, and cool conditions prevailed over the northern Ross Sea.

Antarctica’s sea ice and ice shelf disintegration

A new study in the Journal Nature found that reduced sea ice in the northwestern Weddell Sea and southern Bellingshausen Sea likely contributed to the weakening of major ice shelves prior to their disintegration in the 1990s and early 2000s. Loss of the sea ice buffer near Antarctica’s coast allows long-period ocean swell to flex ice shelves. Under ordinary conditions, this flexing has little effect. However, if the ice shelves have been pre-conditioned by seasonal melt-water flooding, the flexing by wave action in late summer can have a devastating effect. Minor flexure of the ice shelf plate allows water to infiltrate existing cracks and initiate fracturing of the ice.

Four major ice shelf break-up events in 1995 (Larsen A), 2002 (Larsen B), and 2008 and 2009 (Wilkins) all occurred after multiple weeks where no sea ice was present near the ice shelf fronts to dampen ocean swell. In the case of the Larsen A and B events, the loss of the ice shelves initiated a significant acceleration of the tributary glaciers. The study demonstrates that sea ice—a component of the cryosphere that is very sensitive to changing climate and ocean—has an important protective effect on the Antarctic ice sheet.

Further Reading

Lind, S., R. B. Ingvaldsen, and T. Furevik. 2018. Arctic warming hotspot in the Northern Barents Sea linked to declining sea-ice import. Nature Climate Changedoi:10.1038/s41558-018-0205-y.

Massom, R., T. A. Scambos, L. G. Benetts, P. Reid, V. A. Squire, and S. Stammerjohn. 2018. Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell. Nature, 558, 383-389, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1.

DMSP F18 to undergo testing late June, early July

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F18 satellite will be undergoing testing from June 25 to 29 and from July 9 to 12. During this time, data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) sensor on F18 may have degraded quality or may not be collected. DMSP F18 is the primary sensor that provides NSIDC with near-real-time data for sea ice monitoring (nsidc-0081, the Sea Ice Index, and the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis web page). If the data quality does not meet operational standards, NSIDC will remove the resulting sea ice fields or NSIDC may not distribute data from the F18 SSMIS during the test periods.

Springtime for the Arctic

Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was the second lowest in the satellite record. Above average temperatures and high sea level pressure prevailed over most of the Arctic Ocean, while some surrounding continental regions were colder than usual.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles). This was the second lowest May extent in the 39-year satellite record, and is 310,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) above May 2016, the record low for the month. Compared to May 2016, the ice cover remained slightly more extensive in the Barents and Kara Seas, within Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, and the southern Beaufort Sea, but less extensive in the Chukchi and East Greenland Seas.

In Svalbard, the average temperature for May 2018 was 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. By the end of the month, the north and west coasts of Svalbard were largely ice-free and a tongue of open water east of the islands extended northeast to Franz Joseph Land. According to NSIDC data, open water stretched as far north as ~82 degrees N at the end of May.

In the Chukchi Sea, open water developed to the west of Point Barrow, Alaska throughout the month. This may be in part a result of the inflow of warm waters from the Pacific, where sea surface temperatures were higher than average. It may also be due to the general lack of sea ice in the region that allows the ocean to readily absorb the sun’s energy. Ice retreat was also substantial within the Sea of Okhotsk, and little ice remains in the region. Hudson Bay began to open up, with a significant area of open water in the northwest sector of the bay.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of June 3, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of June 3, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012, the year with record low minimum extent. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for May 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division

Figure 2b. This plot shows departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic, in millibars, for May 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average sea level pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average sea level pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows air temperatures at the 925 mb level averaged over the Arctic Ocean region. This region covers only oceans areas in the Arctic, bounded by the Bering Strait on the Pacific side, and Fram Strait and roughly the 20 degree E meridian between Svalbard and Norway.||Credit: A. P. Barrett, NSIDC

Figure 2c. This plot shows air temperatures at the 925 mb level averaged over the Arctic Ocean region. This region covers only ocean areas in the Arctic, bounded by the Bering Strait on the Pacific side, and Fram Strait and roughly the 20 degree E meridian between Svalbard and Norway.

Credit: A. P. Barrett, NSIDC
High-resolution image

The atmospheric pattern (Figure 2b) for May was characterized by a region of above average sea level pressure centered over the Fenno-Scandinavian Peninsula and below average pressure centered over Greenland. This pattern helped to funnel warm winds from the south into the Barents Sea sector favoring retreat of ice. Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) in the Barents Sea were up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average (not shown). On the Pacific side, departures from average sea level pressure were small and a fairly typical Beaufort Sea High and Aleutian Low pattern reigned for much of the month. Overall it was warm across the Arctic Ocean with temperatures at the 925 hPa level ranging between 2 to 5 degrees Celsius (4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for the month. By contrast, conditions over land regions surrounding the Arctic were relatively cool. Parts of Central Siberia and Nunavut in northern Quebec saw temperatures more than 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) below average. However, Europe, eastern Asia and western North America were warmer than usual.

