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

Arctic sea ice maximum at tenth lowest in satellite record

Arctic sea ice has likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.88 million square kilometers (5.75 million square miles) on February 25. The 2022 maximum is the tenth lowest in the 44-year satellite record. On the same day, on the other pole, Antarctic sea ice reached a record minimum extent, at 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles).

Overview of conditions

Feb 25, 2022 sea ice extent maximum on map

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for February 25, 2022, was 14.88 million square kilometers (5.75 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 February 25, 2022, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.88 million square kilometers (5.75 million square miles), the tenth lowest extent in the satellite record. This year’s maximum extent is 770,000 square kilometers (297,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.65 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 470,000 square kilometers (182,000 square miles) above the lowest maximum of 14.41 million square kilometers (5.56 million square miles) set on March 7, 2017. Prior to 2019, the four lowest maximum extents occurred from 2015 to 2018.

The date of the maximum this year, February 25, was fifteen days earlier than the 1981 to 2010 average date of March 12. Only two years had an earlier maximum, 1987 and 1996, both on February 24. This year is the second earliest date on the satellite record, tying with 2015, which also reached its maximum extent on February 25.

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. 2020 to 2021 is shown in blue, 2019 to 2020 in green, 2018 to 2019 in orange, 2017 to 2018 in brown, 2016 to 2017 in magenta, and 2012 to 2013 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 2. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent on February 25, 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 2012 to 2013 in dashed brown. The 1981 to 2010 median is in dark gray. The gray areas around the median line show the interquartile and interdecile ranges of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

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

The ice growth season ended with near average sea ice extent in the Bering Sea, above average in Baffin Bay and off the coast of south-eastern Greenland, and below average in the Barents Sea with a narrow open-water wedge north of Novaya Zemlya. Extent was well below average in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Since the maximum on February 25, extent has dropped about 390,000 square kilometers (151,000 square miles), with losses primarily in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Barents Sea. These losses have been offset by gains in the Bering Sea, Baffin Bay, and the Labrador Sea.

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

Rank Year In millions of square kilometers In millions of square miles Date
1 2017 14.41 5.56 March 7
2 2018 14.47 5.59 March 17
3 2016
2015
14.51
14.52
5.60
5.61
March 23
February 25
5 2011
2006
14.67
14.68
5.66
5.67
March 9
March 12
7 2007
2021
14.77
14.77
5.70
5.70
March 12
March 21
9 2019 14.82 5.72 March 13
10 2022 14.88 5.75 February 25

For the Arctic maximum, which typically occurs in March, the uncertainty range is ~34,000 square kilometers (13,000 square miles), meaning that extents within this range must be considered effectively equal.

The Antarctic minimum

Antarctic sea ice minimum extent on Feb 25, 2022

Figure 3. Antarctic sea ice extent for February 25, 2022, was 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 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 noted in our previous post, in the Southern Hemisphere, sea ice reached its record minimum extent for the year on the same day, February 25. For the first time in the satellite record, which began in 1979, extent fell below 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) at 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles). This year’s minimum extent was 190,000 square kilometers (73,400 square miles) below the previous record set on March 3, 2017. The Antarctic minimum extent is 930,000 square kilometers (359,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum of 2.85 million square kilometers (1.10 million square miles).

The February 25 timing of the minimum was only a day later than the 1981 to 2010 median date of February 24 for the minimum. Over the satellite record, the Antarctic minimum has occurred as early as February 15 and as late as March 6.

Average austral summer air temperatures at the 925 mb level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) over Antarctic sea ice regions have been near average. However, winds have been much stronger and generally in a more northward direction, helping to break up the ice and melt it in warmer ocean waters. One exception was the Weddell Sea, where winds came more from the north, but that served to push the ice edge southward, reducing extent near the Antarctic Peninsula.

Since the minimum on February 25, ice growth has progressed at a near-average rate with growth around most of the continent, except off the coast of Dronning Maud Land and Enderby Land, which lie to the south of Africa.

Final analysis pending

Please note this is a preliminary announcement. At the beginning of April, NSIDC scientists will release a full analysis of winter conditions in the Arctic, along with monthly data for March.

