NSIDC stunner: Arctic ice at “Likely Record-Low Volume”

Looks like the Arctic may have set a record this year after all. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said today that Arctic sea ice volume likely hit a record low in 2008. They reconfirmed that the sea ice extent (or area) “dropped to the second-lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979” and that “Despite cooler temperatures and ice-favoring conditions, long-term decline continues.”

But the big news was the announcement about ice volume, since that has huge implications for future ice loss:

NSIDC Research Scientist Walt Meier said, “Warm ocean waters helped contribute to ice losses this year, pushing the already thin ice pack over the edge. In fact, preliminary data indicates that 2008 probably represents the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice on record, partly because less multiyear ice is surviving now, and the remaining ice is so thin.” [See Figure — Click to enlarge.]


This figure compares ice age in September 2007 (left) and September 2008 (right). It shows the sharp increase in thin first-year ice (red) and the decline in thick multi-year ice — both “second-year ice” (orange) and “third-year and older ice” (yellow). “White indicates areas of ice below ~50 percent, for which ice age cannot be determined.”

NSIDC explains what prevented 2008 from beating the 2007 record low in ice extent:

In the end, however, summer conditions worked together to save some first-year ice from melting and to cushion the thin pack from the effects of sunlight and warm ocean waters. This summer’s weather did not provide the “perfect storm” for ice loss seen in 2007: temperatures were cooler than 2007, although still warmer than average; cloudier skies protected the ice from some melt; a different wind pattern spread the ice pack out, leading to higher extent numbers. Simply put, the natural variability of short-term weather patterns provided enough of a brake to prevent a new record-low ice extent from occurring.

NSIDC Research Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, “I find it incredible that we came so close to beating the 2007 record–without the especially warm and clear conditions we saw last summer. I hate to think what 2008 might have looked like if weather patterns had set up in a more extreme way. “

[Financial Update: It does appear that I lost the first year of my 10-year-bet to Sean (described here), which is no big surprise. NSIDC says “Average sea ice extent over the month of September, a standard measure in the scientific study of Arctic sea ice, was 4.67 million square kilometers,” whereas the over/under I agreed to was 4.48. That said, I think the NSIDC release cited here suggests I am very likely to win at least 7 of the remaing 9 bets, which is pretty much what I expected from the beginning. I’ve actually offered to Sean to give him 2009 and 2010 if he’ll settle now. How is that for a deal?]

Related Posts:

5 Responses to NSIDC stunner: Arctic ice at “Likely Record-Low Volume”

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Is there a table for this in Las Vegas? :-)

  2. TomG says:

    It’s interesting where all the older ice is concentrated.
    The northern coast of Greenland and extending as a solid mass to the west.
    It got me curious, so I did a quick surf and learned that the Fram Strait between Greenland and Spitsbergen is the exit point for most sea ice “exported” out of the Arctic via the East Greenland Current.
    The research ship RV Polarstern “…had to cope with exceptional heavy ice coverage” in the Fram this summer (the deniers made a big deal about that if I recall correctly) and I’m wondering if weaker, thinner ice is being “flushed” out of the Arctic Ocean at a greater rate?
    Another positive feed-back?

  3. egrey says:

    I don’t much fancy your chances with the bets, but then this year it was pretty close-run, and I suspect that climate is a bit tricky to predict over short time spans (a few years).

    One point that seems to have been missed by those keen to see 2008 as continuing the melting trend, is that the 12 months to Sep08 (end of melt season) started with a significantly smaller area and volume of ice than did the 12 months to Sep07, and a greater proportion of its starting point was the more vulnerable baby ice, yet it still ended with about the same. Thus, whatever it is that causes melting would appear to have been quite considerably less effective in the 12 months to Sep08 than to Sep07.

    I will watch with interest how your bets go. I think the climate, and climate science, have a few surprises in store for us.

  4. Stuart Harmon says:

    “dropped to the second-lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979″

    So what thats over a time period of 29 years and is therfore meaningless.

    Would you prefer glaciation throughout the northen hemisphere.

    Wrap up warm its getting colder.

  5. Tyler says:

    Scene: NSIDC offices, October 2, the Autumn Arctic Ocean freeze-up has begun.

    “Ok, it’s obvious now. It’s not going to happen.”

    “Look, we said “greatest chance.” Relax, we’re covered.”

    “Hey, we said “ice free” in June.

    “Noooo, we said “distinct possibility.” Ok, we didn’t get that, so go with volume.”

    “Ya, but you know we never cited volume in either the 2005 or 2007 press releases about record low ice. I mean, we didn’t even go there in 2006. In fact, we’ve always based our press releases on extent.”

    “Come on, everyone can see the coverage, but who’s going to argue with the depth? Besides, it’s our data, our methods, who’s gonna prove us wrong?”

    ‘They’ll say you can’t measure the depth of 4.5 million square km of ice.”

    “I don’t care. We need it. Otherwise we sound like alarmists. Besides, ABC’s hacked. They need a headline to cover that stupid June, shill story they did.”

    “But we told them “possible”, “chance.” You said that’s enough!”

    “Are you kidding? With all those fanatic deniers out there? I don’t have to remind you this financial crisis is drying up all the funding. This is crunch time.”

    “Good point (typing), r-e-c-o-r-d l-o-w v-o-l-u-m-e.”

    “Aah! Aah! LIKELY record low volume. That keeps us going for a few months at least. Write that up. I’ll look at it after I get back from my golf game.”

    “You can’t. It’s snowing.”

    “What! In early October!”