Arctic sea ice minimum ties for tenth lowest

On September 18, Arctic sea ice likely reached its annual minimum extent of 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles). The 2022 minimum is tied for tenth lowest in the nearly 44-year satellite record, with 2018 and 2017. The last 16 years, from 2007 to 2022, are the lowest 16 sea ice extents in the satellite record.

In the Antarctic, sea ice extent has hit record lows through most of the growth season. Starting in early August, sea ice began expanding rapidly, exemplifying the strong degree of variability in Southern Hemisphere sea ice. As such it is too early to assume that the maximum has been reached as storms may still expand or compact the extended ice edge. The maximum for Antarctic sea ice typically occurs in late September or early October.

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

Arctic sea ice extent on September 18, 2022

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 18, 2022, was 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 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, sea ice reached its annual minimum extent of 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles) (Figure 1), tying for tenth lowest with 2018 and 2017. In response to the setting sun and falling temperatures, ice extent has begun expanding and will continue 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.

Conditions in context

Arctic sea ice extent graph with multiple years for comparison

Figure 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent on September 18, 2022, along with several other recent years and the record minimum set in 2012. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

This year’s minimum set on September 18 was 1.28 million square kilometers (494,000 square miles) above the satellite-era record minimum extent of 3.39 million square kilometers (1.31 million square miles), which occurred on September 17, 2012 (Figure 2). It is also 1.55 million square kilometers (598,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum extent, which is equivalent to twice the size of Texas.

In the 44-year-satellite record, 16 of the lowest minimums have all occurred in the last 16 years.

The overall, downward trend in the minimum extent from 1979 to 2022 is 12.6 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. The loss of sea ice is about 78,500 square kilometers (30,300 square miles) per year, equivalent to losing the size of the state of South Carolina or the country of Austria annually.

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

Table 1. Sixteen 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 2020 3.82 1.47 Sept. 16
3 2007
2016
2019
4.16
4.17
4.19
1.61
1.61
1.62
Sept. 18
Sept. 10
Sept. 18
6 2011 4.34 1.68 Sept. 11
7 2015 4.43 1.71 Sept. 9
8 2008
2010
4.59
4.62
1.77
1.78
Sept. 19
Sept. 21
10 2018
2017
2022
4.66
4.67
4.67
1.80
1.80
1.80
Sept. 23
Sept. 13
Sept. 18
13 2021 4.77 1.84 Sept. 16
14 2014
2013
5.03
5.05
1.94
1.95
Sept. 17
Sept. 13
16 2009 5.12 1.98 Sept. 13

Values within 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) are considered tied. The 2021 value has changed from 4.72 to 4.77 million square kilometers (1.84 million square miles) when final analysis data updated near-real-time data. 

Further reading

NASA visualization of 2022 Arctic sea ice minimum extent

The sun sets on the melt season

The sun is about to set for the winter at the North Pole, and so the 2022 sea ice melt season is coming to an end. As of September 19, 2022, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.68 million square kilometers (1.81 million square miles), placing it ninth lowest in the satellite record for the date. The high-latitude polynyas have frozen over.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 19, 2022 was 4.68 million square kilometers (1.81 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 19, 2022 was 4.68 million square kilometers (1.81 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 September 19, 2022, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.68 million square kilometers (1.81 million square miles), placing it ninth lowest in the satellite record for the date. Between September 1 and September 19, the Arctic lost a total of 522,000 square kilometers (202,000 square miles) of ice, at an average rate of 27,500 square kilometers (10,600 square miles) per day. This was slightly faster than the average daily loss rate over this period. As of September 19, sea ice extent was tracking close to the levels observed in 2010, and the spatial pattern of sea ice extent is similar. As seen in Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) imagery, an island, or patch, of apparently fairly thick ice has separated from the main pack in the East Siberian Sea. Another smaller isolated patch is present in the Beaufort Sea. The Northern Sea Route and the southern (Amundsen’s) route through the Northwest Passage remain open and will likely remain so for several more weeks. The northern route through the Northwest Passage still has some scattered areas of pack ice not picked up in satellite passive microwave imagery.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of September 19, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of September 19, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from September 1 to 18, 2022. 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 Laboratory |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 September 1 to 18, 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars from September 1 to 18, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory |High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars from September 1 to 18, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Air temperatures over the central Arctic Ocean at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface), averaged from September 1 through September 18 were from 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1991 to 2020 reference period over most of the North American side of the Arctic, but up to 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Greenland Ice Sheet (Figure 2b).

The sea level pressure pattern averaged over the same time period (Figure 2c) was dominated by low pressure extending eastward across Eurasia, Alaska, and into eastern Canada, contrasting with high pressure over the remainder of the Arctic, especially west of Scandinavia and over southern Greenland. The low pressure center over eastern Canada, paired with the high pressure over southern Greenland, has been a somewhat persistent pattern in the first half of September. Winds from the south between the pressure centers and the high average temperature over northern Greenland can be related to the prominent early September melt event over the ice sheet (see Greenland Ice Sheet Today).

A surprising observation

Figure 3. While traveling back from Reykjavik, Iceland, in late August, Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis contributor Mark Serreze observed a patch of sea ice just off the eastern coast of southern Baffin Island. Small, diffuse patches of sea ice can linger through the summer if conditions are favorable, but they are difficult to detect in satellite imagery. ||Credit: Mark Serreze, NSIDC |High-resolution image

Figure 3. While traveling back from Reykjavik, Iceland, in late August, Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis contributor Mark Serreze observed a patch of sea ice just off the eastern coast of southern Baffin Island. Small, diffuse patches of sea ice can linger through the summer if conditions are favorable, but they are difficult to detect in satellite imagery.

Credit: Mark Serreze, NSIDC
High-resolution image

While traveling back from the International Glaciological Society International Symposium on Ice, Snow and Water in a Warming World in Reykjavik, Iceland, in late August, Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis contributor Mark Serreze, while looking for icebergs on the blue ocean out the window of the Iceland Air 757, observed a rather surprising patch of sea ice just off the eastern coast of southern Baffin Island. Such small, diffuse patches—the last remnants of the winter ice pack—can linger through the summer if conditions are favorable, but they are very difficult to detect in satellite imagery.

Arctic sea ice thickness study

sea ice thickness over time in Arctic

Figure 4. This animation shows Arctic sea ice thickness from October 2010 to July 2020. Images are from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2, which for the first time include summer sea ice thickness.

Credit: Jack Landy
High-resolution image

 

A new year-round Arctic sea ice thickness dataset based on observations from the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 mission was released this week. Meltwater ponds accumulating at the ice surface previously prevented researchers from generating valid sea ice thickness data from CryoSat-2 during the summer melt season. Only estimates of sea ice thickness during the Arctic winter growth season were available.

New methods, including deep machine learning and model simulations of the satellite radar altimeter, have now enabled accurate measurements of the sea ice freeboard— the height of the ice above the ocean surface—to be obtained from the archive of CryoSat-2 Arctic summer observations dating back to 2011 (Figure 4, to animate). By accounting for snow that weighs down the sea ice, using data from a snow evolution model available at the NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center, the ice freeboards for winter and summer months were converted to a 10-year gap-free sea ice thickness record.

In the study, it was discovered that new CryoSat-2 sea ice thickness observations from the early summer, in May and June, correlate closely with the pan-Arctic sea ice extent in the following September. Through the ice-albedo feedback, the thickness of sea ice floes at the start of the melt season dictate how long they survive during summer. Thick ice floes melt less quickly and can survive for longer, whereas thin ice floes melt away, exposing the darker ocean and accelerating further melt. This demonstrates a strong link between spring sea ice thickness and the end-of-summer sea ice extent.

Antarctic recovery

Figure 5. Antarctic sea ice extent for September 19, 2022 was 18.14 million square kilometers (7.00 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 5. Antarctic sea ice extent for September 19, 2022 was 18.14 million square kilometers (7.00 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

Antarctic sea extent is nearing it seasonal maximum. While extent was tracking at record or near record lows since early June, there has been a recent spurt in growth, and extent has reached the tenth percentile for this time of year, still well below average but no longer near the record lowest maximum.

Further reading

Landy, J. C., G. J. Dawson, M. Tsamados, M. Bushuk, J. Stroeve, S. Howell, T. Krumpen, D. Babb, A. Komarov, H. Heorton, H. J. Belter, and Y. Aksenov. 2022. A year-round satellite sea-ice thickness record from CryoSat-2. Nature. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05058-5.

 

The Arctic’s bald spot

Summer in the Arctic is drawing to a close, and sea ice extent is likely to remain higher than in recent years. Several polynyas have formed poleward of 85 degrees North within the pack as well as areas near the thin ice edge. While some thin ice can still be found in the Northern Sea Route and southern Northwest Passage, both appear to be largely open. The northern deep water Northwest Passage route also appears to be largely open. Antarctic sea ice has remained at record or near-record low extent for 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 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for August 2022 was 5.99 million square kilometers (2.31 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 concentration image showing polynyas

Figure 1b. This map shows open water within the ice pack, known as a polynya, poleward of 85 degrees North. Sea ice concentration data are from Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) imagery.

