An Illustrated Guide To 2012 Record Arctic Sea Ice Melt

The Arctic sea ice minimum volume dropped sharply this year. Data from PIOMAS, Graph by L. Hamilton

By Nevin Acropolis via the Arctic Sea Ice Blog

We already knew a few weeks ago that the PIOMAS sea ice volume record had been broken, but with the latest data release by the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington we now know the minimum sea ice volume for 2012, as calculated by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS).

Here’s the graph from the PSC:

Yearly minimum sea ice volume for the 2005-2012 period (in km3):

  • 2005: 9159
  • 2006: 8993
  • 2007: 6458
  • 2008: 7072
  • 2009: 6893
  • 2010: 4428
  • 2011: 4017
  • 2012: 3263

So this year’s melting season has gone 1165 and 754 km3 below the 2010 and 2011 minimums. That’s, how shall I put it? A lot! More than at the time of the last update. Almost double the difference between the 2010 and 2011 minimums. Half the 2007 minimum.

Here is Wipneus‘ version for which he calculated the “expected” 2012 values (dotted lines), based on the same date values of 1979-2011 and an exponential trend. A caveat from Wipneus: “Note that the statistical error bars are quite large.”

The minimum ended up slightly above the expected values based on statistics.

Here’s Larry Hamilton’s widely used bar graph [see top graph]:

Here’s the PIOMAS anomaly graph:

I have used my crude method of dividing PIOMAS volume numbers by Cryosphere Today area numbers to calculate the ice pack’s average thickness. Again, this is just an indication that allows us to compare with previous years:

Average thickness for September 3rd (in m):

  • 2005: 2.04
  • 2006: 2.13
  • 2007: 2.04
  • 2008: 1.98
  • 2009: 1.79
  • 2010: 1.28
  • 2011: 1.25
  • 2012: 1.27

And here’s the thickness graph from the Polar Science Center:

Let me repeat once more: we now know for sure the ice is thin. There are two lines of evidence for this: 1) observations from CryoSat-2, (definite confirmation as soon as Dr. Laxon publishes his paper), and 2) the fact that this melting season has annihilated all records on all graphs from all agencies, despite the fact that weather conditions didn’t come close to those of 2007 (more on that in the latest NSIDC monthly analysis, which I’ll report on tomorrow).

We now know that PIOMAS has it largely right, so a big respect for the scientists at the PSC. In coming years PIOMAS may be the most important tool we have to assess the state of the ice on an almost real-time basis. Again respect, and thanks for putting the data out for all to see.

Nevin Acropolis edits the Arctic Sea Ice Blog. This piece was originally published at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog and was reprinted with permission.

14 Responses to An Illustrated Guide To 2012 Record Arctic Sea Ice Melt

  1. Jack Burton says:

    The dramatic decline in thickness really tells the story! This is a sign of terminal decline. This years surface area matters as far as feedback goes, allowing more heat to absorbed by the northern seas. This feeds back to reduce thickness which make ice vulnerable to the next melting season. Unless weather patterns change for the colder, this fast thinning ice indicates the end of summer ice in the arctic. Then what! What happens the first summer the entire arctic sea is allowed to soak up nearly 24 hour per day sunlight? That would be a massive change, it would likely be a climate tipping point for the northern latitudes and the jet stream will be a wild card we can only guess at.
    I love the denial surrounding this years climate warming evidence. Deniers are very flexible in their ability to invent new talking points. Next year will provide them another opportunity to practice the art of denial.

  2. Arctic sea ice could be gone within the next few years. Will likely be gone within this decade. Sad days.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    For at least a few days in September, that is. Then for longer and longer periods.

  4. Karl Sanchez says:

    I’d argue that with lower and lower ice extent and volume we are seeing an increase in the number and duration of blocking systems that allow for dogged persistence of weather systems. Currently, here in Oregon we have had one of the driest 3 summer months ever, and no rain is forecast because of an extremely stubborn blocking system that’s been in place for almost 30 days, all of which is reflected in the newest Drought Monitor. And all this change has occured with a relatively small rise in global temps and CO2 concentration. Clearly, the climate system’s balance was far more delicate than anyone knew and is already reeling out-of-kilter.