Arctic sea ice approaches maximum; record low minimum in the south

Arctic sea ice is approaching its seasonal peak, with below-average sea ice extent in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, but near-average ice extent elsewhere. Antarctic sea ice extent set a record low minimum for the satellite data era. However, two regions of high interest to researchers remained locked in ice: Thwaites Glacier and the central Weddell Sea.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2022 was 14.61 million square kilometers (5.64 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for February 2022 was 14.61 million square kilometers (5.64 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data

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

Figure 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of March 7, 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 2012 to 2013 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 March 7, 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 2012 to 2013 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 Arctic sea ice extent for February 2022 was 14.61 million square kilometers (5.64 million square miles), ranking fourteenth lowest in the satellite record. The 2022 extent was 690,000 square kilometers (266,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Through most of February, extent hovered near the interdecile range, roughly at the lowest 10 percent of the measured extents for those days. Regionally, the sea ice extent was near average in the Bering Sea but continued to be well below average in the Sea of Okhotsk. In the Barents Sea, extent was below average, and a narrow open-water area extended north of Novaya Zemlya. Extent also remained below average in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the eastern Greenland coast. As is generally the case near the maximum sea ice extent, there are ups and downs in extent associated with storms moving the ice around, melt along the southern ice margins, and subsequent regrowth.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for February 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 in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for February 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 average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for December 2021. 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 for February 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

In February 2022, temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) ranged from 1 to over 8 degrees Celsius (2 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average along the Eurasian coast and across the central Arctic Ocean (Figure 2a). However, cool conditions prevailed over much of Canada and Baffin Bay; temperatures were generally 2 to 7 degrees Celsius (4 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) below average. The sea level air pressure pattern in February was marked by strong low pressure centered over the North Atlantic and high pressure over central Asia, acting to drive air northward from Eastern Europe to the central Arctic, consistent with the above average temperatures there (Figure 2b). In North America, low pressure over the North Atlantic, extending over Baffin Bay, drew Arctic air southward over eastern Canada, bringing cool conditions to the area.

February 2022 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly February ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 2.8 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly February ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 2.8 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in February sea ice extent over the 44-year satellite record is 42,500 square kilometers (16,400 square miles) per year, or 2.8 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, February has seen a loss of 1.82 million square kilometers (703,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about seven times the area of Oregon.

Antarctic sea ice minimum sets a record

Figure 4a. Before 2022, the previous record low Antarctic sea ice extent was observed on March 3, 2017. This figure shows the difference in sea ice extent from that date (shown in white) compared with the new record low on February 25, 2022 (shown in dark blue). Ice present on both dates is shown in light blue. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 4a. Before 2022, the previous record low Antarctic sea ice extent was observed on March 3, 2017. This figure shows the difference in sea ice extent from that date (shown in white) compared with the new record low on February 25, 2022 (shown in dark blue). Ice present on both dates is shown in light blue.

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

Figure 4b. This figure shows the pattern of the 2021 to 2022 Antarctic sea ice decline since the September winter maximum. Each panel shows the sea ice extent for the two dates in the legend, with the earlier date extent in white and the later date extent in light blue. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 4b. This figure shows the pattern of the 2021 to 2022 Antarctic sea ice decline since the September winter maximum. Each panel shows the sea ice extent for the two dates in the legend, with the earlier date extent in white and the later date extent in light blue.

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

In the south, Antarctic sea ice recently reached its late-summer minimum, dropping below all previous minimum ice extents in the satellite record (Figure 4a). For the first time since the satellite record began in 1979, extent fell below 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles), reaching a minimum extent of 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) on February 25. Ice extent declined at a near-average rate through most of the month at about 40,000 square kilometers (15,400 square miles) per day, but the decline significantly slowed to about 15,000 square kilometers (5,800 square miles) per day towards the end of the month.