Credit: University of Bremen
High-resolution image

Average Arctic sea ice extent for August 2022 was 5.99 million square kilometers (2.31 million square miles), ranking thirteenth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1a) and 1.21 million square kilometers (467,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Ice extent tracked below the interdecile range of the satellite record through the month, and the total ice loss through the month was 1.79 million square kilometers (691,000 square miles). Extent remained particularly low in the Laptev and Chukchi Seas. As seen in the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) imagery, areas of low concentration ice that started to develop poleward of 85 degrees North in July developed into areas of open water within the pack ice, or polynyas (Figure 1b). These features are much further north than is typical. On the Atlantic side, the ice edge remained north of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, continuing the pattern seen for most of the season.

The rate of decline for Arctic sea ice extent was near average for most of the month at about 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) per day, but briefly increased late in the month to near 85,000 square kilometers (33,000 square miles) per day. During the second half of August, ice loss was mostly in the East Siberian Sea and the northern Chukchi Sea.

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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of September 05, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

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 Laboratory| 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 August 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Figure 2X. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for XXXmonthXX 20XX. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for August 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Air temperatures over the central Arctic Ocean at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were generally 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above 1991 to 2020 reference period (Figure 2b). Conditions in the Barents Sea and southern Kara Sea were particularly warm, ranging up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. However, temperatures over the Bering Sea and the Denmark Strait (between Iceland and Greenland) were slightly below average.

The sea level pressure pattern for August favored winds from the south and west toward Europe, and cool air moving out of the Arctic over the Laptev Sea coast in Siberia (Figure 2c). Low air pressure over Alaska led to winds from the north over the Bering Sea, consistent with the below-average temperatures in that area.

While the summer melt season is nearly over, the forecast for early September is for above-average air temperatures over the central Arctic. Coupled with the thin and dispersed sea ice cover, and residual heat in the upper ocean where low sea ice concentration permitted some solar warming earlier in the summer, we may see an expansion of the polynyas near the North Pole for a time in early September.

August 2022 compared to previous years

downward trend of sea ice loss in August in Arctic

Figure 3. Monthly August ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 10.1 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in August sea ice extent over the 44-year satellite record is 72,500 square kilometers (28,000 square miles) per year, or 10.1 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, August has lost 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about the size of Alaska.

North by northwest

Northwest Passage route openings

Figure 4. These graphs show sea ice area for the recent summer season in the two most common paths of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Archipelago. The top graphic shows a time series plot of total sea ice area for 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2011, and the 1991 to 2020 average within the northern route of the Northwest Passage. The lower graphic shows sea ice area for the southern route for the same time period.

Credit: Data from the Canadian Ice Service provided by our colleague Steve Howell of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
High-resolution image

As of the August 27, sea ice area in the northern (deep water) route of the Northwest Passage (NWP) was tracking well below the 1991 to 2020 average (Figure 4, top) but above 2011 record low conditions. High concentrations of multi-year ice were still present in some areas. Ice area in the southern route (Amundsen’s route in 1905) was also tracking well below the 1991 to 2020 average (Figure 4, bottom). The southern route was almost sea ice-free as of late August except for some low concentration first-year ice in the vicinity of Victoria Strait. The northern route of the Northwest Passage is considered to eventually be more viable for shipping. Mudruyk and team discuss the impact of the current warming trend on potential shipping through the Canadian Arctic, noting large increases in navigability of the NWP and other parts of the Arctic with 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) global warming above pre-industrial levels. Even non-ice strengthened vessels may have a 15-day season of operation in the northern NWP according to their study. By contrast, the Northern Sea Route has been nearly free of ice for at least part of August and September for most of the past decade, and it is used increasingly for shipping both within the Russian Arctic and from Arctic ports to the Far East.

Arctic sea surface temperatures

Figure 5. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Arctic and much of the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the peripheral seas in the northern hemisphere. Data covers the state of SSTs on 23 August 2022. Extremely warm ocean conditions exist along parts of the Siberian coast, but slightly cooler than average conditions are found in the Bering Sea and Norwegian Sea. Data are from Climate Reanalyzer data center, a part of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.

Figure 5. This map shows sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Arctic and much of the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the peripheral seas in the northern hemisphere. Data shows SSTs on August 23, 2022. Extremely warm ocean conditions exist along parts of the Siberian coast, but cooler than average conditions are found in the Bering Sea and Norwegian Sea.

Credit: Data are from Climate Reanalyzer, University of Maine
High-resolution image

Pan-Arctic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in late August are generally above average relative to the 1971 to 2000 reference period (Figure 5). However, Alaskan Arctic SSTs this year are lower than average, likely because the relatively late sea ice retreat limited warming through solar heating. Meanwhile, SSTs on the Russian continental shelf from the eastern Barents Sea to the western East Siberian Sea are far above average. Ice retreat was early there, allowing the upper ocean to warm more strongly through solar heating, with advection of warm air in the southern Barents and Kara Seas (Figure 2 in the August 17 post) perhaps also playing a role.

Reference

Mudryk, L., J. P. Dawson, S. E. L. Howell, C. Derksen, T. Zagon, and M. Brady. 2021. Impact of 1°, 2°, and 4°C of global warming on ship navigation in the Canadian Arctic. Nature Climate Change,11, 673–679, doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01087-6.

Summer’s waning light

As the sun dips lower on the horizon, air temperatures over the central Arctic Ocean are dropping to near freezing conditions. Further retreat of the ice cover will largely depend on ocean temperatures and wind patterns that can either compact the ice or spread it out. In the Antarctic, sea ice extent continues to track at record low values for this time of year.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for XXXX XX, 20XX was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for August 16, 2022 was 6.12 million square kilometers (2.36 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 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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 16, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 1b. This map shows Arctic sea ice concentration based on data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) data. Yellows indicate sea ice concentration of 75 percent, dark purples indicate sea ice concentration of 100 percent. ||Credit: University of Bremen|High-resolution image

Figure 1c. This map shows Arctic sea ice concentration based on data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-2 (AMSR-2) data. Yellows indicate sea ice concentration of 75 percent, dark purples indicate sea ice concentration of 100 percent.

Credit: University of Bremen
High-resolution image

As of August 16, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 6.11 million square kilometers (2.36 square miles) (Figure 1a). This was similar to the total extent observed in 2008 and 2013 for this time of year, within 80,000 square kilometers (30,900 square miles) and 40,000 square kilometers (15,400 square miles), respectively. Extent was higher than all other years since 2007 except for 2009 and 2014 (Figure 1b). Since the beginning of August, the ice edge has remained relatively stable in the northern Barents and Kara Seas, with most of the ice retreating in the northern Chukchi Sea, the East Siberian Sea northwest of the New Siberian Islands, and within the channels of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Regionally, ice extent remains below the 1981 to 2010 average in the Barents, Kara, and Laptev Seas, and the northern part of the Chukchi Sea. Ice has persisted along the coast in the East Siberian Sea, where winds have pushed some of the multiyear ice against the shore. The southern route of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Archipelago appears to be mostly free of ice according to sea ice concentrations from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-2 (Figure 1c). However, the Canadian Ice Service reports some ice remains within Victoria Strait. For the first time since 2008, the Northern Sea Route along Eurasia may not become ice free.

While sea ice is overall more extensive than in recent summers, the ice pack is diffuse throughout the Beaufort Sea, the northern part of the Chukchi Sea, and within the East Siberian Sea. Polynyas have opened near 80 degrees N, north of the Kara Sea. With summer nearing its end, the surface of the ice in the central Arctic Ocean is beginning to refreeze. Any remaining loss of sea ice will be largely dominated by melting within the marginal ice zone by heat stored in the ocean. Ocean-driven melting can persist for another few weeks. The the regions of low ice concentration may still melt out. Wind patterns may also compact the ice in some regions and spread it out in others.

Conditions in context

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 Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from August 1 to 15, 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

During the first half of August, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were modestly above average from the Beaufort Sea across the pole and towards the Kara and Barents Seas (Figure 2). By contrast, temperatures over parts of the East Siberian and Laptev Seas as well as the Bering Sea were slightly below average. While temperatures over the central Arctic Ocean were slightly above average, they are near the freezing point.

Seasonal melt onset a mixed bag

Figure 3. This map shows the date of sea ice melt onset in the Arctic for the 2021 melt season compared to the 1981 to 2010 average. Shades in red depict sea ice melt up to 30 days earlier than average, while shades in blue depict melt up to 30 days later than average. Credit: Walt Meier, NSIDC; data courtesy J. Miller, NASA Goddard High-resolution image

Figure 3. This map shows the date of sea ice melt onset in the Arctic for the 2021 melt season compared to the 1981 to 2010 average. Shades in red depict sea ice melt up to 30 days earlier than average, while shades in blue depict melt up to 30 days later than average.

Credit: Walt Meier, NSIDC; data courtesy J. Miller, NASA Goddard
High-resolution image

Melt onset began nearly a month earlier than the 1981 to 2010 average this year in the Kara and Barents Seas, Northern and Eastern Hudson Bay, and along the coast in the Laptev Sea. In the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk melt onset was between one and two weeks earlier than average. However, melt onset was later than average over most of the central Arctic Ocean and Baffin Bay. The timing of melt onset plays an important role in the ice-albedo feedback. Early melt onset darkens the surface and reduces its reflectivity, facilitating earlier development of melt ponds and open water areas that absorb more of the sun’s energy, hastening further melt. Early melt onset within the Laptev, Kara, and Barents Seas thus likely fostered faster retreat of the ice cover in those regions. Similarly, late melt onset in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait is consistent with a more extensive ice cover in this region early in the melt season.

