Arctic sea ice minimum 2012…

By popular demand, a thread devoted to the continuing decline of Arctic sea ice, and a potential new record minimum this year. As before, the figures are hot-linked and will update day-by-day.

JAXA Sea ice extent:

Cryosphere Today sea ice concentration (interactive chart):

Estimated sea ice volume from UW PIOMAS (updated every month):

Other links: Tamino, the very informative and detailed Neven’s sea ice blog , and some interesting predictions from Gareth Renowden.

195 comments on this post.
  1. Neven:

    Thanks, Gavin.

    To others interested in keeping an eye on the sea ice, the Arctic Sea Ice Graphs website gives a very handy and comprehensive overview.

    [Response:That’s a great page! – gavin]

  2. Kevin McKinney:

    “[Response:That’s a great page! – gavin]”

    And since Neven is too modest to brag on his own account, I’ll add that it’s a pretty darn awesome blog generally!

  3. Patrick 027:

    I notice the ice volume is given in terms of anomaly. It’s understandable in many cases why anomaly is more convenient and meaningful, but in this case, I think it would be interesting to see the absolute value (because near zero is not inconcievable at some point in the forseable future).

  4. Patrick 027:

    … oh, just found it at the link Neven gave (bottom row). I realize anomaly is useful to see past the annual cycle.

  5. Neven:

    Patrick 027, here’s a bunch of graphs based on PIOMAS data, made by wipneus.

  6. Jim Larsen:

    Area and volume records should fall easily, but extent could be the sceptic’s salvation. Traditionally, the difference between extent and area was minutia. The vast chunk in the middle was solid and thick. Area pretty much equalled extent minus the comings and goings of ice on the fringe.

    Now it’s all getting fringey.

    Has any run of any major model approximated the actual behavior of the ice over the last 10 years, including a reasonable extrapolation of 2012? Or, what’s the worst run ever spit out by a current model? A graph would be wonderful :-)

  7. Patrick 027:

    Thanks, Neven.

  8. AlaskaHound:

    Should reach the same level seen in 1884 by August 23rd:)

  9. ozajh:

    IF the (truly visually spectacular) map on the Tamino link attributed to “apocalypse4real” can be trusted, then there appears to my untutored eye that a substantial portion of the remaining thick ice is teetering on the brink of being flushed down the Fram Strait.

    (And I said “IF” because this map doesn’t seem to correlate particularly well with other Arctic Ice maps. A great pity if it’s inaccurate, because it could be a magnificent ‘at a glance’ resource.)

  10. Arcticio:

    Please, not again a discussion about the surface of sea ice while thickness disappears faster below. UCL just announced CryoSat data reveals it’s melting faster than predicted (though no data published) and it is very hard to extrapolate PIOMAS data and see an ice free September any later than 2020.

    In Summer 5 million square kilometers of extent might look healthy, but if thickness is just a few centimeters it’s all gone within days. There is thickness distribution – of course, but isn’t MYI not getting thinner every year?

    Neither area nor extent tell the story of what the ocean is doing the ice from below. Ok, sometimes one can observe how fast ice or regions of floes melt out completely without any sign of drift. Is in situ flash melting a sign from the future, a precursor of what’s coming when sea ice is that thin that extent shows binary behaviour, meaning yesterday there was ice today surprisingly not?

    When I go skating first acquisition is thickness information and not size. Everybody living close to a lake freezing in Winter knows thickness melts gradually extent not. Actually it reduces very fast from 100% coverage to zero during the last days.

    Sure, it is a good thing there is a long record of extent data. The media will publish the message of a new extent record rigorously measured by all scientific means. But is the message being transported correct or is it just about the surface of the real problem?

    Show any journalist the extent record of the satellite era and he will not consider an ice free Arctic during his lifetime. It is not enough to add we found the ice pack is shrinking faster than thought or predicted or calculated.