Following the unusually early and above average sea ice maximum extent on September 1, there was a rapid decline in ice extent through the austral spring and summer, with the most notable feature being the clearing out of ice from the Ross and Amundsen Sea sectors during January and February as well as the loss of ice from the northwestern Weddell Sea region during that period (Figure 4b). Much of the Antarctic coast is still ice-free and sea ice remains well below average in the eastern Ross Sea, western Bellingshausen Sea, and northwestern Weddell Sea. However, persistent patches of high concentration sea ice in the area of Pine Island Bay and in the central Weddell Sea are obstructing research groups trying to work in those areas. The RV Nathaniel B Palmer, operated by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the RV Araon, operated by South Korea’s Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), have been attempting to conduct research near the outlet of Thwaites Glacier. The research teams were forced to work at an adjacent region to the west, the Dotson Ice Shelf, to avoid the heavy ice conditions near Thwaites.

Ups and downs in the southern ice

Figure 5a. This plot shows the annual Antarctic minimum daily (5-day running average) extent for 1979 to 2022 (black) and the 1979 to 2022 trend line (blue). For the first time since the satellite record began in 1979, sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere fell below 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles), reaching a minimum of 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) on February 25. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 5a. This plot shows the annual Antarctic minimum daily (5-day running average) extent for 1979 to 2022 (black) and the 1979 to 2022 trend line (blue). For the first time since the satellite record began in 1979, sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere fell below 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles), reaching a minimum of 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) on February 25.

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

Figure 5b. This plot shows the changes in the trend of seasonal sea ice minimums over the satellite record for Antarctic sea ice, beginning with the trend after ten years and proceeding year-by-year. For much of the satellite monitoring period, the trend has been towards increasing ice, but the vertical bars show that the high variability in the records means that the trend is not statistically significant. As of 2022, the net trend is very close to zero. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 5b. This plot shows the changes in the trend of seasonal sea ice minimums over the satellite record for Antarctic sea ice, beginning with the trend after ten years and proceeding year-by-year. For much of the satellite monitoring period, the trend has been towards increasing ice, but the vertical bars show that the high variability in the records means that the trend is not statistically significant. As of 2022, the net trend is very close to zero.

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

The Antarctic sea ice is notable for its variability, both seasonally, losing over 80 percent of its ice cover from its maximum to its annual minimum extent, and from year to year. While 2022 had a record low minimum, the highest minimum in the satellite record was observed as recently as 2015 (Figure 5a). The effect of this large year to year variability on computed trends is evident when plotting how the trend has changed over time (Figure 5b). We calculated the trend for the period of 1979 to 1988, then 1979 to 1989, then 1979 to 1990, and so forth.

The trend is initially positive for the 1979 to 1988 period, but then dips negative for a couple years, then bounces between positive and negative until the year 2001, after which it remained positive through 2021. Also plotted is the 2 standard deviation range of the trend as the vertical “whiskers” for each year; this is a measure of how confident one should be in the trend values. If the 2 standard deviation range for a computed trend crosses the zero line (i.e., encompasses both positive and negative values), it means that the trend value may simply be due to the year-to-year swings in the extent. Phrased differently, it means that the trend does not meet the 95 percent confidence level for statistical significance. So while the trend in minimum extent has been largely positive over the past two decades, it has not been significant except the three-year period, 2014 to 2016. Through 2022, the trend starting in 1979 is ever so slightly negative again: -18 square kilometers (-6.94 square miles) per year. But it is still not a significant trend. Variability in summer continues to rule Antarctic sea ice extent.

Eos recently published an article that summarizes three different modeling studies that attempt to explain the causes of the variability and the (until this year) positive trend in Antarctic sea ice extent. The article finds that while winds and sea surface temperature are important contributors to the growth of Antarctic sea ice over the last 30+ years, there are likely additional factors at play.

Search for the Endurance

Figure 6. Mrs. Chippy, the resident cat of Endurance, the vessel that carried Ernest Shackleton and his team to Antarctica in 1914, stands on the shoulder of a crewmember. Mrs. Chippy did not survive the expedition. ||Credit: Perce Blackborow| High-resolution image

Figure 6a. Mrs. Chippy, the resident cat of Endurance, the vessel that carried Ernest Shackleton and his team to Antarctica in 1914, stands on the shoulder of a crewmember. Mrs. Chippy did not survive the expedition.