Will the extent drop below 5 million square kilometers?

Figure 5. This figure shows Arctic sea ice extent projections for the 2021 minimum using data through August 1, 2021. The projections are based on the average loss rates for the 1981 to 2010 average in red, the 2007 to 2020 average in green, 2012 rates in dotted purple, and 2006 rates in dotted teal. ||Credit: Walt Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 4. This figure shows Arctic sea ice extent projections for the 2022 minimum using data through August 15, 2022. The solid blue line depicts sea ice extent from May 1 to August 15, 2022. The projections are based on the average loss rates for the 1981 to 2010 average in red, the 2007 to 2021 average in green, 2012 rates in dotted purple, and 2006 rates in dotted teal. 2012 yields the lowest projected minimum, while 2006 yields the highest projected minimum. This figure has been submitted to the 2022 Sea Ice Outlook August report.

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

One simple way to estimate how much ice will be left at the end of this summer is to use ice loss rates from previous years and apply them to this year. Starting on August 15 and forecasting 6 weeks into the future suggests a 30 percent chance the total extent this summer may stay above 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles), something that has not happened since 2014. The fastest ice loss rates occurred in 2012, the year which ended up with the record minimum ice extent. With this unlikely trajectory, extent would bottom out at about 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). We expect that the September minimum ice extent will rank between the seventh and fifteenth lowest this year.

Antarctic sea ice still tracking at record lows

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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 5. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of August 16, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record high year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2014 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

As of August 16, Antarctic sea ice extent was tracking below all previous years. At the start of August, it was tracking at second lowest. Ice retreated in the Bellingshausen Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean the first two weeks of August, whereas the ice edge expanded in the Weddell and Ross Seas. In the Bellingshausen Sea, air temperatures at the 925 millibar level have been as much as 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average the first two weeks of August, as winds from the north have pushed warmer air and the ice edge towards the Antarctic coast.

Unknowns lie ahead

The seasonal decline in Arctic sea ice extent from mid-July onward has proceeded at a near average pace. Extent is currently well below average, but above that observed for recent years. Extent is particularly low in the Laptev Sea sector, but ice extends to near the shore further east. Depending on weather conditions, the southern route through the Northwest Passage may become open. An area of low concentration ice persists over the central Arctic Ocean, extending to near the North Pole, and Antarctic ice extent is still at a record low.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for August 1, 2022 was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for August 1, 2022 was 6.99 million square kilometers (2.70 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 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 1, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 1, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 1c. This figure shows ice motion vectors at 62.5-kilometer spatial resolution from July 19 to 21, 2022, based on passive and active microwave satellite data from the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facilities low-resolution sea ice drift product. ||Credit: European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facilities |High-resolution image

Figure 1c. This figure shows ice motion vectors at 62.5-kilometer spatial resolution from July 19 to 21, 2022, based on passive and active microwave satellite data from the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facilities low-resolution sea ice drift product. Strong on-shore ice motion during the third week of July in part explains the persistence of sea ice in the East Siberian Sea. 


Credit: European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites Ocean and Sea Ice Satellite Application Facilities
High-resolution image

As of August 1, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 6.99 million square kilometers (2.70 million square miles) (Figure 1a). The decline rate of the extent through the second half of July was near the 1981 to 2010 average. Extent on August 1, while well below the 1981 to 2010 average, was the highest since 2014 and overall was twelfth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1b). The average extent for the month of July as a whole was 8.25 million square kilometers (3.19 million square miles), the twelfth lowest in the satellite record.

As previously reported in our mid-July post, a notable aspect of this summer so far is the substantial amount of open water along the Eurasia Coast in the Laptev Sea sector. However, by sharp contrast, ice is extensive further east in the East Siberian Sea, extending to near the shore. Strong on-shore ice motion during the third week of July in part explains the persistence of sea ice in this region (Figure 1c). Extent continues to be below average in the Barents Sea. The area of low concentration ice over the central Arctic Ocean extending to near the pole persists.

While Russia makes use of the Northern Sea route year-round, over the past decade, this coastal route has become nearly or completely ice-free in late summer. Given the extensive ice in the East Siberian Sea, it seems unlikely that this will be the case in 2022. By contrast, as assessed from Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) satellite data, the southern route through the Northwest Passage, known as Amundsen’s route, may open in the next few weeks, depending on weather conditions.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars from July 15 to July 30, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars from July 15 to July 30, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature, relative to the 1981 to 2020 reference period, in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from July 15 to July 30, 2022. 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 Laboratory|High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature, relative to the 1981 to 2020 reference period, in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from July 15 to July 30, 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

The second half of July saw a shift in weather patterns. While the average sea level pressure pattern for the first half of the month featured a distinct area of low pressure centered over the central Arctic Ocean near the North Pole, the pattern for the second half of the month was one of high pressure (an anticyclone) centered north of the Laptev Sea, with low pressure centered near the Bering Strait between eastern Russia and Alaska (Figure 2a). This shift explains both the below average temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) over the East Siberian Sea, where the implied winds between the high and low pressures have a component from the north, and the above average temperature north of the Barents Sea, where the implied winds on the eastern side of the anticyclone have an offshore component (Figure 2b).

July 2022 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly July ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 7.2 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly July ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 7.2 percent per decade.

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

Looking at the month as a whole, July sea ice extent declined by 2.42 million square kilometers (930,000 square miles), or at a rate of 78,100 square kilometers (30,200 square miles) per day, which was near the 1981 to 2010 average. This resulted in the average July extent ranking twelfth lowest in the satellite record. The downward linear trend in July sea ice extent over the 44-year-satellite record is 68,500 square kilometers (26,400 square miles) per year, or 7.2 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average (Figure 3).

Antarctic sea ice

Figure 4. Antarctic sea ice extent for August 1, 2022 was X.XX million square kilometers (X.XX 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 4. Antarctic sea ice extent for August 1, 2022 was 15.90 million square kilometers (6.14 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 this report, Antarctic sea ice extent persists at record low levels, with regional low ice extent along the Weddell Sea at its northern ice edge, much of the East Antarctic coast, and the Bellingshausen Sea. The summer has been marked by a strong Amundsen Sea Low, which tends to drive warmer air from the northwest across the Peninsula and into the northern Weddell Sea. A high pressure tendency over Queen Maud Land is also acting to bring warm air from the north across the eastern end of the Weddell Sea ice cover. Overall, conditions on the continent and adjacent seas are far warmer than is typical, with regions near the Peninsula up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for May through July, and temperatures in the Weddell Sea between 3 to 7 degrees Celsius (5 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Above average temperatures extend across most of the continent and East Antarctic coast, where conditions are 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Only the northern Ross Sea has significantly below average temperatures, of around 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) below average.

A recent paper by our colleagues John Turner and others from British Antarctic Survey, along with co-authors from India and the U.S., looks at the conditions that led to the record low sea ice extent observed in February of this year. Overall, the authors attribute the low sea ice conditions to a combination of large-scale circulation patterns, including La Niña and a strong Amundsen Sea Low, and the impacts of severe regional storms moving ice away from the coast and into warmer waters and greater sunlight.

Effects of Arctic ozone depletion

Figure 5. This figure shows record low Arctic ozone concentrations observed on March 12, 2020. ||Credit: NASA Goddard Earth Observing System data assimilation system (DAS). |High-resolution image

Figure 5. This figure shows record low Arctic ozone concentrations observed on March 12, 2020.

Credit: NASA Goddard Earth Observing System data assimilation system (DAS).
High-resolution image

While the Antarctic ozone hole that develops in austral spring is well known, stratospheric ozone depletion can also occur in the Arctic, though to a lesser extent. A recent study by Marina Friedel and colleagues, based on both observations and models, finds that springtime stratospheric ozone depletion over the Arctic is consistently followed by surface temperature and precipitation anomalies consistent with a positive Arctic Oscillation, an atmospheric pattern known to have significant impacts on climate conditions over the parts of the Northern Hemisphere as well as the Arctic. The authors argue that this is because ozone depletion leads to a reduction in short-wave radiation absorption, causing persistent negative temperature anomalies in the lower stratosphere and a delayed break up of the stratospheric polar vortex. When the Arctic Oscillation is positive, sea level air pressure is lower than average over the North Pole and higher than average over the mid-latitudes. This pressure pattern helps to keep cold air in the Arctic and favors warmer temperatures over the mid-latitudes. In 2020, Arctic ozone concentrations reached a record low on March 12 of 205 Dobson Units (Figure 5) compared to an average value of 240 Dobson Units for this time of year. At the same time, the Arctic Oscillation index reached a record high positive value. As a result, central and northern Europe were exceptionally warm and dry in spring 2020, whereas wet and cold conditions prevailed in the Arctic.

Further reading

Friedel, M., G. Chiodo, A. Stenke, et al. 2022. Springtime arctic ozone depletion forces northern hemisphere climate anomalies. Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/s41561-022-00974-7.

