Falling up

Arctic sea ice began its autumn regrowth in the last 12 days of September, with the ice edge expanding along a broad front in the western Arctic Ocean. Overall, the summer of 2019 was exceptionally warm, with repeated pulses of very warm air from northern Siberia and the Bering Strait.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2019 was 4.32 million square kilometers (1.67 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 1b. This map compares sea ice extent between September 18 (white) and September 30 (dark blue), showing areas of retreat and expansion.

Credit NSIDC
High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice extent for September averaged 4.32 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles), the third lowest in the 41-year continuous satellite record, behind 2012 and 2007. This is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in September 2012, and 2.09 million square kilometers (807,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Following the minimum seasonal extent, which occurred on September 18 and tied for second lowest in the satellite record, rapid growth ensued along the ice edge in the northern Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, and eastern Laptev Seas (Figure 1b). Winds from the south caused a small area of continued ice retreat in the western Laptev and Kara Seas, offsetting some of the ice expansion. There was also growth in the Canadian Archipelago and offshore northwest of Greenland, with some expansion caused by drift to the northeast of Greenland. The Northern Sea Route appeared to still be open at the end of September.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of October 2, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for September 01 to 30, 2019. 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

Warm conditions marked September over the entire Arctic Ocean and its surrounding lands. Air temperatures at the 925 millibar level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) for the month were 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 reference period over the ocean region, reaching 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska (Figure 2b). The surrounding Eurasian high-latitude areas experienced temperatures 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) above the reference period average. Northern Canada and Alaska were also warm, at 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, with very warm conditions over the Yukon and eastern Alaska, which experienced temperatures 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Only southern Greenland experienced below-average temperatures, around 1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 period.

The pace of sea ice growth in late September was about average for the post-minimum period. Sea ice expanded at a rate of about 35,000 square kilometers (13,500 square miles) per day. More rapid growth is typical of October when air temperatures fall.

September 2019 compared to previous years

September sea ice decline trendline 1979 to 2019

Figure 3a. Monthly September ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 12.9 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
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Figure 3a. September monthly mean trends for 1979-2019, showing overall trend and trends for the most recent 13 years, and the steepest 13 years in the 41-year record. ||W. Meier, NSIDC|High-resolution image

Figure 3b. September monthly mean trends for 1979-2019, showing overall trend and trends for the most recent 13 years, and the steepest 13 years in the 41-year record.

W. Meier, NSIDC
High-resolution image

This animation shows Arctic sea ice decline from 1979 to 2019 in increasing shades of dark blue with the current year in magenta. ||Credit: M. Scott, NSIDC|High-resolution image

Figure 3c. This animation shows Arctic sea ice decline from 1979 to 2019 from pink to purple, with dark purple in 2019. This animation is based on the Chartic Interactive Sea Ice Graph.

Credit: M. Scott, NSIDC
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Since sea ice extent typically falls during the first half of September and then rises, the overall monthly rate of change in not especially informative. However, in the interests of completeness, sea ice extent during September 2019 decreased by 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) over the month. By contrast, September extent increased by 130,000 square kilometers (50,200 square miles) during the 1981 to 2010 average. The linear rate of sea ice decline for September extent from 1979 to 2019 is 82,400 square kilometers (31,800 square miles) per year, or 12.9 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Within the overall decline, it is notable that the most recent 13 years, from 2007 to 2019, have shown very little decline (Figure 3b). Both 2007 and 2012 were extreme low extent years, and variability has been high in this period. However, an earlier 13 year period, 1999 to 2012, shows a rate of decline that is more than double the overall rate in the satellite record. This illustrates the challenge of extracting a quantitative rate of decline in a highly variable system like sea ice, and the benefits of looking at decadal, and not year-to-year variations. Our updates to our public analysis tool, Charctic now allows the user to see the decadal average trends as well as each year (Figure 3c).

A look back at the 2019 Arctic summer

Figure XX. This graphic ranks months based on their Arctic air temperature from 1979 to 2018 at 925 hPa from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP/NCAR) Reanalysis for all areas north of 70 degrees N. Dark reds indicate warmest months; dark blues indicate coldest months. ||Credit: Z. Labe, University of California, Irvine | High-resolution image

Figure 4a. This graphic ranks months based on their Arctic air temperature from 1979 to 2019 at 925 hPa from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP/NCAR) Reanalysis for all areas north of 70 degrees N. Dark reds indicate warmest months; dark blues indicate coldest months.

Credit: Z. Labe, University of California, Irvine
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Arctic summer temperature anomaly map

Figure 4b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June, July, and August 2019. 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 4c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for two different periods of the 2019 Arctic melt season. The left image shows SLP average from July 10 to August 14, and the image on the right shows SLP averages from August 14 to September 18. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division| High-resolution image

Figure 4c. This plot shows average sea level pressure (SLP) in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for two different periods of the 2019 Arctic melt season. The left plot shows SLP average from July 10 to August 14, and the right plot shows SLP averages from August 14 to September 18. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Warm conditions across the Arctic Ocean, and early retreat of ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas were distinguishing characteristics of the 2019 summer melt season, which followed another winter and spring with very little ice in the Bering Sea. Monthly average temperatures for the high Arctic (north of 70 degrees North latitude) show that the 2019 spring and summer months, from April to September, all ranked within the three warmest since 1979 (Figure 4a). Air temperatures at the 925hPa level over the Arctic Ocean for the period of June, July, and August were as much as 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 reference period average (Figure 4b). Similarly, warm conditions extended into central Siberia and southern Alaska.

The melt season began with little ice in the Bering Sea, which favored early losses in the southern Chukchi Sea by late May. May 2019 was the warmest May in the Arctic since 1979, with some areas seeing temperatures 6 to 7 degrees Celsius (11 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for the month. The sea ice retreat continued with a large area of open water along the coast of northern Alaskan, and initial retreat in the East Siberian Sea. Baffin Bay also lost its ice cover early, and was largely ice free by mid-July. From mid-July through August, a rapid retreat occurred along the entire western Arctic, which while typical for late summer, was more extreme than in earlier decades. However, the pace of ice loss slowed in mid-August, moving the 2019 daily sea ice extent above values for the same dates in 2012, the year that ended up with the lowest September extent in the satellite record. In September, above average temperatures persisted, but sea ice extent was largely controlled by shifting winds. The sea ice extent started to increase when ice growth exceeded the effects of compaction or regional melting from warm ocean waters.

Climatologically, the summer of 2019 was characterized by generally high pressure over Greenland and parts of the Arctic Ocean, with frequent winds from the south into the Arctic Ocean along the longitudes of Siberia and Alaska. The rate of sea ice decline in 2019 tracked the 2012 rate of decline for much of the summer, resulting in new record daily extent lows in July and early August for 2019. This fast-paced period of decline over 35 days, from July 10 to August 14, was attended by high air pressure over Greenland and the Barents Sea, driving warm air northward over Baffin Bay and into the central Arctic Ocean (Figure 4c). The slower pace of ice loss that began in mid-August through the minimum, from August 14 to September 18, was attended by sharply lower sea level pressures in this area, extending northward towards the Pole. High pressure over the East Siberian Sea coupled with this low air pressure extending from Svalbard and Greenland created an eastward wind flow on the Siberian side of the Pole that tended to disperse ice at the ice edge, slowing retreat. Declining temperatures and lower solar elevation are major factors at this time of year, highlighting how the 2012 melt season differed from average years.

Antarctic update

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of XXXXX XX, 20XX, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 in brown, 20XX in purple, and 20XX 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 5. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of October 2, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low and high maximum years. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, the record low maximum extent, 2016 in brown, 2015 in purple, and 2014 in dotted brown, the record high maximum extent. 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

Antarctic sea ice is nearing its seasonal maximum for 2019, and may have reached the maximum extent on September 30 at 18.40 million square kilometers (7.10 million square miles). As of this post, sea ice extent is still only slightly below the 1981 to 2010 average, although Antarctic sea ice has tracked below the reference period continuously since September 2016. Regionally, sea ice extent is below the 1981 to 2010 average in the Amundsen, eastern Weddell, and western Wilkes Land coast, but slightly greater than average in the Cosmonaut Sea and eastern Wilkes Land areas.

Further reading

Comiso, J. C. and Gordon, A. L. 1987. Recurring polynyas over the Cosmonaut Sea and the Maud Rise. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 92(C3), pp. 2819-2833, doi: 10.1029/JC092iC03p02819.

Arctic sea ice reaches second lowest minimum in satellite record

On September 18, Arctic sea ice reached its likely minimum extent for 2019. The minimum ice extent was effectively tied for second lowest in the satellite record, along with 2007 and 2016, reinforcing the long-term downward trend in Arctic ice extent. Sea ice extent will now begin its seasonal increase through autumn and winter.