Air temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) over the Arctic Ocean have been above average through most this year (Figure 2c). Temperatures were extremely high compared to typical conditions from January through early March. After a brief cold period in March, temperatures returned to near average and increased at typical rates through most of May.

While it is still relatively early in the melt season, images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) show considerable fracturing of multiyear ice floes in the Beaufort Sea. The early development of open water around these large ice floes can help accelerate melt through absorption of solar energy. Some of these ice floes appear already partially covered by melt ponds.

May 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly May ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.6 percent per decade.

Figure 3. Monthly May ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.6 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for May sea ice extent is 36,000 square kilometers (14,000 square miles) per year, or 2.6 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Ice loss during the month was 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles), which was faster than the 1981 to 2010 average loss of 1.5 million square kilometers (579,000 square miles) for the month.

Another season for the Sea Ice Outlook

The Sea Ice Prediction Network is once again soliciting contributions to the Sea Ice Outlook predicting the September 2018 sea ice extent. This effort is coordinated by the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS). This is the second phase of the Sea Ice Prediction Network, and is currently funded by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the United Kingdom’s National Environment Research Council. While all prediction methods are welcome, a new focus of the project is to assess the economic value of seasonal ice forecasts. To make the forecasts more useful to stakeholders, there is an increased emphasis on predicting the spatial pattern of the ice cover for September, not just the total extent. The Sea Ice Outlook will summarize contributions and assess the seasonal evolution of conditions each month through summer and in post-season reports at https://www.arcus.org/sipn.

Autumn in Antarctica

Figure 4a. Arctic sea ice extent for June 1, 2018 was 11.0 million square kilometers (4.2 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day.

Figure 4a. Arctic sea ice extent for June 1, 2018 was 11.0 million square kilometers (4.2 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Sea ice extent in the Southern Ocean grew steadily in May at the rate of 123,000 square kilometers (47,000 square miles) per day, somewhat faster than the 1981 to 2010 average growth rate of 108,000 square kilometers (42,000 square miles) per day. This pushed Antarctic ice extent from third lowest at the start of the month to sixth lowest by June 1. Ice extent was near average for all regions except for a broad section of the far eastern Weddell Sea, where ice extent was less than the 1981 to 2010 average. The eastern Ross, Amundsen, and Bellingshausen Seas began the month with less ice cover than average, but rapid growth in these regions brought ice extent to near average by the end of the month.

Reference

Nilsen, T. “Warmest May ever on Arctic Islands,” The Barents Observer, June 3, 2018, 11:00 a.m., MST, https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/ecology/2018/06/warmest-may-ever-arctic-islands.

Arctic winter warms up to a low summer ice season

Sea ice extent in the Bering Sea remains at record low levels for this time of year. Total ice extent over the Arctic Ocean also remains low.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 2018 was 14.30 million square kilometers (5.52 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for the month.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for April 2018 was 13.71 million square kilometers (5.29 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for the month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for April 2018 averaged 13.71 million square kilometers (5.29 million square miles). This was 980,000 square kilometers (378,400 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and only 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) above the record low April extent set in 2016. Given the uncertainty in measurements, NSIDC considers 2016 and 2018 as tying for lowest April sea ice extent on record. As seen throughout the 2017 to 2018 winter, extent remained below average in the Bering Sea and Barents Sea. While retreat was especially pronounced in the Sea of Okhotsk during the month of April, the ice edge was only slightly further north than is typical at this time of year. Sea ice extent in the Bering Sea remains the lowest recorded since at least 1979. The lack of sea ice within this region created many coastal hazards this past winter.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 4, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012, the year with record low minimum extent. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 30, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012, the year with record low minimum extent. 2018 is shown in blue, 2017 in green, 2016 in orange, 2015 in brown, 2014 in purple, and 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Overall, sea ice extent for April 2018 declined by 920,000 square kilometers (355,000 square miles). The amount of ice lost for the month was less than the 1981 to 2010 average of 1.1 million square kilometers (424,700 square miles). The ice edge retreated everywhere except in Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay/Davis Strait. The sea ice expanded slightly within Davis Strait during the month. Sea ice in the Hudson Bay usually does not begin to retreat until the end of May.

Air temperatures at 925 hPa (about 2,500 feet above sea level) for April were up to 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average in the East Siberian Sea and stretching towards the pole. Air temperatures were also up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average within the East Greenland Sea and 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over Baffin Bay. By contrast, air temperatures were near average within the Barents and Kara seas and lower than average over Canada and the Hudson Bay. The pattern of temperature departures from average resulted from higher than average sea level pressure over the Beaufort Sea as well as the North Atlantic, combined with below average sea level pressure over Eurasia and western Greenland through eastern Canada. On the Pacific side of the Arctic, this pressure pattern drove warm air from the south over the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas, while bringing cold air into northern Canada. The pattern of above average sea level pressure over the North Atlantic was combined with lower than average sea level pressure over western Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, bringing in warm air in from the south over Greenland and Baffin Bay.