Lavergne, T., S. Eastwood, Z. Teffah, H. Schyberg, and L.-A. Breivik. 2010. Sea ice motion from low resolution satellite sensors: an alternative method and its validation in the ArcticJournal of Geophysical Research. doi:10.1029/2009JC005958.

Turner, J., C. Holmes, T. Caton Harrison, T. Phillips, B. Jena, T. Reeves-Francois, R. Fogt, E. R. Thomas, C. C. Bajish. 2022. Record low Antarctic sea ice cover in February 2022. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1029/2022GL098904.

A mid-summer night’s sea ice

Arctic sea ice extent continued its summer decline. Extent is below average but not as low as in recent summers. In the Antarctic, sea ice extent is currently at record low levels for this time of year.

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 July 17, 2022, was 8.42 million square kilometers (3.25 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 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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 17, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

As of the middle of the Arctic summer, on July 17, sea ice extent was 8.42 million square kilometers (3.25 million square miles) (Figure 1a). The decline rate of the extent through the first half of July was near the 1981 to 2010 average. Extent on July 17 was the highest since 2015 and overall was thirteenth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1b).

The most notable area of ice loss so far is in the Laptev Sea. This is similar to the pattern of the last two years, but much less extreme than observed in 2020 and 2021 when the Laptev Sea ice extent was at or near record low levels in June and July. Extent continues to be below average in the Barents Sea.

Conditions in context

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature, relative to the 1981 to 2020 reference period, in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from July 1 to July 17, 2022. 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 Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2a. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature, relative to the 1981 to 2020 reference period, in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, from July 1 to July 17, 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Figure 2X. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for XXXmonthXX 20XX. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars from July 1 to July 16, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Figure 2d. This NASA WorldView image from the MODIS sensor shows sea ice conditions in the Canadian Archipelago on July 15, 2022. The left image shows melt ponds over sea ice as seen in light blue-green. The right image shows the low sea ice concentration in the Laptev and Kara Seas on the same day. ||Credit: NASA Worldview|High-resolution image

Figure 2c. These two NASA WorldView True Color images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor show sea ice conditions in two regions of the Arctic on July 15, 2022. The left image shows melt ponds over sea ice, as seen in light blue-green, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The right image shows the low sea ice concentration in the Laptev and Kara Seas towards the North Pole.

Credit: NASA Worldview
High-resolution image

In terms of air temperature, the first half of July 2022 was a tale of regional contrasts (Figure 2a). On the Eurasian side of the Arctic, particularly in the Laptev and Barents Seas, extending toward the North Pole, air temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet about the surface) were 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) below average. On the North American side of the Arctic, air temperatures were as much as 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, notably in the southeast Beaufort Sea and the western Canadian Arctic  Archipelago. The sea level pressure pattern was dominated by low pressure over the Laptev Sea sector, centered near the North Pole (Figure 2b).

Warm conditions in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago have enhanced melt pond formation and evolution (Figure 2c, left). Also of note is a region of low concentration ice near the North Pole in the Laptev and Kara Seas sector (Figure 2c, right). Low pressure, such as has been centered over the region in early July, often results in divergence of the ice cover and likely helped form the low concentration area.

Low snow and heat waves

Figure X. This graph shows snow cover extent anomalies in the Northern Hemisphere for MONTH from XXXX to XXXX. The anomaly is relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy Rutgers University Global Snow Lab| High-resolution image

Figure 3. This graph shows snow cover extent as a difference from average in the Northern Hemisphere for June from 1967 to 2022. The anomaly is relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy Rutgers University Global Snow Lab
High-resolution image

By June, snow usually remains only in the high north above the Arctic Circle or at high elevations. June 2022 shows particularly low Northern-Hemisphere snow extent, indicating that the snow melt occurred faster than average. According to Rutgers Snow Lab data, the June 2022 Northern Hemisphere snow extent was third lowest in the record dating back to 1967; only 2012 and 2015 had lower June snow extent (Figure 3).

A recent paper by Rousi et al. found that changes in the jet stream are an important factor in promoting European heatwaves. A possible factor in the jet stream changes is the increasing coastal temperature contrast between the rapidly warming land surface and the more slowly warming ocean/sea ice surface. An early loss of snow contributes to the warming land surface because the loss of high albedo snow allows earlier and more rapid absorption of solar energy. Other studies have also linked early snow loss to summer mid-latitude heatwaves (e.g., Zhang et al., and Connolly et al.).

NASA summer airborne sea ice campaign

ICESat-2 provides estimates of sea ice freeboard (height above the waterline) and thickness.

Figure 4. This map shows estimates of sea ice freeboard, or the height of sea ice above the waterline, for March 2022. Data are from the NASA Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2).

Credit: NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC)
High-resolution image

NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) laser altimeter, which launched in 2018, continues to perform well and is providing elevation data of vegetation, clouds, lakes, glaciers, ice sheets, and sea ice. The NASA Snow and Ice DAAC at NSIDC archives and distributes its data. ICESat-2 provides estimates of sea ice freeboard (height above the waterline) and thickness (Figure 4). During summer, when the ice surface is melting, the sea ice data from ICESat-2 have larger errors. NASA scientists are currently in the Arctic conducting an airborne campaign to collect a myriad of validation data that they hope will help improve the ICESat-2 estimates during summer.

Antarctic sea ice extent

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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 5. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of July 17, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for seven previous years and the 2017 record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, 2016 in light blue, 2014 in light green, 2013 in light orange, and 2017 in dashed red. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

As of July 17, Antarctic sea ice extent was 14.80 million square kilometers (5.71 million square miles), roughly 240,000 square kilometers (92,700 square miles) below the previous record daily low set in 2017 and 1.14 million square kilometers (440,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average extent for July 17 (Figure 5). Nearly all regions of coastal Antarctica were below the average extent for mid-July, with the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas showing the largest deficits. Ice extent along the northern edge of the Weddell and Dronning Maud sectors, and the region near the Amery Ice Shelf, was also far below average. The polynya that appears in some years in the Cosmonaut Sea has returned. A few areas of the Ross Sea and Wilkes Land have near or slightly above average extent in the satellite record. Temperatures at the 925 millibar level are 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for a wide swath of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctic coast, and the Weddell Sea ice edge region is 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, with the remaining coast near-average or slightly below.

References

Connolly, R., M. Connolly, W. Soon, D. R. Legates, R. G. Cionco, V. M. Velasco Herrera. 2019. Northern Hemisphere Snow-Cover Trends (1967–2018): A Comparison between Climate Models and Observations. Geosciences. 9(3):135. doi:10.3390/geosciences9030135.

Petty, A. A., R. Kwok, M. Bagnardi, A. Ivanoff, N. Kurtz, J. Lee, J. Wimert, and D. Hancock. 2021. ATLAS/ICESat-2 L3B Daily and Monthly Gridded Sea Ice Freeboard, Version 3. [March 2022]. Boulder, Colorado USA. NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center. doi:10.5067/ATLAS/ATL20.003. [Accessed 14 Jul 2022].

Rousi, E., K. Kornhuber, G. Beobide-Arsuaga, and others. 2022. Accelerated western European heatwave trends linked to more-persistent double jets over Eurasia. Nature Communications. 13, 3851. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-31432-y.

Zhang, R., C. Sun, J. Zhu, R. Zhang, and W. Li. 2020. Increased European heat waves in recent decades in response to shrinking Arctic sea ice and Eurasian snow cover. Nature Partner Journals: Climate & Atmospheric Science. 3, 7. doi:10.1038/s41612-020-0110-8.

Clear solstice skies over the Arctic

Both of Earth’s polar regions had low sea ice extent for the month of June, with Antarctic sea ice setting a record low. Arctic sea ice extent stands at tenth lowest. Near-record low ice extent characterized the Barents and Hudson Bay areas, and there are several low-concentration regions in the Beaufort Sea, an area that usually has a dense ice pack at this time of year.

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 2022 was 10.86 million square kilometers (4.19 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

Average Arctic sea ice extent for June 2022 was 10.86 million square kilometers (4.19 million square miles), ranking tenth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1). The 2022 June extent was 900,000 square kilometers (347,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Total ice loss for June was 2.50 million square kilometers (965,000 square miles). The Barents Sea is nearly ice free, with the ice edge far north of its usual location for this time of year. Hudson Bay is also losing ice unusually early. Extent in the Chukchi, East Siberian, and Kara Seas is slightly below average. The most notable feature along the Russian coast is the opening of a large polynya in the Laptev Sea near the New Siberian Islands. Baffin Bay has near average ice extent, and in early June the North Water Polynya opened. Some extensive low-ice-concentration regions are forming over the central Arctic Ocean, perhaps portending large polynyas in the later part of the summer.

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. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of July 4, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

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 Laboratory| High-resolution image This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for XXXmonthXX 20XX. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2b. The left plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for June 2022. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures. The plot on the right shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for June 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Figure 2c. These Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer MODIS images from the Terra satellite of the Beaufort Sea and surrounding areas on June 20th (top) and June 26th (bottom). Blue tint over the sea ice areas not covered by clouds indicates rapid development of melt ponds on the ice. Inset, close-up of the area shown in the small red box on the 26 June image showing melt ponds on sea ice floes.