Please note that this is a preliminary announcement. Changing winds or late-season melt could still reduce the Arctic ice extent, as happened in 2005 and 2010. NSIDC scientists will release a full analysis of the Arctic melt season, and discuss the Antarctic winter sea ice growth, in early October.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 18, 2019 was 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 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 September 18, 2019 was 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 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 September 18, 2019, sea ice extent dropped to 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles), effectively tied for the second lowest minimum in the satellite record along with 2007 and 2016. This appears to be the lowest extent of the year. In response to the setting sun and falling temperatures, ice extent will begin increasing through autumn and winter. However, a shift in wind patterns or a period of late season melt could still push the ice extent lower.

The minimum extent was reached four days later than the 1981 to 2010 median minimum date of September 14. The interquartile range of minimum dates is September 11 to September 19.

This year’s minimum extent was effectively tied with 2007 and 2016 for second lowest, only behind 2012, which is the record minimum. The 13 lowest extents in the satellite era have all occurred in the last 13 years.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent on September 18, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for 2007 and 2016 (tied for second lowest minimums on record) and 2012 (lowest on record). 2019 is shown in blue, 2016 in light brown, 2012 in dotted pink, and 2007 in dark 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 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent on September 18, 2019, along with 2007 and 2016—the years tied for second lowest minimum—and the record minimum for 2012. 2019 is shown in blue, 2016 in light brown, 2012 in dotted pink, and 2007 in dark 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 2a. The graph shows Arctic sea ice decline per decade, and includes the 2019 sea ice decline trajectory. The color scheme moves from lightest blue to darkest, from 1979 to 1990 and 2010 to 2018, respectfully. ||Credit: M. Scott, NSIDC|High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This graph shows Arctic sea ice decline per decade, and includes the 2019 sea ice decline trajectory. The color scheme moves from lightest to darkest blue, from 1979 to 1989 and 2010 to 2018, respectively. 2019 is shown in magenta. This graphic is based on the Charctic Interactive Sea Ice Graph.

Credit: M. Scott, NSIDC
High-resolution image

This year’s minimum set on September 18 was 760,000 square kilometers (293,000 square miles) above the record minimum extent in the satellite era, which occurred on September 17, 2012, and 2.10 million square kilometers (811,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum extent.

Thirteen lowest minimum Arctic sea ice extents (satellite record, 1979 to present)

Table 1. Thirteen lowest minimum Arctic sea ice extents (satellite record, 1979 to present)
RANK YEAR MINIMUM ICE EXTENT DATE
IN MILLIONS OF SQUARE KILOMETERS IN MILLIONS OF SQUARE MILES
1 2012 3.39 1.31 Sept. 17
2 2019
2007
2016
4.15
4.16
4.17
1.60
1.61
1.61
Sept. 18
Sept. 18
Sept. 10
5 2011 4.34 1.68 Sept. 11
6 2015 4.43 1.71 Sept. 9
7 2008
2010
4.59
4.62
1.77
1.78
Sept. 19
Sept. 21
9 2018
2017
4.66
4.67
1.80
1.80
Sept. 23
Sept. 13
11 2014
2013
5.03
5.05
1.94
1.95
Sept. 17
Sept. 13
13 2009 5.12 1.98 Sept. 13

Values within 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) are considered tied. The 2018 value has changed from 4.59 to 4.66 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles) when final analysis data updated near-real time data, dropping 2018 to a tied ninth position with 2017.

Summer’s not over until bottom melt ends

While Arctic sea ice extent was tracking at record low levels in July and August, the pace of ice loss slowed considerably after the middle of August, despite above-average air temperatures over much of the Arctic Ocean. By August 14, extent started tracking above levels observed in 2012, resulting in the second lowest August extent in the satellite record. Although Arctic air temperatures are now falling below freezing, sea ice loss will likely continue for several weeks as heat stored in the ocean melts the underside of sea ice. Winds can also compress the pack further reducing sea ice extent. As of this post, the rate of sea ice loss has sped up again.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 August 2019 was 5.03 million square kilometers (1.94 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

On August 14, Arctic sea ice extent began tracking above 2012 levels, and continued to do so for the remainder of the month, resulting in a monthly average extent of 5.03 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles). This is 310,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) above the 2012 average extent, the lowest in the satellite record, and 2.17 million square kilometers (838,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average for August. On August 13, ice extent dropped below 5 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles). This never occurred prior to 2007, but has occurred every subsequent year apart from 2009 and 2013. Overall sea ice retreat during the second half of August was modest, taking place along the periphery of the ice edge within the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice concentrations remain low over many areas, especially along the ice edge in the Beaufort Sea and within the Laptev Sea.

For the month as a whole, sea ice loss was most pronounced in the East Siberian Sea as the ice that had persisted in that region finally melted out. The ice edge is presently far north of its climatological average position everywhere except for a tongue of ice in the eastern part of the Beaufort Sea west of Banks Island, and around the island of Svalbard, where the ice edge remains near or slightly south of its average location for this time of year. While sea ice concentrations from the passive microwave record suggest that the Northwest Passage southerly route, or Amundsen’s route, is free of ice, operational ice analyses, which employ higher resolution visible band and radar satellite data, show some remaining ice around the Prince of Wales Island. The more northerly route through the Parry Channel and M’Clure Strait still has significant amounts of ice and will likely not open this year.

On August 31, sea ice extent dropped to 4.62 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles), the third lowest extent for this date in the satellite record.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of XXXXX XX, 20XX, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 in brown, 20XX in purple, and 20XX 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 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of September 4, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2X. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from August 15 to 31, 2019. 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

During the second half of August, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were above average over most of the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures over the East Siberian through the Laptev and Kara Seas were 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average. Air temperatures over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago were up to 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. By contrast, air temperatures around Svalbard were around 1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) below average (Figure 2b). Cold conditions were also present in the southern Beaufort Sea and in the Yukon and MacKenzie districts of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

During the third week of August, a cyclone developed over the Northwest Territories and entered the Beaufort Sea on August 23. It then moved east over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This cyclone began pulling warm air from the south over northwestern Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and into the Lincoln Sea. While this cyclone was short-lived, air temperatures during the cyclone passage within the Lincoln Sea were up to 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average. While a notable event, the storm does not appear to have had much of an effect on ice extent.

August 2019 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of X.X percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly August ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 10.59 percent per decade.

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

Overall, the pace of ice loss in August 2019 was 54,900 square kilometers (21,200 square miles) per day. This was considerably slower than the 2012 rate of decline of 89,500 square kilometers (34,600 square miles) per day, but only slightly slower than the 1981 to 2010 climatological rate of decline of 57,300 square kilometers (22,100 square miles) per day. In total, 1.70 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) of ice were lost during August 2019. The linear rate of sea ice decline for August from 1979 to 2019 is 76,200 square kilometers (29,400 square miles) per year, or 10.59 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

The melt season is not over until bottom melt ends

Time series from the Beaufort Sea in 2005 – 2006 of ice thickness (red line), growth rate (blue bars with negative values), bottom melt (blue bars with positive values), and surface melt (dark blue line with points). Both surface and bottom melt started on 10 June. Surface melt peaked on 1 August and peak bottom melt was two weeks later on 15 August. Surface melting ended on 24 August, while bottom melting continued until 24 October. Image from Don Perovich.

Figure 4a. This 2005 to 2006 time series from the Beaufort Sea shows ice thickness (red line), growth rate (blue bars with negative values), bottom melt (blue bars with positive values), and surface melt (dark blue line with points). Both surface and bottom melt started on June 10. Surface melt peaked on August 1, and peak bottom melt was two weeks later on August 15. Surface melting ended on August 24, while bottom melting continued until October 24.

Credit: Don Perovich
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Figure 4b. Sea surface temperature (from NOAA dOISST) and ice concentration (NSIDC Sea Ice Index) for 25 August 2019. The locations of 3 UpTempO drifting buoys are marked as 1, 2 and 7. Data from UptempO drifting buoy locations is available for downloading here.

Figure 4b. This map shows sea surface temperature and ice concentration for August 25, 2019. The locations of three Upper layer Temperature of the Polar Oceans (UpTempO) drifting buoys are marked as 1, 2, and 7. Sea surface temperature data are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration daily Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature (OISST), and ice concentration from the NSIDC Sea Ice Index. Download data from UptempO drifting buoy locations.

Credit: University of Washington
High-resolution image

By August, the sun hangs low on the horizon in the Arctic, air temperatures drop below the freezing, melt ponds begin to freeze, and the first snows fall. It seems as though summer is over, but it is not. Even though surface melting has largely ended, there still is ample heat remaining in the ocean and the bottom of the ice is still melting. Colleague Don Perovich discussed these issues at the International Glaciological Society: Sea Ice at the Interface meeting, held August 18 to 23, 2019 in Winnipeg, Canada. Surface melting peaks in July and usually ends in mid-August. By contrast, bottom melting peaks in August and often continues into September or October (Figure 4a). This is supported by observations in regions with early sea ice retreat like the Chukchi, Bering, Laptev, and Kara Seas, where sea surface temperatures were 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher on August 25 (Figure 4b).