Credit: Perce Blackborow
High-resolution image

Figure 6b. This image shows the stern of the Endurance, the ship used by Ernest Shackleton to reach the Weddell Sea on his ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The ship was found in 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of water in the northwestern Weddell Sea by a search expedition using uncrewed submersible vehicles. ||Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic. | High-resolution image

Figure 6b. These images show the stern of the Endurance, the ship used by Ernest Shackleton to reach the Weddell Sea on his ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The ship was found in 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of water in the northwestern Weddell Sea by a search expedition using uncrewed submersible vehicles.

Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic.
High-resolution image

In the Weddell Sea, the South African research icebreaker RV Agulhas II has been attempting to find the wreck of the Endurance on the seafloor. The Endurance is the vessel that brought Ernest Shackleton and his team to Antarctica in 1914, only to be blocked by sea ice. The ice later crushed the ship and the team was forced to trek across the sea ice and sail to a small, uninhabited island near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Shackleton and five others then sailed in a lifeboat over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to South Georgia Island, one of the greatest polar voyages in history, to reach civilization. They then returned in a Chilean ship, the Yelcho, to rescue the rest of the expeditioners on Elephant Island. Miraculously, all of the human crew were successfully rescued. However, several sled dogs and one male cat, Mrs. Chippy, did not survive (Figure 6a).

On March 5, the Endurance was found by undersea drones operating from the South African ice breaker (Figure 6b). This was after just two weeks of searching in the area where the navigator of the 1915 expedition, Frank Worsely, noted its last location. It was found in 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of water in near-pristine condition because of the absence of wood-boring worms in the Weddell benthic ecosystem. The ship was found just 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the last reported location, made on November 21, 1915, with sextant and chronometer.

Further reading

Alexander, C., and J. Dorman. 2003. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Columbia TriStar.

Amos, J. 2022. Endurance: Shackleton’s lost ship is found in Antarctic. BBChttps://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60662541

Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E., I. Eisenman, S. Zhang, S. Sun, and A. Donohoe. 2022. New Perspectives on the Enigma of Expanding Antarctic Sea Ice. Eos.
https://eos.org/science-updates/new-perspectives-on-the-enigma-of-expanding-antarctic-sea-ice

Davidson, L. 2022. The Adventures of Mrs. Chippy, Shackleton’s Seafaring Cat. History Hit. https://www.historyhit.com/mrs-chippy-shackletons-seafaring-cat/

Sir Ernest Shackleton Endurance Expedition Trans-Antarctica 1914-1917 – 1, Departure. Cool Antarctica. https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/History/Shackleton-Endurance-Trans-Antarctic_expedition.php

Worsley, F. A. 1998. Shackleton’s boat journey. WW Norton & Company.

Update

When we first published this post, the Endurance had not yet been found. We updated this post on March 9, 2022, to include the information about the discovery of the Endurance. 

Arctic sea ice this January: so last decade

While January began with sea ice extent below average, by the end of the month, extent increased. January 2022 finished as the sixteenth lowest extent in the satellite record above all years since 2009. This illustrates the large natural variability in sea ice conditions. However, winter ice extent is a poor indicator of what the ice extent will look like this coming September.

Overview of conditions

Sea ice extent for Jan 2022

Figure 1a. Arctic sea ice extent for January 2022 was 13.88 million square kilometers (5.36 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 extent for Arctic January 2022

Figure 1b. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of February 2, 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 2012 to 2013 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 Arctic sea ice extent for January 2022 was 13.88 million square kilometers (5.36 million square miles), ranking sixteenth lowest in the satellite record (Figure 1a). The 2022 extent was 540,000 square kilometers (208,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. Throughout most of January, extent tracked within the interdecile range of the satellite record, falling below the interdecile range on January 26 (Figure 1b). Regionally, the sea ice extent was above average in the Bering Sea, yet below average in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Barents Sea. Extent also remained lower than average in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At the end of the month, sea ice extent was above all years since 2009.

Conditions in context

Air temperatures over Arctic Ocean Jan 2022

Figure 2a. This plot shows the departure from average air temperature in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for January 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 the departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for January 2022. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressures; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressures.||Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory| High-resolution image

Figure 2b. This plot shows the departure from average sea level pressure in the Arctic in millibars for January 2022. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average air pressures; blues and purples indicate lower than average air pressures.