    My impression is the science of the Arctic Ocean still reveals more surprises than facts. Hopefully, once the ice gone there is more to say as: Oups, that was not foreseeable. Given there are only a few years left to achieve the needed scientific self-awareness to give a proper forecast – what can be done?

    How many buoys are needed for a complete assessment? Who (names + contact, please) decides Arctic science budgets? Why papers still get published behind paywalls? Where is a sea ice model describing single floes? How to get more reporters with cams on research vessels? Why do researcher stay away from blogging?

    Personally I learned two things from the last storm: one million square kilometers of ice can disappear within one week and the public is aware and interested. The Arctic is the place where the consequences of anthropogenic climate change will be visible very soon, even from the moon.

    Most probably half of the planet will have to adapt to new weather pattern an ice free Arctic spawns. What we can’t afford are surprises.

  11. wayne davidson:

    I think again it really useful to find and post 2012 minima past predictions by contarians on how wonderfully restored sea ice would have been if they were right.

    No credible journalist will interview an utterly incapable with predictions contrarian . Yet they appear again and again as serious climate critics. But do not expect them to brag about their failures, we have to be vigilant in building their skill reputations. I liked Gareth’s piece, but there is plenty more satire from the contrarians if someone would be nice enough to do a collage .

    It is a strange strange world we live in when a large community of people preclude correct science and predictions and follow made up on the go presenters as being equivalent to solid science work giving remarkable successes.

  12. Timothy Chase:

    Ozajh (#9), according to Neven, the maps were made with Godiva in the UK.

    Please see:

    New site with new thickness maps

  13. Jim Larsen:

    10 Arcticio said, “Given there are only a few years left to achieve the needed scientific self-awareness to give a proper forecast – what can be done?”

    Well, we can pop some corn. We get to be front row center to the permanent transformation of summer conditions in the northern hemisphere. Brand new set of weather patterns! Reminds me a bit about the old short story The Lottery.

    Care to pick for your region?

  14. Edward Greisch:

    Thanks for all the links to great graphs, everybody. What does this Arctic Ocean heat mean for the weather/climate down here? I know you can’t answer this question, but I keep wondering if the farmers should plant wheat [a dryer land crop] instead of corn.

    PS: The drought is over near Davenport, Iowa. Some corn has been de-tasseled, which leads me to believe that the farmers still have some hope for a corn crop this year. Some corn plants have turned yellow and died, but not many. The soybeans look taller.
    The whole cycle of summer sort of got put on hold during the drought.

    10 Arcticio is correct in saying: “What we can’t afford are surprises.” The year seems to have a new rhythm.

    Is the Arctic cyclone something new, or just something that didn’t get reported before? Is there a new pattern of polar oscillations?

  15. Timothy:

    Arcticio: “Please, not again a discussion about the surface of sea ice while thickness disappears faster below.”

    There’s a graph of PIOMAS volume, so I think you’re being a bit harsh. Further, I think the distinctions between extent, area and volume are going to be largely academic within the next ten years, or so. When there’s hardly any ice left at the minimum, it makes not a jot of difference how many dimensions you measure it in.

    Arctic sea ice science will then rather swiftly move onto how well the seasonal opening and closing of the North-West Passage and Northern Sea Route can be forecast. A lot of that depends on the weather, of course, but I reckon that’s where a lot of the interest will be.

  16. MARodger:

    Patrick027 @3 & @4
    If you poke about a bit at Neven’s website, you will note it has more than one page of graphs & enough interesting stuff crops up in the various discussion threads that would overload even ten pages of graphs.

    Re the PIOMAS anomaly graph. It gives a spectacular slope but little else that is comprehensible. The more recent introduction of their ‘comparative-years’ graph doesn’t help so much either as the rate of decline or changing rate of decline is not particularly evident.
    Happily, with PIOMAS data now public we don’t need to resort to scaling graphs with a ruler to produce graphs of our own.
    One that I produced compares the anomaly for each year here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’) which shows the melt is occuring earlier through the summer before a bit of ‘regrouping’ by the time of the annual minimum arrives.