Update on ice conditions in the Northwest Passage

Figure 5a. The time series shows total sea ice area for 2019, 2011 and the 1981-2010 median within the northern route of the Northwest Passage. Data is from the Canadian Ice Service.

Figure 5a. This time series shows total sea ice area for 2019, 2011, and the 1981 to 2010 median within the northern route of the Northwest Passage.

Credit: Canadian Ice Service
High-resolution image

Figure 5b. The time series shows total sea ice area for 2019, 2011 and the 1981-2010 median within the southern route of the Northwest Passage. Data is from the Canadian Ice Service.

Figure 5b. The time series shows total sea ice area for 2019, 2011, and the 1981 to2010 median within the southern route of the Northwest Passage.

Credit: Canadian Ice Service
High-resolution image

As of August 26, sea ice area in the northern (deep water) route of the Northwest Passage is currently tracking just below the 1981 to 2010 average (Figure 5a). Concentrations are well above the record low for this area recorded in 2011, with 83 percent of the ice cover consisting of multiyear ice. It is unlikely the northern route will open this year. By sharp contrast, the southern route of the Northwest Passage, Amundsen’s route, is tracking well below the 1981 to 2010 average and just above 2011 (Figure 5b). Areas of low ice concentration are still present to the east and south of Prince of Wales Island but it is likely the southern route will completely clear in the coming weeks. The Northern Sea Route along the Siberian coast has been essentially open for several weeks.

Another year of sea ice loss in the Beaufort Sea

Figure 6a. MODIS Imagery over the Beaufort Sea from April 4 and May 30, 2019. Showing the transition from an ice-covered Sea to the vast areas of open water that were dynamically created. ||Credit: NASA Worldview|High-resolution image

Figure 6a. This NASA Worldview image taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite shows the Beaufort Sea on April 4 and May 30, 2019. The two images show a transition in sea ice extent where the April 4 image depicts an ice-covered sea while the May 30 image contains large areas of open water.

Credit: NASA Worldview
High-resolution image

Figure 6b. Mean fields of ice drift and sea level pressure in the Arctic from April 1 to May 31, 2019. Ice Drift data is from OSI SAF Low Resolution Sea Ice Drift product (http://osisaf.met.no/p/ice/index.html#lrdrift) and SLP fields are from NCEP reanalysis.

Figure 6b. This map of the Arctic shows average fields of ice drift and sea level pressure (SLP) from April 1 to May 31, 2019. Ice Drift data is from Ocean and Sea Ice (OSI) Satellite Application Facilities (SAF) Low Resolution Sea Ice Drift product and SLP fields are from National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalysis.

Credit: Meteorologisk Institutt and NCEP
High-resolution image

Sea ice loss during 2019 has been particularly pronounced in the Beaufort Sea, where only a dispersed tongue of multiyear sea ice remains. On August 31, sea ice extent fell to its sixth lowest in the 40-year satellite record and continues the long-term trend towards the Beaufort becoming seasonally ice free, meaning that no ice survives the melt season. Recent work by David Babb and colleagues at the University of Manitoba has focused on the dynamic and thermodynamic processes influencing summer sea ice loss in the Beaufort Sea, and connected summer ice loss back to the timing of sea ice breakup.

In early April 2019, a consolidated mix of first year and multiyear sea ice covered the Beaufort Sea (Figure 6a). However, high sea level pressure over the western Arctic during April and May increased ice export out of the Beaufort Sea (Figure 6b), dynamically opening up the region and dropping its sea ice area by 50 percent in May. (Sea ice area represents the area of a grid cell multiplied by the ice concentration.) The transition from a snow-covered icescape to vast areas of open water occurred between one to two months earlier than usual, initiating a cycle of increased open water—increased solar energy absorption—and therefore accelerated ice melt (ice-albedo feedback). Subsequently, regional sea ice area in June fell to one of its lowest values in the satellite record, indicating that the Beaufort was bound to once again become ice free in September like it had in 2012 and 2016. However, ice import during June and July generated a tongue of multiyear ice in the eastern Beaufort Sea that led to positive thickness anomalies in July and persisted through summer. Low sea ice once again characterizes the Beaufort Sea, where nine of the ten lowest sea ice areas occurred within the last 13 years. Sea ice extent has a significant negative trend in this region, losing 5,006 square kilometers (1,933 square miles) per year at the end of August. While it will be interesting to see if this multiyear ice tongue persists through September, it will also be instructive to see how the warm surface waters affect fall freeze up, which may then impact the 2019 to 2020 ice growth season.

Antarctic sea ice note

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica has grown at a faster-than-average pace since late July, climbing from a record low level on July 25 to about tenth lowest at the end of August. Most of the increase in extent was along the sea ice edge of the Weddell and Cosmonaut Seas, and north of Wilkes Land, while the northern Ross Sea and Amundsen Sea saw significant ice retreat. The annual sea ice maximum for Antarctic sea ice is usually around October 1.

Further reading

Babb, D. G., J. C. Landy, D. G. Barber, and R. J. Galley. 2019. Winter sea ice export from the Beaufort Sea as a preconditioning mechanism for enhanced summer melt: A case study of 2016. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 124, doi:10.1029/2019JC015053.

Galley, R. J., D. Babb, M. Ogi, B. G. T. Else, N.-X. Geilfus, O. Crabeck, D. G. Barber, and S. Rysgaard. 2016. Replacement of multiyear sea ice and changes in the open water season duration in the Beaufort Sea since 2004, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 121, doi:10.1002/2015JC011583.

 

Beware the Ides of July

Loss of ice extent through the first half of July matched loss rates observed in 2012, the year which had the lowest September sea ice extent in the satellite record. Surface melt has become widespread and there is low concentration ice in the Beaufort Sea. However, projections suggest that a new record low extent is unlikely this year.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 15, 2019 was 7.91 million square kilometers (3.05 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 July 15, 2019 was 7.84 million square kilometers (3.03  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 7.84 million square kilometers (3.03 million square miles). This is 1.91 million square kilometers (737,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and nearly the same as the July 14, 2012 extent. Since the beginning of the month, the ice edge has receded in most coastal areas and the open water region in the Laptev Sea has expanded.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 14, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 15, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for July 1 - 14, 2019. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for July 1 – 14, 2019. 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 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for July 1 - 14, 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division |High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for July 1 – 14, 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

The first half of July is generally the period of most rapid ice loss. As averaged over the 1981 to 2010 period, extent drops 80,000 square kilometers (30,900 square miles) per day in the 1981 to 2010 climatology over this period. In recent years, daily loss rates have been higher. This year, most days during the first half of July had rates exceeding 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) per day, which is similar to what has been observed over the past several years.

It has been warm through mid-July, with air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) averaging at least 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) above the 1981 to 2010 average over much of the Arctic Ocean and some areas, such as the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas, experiencing temperatures 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) above average. Alaska was subjected to especially warm conditions compared to average, with record highs being set throughout the state early in the month.

High pressure at sea level has persisted into July over the Arctic Ocean, resulting in fairly clear skies that are associated with enhanced surface melt.

Breakup in the Beaufort

Ice floes in the Beaufort Sea

Figure 3a. This shows a true-color composite image of broken up sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite on July 8, 2019.

Credit: Land Atmosphere Near-Real Time Capability for EOS (LANCE) System, NASA/GSFC
High-resolution image

Melt ponds form in the Canadian Archipelago

Figure 3b. This image from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) shows sea ice in the Canadian Archipelago on July 7, 2019. The blue hues indicate areas of widespread surface melt and melt ponds on the surface of the ice.

Credit: Land Atmosphere Near-Real Time Capability for EOS (LANCE) System, NASA/GSFC
High-resolution image

In the southwestern Beaufort Sea, numerous floes have broken away from the main pack ice and have been drifting southward. These will be encountering warm water and will be prone to rapid melt. Nearby in the Canadian Archipelago, the ice has turned a bluish tint in visible imagery, indicating significant surface melt and melt ponds. There is evidence of melt ponds elsewhere over the Arctic Ocean, particularly in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas.

Is a new record low in the offing?

Figure 4. This figure compares 2019 projections of sea ice minimum extents based on rates of decline from previous years. The 2012 minimum extent of 3.39 million square kilometers (1.31 million square miles) is marked with a dashed black line. The red line uses the rate of decline from the 1981 to 2010 reference period. The green line uses the rate of decline from 2007 to 2018 average. The dotted purple line uses the 2012 rate of decline, and the dotted turquoise line uses the 2006 rate of decline.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC
High-resolution image

With extent tracking near 2012 levels and atmospheric conditions conducive to rapid ice loss, it is tempting to speculate whether September extent will drop below the record low observed in 2012. A simple way to investigate this possibility is to project forward from this year’s current extent using ice loss rates from other years to estimate extents through the remainder of the summer. Based on this approach, prospects of a new record low appear slim; a new record low would only occur if loss rates followed those observed in 2012, which were very rapid because of persistent warm conditions through the melt season, with ice loss potentially enhanced by the passage of a strong cyclone in August.

