Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Lowest Extent Ever Measured, Reports National Snow and Ice Data Center

This visualization shows the extent of Arctic sea ice on Aug. 26, 2012, the day the sea ice dipped to its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements…. The line on the image shows the average minimum extent from the period covering 1979-2010, as measured by satellites. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its “minimum” before colder weather builds the ice cover back up. The size of this minimum remains in a long-term decline. The extent on Aug. 26. 2012 broke the previous record set on Sept. 18, 2007. But the 2012 melt season could still continue for several weeks. Image credit: NASA

News via the University of Colorado Boulder

The blanket of sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean melted to its lowest extent ever recorded since satellites began measuring it in 1979, according to the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.

On Aug. 26, the Arctic sea ice extent fell to 1.58 million square miles, or 4.10 million square kilometers. The number is 27,000 square miles, or 70,000 square kilometers below the record low daily sea ice extent set Sept. 18, 2007.  Since the summer Arctic sea ice minimum normally does not occur until the melt season ends in mid- to late September, the CU-Boulder research team expects the sea ice extent to continue to dwindle for the next two or three weeks, said Walt Meier, an NSID scientist.

“It’s a little surprising to see the 2012 Arctic sea ice extent in August dip below the record low 2007 sea ice extent in September,” he said.  “It’s likely we are going to surpass the record decline by a fair amount this year by the time all is said and done.”

On Sept. 18, 2007, the September minimum extent of Arctic sea ice shattered all satellite records, reaching a five-day running average of 1.61 million square miles, or 4.17 million square kilometers.  Compared to the long-term minimum average from 1979 to 2000, the 2007 minimum extent was lower by about a million square miles — an area about the same as Alaska and Texas combined, or 10 United Kingdoms.

While a large Arctic storm in early August appears to have helped to break up some of the 2012 sea ice and helped it to melt more quickly, the decline seen in in recent years is well outside the range of natural climate variability, said Meier. Most scientists believe the shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.

CU-Boulder researchers say the old, thick multi-year ice that used to dominate the Arctic region has been replaced by young, thin ice that has survived only one or two melt seasons — ice which now makes up about 80 percent of the ice cover.  Since 1979, the September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.

The record-breaking Arctic sea ice extent in 2012 moves the 2011 sea ice extent minimum from the second to the third lowest spot on record, behind 2007. Meier and his CU-Boulder colleagues say they believe the Arctic may be ice-free in the summers within the next several decades.

“The years from 2007 to 2012 are the six lowest years in terms of Arctic sea ice extent in the satellite record,” said Meier. “In the big picture, 2012 is just another year in the sequence of declining sea ice. We have been seeing a trend toward decreasing minimum Arctic sea ice extents for the past 34 years, and there’s no reason to believe this trend will change.”

The Arctic sea ice extent as measured by scientists is the total area of all Arctic regions where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean surface, said Meier.

Scientists say Arctic sea ice is important because it keeps the polar region cold and helps moderate global climate — some have dubbed it “Earth’s air conditioner.” While the bright surface of Arctic sea ice reflects up to 80 percent of the sunlight back to space, the increasing amounts of open ocean there — which absorb about 90 percent of the sunlight striking the Arctic — have created a positive feedback effect, causing the ocean to heat up and contribute to increased sea ice melt.

Earlier this year, a national research team led by CU embarked on a two-year effort to better understand the impacts of environmental factors associated with the continuing decline of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The $3 million, NASA-funded project led by Research Professor James Maslanik of aerospace engineering sciences includes tools ranging from unmanned aircraft and satellites to ocean buoys in order to understand the characteristics and changes in Arctic sea ice, including the Beaufort Sea and Canada Basin that are experiencing record warming and decreased sea ice extent.

This is a republished news release from the University of Colorado Boulder.

12 Responses to Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Lowest Extent Ever Measured, Reports National Snow and Ice Data Center

  1. Steve in Miami says:

    From the article above: “Most scientists believe the shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.”

    I really resent that wording as it implies that some scientists think that the Arctic is melting for some reason other than global warming.

    It also implies that the melting is loosely “tied” to global warming as opposed to a DIRECT RESULT OF global warming.

    It should have read:

    “Scientists assert that the shrinking Arctic sea ice is as a direct result of warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.”

    This kind of wishy-washy toned down laguage is the reason that people still think that global warming is not a big deal. Ugh….

  2. B Waterhouse says:

    Over at the NYT today Justin Gillis has a pretty good arctic ice article which reads quite a bit like your 8/22/12 arctic death spiral post, including a short interview with Dr. Jennifer Francis whose research you also discussed. Unfortunately, Gillis states she’s among a “small group” of scientists who think we aleady seeing changes in weather at lower latitudes from arctic ice melt, which some could interpret as meaning there is a larger group that disagrees when, in reality, only a small group is doing the research.
    Meanwhile, Revkin has another “What, me worry?” blog post implying it’s probably just the weather, not worried yet. Broke my rule about not reading Revkin – need to pop another Lisinopril to lower my BP.