Figure 2c. These Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images from the NASA Terra satellite show the Beaufort Sea and surrounding areas on June 20 (top) and June 26 (bottom). Blue tint over the sea ice areas not covered by clouds indicates development of melt ponds on the ice. The inset is a closeup of the area in the small red box on the June 26 image, depicting melt ponds on sea ice floes.

Credit: NASA WorldView
High-resolution image

June air temperatures over the Arctic as assessed at the 925 hPa level (approximately 2,500 feet above the surface) were close to the long-term average. Most of the high-latitude Arctic Ocean was within a degree of the 1981 to 2010 average temperature. Temperatures in Scandinavia, Svalbard, and northern European Russia were generally 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average (Figure 2b). The Hudson Bay region is also warm with temperatures 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. By contrast, temperatures over central Greenland, the northern Yukon and North Slope, and easternmost Siberia are all 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) below average.

The June sea level pressure pattern was characterized by strong high pressure over the Beaufort Sea and a large low pressure area near Iceland (Figure 2b). This pattern is consistent with the warmth over Scandinavia and relatively cool conditions over Baffin Bay. A broad area of low pressure also dominates northwestern Eurasia. The strong high pressure over the Beaufort Sea, and generally high pressures over much of the Arctic Ocean, is consistent with a prevalence of clear skies. Since June is the month of the solstice, with the highest sun elevation, the clear skies let more solar energy reach the ice surface, leading to strong surface melting. Between June 20 and June 26, a large area of the Beaufort Sea started to show the development of melt ponds (Figure 2c).

June 2022 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly XXXXX ice extent for 1979 to 20XX 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 2022 shows a decline of 3.9 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in June sea ice extent over the 44-year satellite record is 45,700 square kilometers (17,600 square miles) per year, or 3.9 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, June has lost 1.97 million square kilometers (761,000 square miles) of sea ice. This is equivalent to about three times the size of Texas.

Antarctic sea ice extent in June

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for May 2022 was 12.88 million square kilometers (4.97 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 4. Antarctic sea ice extent for May 2022 was 12.1 million square kilometers (4.67 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

Sea ice surrounding the Antarctic continent dipped to near-record low extent in late May and remained close to a record low through mid-month, setting a new record low starting on June 20. Sea ice growth was slower than average, particularly for the Bellingshausen and eastern Weddell seas (Figure 4). The Ross Sea and the sector north of Wilkes Land had near-average extent for the month. Antarctica’s air temperatures for the month at the 925 mb level were above average across nearly the entire continent and surrounding ocean. Over the Weddell Sea, air temperatures were 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average, and over coastal areas of Wilkes Land, up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Slightly below average temperatures prevailed over the eastern Ross Sea and western Amundsen Sea. Sea level pressure was low over the Bellingshausen Sea and high over the western Ross Sea. While wind directions based on the air pressure patterns are consistent with the temperature differences (cool winds come off the continent, warmer winds come from the north), in general they are not consistent with the sea ice pattern. Despite cool continental air flowing over the Amundsen Sea, sea ice extent is still low there; warm conditions along the Wilkes coast did not act to reduce June ice extent in that area.

“Atlantification” of the Barents Sea

Figure X. Surface air temperature trend (left) and sea surface temperature (right) for the Barents Sea for 1981-2020. Data for surface air temperature are from the ERA-5 reanalysis; data for the sea surface temperature are from European Space Agency sources. Adapted from Isaksen et al. 2022.

Figure 5. The left map depicts the surface air temperature trend for the Barents Sea from 1981 to 2020. The map on the right depicts sea surface temperature for the same region. Data for surface air temperature are from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Reanalysis v5 (ERA-5); data for the sea surface temperature are from European Space Agency sources.

Credit: Adapted from Isaksen et al. 2022
High-resolution image

The Barents Sea has had persistently low winter sea ice extent for many years now. As a result of the more open ocean conditions, the trend in air temperature in the region is extreme: up to ten times the global trend in warming (Figure 5). This was highlighted in a recent study by Isaksen and others. Sea ice acts as a lid in autumn and winter, separating the fairly warm open ocean, which is just above freezing, from the cold Arctic air. Removing the ice results in a large transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere, and therefore atmospheric warming.

The deeper issue is why the sea ice in the northern Barents Sea is declining, and it may be related to the “Atlantification” of the Arctic Ocean. Warm and salty Atlantic water enters the Arctic Ocean through the Barents Sea and eastern Fram Strait, and dives beneath the cold, relatively fresh and less dense surface layer of the Arctic Ocean. Previous research has shown that the fresh surface layer is thinning as a result of less summer sea ice, allowing heat from the Atlantic water to reach the surface, preventing winter sea ice from forming in the Barents Sea region. In short, some parts of the Barents Sea have started to resemble the Atlantic.

Strong La Niña in the Pacific

Figure Y. Image of sea surface temperature in the Western Hemisphere for 28 June, 2022 of sea surface temperature difference from average (relative to 1981-2010) from the nullschool.net website, showing the strong La Niña (blueish area in the equatorial Pacific) and the warm sea surface conditions in the northern Pacific.

Figure 6. This image shows sea surface temperature as a difference from average (relative to 1981 to 2010) in the Western Hemisphere for June 28, 2022. The blueish area in the equatorial Pacific depicts the strong La Niña conditions. Warm colors indicate warm sea surface conditions in the northern Pacific.

Credit: nullschool.net
High-resolution image

Oscillations in sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific, characterized by El Niño and La Niña conditions, can have widespread influences on atmospheric circulation patterns. Beginning around July 2020, a moderate La Niña pattern developed, characterized by a large pool of relatively cool water in the eastern tropical Pacific. This event has persisted with a brief hiatus in the summer of 2021. It is forecast to last through the end of the year, with some variations, generally weakening as the year progresses. Along with the La Niña pattern, a pool of unusually warm water has formed in the northern Pacific.

Researchers Jeong and others present evidence that La Niña events favor extensive Arctic sea ice retreat just north of the Pacific, including the East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, and western Beaufort Sea, in part as a result of warm ocean conditions in the northern Pacific, as we are seeing this year. However, the air pressure pattern in June is unlike past La Niña events that led to rapid ice loss like in the 2012 summer, which set a satellite-era record low September sea ice minimum. That year had warm air and high pressure extending over Greenland, and a strong low pressure over the Siberian and Pacific Arctic that drove ice out of the Arctic Ocean through Fram Strait. At this time, sea ice loss in the Pacific side of the Arctic is moderate, but the large area of low sea ice concentration may grow rapidly in July and August.

Further reading and references

Jeong, H., H. S. Park, M. F. Stuecker, and S. W. Yeh. 2022. Record low Arctic sea ice extent in 2012 linked to two‐year La Niña‐driven sea surface temperature pattern. Geophysical Research Letters, p.e2022GL098385. doi:10.1029/2022GL098385

Isaksen, K., Ø.Nordli, B. Ivanov, et al. 2022. Exceptional warming over the Barents area. Scientific Reports 12, 9371. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-13568-5

On the high side of low

Sea ice extent near both poles was again below average, but higher than in recent years for most of the month. In the Arctic, seasonal sea ice loss began more slowly in May than in the recent years as air temperatures were closer to the 1981 to 2010 average. In the Antarctic, a slowdown in ice growth late in the month quickly brought sea ice extent levels close to record lows.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for May 2022 was 12.88 million square kilometers (4.97 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 May 2022 was 12.88 million square kilometers (4.97 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

Average Arctic sea ice extent for May 2022 was 12.88 million square kilometers (4.97 million square miles) (Figure 1). This was 410,000 square kilometers (158,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average, yet it was the highest May extent since 2013. As was the case for April, sea ice extent was slow to decline, losing only 1.28 million square kilometers (494,000 square miles) during the month. Ice loss in May occurred primarily in the Bering Sea, the Barents Sea, and within Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. However, several openings, or polynyas, in the pack ice have started to form, particularly within the eastern Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea, the Laptev Sea, and around Franz Joseph Land in the northern Barents Sea. Ice also started to pull back from the shores of Russia in the Kara Sea. In Hudson Bay, the ice started to melt out in the south within James Bay and off of Southampton Island in the north. Overall, the daily sea ice extent tracked within the interdecile range (encompassing 90 percent of the 1981 to 2010 daily values) for much of the month. By the end of the month, extent was close to the sea ice extent observed in late May 2012.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of June 5, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of June 5, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for May 2022. 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 Laboratory|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 May 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for May 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory|High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for May 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Through May, sea ice extent was tracking above levels not seen since 2013. The relatively extensive ice cover for this time of year was largely the result of lower than average temperatures in Baffin Bay. Winds from the north also slowed the retreat of ice in the Bering and Barents Seas. Within the Arctic Ocean, air temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were near average over most of the region in May, and 1 to 5 degrees Celsius (2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average along the coast of the Kara and East Siberian Seas, the East Greenland Sea, and the Canadian Archipelago (Figure 2b). Areas where openings formed within the ice cover were dominated by off-shore ice motion, pushing ice poleward as well as toward Fram Strait. This offshore ice motion is largely driven by a pattern of low sea level pressure over Eurasia coupled with high pressure over the Pacific sector of the Arctic (Figure 2c).

