NSIDC: Annual maximum Arctic sea ice extent reached, “tied for the lowest in the satellite record.”

On March 7, 2011, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.64 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles). The maximum extent was 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), and equal (within 0.1%) to 2006 for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record.

On Monday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced the maximum, “the largest sea ice extent during a given year.”  It “marks the end of the growth period for sea ice, and the start of the melt season.”

This isn’t a big surprise since the Arctic has seen the lowest December, January, and February (tied with 2005) sea ice extent in satellite record.  The more important three-dimensional metric of ice volume also continues its long-term decline (see Navy’s oceanographer tells Congress, “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower”¦in the last several thousand years”)

Here’s more from NSIDC, plus their plot of sea ice extent:

As of March 22, ice extent has declined for five straight days. However there is still a chance that the ice extent could expand again. Sea ice extent in February and March tends to be quite variable, because ice near the edge is thin and often quite dispersed. The thin ice is highly sensitive to weather, moving or melting quickly in response to changing winds and temperatures, and it often oscillates near the maximum extent for several days or weeks, as it has done this year.

Since the start of the satellite record in 1979, the maximum Arctic sea ice extent has occurred as early as February 18 and as late as March 31, with an average date of March 6.

The graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of March 22, 2011, along with daily ice extents for 2006, which had the previous lowest maximum extent, and 2007, the year with the lowest minimum extent in September. Light blue indicates 2011, green shows 2007, light green shows 2006, and dark gray shows the 1979 to 2000 average. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data.

The death spiral lives, as it were:

26 Responses to NSIDC: Annual maximum Arctic sea ice extent reached, “tied for the lowest in the satellite record.”

  1. Wonhyo says:

    So far, the data shows a gradual (but study) decline in sea ice extent. Are there any scientific estimates for if or when the decline will accelerate and just go to zero?

    Is there any conceivable way to reverse, or at least stop, the decline in the near-to-mid term? Clearly, a reduction in CO2 is required for long term stabilization.

  2. Lou Grinzo says:


    Check the Arctic sea ice volume (not extent) at the link below. The ice is going away even quicker than the extent trend indicates.

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    With less sea ice we can expect stronger winter storms, according to some research.

    With less sea ice we have another positive feedback for destabilizing seabed methane hydrates. Possible resulting in underwater landslides which could create tsunamis. The methane amount is so great that it shrinks all human emissions and could render affords to stabilize Co2e within the atmosphere impossible.

    With less sea ice ocean currents will likely change, which directly affects weather and wave formations.

    With less sea ice we lost reflective ice, the dark water beneath can now absorb sunlight and further accelerating ocean warmth in shallow waters. Resulting warmer waters will further accelerate ice mass lose.
    Land ice lose has the potential to cause earthquakes and other forms of geomorphological response.

    Given that there wasn’t much geomorphological activity for quiet some time, the response might be rather abrupt and of high magnitudes.

    When does the world start to act at large, rather then watching the catastrophe unfold?

  4. idunno says:

    Also worth looking at are the maps available from the TOPAZ system.

    Click through to the following page, and plot a map of the Arctic ice thickness using the variable “hice”.

    The latest date available is 24 February 2011, in the following format:
    20110224. Try that against 20100224, and 20090224.

    The Norwegian blue canary is looking fairly unsteady on its perch.

    I hope everybody here knows why miners carried canaries into coalmines. Because soon we are going to have to start worrying about the canary-killer. Methane.

    Melt one thousand cubic kilometres of surface sea ice, and you get one thousand cubic kilometres of liquid seawater.

    Melt one thousand cubic kilometres of seabed permafrost (methane clathrates) and you get only 800 cubic kilometres of seawater, and 168,000 cubic kilometres of methane. If you want to make a properly explosive mixture of this, you should add 6 times the quantity of air =
    2,004,000 cubic kilometres of air.

    Such a pity that Dubya and Dick were no great fans of Kubrick’s early work.

  5. MapleLeaf says:


    Serreze has a very article in Nature on the possible “tipping” point of Arctic sea ice.

  6. K. Nockels says:

    Volume loss this summer should be very interesting to witness. I wonder how many ships will run the northwest passage? or how many oil companies
    will be rushing to secure drilling rights?

  7. Adam R. says:

    Prokaryotes says:
    When does the world start to act at large, rather then watching the catastrophe unfold?