  17. Lawrence Coleman:

    1: Neven..Thanks for the multi graph link, it’s an excellent source of info even though some graphs still have an annoying 1 month delay.
    10: Arcticio. I feel that when that fateful summer dawns soon when there is only open water in september that that will be the end of the anolomalies, from then I feel each consecutive summer from then on will be ice free as there is no hard perrenial left to act as a frozen raft for falling snow. I think you will see from then on a rapid lengthening of time when the area is ice free. Millions of square kms of open ocean in the middle of summer is going to heat rapidly and I think it would be quite possible that within our lifetimes assuming you are 40ish like me that we will witness at least half the year without ice cover.

  18. Arcticio:

    Wow, hours later and there are numbers from UCL: 7,000 km³ last summer. Here the BBC interview with Seymour Laxon:

  19. tamino:

    There seems to be desire for a graph of PIOMAS sea ice volume which doesn’t involve anomalies but doesn’t “hide the decline.” Here ’tis:

  20. wayne davidson:

    #19 Excellent work Tamino, it is a must see graph for especially journalists wondering if AGW is happening, post it everywhere like a coca-cola sign.
    Arcticio, the large Arctic cyclones are part of a newish trend of Lows penetrating the North Polar regions with increasing frequency. It is linked with the disappearance of thick multi-year ice. Was seen this past winter a great deal. NASA models forecasted this quite sometimes ago. It is caused by the shrinkage of the entire polar-temperate to tropics atmospheric interfaces, in other words the hurricanes have moved Northwards with less juice to fuel them.

  21. greg:

    Tamino, lLove the movie as well as your web site. Anyone know a way to post the movie onto a FaceBook page.

  22. Jim Galasyn:

    You’re right, AlaskaHound: obviously these latest data just show that the sea-ice recovery is imminent!

  23. L Hamilton:

    A different graph showing the steepening decline in minimum PIOMAS volume 1979-2011 (along with University of Bremen extent 1972-2011) can be seen on Neven’s Long Term Graphs page, here:

  24. JMurphy:

    AlaskaHound@8 wrote : “Should reach the same level seen in 1884 by August 23rd:)”

    A bit cryptic that, but where would one actually find the data from 1884 to compare ? I’m dubious, to say the least…

  25. Tokodave:

    Seems ironic I was mountaineering in British Columbia doing my own personal research on glacial retreat and what should be up at Real Climate and Open Mind when I’m back but a discussion of ice loss. The route I’d climbed several years ago is “no longer practical on account of glacial retreat…”. How ‘bout that. Don’t argue Climate Change with a mountaineer.

    Nice work on the sites and links!

  26. Patrick 027:

    Re 23 L Hamilton, Re 19 tamino, Re 16 MARodger – thanks.

  27. Unsettled Scientist:

    So many good links in this thread. Thank you, thank you.

  28. RichardC:

    I assume AlaskaHound is referring to the satellite measurements made by the Grand Duchy of Fenwick.

  29. Geoff Beacon:

    Edward Greisch says

    Thanks for all the links to great graphs, everybody. What does this Arctic Ocean heat mean for the weather/climate down here? I know you can’t answer this question, but I keep wondering if the farmers should plant wheat [a dryer land crop] instead of corn.

    Try Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University, 25 January 2012. Rossby Waves

  30. prokaryotes:

    I think the question is “How fast” we approach ice free conditions, which accelerate climate forcings. We approach chaotic new conditions for the entire northern hemisphere with all kinds of system interactions and new phenomena, of whom some can be observed already. For instance extreme weather phenomena from polar amplification and sea level anomalies. I would really like to read more of the impacts and the increase of forcings from albedo flip effects.

