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Second lowest July Arctic sea ice extent. Thickest ice begins melt out, so we may see record low volume

By Joe Romm  

"Second lowest July Arctic sea ice extent. Thickest ice begins melt out, so we may see record low volume"


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Will we see Arctic sea ice records broken this September for both volume and extent?

NSIDC 8-10 extent

The National Snow and Ice Data Center just issued their full July report, which suggests that, because of “cool, stormy weather” last month, “It would take a very unusual set of conditions in August to create a new record low.”

The Study of Environmental Change’s September Sea Ice Outlook: July Report, which surveys forecasters, says “The spread of Outlook contributions suggests about a 29% chance of reaching a new September sea ice minimum in 2010.”

You can see what appears to be a change in slope in the last few days, but the Arctic weather is fickle, so the extent of the extent in September remains unclear.

As for volume, the NSIDC report spotlights the demise of some of the oldest and thickest ice left:

Arctic sea ice extent averaged for July was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007. After a slowdown in the rate of ice loss, the old, thick ice that moved into the southern Beaufort Sea last winter is beginning to melt out….

Older, thicker ice melting in the southern Beaufort Sea This past winter’s negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation transported old ice (four, five, and more years old) from an area north of the Canadian Archipelago. The ice was flushed southwards and westward into the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as noted in our April post. Ice age data show that back in the 1970s and 1980s, old ice drifting into the Beaufort Sea would generally survive the summer melt season. However, the old, thick ice that moved into this region is now beginning to melt out, which could further deplete the Arctic’s remaining store of old, thick ice. The loss of thick ice has been implicated as a major cause of the very low September sea ice minima observed in recent years.

For background, see Study: “It is clear “¦ that the precipitous decline in September sea ice extent in recent years is mainly due to the cumulative loss of multiyear ice.” The Southern Beaufort Sea is famously full of rotten ice.

figure 4: ice concentration

This map of ice age for the end of July, 2010, shows a region of open water north of Alaska, where old, thick ice has melted out.

NSIDC has yet more interesting data on the death of old, thick ice:

High-resolution images from MODISHigh-resolution (250-meter) visible imagery from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor vividly shows the loss of the old, thick ice. A chunk of old ice has broken away from the main pack and come to rest along the north coast of Alaska, east of Point Barrow, where it has begun to melt in the warm shallow shelf waters. While cloud cover obscures some areas, it is clear that the old ice floe has broken up into many smaller floes. Whether this old ice will completely melt out by the end of summer will depend to some extent on weather conditions. However, smaller floes melt more easily than consolidated ice. This behavior is becoming more typical of the ice pack as the ice thins.

figure 4: ice concentration

This image from NASA’s MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite on July 25, 2010 shows an individual floe of old ice, which broke away from the main ice pack and is melting away.

And while everyone’s eyes are on the Arctic sea ice extent data, the Polar Science Center’s PIOMAS model updated for July 31 still puts the far more important metric of Arctic ice volume at a record-smashing low, with a little pullback on the anomaly:


Daily Sea Ice volume anomalies for each day are computed relative to the 1979 to 2009 average for that day. The trend for the 1979- present period is shown in blue. Shaded areas show one and two standard deviations from the trend.

Note that PSC says, “September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.”  I have been informed by PSC that the “daily averaged chart” is not in fact a chart of the average thickness for that day over the 1979 to 2009 period, so it is a bit hard to tell exactly what the absolute thicknesses.  Obviously, we will set a record if the 2010 anomaly stays below the 2009 level, which at this point still seems to be a good bet.

Stay tuned!


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30 Responses to Second lowest July Arctic sea ice extent. Thickest ice begins melt out, so we may see record low volume

  1. Henrietta Jones says:

    WUWT does a far better job covering this.

    [JR: Funny! Fastest disinformer retraction: Watts says Goddard’s “Arctic ice increasing by 50000 km2 per year” post is “an example of what not to do when graphing trends”. Other WUWT/Goddard gems:

    “The death spiral continues, with Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.” (5/31)

    “Over the last three years, Arctic Ice has gained significantly in thickness…. Conclusion : Should we expect a nice recovery this summer due to the thicker ice? You bet ya.” (6/2)

    “Arctic Basin ice generally looks healthier than 20 years ago.” (6/23)]

  2. adelady says:

    I know it’s awful, but I find watching this ice melt stuff absolutely thrilling. I’m riveted by the images and animations and I’m almost addicted to checking all the datasets every few hours to see if anything “exciting” has happened.