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

Air temperatures for January 2022 at the 925 millibar level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) were above average over all of the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures were up to 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average north of the Canadian Archipelago, with more modest departures in other areas (Figure 2a). The corresponding sea level pressure pattern for January 2022 featured the characteristic Siberian high pressure region that typically forms over eastern Siberia in autumn and winter. However, sea level pressure was up to 8 millibars above average over eastern Siberia, stretching across the Bering Sea and into western Alaska (Figure 2b). This was coupled with below average sea level pressure over Eurasia and Hudson Bay. Generally, when the Siberian High is strong, advection of warm air from eastern Europe leads to mild conditions over the Kara and Laptev Seas. The high over Siberia was also complemented by low pressure south of the Aleutians. This pattern led to winds bringing cold air that enhanced freezing in the Bering Sea and pushed ice southward, leading to the higher extent in the Bering Sea.

January 2022 compared to previous years

Graph of sea ice decline for January since 1979

Figure 3. Monthly January ice extent for 1979 to 2022 shows a decline of 3.0 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in January sea ice extent over the 44-year satellite record is 42,800 square kilometers (16,500 square miles) per year, or 3.0 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, January has seen a loss of 1.86 million square kilometers (718,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about four times the area of California.

Role of North Atlantic Heat Transport on Barents Sea ice

Figure x1. Left: simulated mean Arctic Ocean volume transport in Sverdrups (Sv: equal to one million cubic meters per second, or about 260 million gallons per second); right, heat loss in terawatts (TW; equal to one trillion watts) for individual regions. The values shown are average annual values for 1900 to 2000. Credit: Smedsrud et al. 2022

Figure 4a. The left map of the Arctic Ocean shows the simulated average transport of water volume in Sverdrups (Sv: equal to one million cubic meters per second, or about 260 million gallons per second). The right map show the heat loss in terawatts (TW; equal to one trillion watts) for individual regions. The values shown are average annual values for 1900 to 2000.

Credit: Smedsrud et al. 2022
High-resolution image

Annual ocean temperatures averaged between 50 and 200m (164 and 656 feet) depth from 1977 through 2020 showing the variation of ocean heat in the western Barents Sea.

Figure 4b. Annual ocean temperatures averaged between 50 and 200 meters (164 and 656 feet) depth from 1977 through 2020 showing the variation of ocean heat in the western Barents Sea.

Credit: Institute of Marine Research, Norway
High-resolution image

The northward flow of warm Atlantic Water along the coast of Norway is a primary oceanic heat source for the Arctic Ocean (Figure 4a). During periods when there is increased transport of Atlantic Water, there is reduced winter sea ice in northern Barents Sea and increased ocean heat loss, leading to denser water. The northward flow of Atlantic water towards the Arctic has been high in recent decades. According to colleagues at the Geophysical Institute in Bergen, Norway, the oceanic heat transport to the Arctic Ocean is 30 percent higher today than it was around 1900.  However, over a shorter time-frame, there is no distinct trend in warm water flow between 1995 and 2020. The total annual transport of ocean heat, a combination of water volume and the temperature of that water, started to decrease after 2015 (Figure 4b). However, while the volume of Atlantic Water through the Barents Sea opening started to drop in 2015, northern Norway experienced several strong storms from the south, that may have broken up the ice cover or kept it from advancing southward. The wind-driven changes in northward movement of Atlantic Water is likely a result of natural climate variability, including both upstream ocean circulation changes and large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns such as the Arctic Oscillation; however, some researchers think that sea ice loss in the Arctic may also be affecting wind patterns.

Antarctic sea ice taking the plunge

Antarctic sea ice extent 2022

Figure 5a. The graph above shows Antarctic sea ice extent as of February 2, 2022, along with daily ice extent data for five previous years. 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 2013 to 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 5. These graphs show Anatarctic sea ice extent in square kilometers in five different regions as well as Antarctica's overall sea ice extent. ||Credit: ?|High-resolution image

Figure 5b. These graphs show Antarctic sea ice extent in square kilometers in five different regions as well as Antarctica’s overall sea ice extent.

