February Arctic ice extent ties 2005 for record low

monthly graph

The records broken this winter were supposed to be for cold weather.  But fast on the heels of the Arctic seeing the lowest January sea ice extent in the satellite record, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reports:

February 2011 tied February 2005 for the lowest ice extent for the month in the satellite record. Including 2011, the February trend is now at -3.0 percent per decade.

The NSIDC has more details:

While ice extent has declined less in winter months than in summer, the downward winter trend is clear. The 1979 to 2000 average is 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles). From 1979 through 2003, the February extent averaged 15.60 million square kilometers (6.02 million square miles). Every year since 2004 has had a mean February extent below 15 million square kilometers (5.79 million square miles).

You can read some of the underlying conditions in the NSIDC post, including an extensive discussion of the Arctic Oscillation (AO).  Here’s a less technical discussion from NSIDC director Mark Serreze:

Mark Serreze, director of Boulder, Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, said the warming trends under way have had a noticeable impact on the Arctic region this winter. According to UCS, Serreze pointed out that winter temperatures this year have been at near record highs and the area covered by sea ice had shrunk to record low levels in December, January and February.

Serreze noted that less sea ice could lead to other global warming impacts, notably a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation, the atmospheric circulation pattern in polar regions. Higher than normal atmospheric pressure occurs during the negative phase, resulting in wind patterns delivering warmer than average temperatures to the Arctic. In turn, cold Arctic air is forced down to middle latitude in Europe and the US.

“It’s still cutting edge research and there’s no smoking gun, but there’s evidence that with less sea ice, you put a lot of heat from the ocean into the atmosphere, and the circulation of the atmosphere responds to that. We’ve seen a tendency for autumns with low sea ice cover to be followed by a negative Arctic Oscillation,” Serreze said in the UCS release.

And shrinking sea ice is still bad news for humanity:

25 Responses to February Arctic ice extent ties 2005 for record low

  1. dhogaza says:

    Yeah, tied with 2005 for February, but look what happened in March 2005.

    And at what’s *not* happening in 2011.

  2. paulm says:

    We could see a spectacular collapse starting like now and roaring by through to the end of 2013…
    the suspense is unbearable.

  3. Mark S says:


    No kidding. March has already started on a decidedly downward trajectory. With the combination of low ice volume and extent we could be looking at a dangerous situation this summer.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Shall I anticipate the denialati? ‘Arctic Sea Ice Recovers!’ ‘Record Arctic Sea Ice Extent-Warmistsc Exposed!’ God,it gets tedious, very, very, quickly. Like interfacing with a brick, a very thick, willfully obstinate brick.

  5. Leif says:

    Mark S, @ 4: “With the combination of low ice volume and extent we could be looking at a dangerous situation this summer.”

    And perhaps a stronger Arctic cold displacement over the continents similar to this winter, or perhaps even intensified next winter. After all, if the Arctic is going to warm ~5+? degrees above normal the cold has to go someplace to keep the global average temperature from jumping more than the yearly part of a degree allowed by the global heat sink. There is one advantage with all the snow in the Northern Hemisphere. It helps slow the spring warm up because of the albedo effect. Much more effective than painting all the roofs white. It will be interesting to see if there is any coloration on that front.

  6. Phil Y says:

    Mark S., I see this too. The shrinkage normally begins in the middle of March. It might be too early to definitively say, but this year’s shrinkage may be beginning in February. I wonder if this has happened before?

  7. Greg says:

    This headline could add that it continues to drop and is, in early March, lower than any other year. What is the volume? Btw, I was bit by a mosquito on February 28th here in Virginia.

  8. Leif says:

    Scripps News reports: Arctic phytoplankton blooms up to 50 days early, with unknown effects on fish reproduction survival or other food chain effects.

  9. Villabolo says:

    Ice free summers by 2020-2030???

    Or more like 2017-2021?