    Instead, there will be national–and feckless–panic reactions to national catastrophes.

    Global issues are ever hostage to national politics.

  8. catman306 says:

    What could a tsunami do to an oil drilling platform?

    What about a massive atmospheric methane explosion?

  9. idunno says:

    Hi All,

    I have made a stupid mathematical error in my previous post. You don’t add 6 times as much air, you as 5 times as much air, which added to the methane, finally makes 6 times as much. Hope this is now clear. The perfect explosive mix is 2,004,000 cubic kilometres.

    Thousands of cubic kilometres is the correct unit of measurement, as per the PIOMAS graph posted on Comment 2.

    Also, there is a slight ambiguity in which of Kubrick’s films I am referencing: not “Spartacus”, but “Dr Strangelove”.

    The critical point being that you are supposed to tell people after you have constructed the “Doomsday Device”.

    You are NOT, on being briefed by NASA, supposed to appoint one of your campaign PR goons to prevent anybody at NASA mentioning the “clathrate gun hypothesis” ever again.

    The clathrate gun would now appear to be smoking. See the research by Sakharova and Similev 2010.

    Prompting, for me, the question of “what did the President know, and etc…”

    I should confess at this point, that I am not an American, and I have not the benefit of an American education, and I am a little bit hazy about your legal code. I seem to remember that you have always refused to ratify the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. So you will probably have to deal with this as an internal matter.

    But when I was at school, we out here in the boondocks were taught that the people fully conscious and responsible for the deliberate gassing to death of 6 to 7 million people were really quite naughty.

    Of course, this is not to compare like with like.

    An atmospheric test-firing of the “clathrate gun” would probably lead to the deaths of 6 to 7 billion (that’s billion, not million) people, and, if we are very lucky, will not result in the any thing like the event of 251 million years ago, when 96% of species became extinct – “the Great Dying”.

    Anyway, I am starting to ramble a bit, so I better finish up…

    …with a couple of questions…

    1. Do you have any laws in America?

    2. Do you have any journalists?

    Just asking.

    P.S. Anybody having problems following the technicalities can Google any term between quotation marks.

  10. MapleLeaf says:

    Thanks for the link John @6

  11. Villabolo says:

    @3 Prokaryotes:

    “When does the world start to act at large, rather then watching the catastrophe unfold?”

    “The world”? The world of humanity has no collective sentience. It is merely the byproduct of its elite.

  12. Villabolo says:

    :-D So, when do we start predicting the sea ice minimum for September? ;-)

  13. adelady says:

    Villabolo – the betting has already started in various places.

    Even if I were a gambler, I wouldn’t put any money on any one specific outcome for the Arctic. It’s on its way out.

    Hudson Bay didn’t freeze up for many weeks later than ‘usual’ this year. A few more sub-regions doing the same in the next few years, 3, 13, 30, take your pick, and the Arctic freeze and melt will become more and more unpredictable.

    There will be lots of ice a lot of the time. But it will become fragmented, local and unreliable rather than a generalised feature of a seasonal change across the whole region. In 10 or 20 years’ time, how predictable will the “final pickup day” and the pickup point be for Arctic researchers out on the ice?

  14. Deborah Stark says:

    Inuit See Signs In Arctic Thaw
    String of Warm Winters Alarms ‘Sentries for the Rest of the World’

  15. Barry says:

    “When does the world start to act at large, rather then watching the catastrophe unfold?”

    Actually much of the world is acting to cut GHG. But one segment of the global population is wiping out the GHG cuts made by others. There are committed folks around the world cutting carbon. Lots of them.

    In the last few years the GHG would be falling except for one nation: China. The Chinese are still choosing to push GDP up 8% to 10% instead of pushing GHG down with slightly less GDP growth. As a result they have an incredibly dirty economy that produces only about $500 per tonne of CO2. India creates over $700 and Brazil over $2500. So China could do it if they cared enough. They have the dollars and the talent. As soon as China does what it should be doing we have a real hope to get a GHG decline happening.

    Even USA is cutting GHG. Per capita USA is back to around 1964 levels. And total the GHG has fallen for a few years in a row.

    Bottom line is that we have motion towards peak GHG but a couple laggards need to get on board to make the shift happen.

  16. riverat says:

    #9 What could a tsunami do to an oil drilling platform?