Credit: Robbie Mallet, University College London
High-resolution image

During the southern hemisphere spring in 2016, Antarctic sea ice suddenly shrank, leading to a series of months (extending into the 2016 to 2017 austral summer) with the lowest monthly average extents in the satellite data record. This January, Antarctic sea ice was the second lowest ice extent in the 44-year record (Figure 5a). Regionally, ice extent is tracking below levels observed for 2017 in the Indian and Pacific sectors, but above levels for that year in other sectors (Figure 5b). In 2017, only the Ross Sea region had record low extent, so it was the driver of the overall record low hemispheric extent. Similarly, this year none of the individual regions have record low extents, but all are well below average leading to the second lowest Antarctic sea ice in the satellite record, above 2017.

The more moderate extent levels since the record lows in 2016 to 2017 result in a small, not statistically significant (at the 95 percent level) positive trend. Climate models simulating the response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions suggest that Antarctic sea ice should be decreasing. So there is a seeming contradiction between the observations and the models. One possibility is that natural variability is higher than the models indicate and that natural variability may still dominate the Antarctic sea ice trends. A new study led by R. Fogt looked at an ensemble of reconstructions of Antarctic sea ice extent since 1905 using sea level pressure, air temperatures, and indices of climate variability. This study argues that the seasonally observed positive trends since 1979 are unusual over the twentieth century, and that a shift occurred around 1960, before routine satellite observations began. This hints that there is indeed pronounced decadal scale variability in ocean and atmospheric conditions that influence Antarctic sea ice. Whether the low ice conditions of recent years represent a new decadal-scale shift remains to be seen.

References

Årthun, M., T. Eldevik, and L. H. Smedsrud. 2019. The Role of Atlantic Heat Transport in Future Arctic Winter Sea Ice Loss, Journal of Climate32(11), 3327-3341. Retrieved Feb 3, 2022, from https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/clim/32/11/jcli-d-18-0750.1.xml.

Fogt, R.L., A. M. Sleinkofer, M. N. Raphael, et al. 2022. A regime shift in seasonal total Antarctic sea ice extent in the twentieth century. Nature Climate Chang. 12, 54–62. doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01254-9.

Helland-Hansen, B. and F. Nansen. 1909. The Norwegian Sea: Its physical oceanography based upon the Norwegian researches 1900–1904. Det Mallingske bogtrykkeri.

Orvik, K. A. 2022. Long-term moored current and temperature measurements of the Atlantic inflow into the Nordic Seas in the Norwegian Atlantic Current; 1995-2020. Geophysical Research Letters, 49, e2021GL096427. doi:10.1029/2021GL096427

Smedsrud, L. H., M. Muilwijk, A. Brakstad, E. Madonna, S. K. Lauvset, C. Spensberger, C., et al. 2022. Nordic Seas heat loss, Atlantic inflow, and Arctic sea ice cover over the last century. Reviews of Geophysics, 60, e2020RG000725. doi:10.1029/2020RG000725.

Erratum

On February 9, 2022, a user informed the ASINA team of an error in the text, which stated, “January 2022 finished as the sixteenth lowest extent in the satellite record above all years since 2009, with the exception of 2013 and 2014.” The correct text should state that “January 2022 finished as the sixteenth lowest extent in the satellite record above all years since 2009.” The correction has been made.

A good winter, relatively speaking

By early January 2022, Arctic sea ice extent, while well below average, was within the lowest decile of recorded extents of the 1981 to 2010 reference period. Sea ice now completely covers Hudson Bay; the only area with substantially below average extent is in southern Baffin Bay and north of Labrador.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for December 2021 was 13.48 million square kilometers (5.20 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Sea Ice Index data. About the data||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for December 2021 was 12.19 million square kilometers (4.71 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 December 2021 was 12.19 million square kilometers (4.71 million square miles), which ranked thirteenth lowest in the satellite record. The 2021 extent was 650,000 square kilometers (251,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. As of early January 2022, sea ice completely covers Hudson Bay. The only area with extent remarkably below normal is southern Baffin Bay and off the coast of Labrador, where the December sea ice extent ranked fourth lowest.