    “Just the melting of all the floating ice in the arctic ocean, will add as much heat to the earth, as all the Co-2 we put in the atmosphere to date.” BBC Interview 2011 with Prof. James Lovelock

    Estimating the Global Radiative Impact of the Sea-Ice-Albedo Feedback in the Arctic a more realistic ice-free-summer scenario (no ice for one month, decreased ice at all other times of the year) results in a forcing of about 0.3 W m−2, similar to present-day anthropogenic forcing caused by halocarbons.

  31. Patrick 027:

    Re 29 Geoff Beacon – great link; I haven’t finished it yet but plan to (the youtube part) – PS I haven’t watched this yet either but it may be related (somebody else originally posted this link somewhere on RC I think; don’t remember where, though):

    “Weather and Climate Summit – Day 5, Jennifer Francis”

  32. prokaryotes:

    Maybe this is a good description what is happening and which is indicated by large scale arctic sea ice melt..

    Elevations and ages of drowned Acropora palmata reefs from the Caribbean-Atlantic region document three catastrophic, metre-scale sea-level–rise events during the last deglaciation. These catastrophic rises were synchronous with (1) collapse of the Laurentide and Antarctic ice sheets, (2) dramatic reorganization of ocean-atmosphere circulation, and (3) releases of huge volumes of subglacial and proglacial meltwater. This correlation suggests that release of stored meltwater periodically destabilized ice sheets, causing them to collapse and send huge fleets of icebergs into the Atlantic. Massive inputs of ice not only produced catastrophic sea-level rise, drowning reefs and destabilizing other ice sheets, but also rapidly reduced the elevation of the Laurentide ice sheet, flipping atmospheric circulation patterns and forcing warm equatorial waters into the frigid North Atlantic. Such dramatic evidence of catastrophic climate and sea-level change during deglaciation has potentially disastrous implications for the future, especially as the stability of remaining ice sheets—such as in West Antarctica—is in question.

  33. prokaryotes:

    A hint about the strong Polar Storm…

    Fresh water from rivers and rain makes hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones 50 percent more intense

    Read more at:

  34. David Schneider:

    If you are looking for information on where the various sea ice concentration data in the graphs are coming from, check out the Climate Data Guide overview of long-term sea ice data sets. And yes, the major data sets all show the long-term (over 30+ years) decline in Arctic sea ice. There are some interesting systematic differences in estimates of absolute sea ice extent and area.

  35. David Schneider:

    This is the link:

  36. Perk Earl:

    I’m wondering if there is a direct connection between ice minimum and methane emissions? Are there any graphs depicting that interaction? Are there any predictions regarding how much methane would be released if arctic ice disapears in Summer?

  37. Andy Lee Robinson:

    @greg 21 Here is Tamino’s PIOMAS animation converted to 25fps in divx avi format, suitable for facebook etc. I modified so x-axis crosses at y=0.

    PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice decline 1979-2012 (10s 1016×668 1.889kb)

    PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice decline 1979-2012 (10s 508×334 569kb)

    GIF versions at same location but with gif extension.

  38. prokaryotes:

    Sea-ice switches and abrupt climate change

    We propose that past abrupt climate changes were probably a result of rapid and
    extensive variations in sea-ice cover. We explain why this seems a perhaps more likely explanation than a purely thermohaline circulation mechanism. W e emphasize that because of the signi¯cant in° uence of sea ice on the climate system, it seems that high priority should be given to developing ways for reconstructing high-resolution (in space and time) sea-ice extent for past climate-change events. If proxy data can con¯rm that sea ice was indeed the major player in past abrupt climate-change events, it seems less likely that such dramatic abrupt changes will occur due to global warming, when extensive sea-ice cover will not be present.
    Keywords: climate; sea ice; thermoha line circulation ;
    abrupt climate change; glacial cycles

  39. Edward Greisch:

    29 Geoff Beacon: Roger that. The result is: Famine.

  40. ozajh:

    Timothy Chase (#12),

    Yup. I have lurked at Neven’s site for several years now, but comments (I’m trying to use Open-ID credentials) don’t work for me over there.