May 2022 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly May ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 2.5 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly May ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 2.5 percent per decade.

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

May sea ice extent declined by 1.28 million square kilometers (494,000 square miles), or at a rate of 41,200 square kilometers (15,900 square miles) per day, which was slower than the 1981 to 2010 average. This resulted in an average May extent that ranked fourteenth lowest in the satellite record. The downward linear trend in May sea ice extent over the 44-year-satellite record is 33,700 square kilometers (13,000 square miles) per year, or 2.5 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average (Figure 3). Based on the linear trend, since 1979, May has lost 450,000 square kilometers (174,000 square miles) of sea ice. This is equivalent to the size of the state of California.

Polynyas help kick-start seasonal ice loss

Figure 4. This NASA Worldview image from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on May 29, 2022 shows polynyas forming off the coast of Siberia. ||Credit: NASA|High-resolution image

Figure 4a. This NASA Worldview image from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on May 29, 2022 shows polynyas forming off the coast of Siberia.

Credit: NASA
High-resolution image

Figure 4b. This plot shows the relationship between averaged sea ice extent from July through October (in blue) and the regional average fire-favorable weather index (FFWI) over the western United States the following autumn and early winter (September to December, in red). ||Credit: Zou et al., 2021|High-resolution image

Figure 4b. This plot shows the relationship between averaged sea ice extent from July through October (in blue) and the regional average fire-favorable weather index (FFWI) over the western United States the following autumn and early winter (September to December, in red).

Credit: Zou et al., 2021
High-resolution image

Polynyas have begun to form, providing open water regions that strongly absorb the sun’s energy, warming the near-surface ocean mixed layer, and enhancing lateral ice melt from the sides. One of the larger polynyas is in the Laptev Sea to the west of the New Siberian Islands (Figure 4a). Despite the thin cloud cover, polynyas can be seen at the edge of the landfast ice, ice fastened to the coastline, to the west of the New Siberian Islands as well off the coast of the Taymyr Peninsula between the Kara and Laptev Seas.

A consequence of summer sea ice loss is that the ocean absorbs more of the sun’s energy. Before the ice can form again in the fall and winter, this heat has to be released back to the atmosphere. This is one of the reasons why the Arctic is warming more strongly than the global average, particularly in the fall season. Studies have suggested this amplified Arctic warming may be impacting weather systems at lower latitudes. One hypothesis is that the warm air released from the surface propagates up through the atmosphere and disrupts the polar vortex in the stratosphere. This can lead to cold air outbreaks, such as in February 2021 when cold Arctic air reached as far south as Texas, causing the failure of the power grid, billions of dollars in damage, and loss of lives. Proposed links between Arctic warming and mid-latitude weather nevertheless remain controversial and are far from settled.

Another recent study reveals a correlation between Arctic sea ice extent (averaged from July to October) and conditions favoring California wildfires after removing the long-term trend in both the sea ice and a regional fire-favorable weather conditions index. However, correlation is not causation. This study addresses the potential physical link by examining sensitivity simulations using low and high sea ice years and comparing the atmospheric conditions from climate model runs. The results suggest that during low sea ice minimum years there is tendency for low sea level air pressure over Alaska and high sea level pressure over the western United States. This results in dry and hot air flowing from the south and southwest over California, conditions favorable for wildfires there in the following autumn and early winter (Figure 4b).

Mapping volume of ice and snow over Antarctic sea ice proves difficult

Figure 5a. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of June 5, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 5a. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of June 5, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record high year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2014 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 5b. This image shows dual frequency Ku- and Ka-band radar (KuKa) deployed over Antarctic pancake sea ice. ||Credit: NASA|High-resolution image

Figure 5b. This image shows dual frequency Ku- and Ka-band radar (KuKa) deployed over Antarctic pancake sea ice.

Credit: Povl Abrahamsen
High-resolution image

As reported in a previous post, this year, Antarctic sea ice shrank to the lowest extent in the satellite record at 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) on February 25. This event was set against the background of several low minimum extents since 2014. During the month of May, sea ice tracked slightly below the 1981 to 2010 reference period, until late in the month when sea ice autumn growth slowed significantly (Figure 5a). Stronger than average winds from the north and northeast in the Belligshausen and Amundsen Sea regions led to warm conditions near the sea ice edge, inhibiting growth. At month’s end, Antarctic sea ice extent was above only 1980, 1986, 2017, and 2019 in the 44-year record. Sea ice is particularly low in the Amundsen and Weddell Seas.

Reliable information on Antarctic sea ice thickness, important for gaining a fuller understanding of the Antarctic sea ice system, remains elusive. In the Arctic, sea ice thickness can be more accurately estimated using satellite altimeters. However, studies suggest that satellite altimeters may be over-estimating ice thickness compared to ship-based observations. This may be because of the way snow cover on the ice affects the measurements. There are still large uncertainties in the Antarctic snow and sea ice thickness, and hence the overall sea ice volume.

A United Kingdom-led project, called Drivers and Effects of Fluctuations in sea Ice in the ANTarctic (DEFIANT), aims to address this problem. The DEFIANT team is particularly interested in learning how radar waves interact with the snow that covers Antarctic sea ice. A recent DEFIANT field campaign involved three scientists travelling to the Weddell Sea with a radar designed to mimic those mounted on satellites. They investigated radar penetration into snow of different ages, densities, and surface roughness (Figure 5b). The results will help the research community better understand how to measure the underlying sea ice thickness using satellites. In 2023, two DEFIANT-affiliated scientists will spend the entire winter in Antarctica with the same radar instrument, monitoring the snow cover and its radar-reflective properties.

References

Zou, Y., P. J. Rasch, H. Wang, et al. 2021. Increasing large wildfires over the western United States linked to diminishing sea ice in the Arctic. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-26232-9

Springtime in the Arctic

Arctic spring melt has begun. Ice extent declined most substantially in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Overall decline was slower than average through the month.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for April 2022 was 14.06 million square kilometers (5.43 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 2022 was 14.06 million square kilometers (5.43 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

Average Arctic sea ice extent for April 2022 was 14.06 million square kilometers (5.43 million square miles) (Figure 1). This was 630,000 square kilometers (243,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average and ranked eleventh lowest in the 44-year satellite record. Extent declined slowly through the beginning of the month, with only 87,000 square kilometers (33,600 square miles) of ice loss between April 1 and April 10. The decline then proceeded at an average pace for this time of year through the reminder of the month. Reductions in sea ice extent during April occurred primarily in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Other regions had small losses at most. The southern Barents Sea lost some ice, but the channel of open water north of Novaya Zemlya that persisted for much of the winter closed during April. Overall, the daily sea ice extent tracked just below the interdecile range (below 90 percent of past daily values) for the month.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of May 2, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2021 is shown in blue, 2020 in green, 2019 in orange, 2018 in brown, 2017 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of May 2, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2022 is shown in blue, 2021 in green, 2020 in orange, 2019 in brown, 2018 in magenta, and 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for April 2022. 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 Laboratory|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 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for April 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure. ||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory|High-resolution image

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for April 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Figure 2d. In April, strong offshore winds over the northwest coast of Alaska led to openings in the ice cover, called polynyas. This animation (click to see animation) shows the polynyas that formed in the Chukchi Sea from April 12 to 30, 2022. ||Credit: Agnieszka Gautier, National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 2d. This animation (click to see animation) shows the polynyas, or openings in the ice cover, that formed in the Chukchi Sea from April 12 to 30, 2022. In April, strong offshore winds over the northwest coast of Alaska led to the formation of these polynyas. 

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

During April, temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) over the Arctic Ocean were above average. Most areas were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, but in the Beaufort Sea, April temperatures were up to 5 to 6 degrees Celsius (9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average (Figure 2b). This was accompanied by a strong Beaufort High pressure cell through the month (Figure 2c).

Strong offshore winds over the northwest coast of Alaska led to openings in the ice cover, called polynyas. The first pulse of winds began on March 21. At that time, surface air temperatures were still well below freezing, and the water in the coastal polynya quickly refroze. By April 9, the offshore push of the ice ceased and the polynya iced over completely. However, starting on April 12, a second round of offshore wind pushed the ice away from the coast, initiating another polynya. Refreezing began anew in the open water areas, but the ice growth was noticeably slower, reflecting the higher surface air temperatures by the end of the month (Figure 2d).

April 2022 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly April ice extent for 1979 to 2022 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 2022 shows a decline of 2.6 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in April sea ice extent over the 44-year-satellite record is 37,900 square kilometers (14,600 square miles) per year, or 2.6 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average (Figure 3). Based on the linear trend, since 1979, April has lost 1.68 million square kilometers (649,000 square miles) of sea ice. This is equivalent to the size of the state of Alaska.

Sea ice age

Figure 4. This map shows the age of Arctic sea ice for the March 12 to 18 period in (a) 1985 and (b) 2022. The oldest ice, greater than 4 years old, is in red. Plot (c) shows the timeseries from 1985 through 2022 of percent cover of the Arctic Ocean domain (inset, purple region) by different sea ice ages during the March 12 to 18 period. ||Credit: M. Tschudi, W. Meier, and Stewart, NASA NSIDC DAAC| High-resolution image

Figure 4. This map shows the age of Arctic sea ice for the March 12 to 18 period in (a) 1985 and (b) 2022. The oldest ice, greater than 4 years old, is in red. Plot (c) shows the timeseries from 1985 through 2022 of percent cover of the Arctic Ocean domain (inset, purple region) by different sea ice ages during the March 12 to 18 period.