    If the drilling platform is in deep enough water, not much. Tsunamis only get high and destructive when the water gets shallow forcing the wave to slow down and pile up on itself. My understanding is that “deep enough” depends to a large extent on how big the tsunami is in the first place.

  17. Bob Wallace says:

    Barry –

    “The Chinese government is working on a 10-year initiative that would see 15 per cent of the country’s electricity generated from low-carbon sources by 2020, according to reports in China Daily.”

    China has built several new coal-burning plants but the ones they have built are state of the art which produce a maximum amount of power for the coal burned. They have also shut around 7,000 inefficient coal plants.

    Not leading the world, but not refusing to follow along either. I have a feeling that the Chinese leaders can’t afford to cut back much on growth. They’re riding a dragon and if they don’t keep their citizens happy they could easily loose power.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Bob Wallace,#16, how is that we are always being indoctrinated to believe that Chinese leaders are ‘about to lose power’ (I’ve been reading that bollocks since I could read newspapers) when China has boomed for thirty years and wages are growing strongly as is the standard of living, and, on some Purchasing Power Parity calculations China has already surpassed the US, yet the ‘leaders’ ie business rulers and their political employees, of the West are never said to be in danger of losing their absolute power despite the economies of the US, UK,and most of Europe all teetering on the edge of insolvency and their working populations being subjected to drastic falls in their standards of living? Why are the US public not about to revolt when median wages have gone nowhere in forty years? Will the MSM ever publish a positive story concerning the Chinese system and its stunning success?

  19. idunno says:


    Yeah, and the Chinese have been resisting change for so long. I’m sure we all remember when the Chinese leader turned up at the Rio summit in the early 1990s and declared “The Chinese way of life is not up for negotiation” – thus spiking any chance of a deal.

    And what are the Chinese doing for us?

    I grant yopu that they’re making the steel, the bicycles, the computers, the cuddly toys, the fridge magnets and the fridges, the crockery and the cutlery, etc…

    But apart from the steel, the bicycles, the computers, the cuddly toys, the fridge magnets and the fridges, the crockery and the cutlery etc, what have the Chinese ever done for us?

  20. Jeandetaca says:

    I completly support idunno comment; barry is utterly wrong.
    All serious studies confirm the obviousness that your ghg per capita is in direct link with your way of living. The wealthiest, the most CO2 you emit.
    Who flies, who drives, who eats a lot of ted meat, who heats or cools big houses, who buys a lot of electronic devices?

  21. BobS says:


    Whether we like it now our not, but our -more or less democratically elected- governments have allowed multinational companies to outsource almost all dirty and labor-intensive industries to China and other low wage destinations. Chinese CO2 emissions per capita is lower than ‘Western’ countries…

  22. paulm says:

    #16 Barry,

    I have to say, as others have, that the majority of China’s GHG emissions are really the US/Wests offshore industry.

    So take some time to reflect on this before blaming the Chinese.

  23. Peter M says:

    if Barry is right

    then GHG should not be rising as they are- very rapidly, but at stabilizing. Fact is they are increasing faster then ever.

  24. ryan says:

    “When does the world start to act at large, rather then watching the catastrophe unfold?”

    when the catastrophe effects the ability of the wealthy to make more money. we exist in a market-based morality – decisions are made to serve the interests of the most successful profit seeking entities. there are basically two major pathways out of this behavior:
    1) build local resiliency, introduce appropriate decentralized, carbon-negative, scalable solutions (biochar + organic gardens + hydroponic window farms, organic aeroponics, etc).
    2) Target energy corporations/climate criminals – systems disruption of the industrial economy (target critical nodes that will result in cascading failures to fossil fuel energy producers – the MEND in Nigeria has been successful in open source insurgency tactics forcing Shell to sell assets, hactivists/anonymous have also demonstrated successful non-violent techniques to disrupt banks, energy companies, net security firms, etc.

    have fun!

  25. adelady says:

    The ability of the wealthy to make more money? or the wealthy suddenly discover that the world is crying out for bio and geo-engineering activities to rectify the mess we’ve made?

    Then the unscrupulous wealthy will turn to finding ways to make money out of that. Instead of cutting down New Guinea’s forests, there’ll be scaly schemes to make money from not cutting them down. When oceanographers go to bed in tears every night over the state of coral reefs, some schemer will find a way to persuade governments to pay them (lots) to deliver remediating rocks and chemicals.

    There are always reputable people who make money in ethical ways. The ones we have to worry about are the others.