    I note that Neven himself is somewhat sceptical, in the true sense of the word :-), of those maps.

  41. wayne davidson:

    #38 Pprokaryotes, I would add : overall sea ice thickness dictates the height of boundary layers which in turn affect the lower atmospheric temperature profiles, in effect changing the weather of the entire lower atmosphere. Wrote a paper on that, looking for a publisher.

  42. greg:

    Thanks Andy.

  43. Jim Pettit:

    To complement Tamino’s awesome animated sea ice volume graph, here’s a very simple multi-year PIOMAS animation based on a polar grid, with radials set at single month intervals, and decadal averages thrown in just because:

    I’m anxious to see the August PIOMAS numbers, though I’m not looking forward to them anymore than were I in an out of control aircraft I’d look forward to seeing where we were going to crash.

  44. Jeffrey Davis:

    I’ve wondered what was the purpose of the sea ice extent metric. It seemed goofy to me since Area x Volume is the calculation for the amount of ice. It was explained to me (recently and yet I’ve already forgotten where) that it’s of use to shipping. How far south can you still expect to find coherent patches of ice? That sort of thing.

  45. Mike Roddy:

    A little OT, though it is in the Arctic, some of us would appreciate RC’s thoughts on this:

    This topic appears to be a little toxic these days, but less so than ignoring the study’s conclusions. We depend on you to address this.

  46. Kevin Stanley:

    1884 was the culmination of the first International Polar Year (more than one year; it was 1881-1884). First few minutes of googling didn’t come up with total area or extent in km3 (unsurprisingly), but I did find a map at

    I’m not sure what the different colors indicate, but my best guess is that the darkest blue/green is open ocean, white is solid ice, and intermediate colors indicate some concentration of ice, but not solid. Even if only the solid white represents what was left at minimum, that’s a LOT more ice than we’ve got now.

    I guess I don’t know for certain what AlaskaHound @8 was trying to say, but after poking around the data and images for IPY 1881-1884, and particularly that map, I’m pretty sure he/she was very wrong.

  47. Will MacKinnon:

    One indication of the minimum ice extent in the 1881-1884 is that the coast lines of many of the arctic islands were still unknown, including areas that are ice free today. The lack of mapped coasts implies multi-year ice that had prevented the coasts being mapped. The islands include; Spitzbergen, Franz Joseph Land, Severneya Zemlya(first reached by icebreaker in 1913 is not shown at all), Ellesmere land, North Devon Island, Cockburn island, Cumberland Island, Prince Albert Land, Wollaston Land, Victoria Land and the DeLong Islands. This from “North Polar Regions, Chart of the Arctic Ocean. Compiled from the latest information, 1885. This chart was included in Greely’s Three Years of Arctic Service and Account of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition of 1881-1884, Hydrographic ofice US Navy.
    Also interesting on the map is a stretch of NE Greeland coast, located approx. 60 to 100 miles north of C. Bismark (King William Land) that refers to it having been sighted in 1670, but apparently not evident at the current time(1885).

  48. derek:

    Folks, I just posted a similar question in the Unforced Variations thread, but this seems specific to ice, so if you’ll pardon this… over what time span does ice area reflect climate changes and why? I guess I don’t understand why this plot has a slope that stands out over much smaller time periods than the global average temperature. Does weather have less effect on the ice area as compared to its effect on global average temperatures? Thanks.

  49. Robin Johnson:

    Re #46

    I don’t think the colors represent ice. The “white” area simply represents uncharted territory.

  50. wayne davidson:

    #47, Will, that is brilliant!!! Yes and yes, the biggest indicator of no (bi)cycles rendering the arctic ocean open at times is in the archeological record of aboriginal ruins throughout the Arctic. None are near the same places not mapped in 1885. Also lets not forget Bowhead whales extending the record backwards a whole lot. So I read a guy from Alaska knows better, we await the tangible records.