April 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.7 percent per decade.

Figure 3. Monthly April ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.6 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for April sea ice extent is 37,500 square kilometers (14,500 square miles) per year, or 2.6 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Continued loss of the oldest sea ice, five-years or older

Figure 4a-d. These maps show the ice age distribution during week 9 in 1984 (a) and 2018 (b). The time-series (c) shows total sea ice extent for different age classes as is outlined in the Arctic Ocean Domain (d). Credit: Preliminary analysis courtesy M. Tschudi, University of Colorado Boulder. Images by M. Tschudi, S. Stewart, University of Colorado, Boulder, and W. Meier, J. Stroeve, NSIDC|

Figure 4a-d. These maps show the ice age distribution during week nine in 1984 (a) and 2018 (b). The time-series (c) shows total sea ice extent for different age classes as is outlined in the Arctic Ocean Domain (d).

Credit: Preliminary analysis courtesy M. Tschudi, University of Colorado Boulder. Images by M. Tschudi, S. Stewart, University of Colorado, Boulder, and W. Meier, J. Stroeve, NSIDC
High-resolution image

An updated assessment of ice age changes in the Arctic through week nine (early March) in 2018 shows a substantial amount of first-year ice within the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, Laptev, Kara and Barents Seas (Figure 4b). Multiyear ice near the Alaskan and Siberian coast is limited to scattered regions off shore in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. A tongue of second- and third-year ice extends from near the pole toward the New Siberian Islands, and a region of second-year ice extends toward Severnaya Zemlya. As averaged over the Arctic Ocean domain (Figure 4d), the multiyear ice cover has declined from 61 percent in 1984 to 34 percent in 2018. In addition, only 2 percent of the ice age cover is categorized as five-plus years, the least amount recorded during the winter period. While the proportion of first-year versus multiyear ice will largely depend on how much ice melted during summer, how much ice is exported out of Fram Strait each winter also plays a role. First-year ice grows to about 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.5 feet) thick over a winter season, while older ice is often 3 to 4 meters (9.8 to 13.1 feet) thick.

Note: The ice age fields originally posted on Thursday, May 3, were incorrect. The ice age field has its “birthday” each September after the minimum, when all of the age values are incremented by one after the end of the summer melt season. For example, first-year ice becomes second-year ice after the minimum, second-year ice becomes third-year ice, and so on. However, in the original post, the near-real-time age fields were not incremented after the 2017 minimum. The ice age fields are now corrected (as of Monday, May 7). However, as these are near-real-time data, minor adjustments may occur during final processing. Final numbers will be available in the next few months.

Is winter warming resulting in less winter ice growth?

Figure 5a. These maps show the cumulative number of freezing degree day anomalies from the Climate Forecast System version 2 (CFSv2). Courtesy of A. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center|

Figure 5a. These maps show the cumulative number of freezing degree day anomalies from the Climate Forecast System version 2 (CFSv2).

Credit: A. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure xx. This time-series from 1985 to 2017 shows the mean winter ice growth (mid-November to mid-April) simulated by the Los Alamos sea ice model (CICE) forced by NCEP-2 atmospheric reanalysis (a). Also shown are the mean 2 meters NCEP-2 air temperature averaged over the Arctic Ocean (b), cumulative freezing degree days (FDDs) (c) and CICE-simulated November ice thickness (d). See Stroeve et al. (2018) for more details.

Figure 5b. This time-series (a) from 1985 to 2017 shows the mean winter ice growth (mid-November to mid-April) simulated by the Los Alamos sea ice model (CICE) forced by the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP-2) atmospheric reanalysis. Also shown are the mean 2 meters NCEP-2 air temperature averaged over the Arctic Ocean (b), cumulative freezing degree days (FDDs) (c), and CICE-simulated November ice thickness (d).

See Stroeve et al. (2018) for more details.
High-resolution image

The last three winters have seen air temperatures at the North Pole surge above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). While heat transport associated with individual storms can result in high air temperatures persisting over several days, a more important metric in regard to how winter warming impacts the sea ice cover is the cumulative number of freezing degree days. This is defined as the number of days below freezing multiplied by the magnitude of the temperatures below the freezing point. Widespread reductions in the total number of freezing degree days (as compared to average) are apparent for the last three winters, being most pronounced this past winter (Figure 5a).

