Another month, yet another record low for Arctic sea ice

By Tom Yulsman | April 12, 2017 9:43 pm
The edge of Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, as seen by NASA's Terra satellite on April 2, 2017. Sea ice hit a record low in March.

The edge of Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, as seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on April 2, 2017. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Finally! Some relief from the unrelenting decay in Arctic sea ice.

Well, no. I was hoping to be able to report that. But I can’t. The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s most recent update shows the extent of Arctic sea ice in March dropping to a record low for the month. And that marks the sixth month in a row of record-setting lows.

On March 7, the extent of Arctic sea ice seems to have reached its maximum extent for the year, after an entire winter of frigid temperatures. But here too, there was no good news to report: that maximum extent also was noteworthy for being the lowest in the 38-year satellite record. And this is the fourth year in a row that this particular record has been broken.

“The strange seems to be the everyday up there now,” says Mark Serreze, the NSIDC director.

Arctic sea ice extent for March 2017 averaged 452,000 square miles below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average. To help put this into perspective, that 452,000 square miles of anomalously open, unfrozen water is nearly three times the size of California.

The animated graph above shows what the trend for March looks like since the start of satellite monitoring in 1978. And there are similar trend lines for all months of the year.

In fact, since the late 20th century, the decline in summer Arctic sea ice has been so steep that it appears to be unprecedented for the past 1,450 years.

“We’re losing the sea ice,” Serreze says. He predicts that continued human-caused warming will leave the Arctic with no significant sea ice cover during summer in little more than a decade.

Why should we care about what’s happening in the Arctic? Suffice it to say that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. Research published just this past March links extreme weather in the middle latitudes, where much of the world’s population lives, to the dramatic withering away of sea ice, and the amplified warming that this is associated with.

The vagaries of Arctic weather can have a big impact on the sea ice, even in summer. So it’s not possible to make a firm prediction of whether Arctic sea ice at the end of the warm season in September will set the record for lowest overall extent. But it’s not looking good. In addition to the geographic coverage of the ice being extraordinarily low, so is the overall volume. According to one estimate, made using observations and computer modeling, that volume is currently at a record low as well.

That does not bode well for the fate of sea ice during the coming summer.

  • OWilson

    …”continued human-caused warming will leave the Arctic with no significant sea ice cover during summer in little more than a decade.”

    Another hyped prediction.

    According to NSIDC the current rate of melt is “2.4% per decade”.

    Here’s today’s true picture:

    • cgs

      You’re not being careful with the numbers you present. The 2.4% per decade number refers to the decline of the winter maximum. But the comment referred to summer ice cover. If one looks at the rate of decline of the minimum, it is about 9% per decade.

      Here’s is the data for rate of decline of the maximum, minimum and mean:

      • Anton Andrews

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      • OWilson

        The “numbers I present” are not my numbers

        They are from the daily report from the NSIDC web site.

        Go argue with THEM! :)

        • cgs

          If you read carefully, my argument is not with the numbers but with your representation of them. You present the 2.4% number as if that represents the rate of decline at any time.

          It doesn’t. You are obviously unaware of this. And you certainly haven’t proven to be one to do the ‘leg-work’ necessary to make sure you’re providing the correct story.

          Clearer now? 😉

          • OWilson

            I invite readers to check out NSIDC daily report.

            It’s all there. They report, you decide!

            Have a nice day!

          • cgs

            Still can’t own up to the fact that your original comment is poorly written and misleading, can you?

            A simple, “You’re correct. The decline in the minimum is faster and that puts the quote I used from Serreze in a different light and clears up a misconception folks might have gotten from my comment in which I juxtaposed that quote against a much smaller rate” would have sufficed.

            But that’s just. not. possible. is it?

          • OWilson

            I tried logic on you a couple times before. It doesn’t work!

            And, you fake news trolls don’t have the power to invent my responses for me.

            At least, not yet! :)

            Enjoy your weekend!

          • cgs

            Oh, please, please, pretty PUHLEEEEZE, argue logically with me!!!

            (You’ve tried logic on me a couple of times, have you?! LOL!!)

          • OWilson

            Facts are facts!

            Why argue?

          • cgs

            I’ll admit that my previous comment was a poke at you – though it IS funny to me that you think I am immune to logic based arguments.

            But If you think I was trolling you with any other comment, then you have a pretty odd understanding of what trolling is. There’s a point I have been trying to make about your initial comment and I’ve been pretty clear about what that point is.

            As is typical, you don’t want to take up the challenge head on. Anything but that, right?

            So keep your quarter. You might be able to purchase some used book store, dog-eared, Penguin Classic copy of one of your works with it.

          • nosmokewithout

            I’d suggest cgs is not a troll, he like myself, is calling you on your post, which is misleading. The true summer rate of decline is 13.3 % per decade in Arctic sea ice cover for the month of September. That is significant. That measure is also from the NSIDC. But the scientists are not predicting that the Arctic will have no sea ice cover in March, it is the summer that they make the prediction for. I’d suggest you are in the business of obfuscation, not clarification.