  3. Jack Burton says:

    Of course you are right! The powerful fossil fuel industry and it’s PR firms, along with assorted Useful Idiots who believe their PR, have managed to intimidate the press and even scientists into adopting their Orwellian language that incorporates a measure of “doubt” into EVERY statement about global warming. It is SO obvious that nobody dares be explicit about the data, but must always imply doubt into each and every statement.
    I for one an sick of the cowardice shown by media and by even the scientific community. They somehow fear stating facts as facts, NO in this climate of intimidation, there is only possible man made global warming effects, there is always a good measure of doubt and uncertainty implied.
    Cowardice in the face of fossil fuel industry intimidation? Boy am I sick of it!

  4. John McCormick says:

    Steve, I’m with you on this: “Most scientists believe the shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.” is fingernails on the blackboard.

    To whom do we attribute that statement;Meier or the news release from the Boulder campus of the U of Colorado?

    Since the writer chose the weasel word ‘most’ perhaps said writer could do some serious reportage and tell us who the outliers are. What do the ‘others’ BELIEVE and why? This is the worst part of American journalism..treating us as dupes, fools and idiots who are ready to accept the writer’s (off the top of his head)assurance there is a debate about this greatest planetary changes being caused by any factorssother than global warming.

    Maybe the writer is in the Pilke camp. We don’t know but I have it on good authority that Pilke and “most” of his followers have their doubts about global warming melting the arctic ice cap. Could the writer be quoting Pikle, or Pat Michaels, or Rushbo? We need some clarification.

  5. Steve in Miami says:

    Yep, and “believe” is another weasel word. People “believe” in aliens, or they “believe” in God. Would an article on gravity say that most scientists “believe” in the theory of gravity?

    It just pisses me off to no end.

    This article should have read as follows:

    The data is in the it appears that THE ARCTIC IS F’ING MELTING DECADES AHEAD OF SCHEDULE PEOPLE!!!

    World renowned scientist proclaims, “OMFG!!”

    Would that not be more fitting than this watered down Pollyannaish reporting?

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Where it counts to the global ruling Mafiosi, as in destroying Syria, threatening Iran and Russia and denigrating China, or in transferring trillions from the 99% to the 1%, the Western MSM is uniformity personified, with groupthink ruling and contrary evidence and opinions ruthlessly suppressed. When it comes to the destruction of the habitability of this planet for our species, in contrast, an oleaginous, and unctuously hypocritical ‘balance’ is struck, between truth and lies, rationality and pig-ignorance and science and bulldust.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    My favourite MSM weasel word is ‘perception’.

  8. John McCormick says:

    I want to say that I do not attribute the “Most scientists” comment to Dave Meier. A reread of the news released made that clear.

  9. climatehawk1 says:

    I posted this tweet this a.m.: “.@eilperin Surprised you’d quote ‘skeptics’ on #Antarctic warming in story ~ #Arctic sea #ice. Seems like a stretch. #climate” Ms. Eilperin has done it again, biting on a denier meme about Antarctic warming intended to distract attention from the Arctic sea ice record. Her story is here.

  10. The disappearing ice cap is already affecting seasonal weather patterns as we saw this past March.

    I struggle with how to communicate the urgency of this situation. I know at least a couple of scientists who worry about the near-term implications for seasonal rainfall of the rapidly dwindling albedo of the Arctic. But as individuals, none of us can escalate this to the required level. Frankly, it’s hard to believe–and yes, I think “believe” is the right word in this case, because it does involve imagining the future and can’t be conclusively proven. And nobody really wants to believe something so colossally bad can happen. It just goes against human instinct. The scale is too big.

    But that doesn’t make it untrue.

    I wonder if it would be possible to organize the presentation of an open letter to the President and Congress from a group of prominent scientists who would be unequivocal in expressing their alarm.

    The risk, of course, is that the deniers, who are indulging in their quadrennial orgy of tribal hatred in Tampa, will go after this group like a pack of rabid wolves. I think that’s what’s behind the reticence of most scientists, Hansen notwithstanding. They are intimidated, and understandably so. The deniers are the same people who yammer endlessly about the 2nd Amendment. It’s not even subtle. The smear campaign after the East Anglia hacking was bad enough. You can imagine if scientists injected themselves directly into politics.

    But there’s the rub. It’s not politics. It’s fact.

    More and more, the issue is how to get around or oppose or nullify or otherwise get past the frothing denier pack and get on with the needed actions, like a carbon tax and a WW2-style deployment of green tech.

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