NSIDC: Arctic sea ice declines sharply in August

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Monday that in the first 10 days of August, Arctic sea ice extent declined one million kilometers. Sea ice is now disappearing on a daily basis nearly 50% faster than it typically does this time of year.

Graph with months on x axis and extent on y axis

So the race is on again to see whether 2008 can repeat — or beat — the record set only last year. The NSIDC explains exactly what is going on in the Arctic this summer:

Ice extent has begun to decline sharply. The decline rate surged to -113,000 square kilometers per day on August 7 and as of August 10 was -103,000 square kilometers per day. This compares to the long-term average decline of -76,000 square kilometers per day for this time of year. Normally, the peak decline rate is in early July.

Many of the areas now seeing a rapid retreat saw an early melt onset (see July 2, 2008); this helped set the stage for rapid retreat (July 17 and April 7). However, the more fundamental issue is that these regions started the melt season covered with thin first-year ice, which is especially vulnerable to melting out completely. Thin ice is also vulnerable to breakup by winds; the last ten days have seen a windy, stormy pattern that has accelerated the ice loss.

I’m still happy to take bets on ice-free Arctic by 2020 — more than half a century earlier than virtually every model has been predicting (see “Another big climate bet — Of Ice and Men“).

[h/t to Johnny Rook’s Climaticide Chronicles]

20 Responses to NSIDC: Arctic sea ice declines sharply in August

  1. jorleh says:

    Looks like melting about the same as last fall. Knowing the weak quality of last winter ice I bet a new record is probable. Deniers shout, if there isn´t a new record: ice age is coming!

  2. P. G. Dudda says:

    Personally, I’m betting that the Arctic Ocean will be “ice-free” for the purpose of transpolar shipping by 2010. Russia is already exploring the “Arctic Sea Bridge” for shipping between Murmansk and Churchill (MB, Canada). Churchill has its drawbacks, but it’s the only port on Hudson Bay currently capable of handling those kinds of shipments.

  3. The Guardian has a great piece on the story.

    Of particular note (my paraphrase):

    Based on recent events, Professor Wieslaw Maslowski of (the socialist and alarmist global warming division at) the Naval Postgraduate School says that the computer models he is running indicate that the Arctic could be ice free during the summer months by 2013 – with serious consequences for the planet, as the tundra releases millions of tons of methane

  4. Lamont says:

    We have to remember that ice change from year to year is still just weather. 2007 was a record setter, so it was probably an outlier, so there will probably be a reversion to the mean trend at some point. Just like we had two really bad seasons for hurricanes making US landfall and then it abated somewhat. We’re still seeing strong and bad hurricanes (ask anyone on the yucutan penninsula about hurricane Dean) and seeing records in rapid storm intensification, but we haven’t had another repeat of the 2004 or 2005 seasons as far as huge storms (Ivan, Katrina, Rita, etc) making US landfall.

    The problem is that as we set records we start to pay closer attention to that statistic and are then betrayed as we can go multiple years in a row without any new records. I’d guess that in the next 3 years we begin a string of 3+ years in a row with no new records in sea ice loss. And the deniers/delayers will start to howl about it when it happens…

    Meanwhile, the pacific ocean is coming out of the La Nina phase and is now ENSO neutral and the next solar cycle sunspots started earlier this year. In a few years we should be crushing the 1998 temperature anomaly record on a regular basis (barring a pinatubo-class volcano or the sun suddenly deciding to go maunder-minimum on us).

  5. Bob Wallace says:


    I sort of think of alarms as good things.

    Like the alarm that tells you that your house is on fire, the alarm that tells you that you’re about to melt your engine block, the alarm that tells the nursing staff that your heart has stopped, ….

    And you, Richard, seem to be telling us that people who warn us of potential very bad consequences of likely global warming are “bad people”?

    You need to tag them with some irrelevant derogatory term just to make sure we know how bad it is to be warned?

    I’m so confused…………………….

  6. Bob… so sorry… I was trying to inject humor that isn’t needed on these boards!

    I also frequent Desmog, and any time I post a comment on a scientific study, several regular trolls try to discredit my comments by suggesting that global warming is a socialist plot, and that any scientists who support it with computer studies are just trying to rustle up money to support their research.