Previous studies evaluated how the low number of cumulative freezing degree days in the 2015 to 2016 winter over the Barents and Kara Seas impacted the ice thickness and sea ice extent in that region. A newer study looks at the effects of warm winters for a larger area. NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve found that in response to the warm winter of 2016 to 2017, ice growth over the Arctic Ocean was likely reduced by 13 centimeters (5 inches). Generally, one does not expect variations in winter air temperature to have a significant impact on winter ice growth—temperatures still generally remain well below freezing and the rate at which ice grows (thickens) is greater for thin ice than thick ice. Thus, despite an overall increase in winter air temperatures, thermodynamic ice growth over winter has generally increased in tandem with thinning at the end of summer (Figure 5b). However, since 2012, this relationship appears to be changing. Overall winter ice growth in the 2016 to 2017 winter was similar to that in 2003, despite having a mean November ice thickness well below that seen in 2003. A similar analysis is not yet available for the 2017 to 2018 winter, but given the very warm conditions, it is likely that thermodynamic ice growth was reduced compared to average.

Unusual polynya opening north of Greenland

Figure6_adj

Figure 6a. This sequence of high-resolution images from the NASA Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) show the formation of a large polynya north of Greenland.

Credit: J. Stroeve, National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure6b. This graph shows average daily temperatures at Cape Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost station. Credit:

Figure 6b. This graph shows average daily temperatures at Cape Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost station.

Credit: J. Stroeve, National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

During the middle of February, a large polynya opened north of Greenland and persisted through the first week of March (Figure 6a). Development of the polynya was driven in part by strong winds from the south and unusually high air temperatures. On February 24, during the peak of the polynya opening, air temperatures at Cape Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost station, surged well above freezing, reaching 6.1 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit), while the daily average temperature hovered just above freezing (Figure 6b). Such periods of extremely warm winter temperatures have been unusual since the beginning of the Cape Morris Jesup record in 1981. During the month of February, only a few years exhibited hourly air temperatures rising above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit): once in 1997, five times in 2011, seven in 2017 and 59 times in 2018.

References

Beitsch, A., L. Kaleschke, and S. Kern. 2014. Investigating high-resolution AMSR2 sea ice concentrations during the February 2013 fracture event in the Beaufort Sea. Remote Sensing 6, 3841-3856, doi.org/10.3390/rs6053841.

Boisvert, L.N., A.A. Petty, and J. Stroeve. 2016. The impact of the extreme winter 2015/16 Arctic cyclone on the Barents–Kara Seas, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi:10.1175/MWR-D-16-0234.1.

Ricker, R., S. Hendricks, F. Girard-Ardhuin, L. Kaleschke, C. Lique, X. Tian-Kunze, M. Nicolaus, and T. Krumpen. 2017a. Satellite observed drop of Arctic sea ice growth in winter 2015-2015, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2016GL072244.

Stroeve, J., D. Schroeder, M. Tsamados, and D. Feltham. 2018. Warm winter, thin ice? The Cryosphere, doi:10.5194/tc-2017-287, accepted.

Further reading

Thompson, A. “Shock and thaw—Alaskan sea ice just took a steep, unprecedented dive.” Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/shock-and-thaw-alaskan-sea-ice-just-took-a-steep-unprecedented-dive.

Hansen, K. “Historic low sea ice in the Bering Sea.” NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=92084.

2018 winter Arctic sea ice: Bering down

The 2018 winter sea ice maximum has passed, and the melt season has begun. The most notable aspect of the 2017 to 2018 winter ice extent was the persistently low ice extent in the Bering Sea. While December, January, and February were characterized by very warm conditions over the Arctic, March temperatures were mixed, with cool conditions over the Eurasian side and moderately warm conditions over the North American side.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 2018 was 14.3 million square kilometers (5.52 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 2018 was 14.30 million square kilometers (5.52 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for the month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for March 2018 averaged 14.30 million square kilometers (5.52 million square miles), the second lowest in the 1979 to 2018 satellite record. This was 1.13 million square kilometers (436,300 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and 30,000 square kilometers (11,600 square miles) above the record low March extent in 2017. Extent at the end of the month was far below average in the Bering Sea, as it has been for the past several months, and slightly below average in the far northern Atlantic Ocean and Barents Sea. Ice extent was slightly above average in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 4, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years, and the record low year. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in purple, and 2011 to 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 4, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years, and the record low year. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in purple, and 2011 to 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperatures at the 925 hPa level in degrees Celsius in the Arctic for March 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures.

Figure 2b. This plot shows departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for March 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows the average sea level pressures in the Arctic (in millibars) at the 925 hPa level for March 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressures; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressures.

Figure 2c. This plot shows the average sea level pressure in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in millibars, for March 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressure; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressure.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Overall, ice extent for March 2018 changed little. Extent reached the annual maximum on March 17 and declined by March 31 to nearly the same level as at the beginning of the month. Ice loss following the seasonal maximum has been almost entirely restricted to the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, with slight increases in extent in the Barents Sea and near Svalbard.

Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) were 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average in regions near Greenland and Alaska. Cooler conditions prevailed over Scandinavia, the Kara Sea, and far eastern Siberia, where temperatures were generally 4 to 7 degrees Celsius (7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) below average.

Higher than average sea level pressure was present over the western Arctic, including Canada, the Beaufort Sea, and Greenland, while lower than average sea level pressure prevailed over most of Europe and Siberia. This pattern was associated with winds from the south in the Bering Sea and Alaska, helping to push ice toward the pole. Conversely, over Scandinavia and the Barents Sea this pressure pattern resulted in winds from the northeast that pushed Arctic air onto the northern Eurasian landmass leading to colder air temperatures.

The Arctic Oscillation (AO), an indicator for general wind, precipitation, and temperature patterns in the Arctic, was strongly negative in early March, reflecting the higher than average sea level pressure in the western Arctic. This negative phase is characterized by a weakening of the circumpolar wind pattern, a pattern that favors cold air outbreaks over much of the United States as well as parts of Europe and Asia.

March 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of 2.7 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 2.7 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for March ice extent is 42,200 square kilometers (16,400 square miles) per year, or 2.7 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Review of winter season 2017 to 2018

Figure 4. This plot shows the departure from average air temperatures in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for December 2017 and January and February in 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division| High-resolution image

Figure 4. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for December 2017 and January and February in 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperature; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperature.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Unusually warm conditions and some prominent warm air intrusions characterized the 2017 to 2018 winter over the Arctic Ocean. Mean air temperature for the months of December, January, and February combined (the climatological winter season) was as much as 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average, and nearly the entire Arctic Ocean was 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average. This is the fourth year in a row that unusual jet stream patterns have led to warm air intrusions over the Arctic Ocean. However, some Arctic and subarctic land areas experienced unusually cold periods during the winter. Recent studies show that the frequency and intensity of warm air intrusions has increased in the last few years, particularly in the Atlantic sector, helping to reduce ice growth in the Barents Sea. The winter of 2017 to 2018 marks the second year in a row of pronounced warming events in the Pacific sector.

Deep snow in Russia and Europe

Figure 5. These images show the Northern Hemisphere water equivalent of snow cover in millimeters (top) and the Northern Hemisphere Total snow mass from October 2017 to March 31, 2018, in gigatons.

Figure 5. These images show Northern Hemisphere water equivalent of snow cover in millimeters (top) and Northern Hemisphere total snow mass in gigatons (bottom) from October 2017 to March 31, 2018.

Credit: GlobSnow Project and the Finnish Meteorological Institute
High-resolution image

Snow cover extent on the land masses surrounding the Arctic Ocean was average this past winter. However, an analysis of the snow cover thickness and density showed that the total snow mass this past winter was high. Estimates of total snow mass as of March 31 showed that the Northern Hemisphere had nearly 700 billion tons more snow this winter than the 1982 to 2012 average. Many areas of Russia and northern Europe had more than 150 millimeters (6 inches) of water-equivalent on the ground, present as deep snow cover. Snow extent had been above average the entire autumn-winter season but grew to exceptional levels beginning in February. Although the total snow mass has begun to decrease, it is still far above average. The analysis is based on many sources of snow and snow depth data, including passive microwave data produced by NSIDC (EASE-Grid Snow Water Equivalent and Daily Snow Cover), and data derived from several other groups from the European Space Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sea ice drift in the Arctic Ocean

Figure 6. This plot shows monthly average sea ice motion in the Arctic for the months of January, February, and March in 2018. Credit: NSIDC courtesy Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facility (OSI-SAF)

Figure 6. This plot shows monthly average sea ice motion in the Arctic, in centimeters per second, for the months of January, February, and March in 2018.

Credit: Alek Petty/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and the Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facility (OSI-SAF)
High-resolution image

Plots of monthly average sea ice motion for January, February, and March 2018 reveal pronounced changes in drift direction, since sea ice movement is largely controlled by winds, and therefore storms and pressure patterns. The maps include averages of sea surface temperature outside of the ice-covered area, and indicate that the surface of both the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic were substantially warmer relative to a 1982 to 2015 reference period. Strong Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift patterns were present for January and March of 2018. Ice motion and sea surface temperature data are based on a multi-sensor estimate created by the Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facility (OSI-SAF), a European meteorological consortium.

Seasonal increase in Antarctic sea ice

After reaching a minimum extent for the year on February 20 and 21, Antarctic sea ice grew rapidly in March 2018. Sea ice extent averaged 3.53 million square kilometers (1.36 million square miles) for the month, not far below the 1981 to 2010 average of 4.03 million square kilometers (1.56 million square miles). Growth was especially rapid in the Amundsen and Ross Seas, nearly erasing the area of below-average sea ice extent that had been in the eastern Ross Sea and western Amundsen in early March.