    By the way, when will the guessing game for sea ice extent begin? :-)

  10. Artful Dodger says:

    It’s slightly misleading to say 2005 is a tie with 2011 in extent. By all other objective measures, this year Arctic Sea Ice is far thinner, younger, and saltier making it more vulnerable. And it is already beginning to melt in the Beaufort, Labrador, Greenland, and Barents Seas.

    Look for a record melt of first-year sea ice between now and July 1st. After that, we’re burning multi-year ice, a nearly irreplaceable commodity in a warming world.

  11. kurye says:

    The shrinkage normally begins in the middle of March. It might be too early to definitively say, but this year’s shrinkage may be beginning in February. I wonder if this has happened before?

  12. don says:

    There is no mention here of the effect melting glaciers have on the extension of the arctic influence around itself,merely sea ice effect.Surely as the glaciers melt this will have a cooling effect on all countries around the arctic circle much more than sea ice loss which is merely a red herring compared to the effect of glacial melt.No doubt,once the glaciers have melted things will warm up considerably for the northern hemisphere.

  13. iceman says:

    While three consecutive low months is a noteworthy occurrence, the “downward trajectory” that dhogaza@2 and Mark S@4 allude to will reverse. Arctic ice extent hasn’t hit its high for the year: there will be considerable net freezing over the next week or more. So this year’s graph will not resemble 2007 (bumpy but flattish peak, on the early side) so much as 2005 or 2010: increasing from current levels, with a later-than average peak. Following will be a steep decline as the warm waters in the NE Atlantic (now mostly bottled up behind the Iceland-Faroe Ridge) unleash their heat on recently frozen areas.

    The interesting early-melt story this year will be the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, where a warm spell will soon thin the sea ice near the shore. Maybe we won’t have to wait long to find out what’s happening with all that methane bubbling up underneath.

  14. catman306 says:

    How Koch Industries Makes Billions Corrupting Government

    The Koch’s Tea Party libertarianism is actually a thin veneer for the company’s long-running history of manipulating the market to pad Koch profits.

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    Another record set last month –

    Food prices hit new record high

    A United Nations food price index reached a new record in February, as unrest in Libya pushed up the price of oil, a major part of agricultural production

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    We find a team with a giant rig they have constructed in a field. Four men in blue overalls and red hard hats haul giant metal pipes into place, then drill down.

    It will take them several days to dig. But the foreman tells me that this is only a temporary measure, only more rain can solve the basic problem of the drought.

    The last well the team completed two days ago produced water for just a few minutes, then nothing more came out.

    Deep under the earth China’s water, on its arid northern plain, is slowly running out. It is a massive problem and China is only just starting to face up to it.

    ” Drill Baby Drill “

  17. JM says:

    Meh, George Will will still lie about it. And he’ll still have a job.

    The facts don’t matter in a corrupt state.

  18. Barry says:

    Wonder if AO disturbance from warming, like we are potentially seeing now, was also a driver of the “Little Ice Age” in populated regions of Europe? If so EU and USA should get used to much colder, nastier winters.

    Back then there would not have been the fossil CO2 in the air, like now, to prevent negative feedback loop of albeido from dominating for centuries.

  19. sydb says:

    Why worry? I’m sure the House of Representitives [of the Koch brothers] can just pass a bill declaring that there are two million square kilometers more ice. Anyone saying otherwise is a Commie.

  20. jyyh says:

    Oh, and the rain events during next autumn will also be suspenseful.

  21. iceman says:

    re: 2nd graph in Michael T@21: Does the February low mark a reversal of the uptrend (dashed line)? More likely, I think, it’s indicative of the wide annual peak-to-trough swings caused by changes in salinity and deepwater temperatures.

  22. Some European says:

    To those who were hoping to see a downward trend: Please let’s not fall in the trap of cherry-picking. That’s what the deniers do.
    Look at the graph again.

  23. iceman says:

    Looks like Arctic ice will hit its maximum around March 17th. The graph will resemble an average of the 2007 and 2010 traces, with the maximum occurring in between those two years in both timing and magnitude, though with a more pronounced peak.

    meanwhile a spell of Indian Summer in the West Antarctic Peninsula…