Are scientists conservative about sea ice?

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Guest post by Walt Meier, NSIDC Scientist

Arctic sea ice set a record minimum extent in September 2012, far below the previous record low in 2007. Summer extents have been far lower than average for the last decade, with several record or near-record years. Looking at the numbers, one is tempted to think that the Arctic Ocean may reach nearly sea ice-free conditions within just a few years. But most expert analyses indicate that we’re likely at least a couple decades away from seeing a blue Arctic Ocean during the summer.

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What is the Arctic’s new normal?

Although Arctic sea ice extent as of June 2013 falls within the normal range, sea ice overall is still declining compared to the average. This photograph was taken in August 2009, when sea ice extent nears its lowest annual extent before refreezing for the winter. (Courtesy Patrick Kelley, United States Coast Guard)

Although Arctic sea ice extent as of June 2013 falls within the normal range, sea ice overall is still declining compared to the average. This photograph was taken in August 2009, when sea ice extent nears its lowest annual extent before refreezing for the winter. (Courtesy Patrick Kelley, United States Coast Guard)

NSIDC recently switched the baseline against which we analyze Arctic sea ice extent. Previously, we relied on a baseline that coincided with the beginning of the satellite period and stretched 20 years, from 1979 to 2000. The new baseline runs from 1981 to 2010, covering 30 years. Why did we make such a change?

Switching to a 30-year baseline allows us to be consistent with other climate monitoring agencies, which commonly use a 30-year time period for conducting analyses. This new baseline also helps account for the wider variations observed in Arctic sea ice extent. Continue reading

Are Greenland’s galloping glaciers slowing down?

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One of the three major ice streams studied, the outlet of the Jakobshavn-Isbræ glacier produces about 10 percent of Greenland’s icebergs due to calving. Located in West Greenland, its icebergs float down the fjord, sometimes getting stuck in shallower waters for years. Though the glacier’s acceleration rate has fluctuated through the years, it is still a major contributor to Greenland’s ice loss. Courtesy Spencer Weart, flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/weartpix/4077525679/)

For the past decade, Greenland’s ice sheet has been losing its ice more rapidly, raising concerns about its contribution to sea level rise. A recent study, published in Nature, proposes that Greenland could slow its shedding of ice from its massive ice sheet into the ocean. “This doesn’t mean glacial recession and melting will slow,” said Faezeh M. Nick, a glaciologist from the University Centre in Svalbard in Norway. Nick’s study points out that the problem is not so straightforward. Continue reading

Summer predictions for Arctic sea ice

graph of estimates from the SEARCH sea ice outlook

Last week, an international group of researchers released their best estimates for Arctic sea ice extent over the summer melt season. The scientists are compiling their estimates so that they can better predict changes in Arctic sea ice. Credit: SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook

Average Arctic sea ice extent this May was the third lowest in the satellite record. Does that mean that ice extent will reach a new record low this summer? Or will it recover somewhat over recent years?

Last week sea ice scientists from around the world shared their best answers to those questions, in the June report of the Sea Ice Outlook. For the report, the researchers used a variety of methods to predict how sea ice will behave this summer, such as statistical methods or computer models. Continue reading

When will the Arctic lose its sea ice?

sea ice and icebergs

Scientists expect the Arctic to lose most of its summer ice cover by the end of this century, and are working to determine when this might happen. Here, open water in Fram Strait, in the Canadian Arctic, is interspersed with chunks of sea ice. Credit: Angelika Renner

If you have been following the topic of Arctic sea ice, you have probably seen a few headlines warning that the Arctic is about to lose its summer ice cover. Although scientists agree that Arctic sea ice is declining, they have published several different estimates of when the last of the sea ice will melt in summer, leaving more ocean surface open to absorb heat and add to global warming. What is behind all these different predictions? Continue reading