Sea ice age update

Figure5a

Figure 5. Sea ice age for (a) January 1-7, 2019 and (b) June 25 - July 1, 2019. The short tongue of ice in the eastern Beaufort Sea in January has been stretched and deformed into the “Z” shaped feature seen in the late June image. NSIDC DAAC Quicklook data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figures 5a and b. The top map shows sea ice age for January 1 to 7, 2019, and the bottom map shows June 25 to July 1, 2019. The short tongue of ice in the eastern Beaufort Sea in January has been stretched and deformed into the “Z” shaped feature seen in the late June image. Quicklook data.

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

As of the beginning of July, large swaths of first-year ice covered the Arctic Ocean. Thicker, older ice is primarily found in a band between the North Pole, the Canadian Archipelago, and the northern Greenland coast. A narrow strip of second-year ice extends across the Pole into the East Siberian Sea. Another distinctive feature is a “Z” pattern of older ice in the Beaufort Sea induced by the clockwise Beaufort Gyre high pressure pattern, that transported ice eastward and northward over the course of the winter and spring. Some ice got “snagged” on Point Barrow, causing the pattern of old ice to deform into the “Z” shape. With so much first-year ice in the Arctic Ocean and roughly two months left of the melt season, there are many remaining areas of potential ice loss. But how much and where ice is lost will depend significantly on the weather patterns over the next eight weeks.

Melt season shifts into high gear

After a period of slow ice loss in the middle of June, Arctic sea ice loss ramped up, and extent at the end of the month fell below 2012, the year which ended up with the lowest September ice extent in the satellite record. A pattern of atmospheric circulation favored ice loss this June, which was also characterized by above average temperatures over most of the Arctic Ocean, and especially in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 2019 was 10.53 million square kilometers (4.07 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 averaged 10.53 million square kilometers (4.07 million square miles). This is 1.23 million square kilometers (475,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and 120,000 square kilometers (46,300 square miles) above the previous June record low set in 2016. Extent at the end of the month remained well below average on the Pacific side of the Arctic, with open water extending from the Bering Strait, and along the coasts of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas all the way to Melville Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the open waters have been unusually high, up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in the Chukchi Sea, as indicated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) SST data provided on the University of Washington Polar Science Center UpTempO website. Large areas of open water are now apparent in the Laptev and Kara Seas with extent below average in Baffin Bay and along the southeast coast of Greenland.

Extent over the first 10 days of the month dropped quickly but then the loss rate suddenly slowed. From June 12 through June 16, extent remained almost constant at 10.8 million square kilometers (4.17 million square miles). Following this hiatus, extent then dropped fairly quickly through the remainder of the month. Overall, sea ice retreated almost everywhere in the Arctic in June. Exceptions included the northern East Greenland Sea, southeast of Svalbard, near Franz Joseph Land, and in the southeastern part of the Beaufort Sea, where the ice edge expanded slightly.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 1, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 1, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2X. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2019. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2019. 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 2X. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for June 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division| High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for June 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Following May’s theme, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) in June were above the 1981 to 2010 average over most of the Arctic Ocean. However, the spatial patterns between the two months were different. While in May, it was particularly warm compared to average over Baffin Bay and a broad area north of Greenland, in June the maximum warmth of more than 6 to 8 degrees Celsius (11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) shifted to the Laptev and East Siberian Seas (Figure 2b). It was slightly cooler than average over the northern Barents and Kara Seas and over central Greenland and the western Canadian Arctic.

The atmospheric circulation at sea level featured high pressure over the north American side of the Arctic, with pressure maxima over Greenland and in the Beaufort Sea, paired with low pressure over the Eurasian side of the Arctic, with the lowest pressures over the Kara Sea (Figure 2c). This pattern drew in warm air from the south over the Laptev Sea where temperatures were especially high relative to average. This circulation pattern bears some resemblance to the Arctic Dipole pattern that is known to favor summer sea ice loss, which was particularly well developed through the summer of 2007. So far, the pattern for the 2019 melt season is very different than the past three years, which featured low pressure over the central Arctic Ocean.

June 2019 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of X.X percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly June ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 4.08 percent per decade.

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

The average extent for June 2019 of 10.53 million square kilometers (4.07 million square miles) ended up as the second lowest in the satellite record. The current record low of 10.41 million square kilometers (4.02 million square miles) was set in June 2016. Overall, sea ice extent during June 2019 decreased by 2.03 million square kilometers (784,00 square miles). Because of the fairly slow loss rate near the middle of the month, the overall loss rate for June ended up being fairly close to the 1981 to 2010 average. The linear rate of sea ice decline for June from 1979 to 2019 is 48,000 square kilometers (19,00 square miles) per year, or 4.08 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Sea Ice Outlook posted for June

Projections of total Arctic sea ice extent based on conditions in May. https://www.arcus.org/sipn/sea-ice-outlook/2019/june

Figure 4. This chart shows the projections of total Arctic sea ice extent based on conditions in May from 31 contributors.

Credit: Sea Ice Prediction Network
High-resolution image

The Sea Ice Prediction Network–Phase 2 recently posted the 2019 Sea Ice Outlook June report. This report focuses on projections of September sea ice extent based on conditions in May. The projections come variously from complex numerical models to statistical models to qualitative perspectives from citizen scientists. There were 31 contributions for projected total Arctic sea ice extent and of these 31, nine also provided projections for extent in Alaska waters, and six provided projections of total Antarctic extent (Figure 4). There were also seven predictions of September extent for Hudson Bay.

The median of the projections for the monthly mean September 2019 total Arctic sea ice sea-ice extent is 4.40 million square kilometers (1.70 million square miles) with quartiles (including 75 percent of the 31 projections) of 4.2 and 4.8 million square kilometers (1.62 and 1.85 million square miles). The observed record low September extent of 3.6 million square kilometers (1.39 million square miles) was set 2012. Only three of the projections are for a September 2019 extent below 4.0 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) and only one is for a new record at 3.06 million square kilometers (1.18 million square miles).

Thicker clouds accelerate sea decline

Figure 5. These plots show linear trends of satellite-retrieved cloud cover, percent per year, for March through June over the Arctic (70 to 90 degrees North) from 2000 to 2015. Blues depict declines in cloud cover while reds depict increases. Cloud observations are derived from CERES-MODIS SYN1 Ed3.0 product. || Credit: Huang, Y. et al., 2019, Geophysical Research Letters | High-resolution image

Figure 5. These plots show linear trends of satellite-retrieved cloud cover, percent per year, for March through June over the Arctic (70 to 90 degrees North) from 2000 to 2015. Blues depict declines in cloud cover while reds depict increases. Cloud observations are derived from CERES-MODIS SYN1 Ed3.0 product.

Credit: Huang, Y. et al., 2019, Geophysical Research Letters
High-resolution image

A new study led by Yiyi Huang of the University of Arizona presents evidence of a link between springtime cloud cover (Figure 5) over the Arctic Ocean and the observed decline in sea ice extent. Based on a combination of observations and model experiments, there may be a reinforcing feedback loop. As sea ice melts, there is more open water which promotes more evaporation from the surface and hence more water vapor in the atmosphere. More water vapor in the air then promotes the development of more clouds. This increases the emission of longwave radiation to the surface, further fostering melt. The process appears to be effective from April through June. But since the atmosphere influences the sea ice and the sea ice influences the atmosphere, separating cause and effect remains unclear.

Antarctic sea ice at record low for June

Figure 5.

Figure 6a. This plot shows the evolution of linear trends in annual average sea ice extent for the Arctic, in blue, and Antarctic, in red. The trend was first computed from 1979 through 1990, then from 1979 through 1991, then 1979 through 1992, and so on. Even with the recent declines in Antarctic sea ice extent, the linear trend is still slightly positive. The reason for starting the trend calculation from 1979 through 1990 is that it provides a sufficient number of years to compute a trend.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC
High-resolution image

Annual mean sea ice extent from 1979 through 2018 in the Arctic and Antarctic from the Sea Ice Index using the NASA Team sea ice algorithm.

Figure 6b. This plot shows the average annual sea ice extent from 1979 through 2018 in the Arctic, in blue, and Antarctic, in red, from the Sea Ice Index using the NASA Team sea ice algorithm.

Credit: J. Stroeve, NSIDC
High-resolution image

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica was at the lowest mean monthly extent for June, surpassing 2002 and 2017. At the month’s end, sea ice averaged approximately 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles) below the previous record low set in 2002, and over 1.1 million square kilometers (425,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Ice extent was particularly low in the eastern Weddell Sea and the region north of Enderby Land (south of the western Indian Ocean), and north of eastern Wilkes Land. No region had substantially above average sea ice extent in June.