    And so I’ve into the very bad habit of adding their objections to any comments I make as a way of showing how foolish they sound. So I added this: ‘the socialist and alarmist global warming division’ to my post about the Naval Postgraduate School without even thinking. I don’t believe that in any way, shape, or form.

    Alarms are good things. And what is happening in the Arctic scares the bejesus out of me.

  7. Dano says:

    Let us not forget that July was ~5th warmest on record according to GISS.

    This, coupled with the Arctic ice anomalies, will surely shut up the denialists now!

    Pffff…hahahahahHAHAHAhaha! Hoo-boy, I crack me up sometimes.



  8. John Mashey says:

    re: Richard/Bob/Richard

    When I read that, I knew the humor would cause confusion, and it did :-).

    The conjunction of Naval Postgraduate School and “socialist and alarmist” is amusing; I have been there, although it’s been a while.

    it’s sort of like Viscount Monckton calling the UK Royal Society “once a learned body and now a mere Left-leaning. political pressure-group” . I mentioned that once to a Fellow of the RS and got a big laugh.

  9. John McCormick says:

    Lamont, you offered many opinions but nothing to back them up. You may be a newcomer to the Arctic ice meltback discussions and likely have not give much thought to the fundamental dynamics at play there.

    Multi-year ice is much thicker than new ice (3x+ thicker) The greater the expanse of open water at the terminus of the melt season, the greater is the area of new ice. Wave action and numerous other “weathers” can fracture the new ice while the yearly ice remains largely intact. The meltback extent over the past thirty years has never been recorded. So, it is a new phenomenon. How it affects North American climate and weather has yet to be analysed but the impact may already be upon us.

    I have never heard anyone describe the Arctic ice meltback as weather. Maybe you could tell us who gave you that idea or how you came upon it.

    John McCormick

  10. Lamont says:

    I’m saying the record set last year is weather, the trend is climate. I don’t disagree that the trend is towards an ice-free arctic. But we shouldn’t expect to set records every single year in any climate measurements (other than CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere).

  11. John McCormick says:


    I agree with you on the ‘record setting’ comment. But, I believe the climate trend towards warmer temperatures has set in firmly and overrides the ‘weather’ affect on Arctic ice.

    I have assembled a slide show of meltback since 1979 and it is obvious that ‘weather’ has trended towards warmer atmosphere and ocean currents in the West Arctic.

    If I take your comment:

    [I’m saying the record set last year is weather]

    as last year’s record being an isolated event, I agree.

    But, we know the melt records are going to become a function of now too much new ice breaking up and melting earlier each melt season (wave action being an increasingly greater factor).

    The only factor I can imagine changing that dynamic is sustained cloud cover blocking the sunlight.

    Thanks for your response.

    John McCormick

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    What, if any, role did the California fires play in delaying the 2008 melt?

    I saw one statement that the resulting smoke was keeping some of Alaska cooler this summer. Certainly has made for cooler days here close to the fires.

    Do we have any data as to the average thickness of the ice (extent of “new” ice) in 2007 vs. 2008?

    It seems to me that we’re now melting new, thin ice and shouldn’t be surprised if open water areas quickly equal or exceed the 2007 level given that we’re likely melting away a thin film of ice.

    We’ve got another 4-6 weeks in the melting season. Lots of opportunity to set a new (and highly undesirable) record.

    (Sorry Richard. You attempt at humor and my attempt at humor add up to an indication that neither of us should pursue a career in the comedy field at this time. ;o)

  13. Lamont says:

    I think we’re discussing semantics.

    I do agree that the north pole will eventually be ice free, and I do believe that positive feedbacks like the melting of the tundra will accelerate this trend faster than most ‘mainstream’ (IPCC, etc) climate models suggest. It is just unlikely to be a monotonic series of consistent records all the way down to zero ice. The danger is that at some point we get 3+ years in a row with no new record and the deniers/delayers start hooting about how we’ve got it all wrong…

    Generally in studying any noisy series (from global temperature to the stock market) if you are making new highs (or lows) then its likely that you’ll pull back while still maintaining the trend. In the stock market this becomes an excellent time to buy or sell provided that you feel the primary trend is still going the direction you expect. In global climate, counter-trend reactions within the main trend are opportunities for the deniers to claim that the trend has reversed.