Rapid sea ice growth in the Amundsen and eastern Ross Seas was reflected in temperatures at the 925 hPa level that were 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) below average across the Pine Island Bay region. This is likely related to cool winds from the south coming up against the west side of a low-pressure area over the Bellingshausen Sea. By comparison, temperatures 2.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average were the rule over much of the continental interior from Dronning Maud Land to northern Victoria Land along the Transantarctic Mountains. The index of the strength of the circumpolar vortex (or Southern Annular Mode) was near-neutral for March.

References

Boisvert, L. N., A. A. Petty, and J. Stroeve. 2016. The Impact of the Extreme Winter 2015/16 Arctic Cyclone on the Barents–Kara Seas, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi:10.1175/MWR-D-16-0234.1.

Graham, R. M., L. Cohen, A. A. Petty, L. N. Boisvert, A. Rinke, S. R. Hudson, M. Nicolaus, and M. A. Granskog. 2017. Increasing frequency and duration of Arctic winter warming events, Geophysical Research Letters, 44, 6974–6983, doi:10.1002/2017GL073395.

Ricker, R., S. Hendricks, F. Girard-Ardhuin, L. Kaleschke, C. Lique, X. Tian-Kunze, M. Nicolaus, and T. Krumpen. 2017. Satellite observed drop of Arctic sea ice growth in winter 2015-2015, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2016GL072244.

Rinke, A., M. Maturilli, R. M. Graham, H. Matthes, D. Handorf, L. Cohen, S. R. Hudson, and J. C. Moore. 2017. Extreme cyclone events in the Arctic: Wintertime variability and trends , Environmental Research Letters, 12 (9), 094006, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa7def.

Correction

On April 20, we revised a sentence under the section Seasonal increase in Antarctic sea ice. The sentence originally read “Growth was especially rapid in the Amundsen and eastern Ross Sea, where sea ice was nearly absent at the time of the minimum extent, and along the East Antarctic coast, where many areas now exceed the daily median extent for the end of March.” We revised it to “Growth was especially rapid in the Amundsen and Ross Seas, nearly erasing the area of below-average sea ice extent that had been in the eastern Ross Sea and western Amundsen in early March.”

 

Arctic sea ice maximum at second lowest in the satellite record

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual maximum extent on March 17. This is the second lowest Arctic maximum in the 39-year satellite record. The four lowest maximum extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past four years. NSIDC will post a detailed analysis of the 2017 to 2018 winter sea ice conditions in our regular monthly post in early April.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 17, 2018 was 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Sea Ice Index data. About the data||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 17, 2018 was 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

On March 17, 2018, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles), the second lowest in the 39-year satellite record, falling just behind 2017. This year’s maximum extent is 1.16 million square kilometers (448,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles).

The four lowest seasonal maxima have all occurred during the last four years. The 2018 maximum is 60,000 square kilometers (23,200 square miles) above the record low maximum that occurred on March 7, 2017; 40,000 square kilometers (15,400 square miles) below the 2015 and 2016 maxima (now tied for third lowest); and is 190,000 square kilometers (73,400 square miles) below the 2011 maximum, which is now fifth lowest.

In March 2017, we reported a new record maximum being set, with 2016 sliding to the second lowest, and 2015 the third lowest. In November 2017, we updated our calculation of the monthly average sea ice extent in the NSIDC Sea Ice Index, resulting in 2016 tying with 2015.

The date of the maximum this year, March 17, was five days later than normal compared to the 1981 to 2010 median date of March 12.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for five previous years. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2012 in magenta, and 2011 to 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in magenta, and the record low year 2011 to 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The ice growth season ended with very low sea ice extents in the Bering Sea in the Pacific side of the Arctic, and in the Barents Sea in the Atlantic side of the Arctic. The regions of reduced ice cover reflect the combined influences of late autumn freeze-up as well as persistent high air temperatures throughout the winter. Freeze-up was especially late in the Chukchi Sea, due in part to the effects of strong ocean heat transport into the area through the Bering Strait. February then saw an early retreat of sea ice in the Bering Sea. Sea ice extent on the Atlantic side remained below average throughout the winter, which also appears linked to warm ocean waters. While air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) remained well above average through most of winter, February saw an extreme heat wave over the Arctic Ocean. This is the fourth winter in a row that such heat waves have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean.

A late spurt in sea ice growth just prior to the maximum occurred in the Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya; sea ice retreat just after the maximum was led by ice loss in the Bering Sea.