A new paper published by our colleague Claire Parkinson at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) discusses the large drop in Antarctic sea ice extent between 2014 and 2017. The winter maximum for 2014 was unusually high, setting the 40-year record maximum extent. Our earlier posts noted the dramatic recent decline, particularly in the austral spring of 2016. Sea ice has remained below the 1981 to 2010 reference period extent since late 2016.

While the recent decline is noteworthy, trends in Antarctic sea ice extent over the continuous satellite record since late 1978 remain slightly positive (Figure 6a). Antarctica experiences large inter-annual variability because of its unconfined geography—open to the Southern Ocean on all sides—and strong influences of the varying Southern Annular Mode pattern of atmospheric circulation. Sparse satellite data from the 1960s indicate large swings in that decade as well. Previous studies have attributed the onset of the recent decline as a response to a series of intense storms. Unlike Arctic sea ice extent, which evinces a longterm downward trend, Antarctic sea ice extent displays enormous variability that is natural for the southern sea ice system (Figure 6b). Thus, a clear climate-related signal cannot yet be discerned for sea ice in the southern hemisphere.

Reference

Gallaher, D. W., G. G. Campbell and W. N. Meier. 2013. Anomalous variability in Antarctic sea ice extents during the 1960s with the use of Nimbus data. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, 7(3), pp. 881-887. doi:10.1109/JSTARS.2013.2264391.

Huang, Y., X. Dong, D. A. Bailey, M. M. Holland, B. Xi, A. K. DuVivier, et al. 2019. Thicker clouds and accelerated Arctic sea ice decline: The atmosphere‐sea ice interactions in spring. Geophysical Research Letters, 46. doi:10.1029/2019GL082791.

Parkinson, C. L. 2019. A 40-year record reveals gradual Antarctic sea ice increases followed by decreases at rates far exceeding the rates seen in the Arctic. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), July, pp. 1-10. doi:10.1073/pnas.1906556116.

Turner, J., T. Phillips, G. J. Marshall, J. S. Hosking, J. O. Pope, T. J. Bracegirdle, and P. Deb. 2017. Unprecedented springtime retreat of Antarctic sea ice in 2016. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(13), pp. 6868-6875. doi:10.1002/2017GL073656.

Rapid ice loss in early April leads to new record low

April reached a new record Arctic low sea ice extent. Sea ice loss was rapid in the beginning of the month because of declines in the Sea of Okhotsk. The rate of ice loss slowed after early April, due in part to gains in extent in the Bering and Barents Seas. However, daily ice extent remained at record low levels throughout the month.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 April 2019 was 13.45 million square kilometers (5.19 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 April 2019 averaged 13.45 million square kilometers (5.19 million square miles). This was 1.24 million square kilometers (479,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average extent and 230,000 square kilometers (89,000 square miles) below the previous record low set in April 2016.

Rapid ice loss occurred in the Sea of Okhotsk during the first half of April; the region lost almost 50 percent of its ice by April 18. Although sea ice was tracking at record low levels in the Bering Sea from April 1 to 12, the ice cover expanded later in the month. Elsewhere, there was little change except for small losses in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the southern part of the East Greenland Sea, and southeast of Svalbard. In addition, open water areas developed along coastal regions of the Barents Sea. The ice edge expanded slightly east of Novaya Zemlya.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of May 1, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of May 1, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and 2012. 2019 is shown in blue, 2018 in green, 2017 in orange, 2016 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. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for April 2019. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for April 2019. 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

Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2,500 feet above the surface) were above average across the Arctic during the first two weeks of April, especially over the East Siberian Sea and the Greenland Ice Sheet where air temperatures were as much as 9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit) above average (Figure 2b). Elsewhere, 925 hPa temperatures were between 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, including the Sea of Okhotsk where ice loss early in the month was especially prominent. These relatively warm conditions were linked to a pattern of high sea level pressure over the Beaufort Sea paired with low sea level pressure over Alaska, Siberia, and the Kara and Barents Seas. This drove warm air from the south over the East Siberian Sea. Similarly, high pressure over Greenland and the North Atlantic, coupled with low sea level pressure within Baffin Bay, helped usher in warm air over southern Greenland from the southeast.

During the second half of the month, temperatures remained above average over most of the Arctic Ocean, and up to 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the East Greenland Sea. However, temperatures were 1 to 5 degrees Celsius (2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) below average over the Bering Sea, and up to 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) below average over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Air temperatures were slightly below average in the Kara Sea.

April 2019 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of X.X percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly April ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 2.64 percent per decade.

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

The 1979 to 2019 linear rate of decline for April ice extent is 38,800 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) per year, or 2.64 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Sea ice age update

Figure 4. Maps (a) and (b) compare Arctic sea ice age between two date ranges: April 8 to 14, 1984, and April 9 to 15, 2019. Graph (c) shows sea ice age as a percentage of Arctic Ocean coverage from 1984 to 2019 in mid-April. ||Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC|High-resolution image

Figure 4. The top maps compare Arctic sea ice age for (a) April 8 to 14, 1984, and (b) April 9 to 15, 2019. The time series (c) of mid-April sea ice age as a percentage of Arctic Ocean coverage from 1984 to 2019 shows the nearly complete loss of 4+ year old ice; note the that age time series is for ice within the Arctic Ocean and does not include peripheral regions where only first-year (0 to 1 year old) ice occurs, such as the Bering Sea, Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay, and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Credit: W. Meier, NSIDC
High-resolution image

Younger sea ice tends to be thinner than older ice. Therefore, sea ice age provides an early assessment of the areas most susceptible to melting out during the coming summer. The Arctic sea ice cover continues to become younger (Figure 4), and therefore, on average, thinner. Nearly all of the oldest ice (4+ year old), which once made up around 30 percent of the sea ice within the Arctic Ocean, is gone. As of mid-April 2019, the 4+ year-old ice made up only 1.2 percent of the ice cover (Figure 4c). However, 3 to 4-year-old ice increased slightly, jumping from 1.1 percent in 2018 to 6.1 percent this year. If that ice survives the summer melt season, it will somewhat replenish the 4+ year old category going into the 2019 to 2020 winter. However, there has been little such replenishment in recent years.

The sea ice age data products were recently updated through 2018 (Version 4, Tschudi et al., 2019). Data is available here. In addition, an interim QuickLook product that will provide preliminary updates every month is in development.

Changing ice and sediment transport

Figure 5. This figure shows three different aspects of ice formation in the Arctic Ocean. |Figure 5a. This map shows the Transpolar Drift and pack ice carried from the Siberian shelf seas towards Fram Strait.|Figure 5b. This illustration shows the process of ice formation. |Figure 5c. This graph shows the probability that newly formed ice in the winter will survive the summer. ||Credit: T. Krumpen|High-resolution image

Figure 5a. This map shows the main sea ice drift patterns.
Figure 5b. This illustration shows how sediments can be ingrained into the newly forming sea ice.
Figure 5c. This graph shows the probability that newly formed ice in the winter will survive the summer.

Credit: T. Krumpen
High-resolution image

Figure 5. This image shows sediment-rich sea ice in the Transpolar Drift. Two researchers were lowered by crane from the decks of the icebreaker RV Polarstern to the surface of the ice to collect samples. Photo Credit: R. Stein, AWI, 2014.

Figure 5d. This image shows sediment-rich sea ice in the Transpolar Drift Stream. A crane lowers two researchers from the decks of the icebreaker RV Polarstern to the surface of the ice to collect samples.

Photo Credit: R. Stein, Alfred Wegener Institut
High-resolution image

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institut (AWI) monitored and analyzed sea ice motion using satellite data from 1998 to 2017 and concluded that only 20 percent of the sea ice that forms in the shallow Russian seas of the Arctic Ocean now reaches the central Arctic Ocean to join the Transpolar Drift Stream (Figures 5a and b). The Russian seas, including the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas, are considered the ice nursery of the Arctic. The remaining 80 percent of this first-year ice melts before it has a chance to leave this nursery. Prior to the year 2000, that number was about 50 percent (Figure 5c).

These conclusions find support from sea ice thickness observations in Fram Strait, which is fed by the Transpolar Drift Stream. AWI scientists regularly gather ice thickness data in Fram Strait as part of their IceBird program. The ice now leaving the Arctic Ocean through the Fram Strait is, on average, 30 percent thinner than it was 15 years ago. There are two reasons for this. First, winters are warmer and the melt season now begins much earlier than it used to. Second, much of this ice no longer forms in the shallow seas, but much farther north. As a result, it has less time to thicken from winter growth and/or ridging as it drifts across the Arctic Ocean.

These changes in transport and melt affect biogeochemical fluxes and ecological processes in the central Arctic Ocean. For example, in the past, the sea ice that formed along the shallow Russian seas transported mineral material, including dust from the tundra and steppe, to the Fram Strait (Figure 5d). Today, the melting floes release this material en route to the central Arctic Ocean. Far less material now reaches the Fram Strait and it is different in composition. This finding is based on two decades of data sourced from sediment traps maintained in the Fram Strait by AWI biologists. Instead of Siberian minerals, sediment traps now contain remains of dead algae and microorganisms that grew within the ice as it drifted.