    2008 was on track to not be a new record until recently. Right now its a bit of a horserace with 2008 catching up with 2007 and the melt increasing rapidly. The danger is that we wind up betting on this horserace like it means something with respect to global climate change. If the storms in the arctic abate today and 2008 fails to hit 2007s record melt that will change nothing about the climate trend. However, if 2008 fails to hit 2007s record, I expect that deniers/delayers will claim their horse came in and that we’re all wrong.

    Personally, I’m cautiously betting that 2009 will be hotter than 1998 and that with near certainty the 1998 record will fall by 2012. That horserace is a little more interesting, since I think that trend is due to pay off. It is like a stock that has pulled back nicely, set up a base, gotten a lot of short interest and skeptics who think the stock will fall and it is primed to advance higher.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Tamino very recently put up a thread on arctic sea ice on his Open Mind.

  15. John D. says:

    Whether you are sceptic or believer, when posting that such and such regarding sea ice, is an all-time “record breaker”, let’s be specific and note that all records broken are only based from a very short timeframe of 30 years of data, or less than the age of most bloggers on this post.

    Anything before satellites and today’s accurate equipment and systems is anyone’s guess. The U.S. and Russian Navy have a lot of data over the last few decades, but they tend to keep a lot of it under wraps for their own use. They know a lot more about whats taking place in the arctic than most. We only get to see what they want us to see. Eventually, they’ll release their data and everything we thought was going on is usually only half right. I’ve seen this before.

  16. John McCormick says:

    John D.

    Cultural lore and observations of Alaskan and Arctic rim natives are better than US and Russian navy data because they preceed the age of submarines.

    If those individuals say ‘record breaking’ that is good enough for me.

    John McCormick

  17. Oyvind Boe says:

    I feel there is not much sense in discussing arctic sea ice melt down without a corresponding temperature graph of the surrounding landmasses, i.e. Greenland Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island Alaska Sibiria and so forth. That is where the eventual drama will occur. Just read that Baffin Island had two periods of temperature levels up to 27 centigrade this summer of 2008, causing rivers to form and permafrost to thaw out. The local National park had to close down their excursions because of that. Another site offered that in the last Interglacial birch trees grew all the way up to the Polar Sea Shores. Now, that indicates a melt down of the permafrost in the large marshlands of the Tundra, unless these trees can grow on permafrost soil. That leads to the methane question. Methane is a great greenhouse gas, that gradually breaks down to CO2. It is quite a lot more interesting to learn where we are relative to such a drama, than to learn of the extent of sea ice in the Arctic. Polar Bears aside. Anyhow, the Polar Bear tends to change colour to brown when in Zoos of lesser lattitudes. A huge new brown Grizzly could be the result – and just as or more ferocious.

  18. Concerned citizen too says:

    I am interested in your thoughts as posted by Concerned_Citizen in the Seattle blog in the column:

    Dateline Earth –
    A first: circumnavigating the Western Hemisphere

    Posted by Concerned_Citizen at 10/27/08 2:23 p.m.

    From the article:
    “as climate change melts the polar ice quicker”

    This is not true:
    Arctic Sea Ice is Now 31.3% Higher than Last Year
    On 10/17/2007 the Sea ice was at 5,663,125 square km.
    On 10/17/2008 the Sea ice was at 7,436,406 square km.

    Δice = 1,773,281 sqkm or 31.3% more than last year

    Even better:
    The Arctic Sea ice area is approaching the edge of ‘normal’ standard deviation

    Look at this analysis:

    2008 Sea ice area has even passed the level from 2006.


    What are your thoughts related to this posting in the blog?

    Looking forward to reading your comments.

    [JR: Yes, we heard the exact same thing last year. This new ice is much thinner and frankly doesn’t thicken much during the winter. That’s why it disintegrate so quickly in the spring and summer.]

  19. shop says:

    In the stock market this becomes an excellent time to buy or sell provided that you feel the primary trend is still going the direction you expect. In global climate, counter-trend reactions within the main trend are opportunities for the deniers to claim that the trend has reversed.

  20. utanma says:

    In the stock market this becomes an excellent time to buy or sell provided that you feel the primary trend is still going the direction you expect. In global climate, counter-trend reactions within the main trend are opportunities for the deniers to claim that the trend has reverse