Table 1. Ten lowest maximum Arctic sea ice extents (satellite record, 1979 to present)

Rank Year In millions of square kilometers In millions of square miles Date
1 2017 14.42 5.57 March 7
2 2018 14.48 5.59 March 17
3 2015 14.52 5.61 February 25
3 2016 14.52 5.61 March 24
5 2011 14.67 5.66 March 9
5 2006 14.68 5.67 March 12
7 2007 14.77 5.7 March 12
8 2005 14.95 5.77 March 12
8 2014 14.96 5.78 March 21
10 2009 15.17 5.84 March 5

The Antarctic minimum

As noted in our previous post, in the Southern Hemisphere, sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year on February 20 and 21, at 2.18 million square kilometers (842,000 square miles). This year’s minimum extent was the second lowest in the satellite record, 70,000 square kilometers (27,00 square miles) above the record low set on March 3, 2017. The Antarctic minimum extent is 670,000 square kilometers (259,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum of 2.85 million square kilometers (1.10 million square miles).

The February 20 and 21 timing of the minimum (the same extent was recorded on both dates) was just slightly earlier than the 1981 to 2010 median date of February 24 for the minimum. Over the satellite record, the Antarctic minimum has occurred as early as February 15 and as late as March 6.

Compared to the Arctic, air temperatures over the sea ice regions of Antarctica over the past season (austral summer) have been closer to their climatological average, hovering within 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) of the 1981 to 2010 average. Relatively rapid and early growth of ice along the eastern Weddell Sea ice edge led the beginning of the autumn sea ice expansion.

Final analysis pending

Please note this is a preliminary announcement. At the beginning of April, NSIDC scientists will release a full analysis of winter conditions in the Arctic, along with monthly data for March. For more information about the maximum extent and what it means, see the NSIDC Icelights post, the Arctic sea ice maximum.

A warm approach to the equinox

As temperatures at the North Pole approached the melting point at the end of February, Arctic sea ice extent tracked at record low levels for this time of year. Extent was low on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Arctic, with open water areas expanding rapidly in the Bering Sea during the latter half of the month. On the other side of the globe, Antarctic sea ice has reached its minimum extent for the year, the second lowest in the satellite record.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2018 was 13.95 million square kilometers (5.39 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2018 was 13.95 million square kilometers (5.39 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Winter continues to be mild over the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice extent remained at record low daily levels for the month. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2018 averaged 13.95 million square kilometers (5.39 million square miles). This is the lowest monthly average  recorded for February, 1.35 million square kilometers (521,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and 160,000 square kilometers (62,000) below the previous record low monthly average in 2017.

Extent was especially low in the Bering Sea where sea ice declined during the first three weeks of the month. The eastern part of the Bering Sea was largely ice-free for most of the month; extent was low on the western side, with the ice edge further north than normal. In the Chukchi Sea, extent also retreated during part of February, with open water developing north of the Bering Strait on both the Siberian and Alaskan coasts. As seen all winter, ice extent continued to be below average in the Barents Sea, and at the end of February, a wedge of open water formed north of Svalbard that extended well into the Arctic Ocean.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of March 4, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in purple, and 2011 to 2012 in dotted brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows the average sea level pressures at the 925 hPa level for February 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressures; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressures.

Figure 2b. This plot shows the average sea level pressures at the 925 hPa level for February 2018. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressures; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressures.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This figure shows differences from the average in temperature in degrees Celsius and in addition to wind conditions for the period February 22 to 26, 2018. In addition, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index is shown in the lower left. This is a measure of the strength of the westerly winds in the North Atlantic. When the index is negative, the flow is wavier, which increases the probability of transport of warm air to Greenland from the south.

Figure 2c. This figure shows differences from average temperature in degrees Celsius, and wind conditions for the period February 22 to 26, 2018. In addition, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index is shown in the lower left. This is a measure of the strength of the westerly winds in the North Atlantic. When the index is negative, the flow is wavier, which increases the probability of transport of warm air to Greenland from the south.

Credit: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) IFS forecast model
High-resolution image

Low pressure centered just east of the Kamchatka Peninsula and high pressure centered over Alaska and the Yukon during February set up southerly winds that brought warm air and warm ocean waters into the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean, impeding southward ice growth. This helps to explain the rapid loss of ice extent in the Bering Sea and the ice-free regions within the Chukchi Sea during the month. The warm air intrusion is evident in the 925 mb air temperatures, with monthly temperatures 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (18 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in the Chukchi and Bering Sea.

On the Atlantic side, low pressure off the southeast coast of Greenland and high pressure over northern Eurasia helped to funnel warm winds into the region and may have also enhanced the northward transport of oceanic heat. At the end of the month, this atmospheric circulation pattern was particularly strong, associated with a remarkable inflow of warm air from the south, raising the temperatures near the North Pole to above freezing, around 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (36 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Air temperatures at Cape Morris Jesup in northern Greenland (83°37’N, 33°22’W) exceeded 0 degrees Celsius for several hours and open water formed to the north of Greenland at the end of the month. This is the third winter in a row in which extreme heat waves have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean. A study published last year by Robert Graham from the Norwegian Polar Institute showed that recent warm winters represent a trend towards increased duration and intensity of winter warming events within the central Arctic. While the Arctic has been relatively warm for this time of year, northern Europe was hit by extreme cold conditions at the end of February.