Putting current changes into longer-term perspective

Figure6updated

Figure 6. This map shows Arctic regions used in the Walsh et al. study and how much each area’s September extent contributes to the total September sea ice extent. The top number gives the percentage (as squares of correlations, or R2) when the raw 1953 to 2013 ice extent time series is used. The bottom number (bold) gives what the percentage drops to after the time series data have been detrended. For example, about 70 percent of the September Arctic-wide extent number is explained by the September extent in the seas north of Alaska, but that drops to about 20 percent once the trends have been removed.

Credit: Walsh et al., 2019, The Cryosphere
High-resolution image

While changes in sea ice extent over the past several decades are usually shown as linear trends, they can mask important variations and changes. A recent study led by John Walsh at University Alaska Fairbanks compared various trend-line fits to sea ice extent time series back to 1953, for the Arctic as a whole and various sub-regions. This data set extends the satellite record by using operational ice charts and other historical sources (Walsh et al., 2016). They found that a two-piece linear fit with a break point in the 1990s provides a more meaningful basis for calculations of sea ice departures from average conditions and their persistence, rather than a single trend line computed over the period 1953 to the present. Persistence of sea ice departures from average conditions represents the memory of the system, which can be used to forecast sea ice conditions a few months in advance. September Arctic-wide ice extent can also be predicted with some limited skill when the data include the trend. However, this apparent skill largely vanishes when the trend is removed from the data using the two-piece linear fit. This finding is consistent with the notion of a springtime predictability barrier, such that springtime sea ice conditions are usually not a strong predictor of the summer ice cover because atmospheric circulation patterns in summer erode this memory in the system. For example, despite the extensive coverage of fairly young—and hence thin—ice this spring, cool summer weather conditions may limit melt, leading to a higher September ice extent than might otherwise be expected.

April snow melt in Greenland—notable but not unusual

Temperatures were well above average over Greenland for much of April but were still below freezing except near the coast. Satellite data indicate that there was a small area surface melt on the southeastern coastal part of the ice sheet early in the month. In the last week of April, melt became more extensive, spreading further north on the east coast and starting on the west coast. While interesting, this is not especially unusual. Most years of the past decade have some surface melt in April. In 2012 and 2016, strong melt events occurred in April that covered a much larger area than in 2019. NSIDC is now tracking Greenland surface melt for 2019 on a daily basis.

Further reading

Krumpen, T., H. J. Belter, A. Boetius, E. Damm, C. Haas, S. Hendricks, M. Nicolaus, E.-M. Nöthig, S. Paul, I. Peeken, R. Ricker, and R. Stein. 2019. Arctic warming interrupts the Transpolar Drift and affects long range transport of sea ice and ice-rafted matter. Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-41456-y.

Tschudi, M. A., W. N. Meier, and J. S. Stewart. 2019. An enhancement to sea ice motion and age products. The Cryosphere Discussion, in review. doi:10.5194/tc-2019-40.

Walsh, J. E., W. L. Chapman, and F. Fetterer. 2015, updated 2016. Gridded Monthly Sea Ice Extent and Concentration, 1850 Onward, Version 1. Boulder, Colorado USA. NSIDC: National Snow and Ice Data Center. doi:10.7265/N5833PZ5.

Walsh, J. E., J. S. Stewart, and F. Fetterer. 2019. Benchmark seasonal prediction skill estimates based on regional indices. The Cryosphere. doi:10.5194/tc-13-1073-2019.

The Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) IceBird Program

Spring arrives in the Arctic

Arctic sea ice extent appears to have reached its maximum extent on March 13, marking the beginning of the sea ice melt season. Since the maximum, sea ice extent has been tracking at record low levels. In the Bering Sea, extent increased through the middle of March after setting record lows—only to drop sharply again.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 March 2019 was 14.55 million square kilometers (5.62 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 March averaged 14.55 million square kilometers (5.62 million square miles), tying with 2011 for the seventh lowest extent in the 40-year satellite record. This is 880,000 square kilometers (340,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and 260,000 square kilometers (100,400 square miles) above the lowest March average, which occurred in 2017.

The Bering Sea, which had been nearly ice free at the beginning of March, saw gains in extent through the middle of the month. However, those gains were short lived as extent dropped sharply during the last week of March. The Bering Sea typically reaches its maximum ice extent in late March or early April. This year, the maximum occurred in late January and was 34.5 percent below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum. These late-March sea ice extent losses in the Bering Sea accelerated the decline of total Arctic sea ice extent. By April 1, Arctic extent was at a record low for that date.

Other signs of spring are emerging. A substantial amount of ice retreated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as in the Barents Sea. Late in the month, small areas of open water were observed in sea ice fields from the University of Bremen, particularly near the shores of the Laptev and Kara Seas, the Sea of Okhotsk, and off of northwestern Alaska.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 2, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 to 2019 is shown in blue, 2017 to 2018 in green, 2016 to 2017 in orange, 2015 to 2016 in brown, 2014 to 2015 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 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 2, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 to 2019 is shown in blue, 2017 to 2018 in green, 2016 to 2017 in orange, 2015 to 2016 in brown, 2014 to 2015 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 temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for March 2019. 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

Overall, Arctic weather in March featured low pressure and above average temperatures. Two low pressure centers at sea level, one over the Bering Sea and the other over the Barents Sea, dominated the atmospheric circulation pattern. Low pressure over the Barents Sea brought cloudy and cool conditions to the immediate region, but also funneled warm air into the central Arctic Ocean. Air temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2500 feet above sea level) were above average over most of the Arctic region, with the exception in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures were far above average, locally exceeding 10  degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit), over the Beaufort Sea, northeast Alaska, and northwest Canada.

The pattern of overall low pressure across the Arctic in March was manifested as a persistent positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO), a pattern that started during the second week of February. A positive AO in winter has in the past favored low September ice extent. This is in part due to a wind pattern tending to advect older, thicker ice out of the Arctic through the Fram Strait. The wind pattern associated with the positive AO also tends to pull ice away from the Siberian coast, resulting in thinner ice in the region that readily melts out during summer. However, with the overall thinning of the Arctic ice cover, the relationship between winter AO phase and September sea ice extent is not as clear as it used to be.

March 2019 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of X.X percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 2.7 percent per decade.

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

The net change in sea ice extent between the beginning and end of March was small, which is typical for the month. Sea ice extent increased during the first part of the month to the annual maximum on March 13 and then declined through the remainder of the month.

The 1979 to 2019 linear rate of decline for March ice extent is 41,700 square kilometers (16,100 square miles) per year, or 2.7 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Winter recap

Figure 4. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) from December 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division| High-resolution image

Figure 4. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) from December 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Moderation marked the 2018 to 2019 winter. Air temperatures at the 925 mb level were average to slightly above average over most of the Arctic Ocean, with only the southern Beaufort Sea being especially warm with temperatures 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average.

Below average pressures at sea level dominated over the Bering Sea and much of the Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean (Figure 4). Circulation patterns, however, were not especially unusual and there were no pronounced short-term heat waves of the type observed in recent winters. For much of the Arctic, sea ice extent was near average through most of the winter. As noted in a previous post, the most compelling feature of the winter was the substantial ice loss during February and early March in the Bering Sea, leading to nearly ice-free conditions.

Snow on sea ice

This graph shows the annual volume of snow on sea ice from 1981 to 2016 based on reanalysis fields from NASA Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA-2) (blue) and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA-1 (green).

Figure 5a. This graph shows the annual volume of snow on sea ice from 1981 to 2016 based on reanalysis fields from NASA Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications-2 (MERRA-2) in blue and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA-Intermin (ERA-I) in green.

Credit: J. Stroeve, NSIDC
High-resolution image

Figure 5b. The top map of the Arctic shows April trends in snow depth (in centimeters/year) from 1981 to 2016 based on NASA Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications-2 (MERRA-2). The bottom map of the Arctic shows April trends in snow depth (in centimeters/year) from 1981 to 2016 based on the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA-Interim (ERA-I). The total volume of accumulation is measured from August through July, starting in the 1980 to 1981 winter. ||Credit: Stroeve et al., 2019 Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans| High-resolution image

Figure 5b. The top map of the Arctic shows April trends in snow depth (in centimeters/year) from 1981 to 2016 based on NASA Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications-2 (MERRA-2). The bottom map of the Arctic shows April trends in snow depth (in centimeters/year) from 1981 to 2016 based on the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA-Interim (ERA-I). The total volume of accumulation is measured from August through July, starting in the 1980 to 1981 winter.