    I feel like one of those horrible news junkies hanging out for the next calamity, disaster, catastrophe or scandal.

  3. K. Nockels says:

    That’s a good one Henrietta, your joking right??
    The numbers on the Greenland Volume are even scarier, Temps there are also high. Kind of like Russia, the tundra is burning and the lakes are bubbling with methane. This is a year of bad records.

  4. WUWT is so much better, because Watts never troubles himself or his readers with trivialities like logic, principles, evidence or facts.

  5. Daniel "The Yooper" Bailey says:

    I’m not sure which is the bigger tragedy:

    1. That anyone capable of critical thinking still assigns any credibility to Watts et. al.

    2. Or that during a time of solar minima and la nina, in a year of much-anticipated recovery, we are still on track to be the hottest year on record and still have a respectable shot at a record minima in Arctic Ice (area, extent and volume).

    You pick’em.

    The Yooper

  6. From Peru says:

    “WUWT does a far better job covering this”

    Well, WUWT has put a beautiful sea ice page

    If the recent melt acceleration persist, I hope WUWT will fall victim of its own graphs.

    That is… WUWT reporting a record melt, it would be great!

  7. Douglas says:

    Seeing the trend of the past week, it looks (to my untrained eye) like at least even odds the record will be broken. The other thing I keep wondering: with temps so high this year, could the melt season last a few days or even weeks longer than normal?

  8. I just visited WUWT and must wonder if there is anyone at all on the denialist side of this argument that possesses even a sand grain’s worth of honor, honesty and scientific integrity?

  9. dbmetzger says:

    Extreme weather analysis video from Voice of america
    Extreme Weather Experienced Worldwide
    These past few months have been filled with extreme weather in many parts of the world, and climatologists are trying to figure out what to make of it. http://www.newslook.com/videos/236759-extreme-weather-experienced-worldwide?autoplay=true

    A bit of a yawn but lets hope to see more of these in the mainstream media.

  10. villabolo says:

    Daniel “The Yooper” Bailey says:
    August 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    2. Or that during a time of solar minima and la nina, in a year of much-anticipated recovery, we are still on track to be the hottest year on record and still have a respectable shot at a record minima in Arctic Ice

    From what I’ve seen, at WUWT, they are actually looking forward to La Nina and an indefinite extension of the solar minima to keep their, ahhhem, cool. In fact, I’ve seen posters there state that with help from those conditions they should see the numbers where they’re supposed to be.

    Talk about wishful thinking. Anyway, they seem to be ready to dump the whole “recuperating ice” psychosis. They were making, some time ago, statements about how an open Arctic Ocean in the past was common and no big deal.

  11. villabolo says:

    Daniel “The Yooper” Bailey says:
    August 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    1. That anyone capable of critical thinking still assigns any credibility to Watts et. al.

    Actually, it seems that Watts is their poster child for rationality. When was the last time he’s made a claim like . . .
    2008-present: RESURREXI Pharmaceutical: Director responsible for invention and development of a broad-spectrum cure for infectious diseases. Patents have now been filed. Patients have been cured of various infectious diseases, including Graves’ Disease, multiple sclerosis, influenza, and herpes simplex VI. Our first HIV patient had his viral titre reduced by 38% in five days, with no side-effects. Tests continue.

  12. jyyh says:

    Douglas #6, the melt season should end around equinox (~21st September) for obvious reasons, but the compaction of the ice and the warm water flowing in there have in recent years moved the end date a bit further in the year. When the re-freeze starts this produces water vapor over the Arctic ocean and cold showers in surrounding areas in the late Oct-Nov as the Arctic High pressure area establihes itself. I’m expecting (again) a cool November after which areas near arctic should warm up. The process is likely reversed in the spring, then the melt ‘releases the cold’ in April and it drifts to nearby areas. Wether April will be cold or warm depends on other factors such as ENSO and the course of the North Atlantic Drift… This is all quite much speculation, but as the arctic ocean has currently less time to freeze to its maximum area than before, this is likely producing more predictable autumns than springs in the high latitudes (or near Greenland for that matter). So, sowing times may not change to earlier much (or one may try and then maybe Gulf Stream changes its course, and one loses the 1st sow), but the growing season will get longer on the other end. Oops, drifted a bit of the question. The end date of the melt depends more on the ocean currents than anything else. Late compaction (after equinox) of the pack ice may happen due weather too, wether this produces additional melt depends on the warmth of the air mass…

  13. Lou Grinzo says:

    All season I’ve been wondering if (1) the conditions would allow melt to get us close to the point where the greatly reduced multi-year ice would be an issue, and (2) if we saw that much melting, just how low we’d go with a boost from that thinner ice.