February 2018 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly 2018 ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 3.1 percent per decade.

Figure 3. Monthly 2018 ice extent for 1979 to 2018 shows a decline of 3.1 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The linear rate of decline for February is 47,000 square kilometers per year (18,000 square miles per year), or 3.1 percent per decade.

Late freeze-up

freeze average and anomaly plots

Figure 4. These graphs show the average Arctic Ocean ice freeze-up dates for 1979 to 2017 (top) and the number of days that freeze-up occurred earlier (cool colors) or later (warm colors) than average (bottom).

Credit: J. Miller, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
High-resolution image

This year, the freeze-up started earlier than average over much of the central Arctic Ocean, near average within Hudson and Baffin Bays, but significantly later than average elsewhere. Freeze-up was delayed by more than a month later than average within the Chukchi and Bering Seas on the Pacific side, and within the Barents and East Greenland Seas on the Atlantic side. In these regions freeze-up happened after December. Later freeze-up impacts sea ice thickness, reducing the number of days over which sea ice can grow during winter.

Winter navigation in the Arctic without an icebreaker

Figure 4. This figure shows the distribution of Arctic sea ice according to stage of development, , as of February 22, 2018. Pink shows new ice; purple shows young ice; blue shows first year thin ice; orange shows first year medium ice, red shows first year thick ice, brown shows old ice, and while shows glacial ice.

Figure 5. This figure shows the distribution of Arctic sea ice according to stage of development, , as of February 22, 2018. Pink shows new ice; purple shows young ice; blue shows first year thin ice; orange shows first year medium ice, red shows first year thick ice, brown shows old ice, and while shows glacial ice.

Credit: U.S. National Ice Center
High-resolution image

The Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible for shipping. Most of the increase in commercial shipping traffic has been during summer, primarily through the Northern Sea Route along the coast of Siberia. However, this February a commercial tanker, the Eduard Toll, made the first crossing of the Northern Sea Route in winter. Improvements in ship-building and the development of ice-strengthened hull technology is a major factor in enabling winter access. Previous ice-strengthened ships could only navigate safely through 0.5 meter thick ice, compared to the 1.8 meter thick ice that the Eduard Toll cruised through. A fleet of six ships with similar technology is being constructed by a South Korean shipbuilder.

While the Northern Sea Route has tended to be dominated by first-year ice, which typically reaches a maximum of around 2 meters, thicker (3- to 4-meter) multi-year ice would be a hazard even to the newer, stronger ships. According to analysis by the U.S. National Ice Center, this year’s old ice (multi-year ice) has pulled completely away from the coast and the Northern Sea Route is dominated by first-year medium (0.7- to 1.2-meter) or first-year thick (1.2- to 2-meter) ice.

Opposite pole, same near-record low extent

Figure 6. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of March 1, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in purple, and 2011 to 2012 in dotted magenta. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data.

Figure 6a. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of March 1, 2018, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2017 to 2018 is shown in blue, 2016 to 2017 in green, 2015 to 2016 in orange, 2014 to 2015 in brown, 2013 to 2014 in purple, and 2011 to 2012 in dotted magenta. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 6b. This figure shows Antarctic sea ice extent for February 28, 2018. Sea Ice Index data. About the data||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 6b. This figure shows Antarctic sea ice extent for February 28, 2018. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

In the Antarctic, sea ice extent reached its daily seasonal minimum, 2.18 million square kilometers (842,000 square miles), on February 20 and 21. This is the second lowest minimum extent in the satellite record, 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) above the record low, which was set on March 3, 2017. The February average was 2.29 million square kilometers (884,000 square miles), second lowest in the satellite record, and 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) above the record low February in 2017.

Sea ice in the Antarctic is highly variable from year to year—much more so than in the Arctic. This is clearly seen in the February extent values, where low 2011 values were followed by record or near-record highs in 2013, 2014, and 2015. This was then followed by record or near-record lows in 2017 and this year.

Sea ice extent is particularly low in the Ross and western Amundsen Sea region, and along the southern reaches of the Bellingshausen Sea. Patchy sea ice areas along the East Antarctic coast are near-average in extent.

Further reading

Graham, R. M., L. Cohen, A. A. Petty, L. N. Boisvert, A. Rinke, S.R. Hudson, M. Nicolaus, and M. A. Granskog. 2017. Increasing frequency and duration of Arctic winter warming events, Geophys. Res. Lett., 16, 6974-6983, doi:10.1002/2017GL073395.

Kretschmer, M., D. Coumou, L. Agel, M. Barlow, E. Tziperman, and J. Cohen. 2017. More persistent weak stratospheric polar vortex states linked to cold extremes, Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0259.1.