Credit: Stroeve et al., 2019, Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans
High-resolution image

With a general trend toward later sea ice formation in autumn and winter and earlier melt in spring and summer, the time period for snow accumulation on the sea ice is changing. However, snow on sea ice is something that satellites do not measure well. As a result, several different approaches have been used to assess snow on sea ice, ranging from using atmospheric reanalysis precipitation forecasts and applying simple temperature thresholds to simulating physical processes impacting snow on sea ice (e.g., wind redistribution, melt, snow compaction) using sophisticated models. A new model (SnowModel) was recently developed for sea ice applications by colleagues at Colorado State University, and is now providing daily snow depth and density estimates from 1980 onwards. A key challenge is that different atmospheric reanalyses, which are used as input to the model, depict different amounts of precipitation. However, regardless of which reanalysis is used, from newer systems such as the NASA Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications-2 (MERRA-2) to older systems, such as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA-Interim (ERA-I), the increasing open water season has reduced the amount of annual snow being accumulated on the sea ice (Figure 5a and 5b). However, there is a lot of spatial variability in trends. There are trends toward shallower April snow depth over the coastal seas and trends toward deeper snow  over the central Arctic Ocean. Snow on sea ice plays several important roles such as influencing rates of thermodynamic ice growth each winter, melt pond development in summer, and melt water input to the upper ocean. Snow on sea ice also has important biological consequences by changing the amount of sunlight able to penetrate the ice.

Antarctic autumn—slow rise

As noted in last month’s post, Antarctica’s annual minimum extent occurred on March 1, the seventh lowest in the satellite record. Since the minimum, ice extent has increased at a slower-than-average pace, remaining well below the inter-decile (10 to 90 percent) range of past early autumn extents. Sea ice growth during March 2019 has been greatest in the central Ross Sea and northeastern Weddell Seas, with significant ice retreat continuing in the southern Bellingshausen Sea. In keeping with the relatively slow ice growth, air temperatures at the 925 mb level have been 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average along much of the Antarctica coast from Wilkes Land eastward to the Ross, Amundsen, Bellingshausen, and Peninsula regions. Temperatures along the Dronning Maud Land coast have been 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) below average. The atmospheric circulation at sea level has been characterized by three regions of higher than average pressure interspersed with areas of lower than average pressure, termed a wave-3 pattern by climate scientists. In particular, low pressure in the Amundsen Sea area and high pressure in the Drake Passage (between South American and the Antarctic Peninsula) produced strong winds from the northwest along the southern Peninsula, driving sea ice retreat there while other regions generally saw growth in sea ice extent.

Further reading

Stroeve, J., G. E. Liston, S. Buzzard, A. Barrett, M. Tschudi, M. Tsamados and J. S. Stewart. 2019. A lagrangian snow-evolution system for sea ice applications. Journal Geophysical Research-Oceans, submitted.

Liston, G. E., C. Polashenski, A. Roesel, P. Itkin, J. King, I. Merkouriadi and J. Haapala. 2018. A distributed snow-evolution model for sea-ice applications (SnowModel). Journal Geophysical Research-Oceans. doi.org/10.1002/2017JC013706.

Arctic sea ice maximum ties for seventh lowest in satellite record

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual maximum extent on March 13, tying with 2007 for seventh lowest in the 40-year satellite record. The 2019 maximum sea ice extent is the highest since 2014. NSIDC will post a detailed analysis of the 2018 to 2019 winter sea ice conditions in our regular monthly post in early April.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 13, 2019 was 14.78 million square kilometers (5.71 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 13, 2019 was 14.78 million square kilometers (5.71 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 13, 2019, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.78 million square kilometers (5.71 million square miles), the seventh lowest in the 40-year satellite record, tying with 2007. This year’s maximum extent is 860,000 square kilometers (332,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 370,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles) above the lowest maximum of 14.41 million square kilometers (5.56 million square miles) set on March 7, 2017. Prior to 2019, the four lowest maximum extents occurred from 2015 to 2018.

The date of the maximum this year, March 13, was very close to the 1981 to 2010 median date of March 12.

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 14.41 5.56 March 7
2 2018 14.48 5.59 March 17
3 2016
2015
14.51
14.52
5.60
5.61
March 23
February 25
5 2011
2006
14.67
14.68
5.66
5.67
March 9
March 12
7 2007
2019
14.77
14.78
5.70
5.71
March 12
March 13
9 2005
2014
14.95
14.96
5.77
5.78
March 12
March 21

A recent paper (Meier and Stewart, 2019) describes the level of accuracy in NSIDC ice extent estimates, with the aim of improving annual minimum and maximum ranking of extents and to determine which years are close enough to be considered tied. For the Arctic maximum, which typically occurs in March, the uncertainty range is ~34,000 square kilometers (13,000 square miles), meaning that extents within this range must be considered effectively equal. The 2019 maximum extent is only 10,000 square kilometers (3,900 square miles) higher than the 2007 maximum, which is within this uncertainty range. Thus, we designate the 2007 and 2019 maximum extents as equal. As is shown in Table 1, other years have also been ascribed tied rankings. NSIDC scientists will rank future maximums and minimums using these criteria.

Final analysis pending

Please note this is a preliminary announcement of the sea ice maximum. 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.

Further reading

Meier, W. N., and J. S. Stewart. 2019. Assessing uncertainties in sea ice extent climate indicators. Environmental Research Letters, 14, 035005. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aaf52c.

 

Ho hum February it may be, unless we speak of the Bering Sea

Arctic sea ice extent for February 2019 was the seventh lowest in the satellite record for the month, tying with 2015. So far this winter, sea ice extent has remained above the 2017 record low maximum. Extent in the northern Barents Sea, which has been quite low in recent years from “Atlantification,” is closer to average this February. Extent is very low in the Bering Sea at the end of February after unusual ice loss throughout the month. In Antarctica, the sea ice minimum may have been reached on both February 28 and March 1.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2019 was 14.40 million square kilometers (5.56 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 February 2019 averaged 14.40 million square kilometers (5.56 million square miles). This was 900,000 square kilometers (347,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average extent, and 450,000 square kilometers (174,000 square miles) above the record low for the month set in February 2018. For the Arctic as a whole, February 2019 tied with 2015 for the seventh lowest average February extent in the 1979 to 2019 satellite record.

The daily average ice growth rate of 19,400 square kilometers (7,500 square miles) was near the long term average of 20,200 square kilometers (7,800 square miles). Ice growth during February primarily occurred in the Barents Sea and in the Sea of Okhotsk. Some ice growth was also observed in the Labrador Sea. Recent years have seen reduced ice coverage in the northern Barents Sea related to “Atlantification”—a greater influence of warm waters brought in from the Atlantic (see previous post). Sea ice extent toward the end of February 2019, however, was much closer to average in this region. By sharp contrast, sea ice extent drastically retreated in the Bering Sea in February and continues to as of this post.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of March 4, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 to 2019 is shown in blue, 2017 to 2018 in green, 2016 to 2017 in orange, 2015 to 2016 in brown, 2014 to 2015 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 2X. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for February 2019. 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

Arctic temperatures at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2500 feet above the surface) were from 4 to 10 degrees Celsius (7 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average for a region extending from the Bering Sea, through the Beaufort Sea, and into the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Figure 2b). This is consistent with a pattern for the month of low pressure at sea level centered over the western Bering Sea, and high pressure centered over northwestern Canada (Figure 4b). Low pressure dominated both the central Arctic Ocean and the northern North Atlantic. As such, it comes as no surprise that the Arctic Oscillation index was positive overall for the month.

February 2019 compared to previous years

February sea ice extent graph

Figure 3. Monthly February ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 3.0 percent per decade.

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

Overall, sea ice extent during February 2019 increased by 543,000 square kilometers (210,000 square miles). This was fairly close to the 1981 to 2010 average increase for the month. The linear rate of sea ice decline for February is 46,300 square kilometers (17,900 square miles) per year, or 3.0 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Ice loss in the Bering Sea

This graph shows the sharp decline in sea ice extent in the Bering Sea starting at the end of January and continuing as of this post. The comparison map in the top left shows the difference is sea ice extent

Figure 4a. This graph shows the sharp decline in sea ice extent in the Bering Sea starting at the end of January and continuing as of this post. The inset map in the top left compares sea ice extent at the beginning of January 27 and at the end of March 3, 2019.

Credit: W. Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Figure 2X. This plot shows the departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 4b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (or hPa) for February 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low air pressure.

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

As noted above, sea ice in the Bering Sea region is the most remarkable Arctic feature this month. On average, Bering sea ice extent increases until late March or early April. The ice in the region is volatile, responding to winds and waves. Extent often fluctuates during the winter when thin ice near the edge moves north or south and melts or grows. However, this year is quite extreme. From January 27 through March 3, extent decreased from 566,000 square kilometers (219,000 square miles) to 193,000 square kilometers (74,500 square miles), roughly equivalent to the size of Montana (Figure 4). A similar ice loss occurred last year, but 2018 and 2019 appear to be extreme in the satellite record. As of the beginning of March, the 2019 Bering Sea ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record for this time of year.