          • OWilson

            I’d suggest that all past predictions of the end of Arctic ice in summer were without scientific merit, and were grossly exaggerated! :)

            I’m calling out the new ones too that replace the ones that have already failed. (10 years? LOL)

            You are entitled to believe this stuff, it’s a free country! :)

          • Brian

            So now, after having your specious claim disabused, instead of a healthy re-evaluation, you find another way to salvage your sophistry. Now you SUGGEST that ALL past predictions were without scientific merit, without citation of a one of these so called failed predictions. On this vapor you stake the basis of your suspicions that all future predictions are similarly exaggerated. Well you’re no scientist, obviously, and neither are you much of a thinker. But you knew that: A closing remark such as yours (we don’t need to be reminded that we are free to believe anything) is a veritable white flag of surrender from someone who realizes he is out of his league. Remove your ego attachment from your position and stop being a doctrinaire corporate-funded apologist. The truth will set you free.

          • OWilson

            You sound like a the usual “true believer” we have come to expect on these blogs.


            Are you familiar with the world greatest scientific collaboration involving thousands of climatologists, and scientists from more than 120 countries?

            They produced a report formally titled IPCC FAR 1990.

            They predicted 3 scenarios of temperature increase that would put the world at risk, and require immediate political action.

            I invite you to read the report and compare the world temperature predictions against the observed empirical date from NOAA’s satellite record over the last 38 years.

            Completely wrong!

            (And yes, Virginia, they do keep “revising” those predictions on a regular basis to match actual reality.)

          • Klon Jay

            So, aren’t the IPCC scenarios (projections, not predictions) for the atmosphere at earth’s surface? And aren’t the satellite records (I think NASA, not NOAA) from the troposphere? Comparable? No! I think I see what you’re playing here, and it’s called fast and loose, isn’t it?.

          • Klon Jay

            I interested, here is a graph of satellite vs CMIP5 model projections –

            and 1988 projections compared to actual surface temperatures —

          • Tom Yulsman

            I know Mark Serreze well, and I can tell you one thing: He is not “some guy.” You seem to fit that description, but not him. He is an intelligent, experienced, veteran scientist, and one who has traditionally tended to be more cautious and conservative in his conclusions than some others. He didn’t make his comment lightly. He made it based on a lifetime of hard work. But you sit in your living room somewhere and feel free to cast aspersions on honorable men you do not know. Perhaps because it helps you feel superior. What does that make you, Mr. Wilson? To me the answer seems obvious: “some guy” with deep resentment and anger in his heart, and nothing whatsoever of substance to say.

          • Ian

            These figures are for areas of sea with > 15% ice, so it is difficult to see winter trends from the data. There is a reduction 7n multi-year ice which is thicker and more resistant to summer melting.

    • nosmokewithout

      FYI – March 2017 melt rate, which I presume you would agree is current enough, is 2.74%.

      March is the month ice extent maximum occurs, so irrelevant when judging the claim that the Arctic will have no significant sea ice cover in little more than a decade.

      September is the ice minimum. I presume that you know, but did not want to state the decadal rate of ice melt for the month. That stands at 13.3 percent, over 5 times faster than the rate you have tried to assert.

      Assuming current rates of ice loss persist, Arctic sea ice area will be an estimated 4 million square km. The area of the Arctic Ocean is 14.06 million square km. So in a decade, we can expect over 70% of the Arctic ocean to be ice free in September. A greater area could be expected to be ice free in more than a decade.

      Can you now explain your own assertion that the statement “…continued human-caused warming will leave the Arctic with no significant sea ice cover during summer in little more than a decade.” is “another hyped prediction” when we can expect three quarters of the Arctic Ocean to be ice free is slightly more than a decade!

      OWilson….the statement is a reasonable conclusion from current indicators. Your ability to be a denial apologist dwindles YOY, much like Arctic sea ice.

      • OWilson

        Like all “true believers”, you only see what you want to see.

        I quite clearly said the “current rate of melt is 2.4%”

        Here’s NSIDC:

        “Figure 3. Monthly March ice extent for 1979 to 2017 shows a decline of 2.74 percent per decade.”

        That current enough for you?

        Now “true believers” have been trying to flog the old global warming chestnut that the Artctic ice will be gone in 10 years.

        10 years later, they are still singing the same hymn.

        Like all doomsday sayers and seers, it’s always, “Oh well, maybe next year!”

        Momma told me not to argue with true believers, so I’m done with you here!

    • Brian

      Your cite of the NSIDC retreat rate of 2.4% per decade does not specify any period, whereas the article’s statement of what you are intending to abuse does. The article speaks to ice cover during the summer. Come back with your clever but specious takedown after you can attack the article’s claim as it precisely makes it.

  • aka darrell

    I believe every word in the article. And, I don’t care.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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