  5. Calamity Jean says:

    And the winter maximum keeps getting lower and lower. How long before the Arctic is ice-free in WINTER?

    I expect the winter ice maximum to take a sharp drop as soon as summer ice is gone.

  6. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    I believe the most immediate consequence of the arctic melt down will be a further reduction in food production, which will continue to destabalize nations, increse poverty, and threaten starvation. In the longer run, the total meltdown of the arctic in summer will rapidly increase the loss of ice from the greenland glacier, which will treaten populations living near sea level in the decades following the arctic meltdown. The meltdown was not predicted to happen until around 2050, it appears now that it will be 2020 at the latest.

  7. Ozonator says:

    The following 2-legged methane release from an alien denier fails to account for sublimation of ice, AGW triggering CMEs ( as a reason to keep polluting, and 5-watts radiation powered refrigerator that cools all knuckler reactors like Chernobyl.

    “ … It really amazes me … climate change discussions, completely illogical conclusions take hold in the … extreme green lobby … Ice melts … to melt ice, the temperature has to go up past 0 ºC …. A temperature of 2 ºC is not going to result in some glacier coming apart…. Sunlight has a major impact … Over the weekend I prepared two blocks of ice in my fridge … I sat with a stopwatch and waited. … I repeated the experiment a few times … So, Chaujer is correct: CO2 is not leading to melting glaciers … Svensmark, of Denmark, proposes … the sun’s magnetic influence over cosmic rays” (“Glacial melting is not caused by global warming”; By: Kelvin Kemm, knuckler physi-cyst who lost the recipe to boil water at Committee for A Constructive Dark Ages;, 10/5/12).

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Argueably more important is the decline in northern hemisphere snow cover. Tamino has done a recent analysis of that over on his Open Mind blog.

  9. Jeff Poole says:

    Spot on nyc-tornado-10!

    The only people who have consistently rung the alarm over the food security implications of AGW are Oxfam. And kudos to Joe and Think Progress for publicising it.

    Sadly it looks like even they have been wrong-footed by the sudden changes caused by the skyrocketing Arctic warming. Unsurprising – the research into the changes in the jetstream is so completely brand new.

    Their report makes frightening reading as it is. That turns to terrifying when the ongoing damage to the jetstream is taken into account.

    I never thought I’d live to see the end of modern agriculture in the Northern hemisphere. Now I’m beginning to wonder how those of us in the Southern hemisphere might cope with millions of NH refugees fleeing starvation.

    We already have the huge deserts equivalent to those being created by these blocking weather patterns on your Great Plains. As a result, despite Australia being the same size as the contiguous US, we can’t even feed 60 million people.

    What will happen to world food security when US agriculture becomes that enfeebled…?

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In Australia, it’s a complete non-story, and MSM Comments are full of denialist moroncy. Business as usual.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Sad’ doesn’t do justice to the situation where an allegedly ‘sapient’ species is rushing headlong to auto-genocide.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Quite right. Long before the direct climate catastrophes kick in with full force, the global geo-political order will unravel, and plunge us into genocidal wars of survival, certain, at some stage, to escalate to the use of WMD- real ones.

  13. Brooks Bridges says:

    In the Wipneus‘ link mentioned in the post, the second graph shows exponential curve fits for monthly minimums. My reading shows ice free months predictions as follows:
    2015 Sept
    2016 Aug, Sept, Oct
    2017 Jul, Aug, Sept Oct
    2019 add Nov
    2021 add May and June. So May through Nov – 7 months

  14. Bob Doublin says:

    Here in Seattle we broke a record dating back to 1923 or so.Today was the 77th day where we have only had .03″ of rain since about July 21.We had .00 in Aug and .03 in Sept.those were only from mists and drizzles. And they’re thinking we won’t have any for a week more.It’s starting to get scary.