A major cause of the ice loss is the strong low pressure in the Bering Sea and the high pressure over northwestern Canada (Figure 4b). Strong winds between these pressure centers drew warm air into the region from the south, inhibiting ice growth in the Bering Sea while also pushing ice to the north. Storms also broke up large areas of ice near the ice edge and reduced the sea ice extent. Warmer than average sea surface temperatures have also been observed in the region.

An early look at sea ice freeboard from ICESat-2

Figure 4. These maps show preliminary sea ice freeboard (height of snow or ice surface above the ocean) from two weeks of ICESat-2 data acquired in October 2018. Note that both the spatial scale and the vertical scale are different for the two maps.|| Credit: R. Kwok, Jet Propulsion Laboratory|High-resolution image

Figure 5. These maps show preliminary sea ice freeboard (height of snow or ice surface above the ocean) from two weeks of ICESat-2 data acquired in October 2018. Note that both the spatial scale and the vertical scale are different for the two maps.

Credit: R. Kwok, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
High-resolution image

Colleague Ron Kwok of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, provided a first look of Arctic sea ice freeboard from the NASA Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) at the Fall 2018 American Geophysical Union conference. Freeboard represents the height of the top of the ice or snow above the adjacent ocean surface. Figure 5 shows the maps produced for both the Arctic and the Antarctic from the first two weeks of preliminary data from the satellite, October 14 to 28, 2018.

Freeboard measurements can be used to estimate sea ice thickness and volume, given certain assumptions. While in general freeboard and ice thickness increase and decrease together, the exact conversion from one to the other depends very much on snow thickness, snow and ice density, and degree of surface melt (if any). These maps are based on ~210 orbits using a single laser track from one of the six ICESat-2 laser profiles, smoothed to a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) running average of the difference between snow and sea ice cover height, and ocean surface height. The ocean surface height is measured in ice-free ocean areas in gaps, or leads, within the sea ice.

Note how for the Arctic ICESat-2 captures the expected pattern of higher freeboard (thicker ice) north of the coast of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Greenland and lower freeboard (thinner ice) on the Eurasian side of the Arctic. As also expected, there is little thick ice (i.e. few areas with high freeboard) in Antarctica which consists of mostly first-year ice (less than 1 year old); the obvious exceptions are the areas of high freeboard in the northwestern Weddell Sea and along the northern coast of West Antarctica (Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas) where some older sea ice persists.

ICESat-2 data will be distributed by the NASA Snow and Ice Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) at NSIDC and will be available to the public soon.

Antarctic minimum sea ice extent was likely reached on February 28 and March 1

After plummeting in late December to record daily lows in sea ice extent, Antarctica’s melt slowed significantly in January and February, reaching its likely minimum of 2.47 million square kilometers (954,000 square miles) on both February 28 and March 1. This is the seventh lowest extent in the satellite record.

Sea ice extent has been particularly low in the central and eastern Weddell Sea and in the eastern Ross Sea, but above average ice extent remains along the East Antarctic coastline and the Bellingshausen Sea. Temperatures in the sea ice areas surrounding Antarctica have been near average to slightly below average at 1 degree Celsius to -2 degrees Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit to 28 degrees Fahrenheit), except in the Central Pacific/Ross Sea region where temperatures have been up to 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average.

Further reading

Anchorage Daily: “Bering Sea ice is at an ‘unprecedented’ low right now”

Polar vortex breakdown

In January 2019, a pattern of high-altitude winds in the Arctic, better known as the polar vortex, weakened, sweeping frigid air over North America and Europe in the second half of the month. Arctic sea ice extent remained well below average, but temperatures in the far north were closer to average than in past years.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 January 2019 was 13.56 million square kilometers (5.24 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 January averaged 13.56 million square kilometers (5.24 million square miles). This was 860,000 square kilometers (332,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average sea ice extent, and 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) above the record low for the month set in January 2018. January 2019 was the sixth lowest January extent in the 1979 to 2019 satellite record.

The average rate of daily ice growth of 51,200 square kilometers (19,800 square miles) was faster than the long-term average. Ice growth primarily occurred in the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk in the Pacific sector as well as in the Labrador and Kara Seas. Some ice spread to the northeast of Svalbard, while retreating slightly to the northwest of these islands. Total ice extent was tracking at eighth lowest on January 31, with below average extent in nearly all sectors of the Arctic.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of February 5, 2019, 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 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of February 5, 2019, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2018 to 2019 is shown in blue, 2017 to 2018 in green, 2016 to 2017 in orange, 2015 to 2016 in brown, 2014 to 2015 in purple, and 2012 to 2013 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 2X. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for January 2019. 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 2X. This plot shows the departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for XXXmonthXX 20XX. 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 plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars (hPa) for January 2019. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low average air pressure.

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

Arctic temperatures were only slightly above average, contrasting recent Januaries when very warm conditions prevailed. Daily 2 meter air temperatures for the Arctic averaged above 80 degrees North from the Danish Meteorological Institute were just a few degrees above the 1958 to 2002 average, whereas in 2018, temperatures ranged from 4 to 12 degrees Celsius (7 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Looking at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2,500 feet above the surface; Figure 2b), temperatures of 1 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (2 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average were the rule over the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and over the Bering Sea. However, part of the Atlantic side of the Arctic had temperatures near or slightly below average for the month. The atmospheric circulation pattern was unusual, with above average pressure at sea level over a broad area including northern Canada, Greenland, and the northern North Atlantic, and a broad area of below average pressure along the Russian and Siberian Arctic coast. Low pressure also prevailed over the northern Pacific and Bering Sea (Figure 2c).

January 2019 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 201X shows a decline of X.X percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly January ice extent for 1979 to 2019 shows a decline of 3.2 percent per decade.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
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Overall, sea ice extent during January 2019 increased by 1.59 million square kilometers (614,000 square miles). This was 270,000 square kilometers (104,000 square miles) above the 1981 to 2010 average rate for the month. The linear rate of sea ice decline for January was 46,700 square kilometers (18,000 square miles) per year, or 3.2 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Cold shoulder

At left, upper atmosphere winds (70 millibars, about 60,000 feet altitude) on 15 January 2019. North America is in the center of this view. Right, surface air temperatures on 30 January, 2019. For reference, Chicago was -26 C (-15°F) on this morning (dark blue color)

Figure 4. The left image shows atmosphere winds (70 millibars, about 60,000 feet altitude) on January 15, 2019. North America is in the center of this view. The right image shows surface air temperatures on January 30, 2019. For reference, Chicago was -26 degrees Celsius (-15 degrees Fahrenheit) on this morning (dark blue color)

Credit: earth.nullschool.net
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When well developed, the upper atmosphere circumpolar wind pattern, or polar vortex, isolates cold Arctic air in the far north, strengthens the mid-latitude jet stream, and reduces the frequency of frigid air outbreaks into lower latitudes. Early in January 2019, the polar vortex split into several separate closed streams. There was an outbreak of bitter cold air crossing southern Canada, the US Midwest, and the East Coast, during the last week of January. Such events have been popularly termed “invasions of the polar vortex.”

Conditions in the upper US Midwest were colder than any previous winter period in the past two decades. Low temperatures in northern Minnesota and all of Wisconsin on January 30 and 31 were in the -27 to -35 degrees Celsius range (-17 to -31 degrees Fahrenheit). Large areas of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and the Dakotas reached temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). However, few all-time low temperature records were set during the cold snap. Very mild conditions followed the cold snap in early February.

Arctic change: Fast and furious…and urgent

In a recent review paper (Overland et al., 2019), colleagues from a spectrum of polar geophysics disciplines summarized the many facets of the Arctic’s ongoing transformation, noting that this region, perhaps foremost in the globe, requires a quick adjustment to the pace of climate change. The amplification of global climate change in the Arctic, and the emerging potential for long-term atmospheric and ocean circulation changes, permafrost greenhouse gas release, and the effects of changing snow cover and snowmelt timing, point to serious but hard-to-forecast impacts on global society and infrastructure by the second half of this century.

Antarctic notes

After a rapid December loss and record low extent in early January, Antarctic sea ice extent declined at a slower-than-average rate. On January 31, Antarctic sea ice extent dropped to third lowest on record, tying with 2006 and bested by 2017 and 2018. Sea ice extent was particularly low in the eastern Weddell Sea and the eastern Ross Sea. Over the satellite record, Antarctic January sea ice was increasing at 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) per year or 0.9 percent per decade, although this was not statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level. The Antarctic minimum for the year is typically in late February. The Southern Annular Mode, similar to the polar vortex for the southern hemisphere, was in its positive phase, favoring westerly winds around the continent and cool conditions over its ice sheet. This was indeed the case for East Antarctica, where temperatures were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 mean, but other parts of Antarctica and the surrounding sea ice areas were near average.

References

Danish Meteorological Institute Arctic temperatures

Overland, J., E. Dunlea, J. Box, R. Corell, M. Forsinus, V. Kattsov, M. S. Olsen, J. Pawlak, L-O Reirson, and M. Wang. 2019. The urgency of arctic change. Polar Science. doi:10.1016/j.polar.2018.11.008