Conditions in context

Figure 2a. The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of January 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 2012 to 2013 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 January 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 2012 to 2013 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 December 2021. 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 December 2021. 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 at the 925 hPa level, in degrees Celsius, for December 2021. 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 December 2021. 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

The air temperature pattern averaged for December 2021 at the 925 millibar level (about 2,500 feet above the surface) was characterized by above average temperatures. Temperatures were up to 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over Greenland, north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and the East Greenland Sea. Three areas of below average temperatures were found over western and eastern Eurasia and northwestern Canada (Figure 2b). The corresponding sea level pressure pattern for December 2021 featured fairly low pressures (less than 1,015 millibars) encompassing essentially all of the Arctic except for the Laptev Sea region (Figure 2c). These pressures were nevertheless not substantially unusual compared to average—at most 6 to 7 millibars below average. The notable exception is south of the Aleutian Islands, where the sea level pressure was up to 24 millibars above average.

December 2021 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Monthly October ice extent for 1979 to 2021 shows a decline of 3.1 percent per decade.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 3. Monthly December ice extent for 1979 to 2021 shows a decline of 3.5 percent per decade.

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

The downward linear trend in December sea ice extent over the 43-year satellite record is 45,000 square kilometers (17,400 square miles) per year, or 3.5 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. Based on the linear trend, since 1979, December has seen a loss of 1.88 million square kilometers (726,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about three times the size of Texas.

Hudson Bay ices over

Figure 4. This NASA Worldview image shows the last of the Hudson Bay freezing up along the southeast coast as of December 23, 2021. After a late freeze up, Hudson Bay is completely ice covered as of early January 2022. ||Credit: NASA| High-resolution image

Figure 4. This NASA Worldview image shows the last part of  Hudson Bay freezing up along the southeast coast as of December 23, 2021. After a late freeze up, Hudson Bay is completely ice covered as of early January 2022.

Credit: NASA
High-resolution image

In our previous post, we noted that by the end of November, the northern half of Hudson Bay is usually completely iced over. As of the end of November 2021, only the far north was frozen over; the rest of the bay was ice free except for a narrow band of ice along the western coastline. However, as lower temperatures kicked in and the upper ocean lost the heat that it had gained in summer, the entire bay subsequently froze over. The ice cover is now complete.

Antarctic notes

Figure 4. Antarctic sea ice extent for December 2021 was 9.2 million square kilometers (3.55 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 5. Antarctic sea ice extent for December 2021 was 9.2 million square kilometers (3.55 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

Antarctic sea ice extent for December 2021 was low overall, tracking at similar extents seen in 2017. Regionally, extent was particularly low in the Weddell Sea and southern Ross Sea regions. Several large polynyas formed in the eastern Weddell Sea; the Maud Rise Polynya opened in late November and then spread east to northeast. This is unusual; normally, the polynya extends south and west of its initiation point. The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) was in a strong positive phase through the first half of the month, indicating strong westerly winds and a strong low-pressure area in the Amundsen Sea. Sea ice conditions are not yet favorable for two planned cruises near Thwaites Glacier, one by the US Antarctic research program (RV Nathaniel B. Palmer) and the other by the South Korean (RV Araon). Ships are due to arrive in late January.

Killer whales in the Arctic

Bowhead whales have played an integral role in the cultural and subsistence life of Inuit communities for millennia. New research at the University of Washington analyzing acoustic data has found that the loss of sea ice has allowed killer whales, also known as Orcas, to venture into waters that were once inaccessible to them. The expanding range of killer whales, a top predator, has potential ramification for the Arctic food web and especially bowhead whales. Indigenous Arctic communities have noted an increased number of carcasses of bowhead whales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas that were preyed upon by Orcas. Normally, bowheads can avoid predation by retreating into protective areas of heavy sea ice that the smaller Orcas cannot break through to breathe. If the bowheads must spend more time in thick ice, this can be a problem because feeding opportunities are more limited. Calves that cannot break through the ice may also drown.