Credit: M. Tschudi, W. Meier, and Stewart, NASA NSIDC DAAC
High-resolution image

With the onset of spring, it is time again for a check-in on sea ice age—the number of years that a parcel of ice has survived summer melt. As noted in previous posts, ice age provides a qualitative assessment of thickness, as older ice has more chances to thicken through ridging, rafting, and bottom ice growth (accretion) during winter. The coverage of the old, thick ice has a significant control on how much total ice survives the summer melt season—the first-year ice that grows thermodynamically over winter is more easily melted away during summer. That which survives through the summer melt season grows in age by one year. The extent of old ice declines through the winter when it drifts out of the Arctic through the Fram or Nares Strait. At the end of last summer, the extent of the oldest ice (greater than 4 years old) tied with 2012 for the lowest in the satellite record. This spring, we continue to see a dominance of first-year ice (Figure 4). The percentage of the greater than 4-year-old ice, which once comprised over 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean, now makes up only 3.1 percent of the ice cover.

Bering Sea crabs

Figure 5. The fishing boat Pinnacle makes its way through a Bering Sea ice floe on January 25, 2022. Crab fishing is dangerous work due to frequently rough seas, icing conditions, and the threat of sea ice. Ice floes can damage buoys and increase the risk of a lost crab pot. ||Credit: Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News. |High-resolution image

Figure 5. The fishing boat Pinnacle travels through a Bering Sea ice floe on January 25, 2022. Crab fishing is dangerous work due to frequently rough seas, icing, and dense pack ice.

Credit: Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News.
High-resolution image

The Bering Sea is an important crab fishery, with several species represented. Crab fishing is dangerous work because of frequently rough seas, icing on the ship’s superstructure, and dense pack ice (Figure 5). This past winter, the population of lucrative snow crabs was down substantially. This decline in crabs appears to be related to low sea ice extent during the 2018 and 2019 winters. Snow crabs prefer cold bottom water that protects the young from predators. The cold-water pool on the Bering Sea floor is caused by winter ice formation where dense, cold, and salty water sinks as the ice grows. However, in 2018 and 2019 there was very little ice. This opened young crabs to more predation, and far fewer survived to maturity.

Antarctica rising

Figure 6. Antarctic sea ice extent for April 2022 was 5.84 million square kilometers (2.25 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 6. Antarctic sea ice extent for April 2022 was 5.84 million square kilometers (2.25 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

After the record low minimum Antarctic sea ice extent at the end of February and the strong heat wave that followed in mid-March, conditions in the Southern Ocean have calmed down. Ice extent remains low for this time of year below the interdecile range, but is above 2017, 2018, and 2019, as well as 1980. Extent remained below average in the Weddell, eastern Ross, and western Amundsen-Bellingshausen regions, but near average around the rest of the continent (Figure 6). Through April, ice extent increases in all regions around the continent, but with relatively slower growth in the Amundsen-Bellingshausen Seas.

First Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate science team meeting

Figure 7. The first in-person Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) science conference was held at the end of April in Potsdam, Germany. This was the first chance to present findings from the year-long expedition and pave the way for future analysis and collaboration. ||Credit: Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) Expedition|High-resolution image

Figure 7. The first in-person Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) science conference was held at the end of April in Potsdam, Germany. This was the first chance to present findings from the year-long expedition and pave the way for future analysis and collaboration.

Credit: Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) Expedition
High-resolution image

The Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition took place during 2019 and 2020 when the German icebreaker, Polarstern, was frozen into the ice and drifted across the Arctic for nearly a year. During the year, numerous observations were taken of the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, and biogeochemistry. The scientific analysis is ongoing, and exciting results are starting to be reported.

The first in-person MOSAiC science conference was held at the end of April in Potsdam, Germany (Figure 7). This was the first chance to present findings from the year-long expedition and pave the way for future analysis and collaboration. Science teams from each discipline (atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, snow, remote sensing, ecosystem, biogeochemistry) discussed initial research results. Key to the success of MOSAiC is the strong interdisciplinary collaboration of the projects needed to provide a holistic understanding of Arctic Ocean changes and their impacts. NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve presented on the impacts of a rain-on-snow event in mid-September and the potential impact this would have on satellite retrievals of sea ice concentration, snow depth, and ice thickness. In January 2023, all MOSAiC data collected will be made available to the wider science community.

David Barber

Figure 8. Polar scientist David Barber of the University of Manitoba passed away on April 15, 2022. ||Credit: University of Manitoba|High-resolution image

Figure 8. Polar scientist David Barber of the University of Manitoba passed away on April 15, 2022.

Credit: University of Manitoba
High-resolution image

It is with sadness that we note the passing of one of the world’s pre-eminent polar scientists, David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, who died on April 15, 2022. He was a force in Canadian science, leading several large projects that increased understanding of sea ice and the Arctic.

References

Bernton, H., and L. Holmes. 2022. A crab boat’s quest for snow crab in a Bering Sea upended by climate change. The Seattle Times. https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/crab-boats-quest-snow-crab-bering-sea-upended-climate-change

Rascoe, A. 2022. Snow crabs in the Bering Sea have been hard to find — partially due to climate change. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2022/04/10/1091927681/snow-crabs-in-the-bering-sea-have-been-hard-to-find-partially-due-to-climate-cha.

Thoman, Jr., R. L., U .S. Bhatt, P. A. Bieniek, B. R. Brettschneider, M. Brubaker, S. L. Danielson, Z. Labe, R. Lader, W. N. Meier, G. Sheffield, and J. E. Walsh. 2020. The record low Bering Sea ice extent in 2018: Context, impacts, and an assessment of the role of anthropogenic climate change. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0175.1.

University of Manitoba. 2022. Mourning the loss of visionary Arctic researcher, Dr. David Barber. UM Today News. https://news.umanitoba.ca/mourning-the-loss-of-visionary-arctic-researcher-dr-david-barber/.

Sea ice age data sets from the NSIDC DAAC: Quicklook Arctic Weekly EASE-Grid Sea Ice Age, Version 1 and EASE-Grid Sea Ice Age, Version 4.

 

Spring in fits and starts

After reaching its seasonal maximum extent of 14.88 million square kilometers (5.75 million square miles) on February 25, the seasonal decline in Arctic sea ice extent through March proceeded in fits and starts. By the end of the month, extent saw little change, ending up at 14.50 million square kilometers (5.60 million square miles). The middle of March saw excitement, with several extreme warm events over the Arctic Ocean associated with large transports of water vapor into the region. The Antarctic region also experienced unusual warmth and break up of a small ice shelf.

Overview of conditions

Arctic sea ice extent for March 2022

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for March 2022 was 14.59 million square kilometers (5.63 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

Average Arctic sea ice extent for March 2022 was 14.59 million square kilometers (5.63 million square miles), ranking ninth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1a). The 2022 March extent was 840,000 square kilometers (324,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. While extent tracked below the interdecile range of the satellite record throughout the entire month, the total decline, after a series of small ups and downs, was only 250,000 square kilometers (96,500 square miles). Following the pattern seen in February, sea ice extent was below average in the Sea of Okhotsk. Extent in the Bering, Barents, and East Greenland Seas was near average for March.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of April 3, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2021 to 2022 is shown in blue, 2020 to 2021 in green, 2019 to 2020 in orange, 2018 to 2019 in brown, 2017 to 2018 in magenta, and 2011 to 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. 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 4, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years and the record low year. 2021 to 2022 is shown in blue, 2020 to 2021 in green, 2019 to 2020 in orange, 2018 to 2019 in brown, 2017 to 2018 in magenta, and 2011 to 2012 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

Average Air Temperature for March 2022 in Arctic as a difference from average

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for March 2022. 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 Laboratory
High-resolution image

Average sea level pressure over Arctic for March 2022

Figure 2c. This plot shows average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for March 2022. Yellows and reds indicate high air pressure; blues and purples indicate low pressure.

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

Counter to what might be expected given the very slow rate of sea ice loss over the month as a whole, air temperatures at the 925 millibar level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were above average over all of the Arctic Ocean (Figure 2b). March temperatures were up to 9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, up to 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in the East Siberian Sea, but up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over a wide area. The key features of the sea level pressure pattern were high pressure (an anticyclone) over the central Arctic Ocean, a trough of low pressure extending into the Barents Sea, and an unusually high pressure over Northern Europe (Figure 2c). While having an anticyclone over the central Arctic Ocean is quite typical for this time of year, the combination of the high pressure over northern Europe and the pressure trough to the west led to a strong pressure gradient, leading to strong winds from south through the Norwegian and Barents Seas. As discussed below, this can be tied to the extreme warm event over the Arctic Ocean seen in the middle of the month, associated with strong water vapor transport and the passage of several strong cyclones.

March 2022 compared to previous years

Arctic sea ice extent downward trend 1979 to 2022 for March

Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 2.5 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in March sea ice extent over the 44-year-satellite record is 39,200 square kilometers (15,100 square miles) per year, or 2.5 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, March has seen a loss of 1.74 million square kilometers (672,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about the size of Alaska.