    From everything I’ve read it seems pretty clear we’ve made it to point (1) above. So now it’s a roughly six week sprint, in which we find out how much the thinner ice will factor into things. With sunny conditions and the wind blowing the “right” way we could very easily shoot right past the old record. Reverse those details, and I’d bet we’ll end up short of a record, but still unnervingly close.

    Fasten your seat belts, everyone, it’s going to be one hell of a ride…

  14. jyyh says:

    Hmmph! Again remembered the date of the autumn equinox wrong! Should always check everything. Should be sept-22/23.

  15. toby says:

    I have been absolutely riveted by the Arctic Ice situation.

    And for the benefit of Henrietta Jones (#1) I stopped reading WUWT’s posts on sea ice as so obviously rose-tinted towards his desired outcome as to be rediculous.

    It may not be a record year, but it is heading towards 2007 territory and blows WUWT’s talk of “recovery” into a cocked hat.

  16. Neven says:

    Lou Grinzo wrote:

    So now it’s a roughly six week sprint, in which we find out how much the thinner ice will factor into things. With sunny conditions and the wind blowing the “right” way we could very easily shoot right past the old record. Reverse those details, and I’d bet we’ll end up short of a record, but still unnervingly close.

    This is incredible in itself.

    Despite the cold weather in the past month, it is still possible that the record gets broken. Had this happened in any previous year (like it did last year when weather conditions all of a sudden changed drastically and stayed that way until the end of the melting season), including 2007, the melting season would have been over already.

    If the Arctic gets dominated by high pressure areas for the last few weeks (and some forecast models, such as ECMWF, say this might start a few days from now) weather conditions will wreak havoc. But it will be even more interesting to see what happens if weather conditions stay the way they have been, pushing the sea ice out from the center and spreading it out over the Arctic.

    This has caused sea ice extent to look deceptively ‘high’, but at the same time has large parts of the Arctic looking like Swiss cheese, with ‘holes’ in large parts of the interior of the ice pack (as can be seen on the satellite images). If lows continue to dominate the Arctic, the big question will be: can the thin ice be spread out long enough and survive until cold temperatures cause the sea water between the floes to freeze up again?

    People who don’t have the time to check all the Arctic maps and graphs on a daily basis, are invited to come over to my Arctic Sea Ice blog and get updated every few days by reading sea ice extent updates such as this one from a few days ago, animations of satellite images and sea ice concentration maps, and excellent comments in the comment section.

  17. Neven says:

    the melting season would have been over already.

    I didn’t mean this literally, as the melting season usually ends around mid-September. What I meant to say, was that in other years a record would be virtually impossible after 4-5 weeks of cold weather, northerly winds and things like The Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift Stream stalling and even reversing.

    But this year still has some opportunities to at least go below the 5 million square km mark.

  18. fj2 says:

    Should be front-page news as this is the rapid disappearance of climate buffers likely to greatly amplify weather extremes.

    Absolutely, suicidal for the media not to cover this.

    . . . As millions escape into “reality shows”.

  19. Bob Wallace says:

    Can someone explain the discrepancy between the National Snow and Ice Data Center (top graph) and the Arctic-Roos graph of ice area?


  20. Berbalang says:

    I have been telling people repeatedly for years that the deniers are going to deny that there is Global Warming even when the the Arctic Ice Cap completely melts. The deniers will make my case for me when they start arguing that this is perfectly natural and not due to Global Warming. And I can say, “Can I call them or what?”

    Another thing we can do as we all cook is ask them, “How’s that Ice Age working out for you?” or hold up signs reading “FRYING TONIGHT”.

    Sorry, I’m in a bit of a weird and sarcastic mood.

  21. Chris Winter says:

    Gary Herstein wrote: “WUWT is so much better, because Watts never troubles himself or his readers with trivialities like logic, principles, evidence or facts.”