Extreme events

animation of water transport near Greenland

Figure 4a. Click on the figure to view the animation of sea level pressure and integrated vapor transport (IVT) near the Greenland Sea. The animation runs from March 11, 2022, through March 17, 2022. Arrows indicate direction and magnitude of transport, while shading indicates the magnitude of the water vapor transport.

Credit: Jessica Voveris, University of Colorado Boulder
High-resolution image

two map images of sea ice concentration east of Greenland before and after atmospheric river event

Figure 4b. These maps show sea ice concentration off the eastern coast of Greenland in the Greenland Sea. The map on the left shows sea ice on March 13, 2022, prior to the atmospheric river event passing through. The map on the right is after the event past on March 17, 2022.

Credit: Gunnar Spreen, University of Bremen
High-resolution image

On March 14, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level northwest of Greenland were up to 15 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. This was part of a series of warm pulses of air moving into the Arctic Ocean from the northern North Atlantic. For example, on March 17, temperatures over the Kara Sea reached 15 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. Quite often, such warm events are tied to strong transport of water vapor and associated cloud cover. In the animation (Figure 4a-click to view), arrows indicate the direction and magnitude of the integrated vapor transport (IVT) along with sea level pressure from March 11 through March 17, 2022. The shading indicates the magnitude of the transport. Several periods of very strong vapor transport from the northern North Atlantic directly into the Arctic Ocean occurred mid-month; this is consistent with the pattern of strong surface winds from the south through the Norwegian and Barents Seas as implied by the monthly averaged sea level pressure field (Figure 2c). The periods of strong vapor transport are linked to the passage of cyclones (low pressure systems) into the Arctic Ocean. While further analysis is needed, the narrow ribbons of strong water vapor transport into the Arctic Ocean appears to be linked to what are known as atmospheric rivers, which can carry an amount of water vapor far in excess of the discharge of the Mississippi River at its mouth. Atmospheric rivers form in the warm subtropics. The atmospheric circulation pulls the water vapor and forms a narrow band that can be thousands of miles long. When atmospheric rivers reach a coast or flow inland over mountains, the moist air is forced upwards, the water vapor condenses, and heavy precipitation may fall as rain or snow.

There is also evidence, presented at the Arctic Science Summit Week by colleague Gunnar Spreen of the University of Bremen, that the cyclones associated with the strong vapor transport churned up the sea ice in the East Greenland Seas (Figure 4b). Ice concentrations from the University of Bremen AMSR2 product show lower ice concentrations on March 17 compared to March 13 as the passing cyclone broke up ice cover. The result was reduced sea ice concentration and the opening up of numerous leads in the area.

A further look at the Endurance using NSIDC’s Sea Ice Tracking Utility

Drift potential trajectories for the Endurance

Figure 5. This map shows ice drift trajectories from January 2010 (green) using NSIDC’s Sea Ice Tracking Utility (SITU) tool. Each track encompasses a two-year period. The drift trajectories are based on observations over the last 40 years or more. The left-most track, for January 2018 through December 2019, follows the actual drift (yellow) of the Endurance in January 1915 to April 1916, but the recent drift tracks are considerably slower. The positions of Elephant Island, where the crew rowed to after leaving the ice, and South Georgia Island, where Shackleton and five others were eventually able to reach civilization, are denoted by stars.

Credit: Walt Meier, NSIDC
High-resolution image

As mentioned in last month’s post, the wreck of the Endurance was found on the floor of the Weddell Sea. The Endurance became trapped in the ice on January 18, 1915, at 76.57 degrees South latitude and 328.5 degrees East longitude. It drifted with the ice over the ensuing months until the ice closed in and began crushing the ship in October. The crew abandoned ship on October 27, 1915, and the Endurance finally sank on November 21, 1915, at 68.64 degrees South latitude, 53.0 West longitude. The crew camped and drifted with the ice until the ice began to break up. They launched lifeboats on April 9, 1916. Fortunately, they were close enough to row to the small uninhabited Elephant Island that at least provided some shelter. Expedition leader Earnest Shackleton and five others then sailed by lifeboat to South Georgia Island, several hundred miles away. After landing, they had to cross by foot over a mountain chain before finally reaching a whaling station. They were eventually able to secure a rescue ship to the rest of the crew on Elephant Island. All crew members were saved.

While the leadership of Earnest Shackleton and the fortitude of the crew where essential to their rescue, they were also fortunate in that the ice drift brought them west as well as north, putting them in proximity of islands off of the Antarctic Peninsula. NSIDC’s Sea Ice Tracking Utility (SITU) is a tool that allows us to investigate the drift of the ice based on observations over the last 40 or more years. The tool was developed at NSIDC in collaboration with colleagues Stephanie Pfirman (Arizona State University), Bruno Tremblay (McGill University), and Bob Newton (Columbia University). We can examine whether the drift of Shackleton’s ship was a common or rare occurrence using the SITU record. It appears that the drift of the Endurance was rare within the observational record. Starting from the location for the Endurance’s wreck, only one of the drift tracks in the SITU record, from January 2018 through December 2020, would have taken the crew so far north and west—toward the potential haven of Elephant Island. Other SITU tracks would have taken the crew further from land and toward the open ocean. Additionally, the drift of the Shackleton crew was particularly fast—they came out of the ice within about 14 months. The observed drift from 1979 through 2020 in SITU would keep them in the ice for at least two years. This means that the crew would not have been able to get to Elephant Island in late spring but would have had to winter over on the ice, possibly for several more months.

Strong warming event brings record-setting temperatures to East Antarctica

Figure 6. These weather maps show the heat wave event of March 16 to 18 in Antarctica. Map (a) shows temperature difference from average for the date; map (b) shows wind pattern at 500 millibar (about 18,000 feet) showing the far southern excursion of the westerly wind belt over Wilkes Land and far up onto the East Antarctic Plateau; and map (c) shows an image of water vapor content for 16:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on March 16 when the atmospheric river of water vapor flows onto the East Antarctic coast. ||Credit: University of Maine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | High-resolution image

Figure 6a. These weather maps show the heat wave event of March 16 to 18 in Antarctica. Map (a) shows temperature difference from average for the date; map (b) shows wind pattern at 500 millibar (about 18,000 feet) showing the far southern excursion of the westerly wind belt over Wilkes Land and far up onto the East Antarctic Plateau.

Credit: University of Maine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
High-resolution image

Figure 6b. These weather maps shows the atmospheric river event over Antarctica on March 16, 2022. As of 16:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) the atmospheric river of water vapor flows onto the East Antarctic coast. ||Credit: University of Maine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | High-resolution image

Figure 6b. This weather map shows the atmospheric river event over Antarctica on March 16, 2022. At 16:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) the atmospheric river of water vapor flowed onto the East Antarctic coast.

Credit: University of Maine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
High-resolution image

Between March 16 and 18, a combination of an unusual high-pressure region southeast of New Zealand and a strong low pressure south of Perth, Australia, led to a pulse of warm and moist air from east Australia (the Tasman Sea) to the Antarctic coastline and up onto the East Antarctic Plateau (Figure 6a). As the pulse of air, another example of what appears to be an atmospheric river, reached the coast, sustained periods of above-freezing temperatures and rain were observed at the coastal bases (Figure 6b). Air temperatures at Casey and Dumont D’Urville Stations, were above freezing for nearly two days at 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) and 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), respectively. Because of the high moisture content of the air mass, temperatures remained high as the air climbed onto the ice sheet. Precipitation, and the heat released by condensation of moisture, kept the air warm as it moved up onto the plateau, bringing temperatures far above those typical for mid-March. Temperatures at high-elevation stations such as Russia’s Vostok Station and the European station at Dome Concordia, were more than 35 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for this time of year.

Ice shelf in eastern Wilkes Land breaks up

Worldview images of Conger Ice Shelf before and after collapse

Figure 7. These images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the NASA Terra Satellite show the before and after details of the Conger Ice Shelf break up. Images are 188 kilometers (117 miles) on a side, north is to the lower right. Conger Ice Shelf is near 66 degrees South, 103 degrees East longitude.

Credit: NASA Worldview
High-resolution image

After many years of rifting and small calvings, the Conger Ice Shelf, at the eastern end of the Wilkes Land coast and just east of the Shackleton Ice Shelf, has calved into several large pieces and two named icebergs, C-37 and C-38. The ice shelf was about 1,200 square kilometers (463 square miles) in area towards the end but had been losing area over several years. The flow of the glacier pushed the ice shelf front against a small island, Bowman Island, just off the coast of Antarctica. The stress of the floating ice shelf being pushed against the snow-covered rock island caused large rifts to form and eventually forced pieces to break away. This is an example of what happens when a strong force (continental ice sheet flow) impinges on an immovable object (a rocky island). The event does not appear to be directly related to the recent record low sea ice extent in Antarctica, or the recent heat wave. In fact, the break up occurred just before the warm event.

Reference

Campbell, G. G., S. Pfirman, B. Tremblay, R. Newton, P. DeRepentigny, W. Meier, and C. Fowler. The Ice Tracker. http://icemotion.labs.nsidc.org/SITU