    And neither does “Alias Smith or Jones,” evidently.

  22. Neven says:

    Here’s my latest Sea Ice Extent update, with images of weather forecasts that predict a setting up of some heavy high pressure area forming over the Beaufort Sea in about 5 days. These forecasts tend to change a lot, but if this comes about, the Beaufort Gyre will start spinning big time.

    And the hottest news right now, just released on Patrick Lockerby’s blog, is the breaking off of a huge chunk of ice of the Petermann Glacier ice tongue.

  23. MapleLeaf says:

    “Second lowest July Arctic sea ice extent”

    Yet, in mid July WFUWT was touting this piece:


    “Everything is going to be OK folks” seems to be their motto. Unbelievable.

  24. BBHY says:

    OK, I’m going to boldly predict a new low Arctic sea ice extent this year. I am also predicting that deniers will promote this as evidence of a coming ice age.

  25. DCA says:


    [JR: Very different definition of sea ice extent. It'll be quite interesting to see how this all shakes out at the end.]

  26. NeilT says:

    I did wonder why they were using a 30% model for extent instead of the 15% used by NSIDC.

    [JR: The big question, since the ice is getting quite fragmented, is the divergence between extent and area. Tamino discusses that. If this is close to the 2007 record, it may take a while to figure out exactly what happened.]

  27. TYM says:

    Next summer we will have Cryosat-2 data to help us understand the melt season:

    “The spacecraft is capable of taking centimeter-resolution readings of the ices, showing when and where they are melting, and where they’re growing. Officials at ESA say that, once the commissioning and testing phases are done, the satellite will enter its observations stage, which will last for about three years.”

    Once the Death Spiral of Arctic sea ice is better supported by the data in the next few years,
    the Denysters will just move on to other topics:
    “Hey, Akron Ohio set a record for coldest day ever recorded on this date in May ! That proves Global Warming is a fraud.”

    Science affects policy by convincing smart people, not by convincing everybody.

  28. dhogaza says:

    If this is close to the 2007 record, it may take a while to figure out exactly what happened.

    Wind conditions earlier in July caused the Beaufort Gyre to stall and was spreading out the ice. When the gyre is circulating it tends to lead to ice being exported from the Fram and Nares straights, and tends to compact the ice.

    If we get the kind of conditions that led to the compaction of ice near the end of the 2007 melt season, we could see some very interesting results. Of course, the denialsphere will say (as they do about 2007) that a low extent is “just due to wind, not warming”, ignoring of course the fact that the thinner ice we see now is much easier to blow around and break up than the thicker ice of earlier decades.

  29. Edward says:

    RE: 1. Henrietta Jones: Indeed, the voting public in the US does not know enough about science to distinguish WUWT from climateprogress. More people go to the equivalent of a witch doctor than to a real doctor. It isn’t that they can’t distinguish a cardiologist from an oncologist. Compare to being unable to distinguish a preacher or a snake oil salesman or a hospitalized schizophrenic from a medical doctor. Ignorance at that level is as good as mental illness. They keep repeating the same wrong behavior, expecting different results. Trying to point out the world’s best cardiologist is pointless.

    The level of science understanding of the average American is to the level required as a stone age person’s level is to Christopher Columbus. ALL college majors should require at least the “Engineering and Science Core Curriculum.” All high schools should require 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 8 years of math of all students.
    In a technological society, everybody has to be a scientist in order to understand what they need to know to vote. Without that basic knowledge, you are just too easy to fool. In the old days, it didn’t matter. Now it is a matter more serious than life and death.

    According to “Climate Cover-Up” by James Hoggan, the fossil fuel industry, notably the Western Fuels Association, Exxon-Mobil and Koch Oil Co have spent almost half a billion dollars as of 2009 when Hoggan was writing to confuse everybody. For half a billion dollars, you can fool a lot of people, unless they know enough science. This information needs to be repeated often.

    Just the lack of knowledge is a tragedy. The results are already much worse. We need to do something more.

  30. Andy B says:

    one of the conditions of global warming is that melt occurs out of season now. For instance it was above 0C for several days around the equinox at Iqaluit through last winter. Including the equinox under conditions of 0 sunlight, +2 and rain on 21 Dec 09. That’s more than 20 standard deviations above normal. Looking at the rest of the winter there were a couple of other events that approached the freezing point.