Heading into the summer, Arctic sea ice is in bad shape

By Tom Yulsman | May 5, 2017 9:42 am

Arctic sea ice extent in April was nearly 394,000 square miles below the long-term average — an area one-and-a-half times the size of Texas.

April 2017 Arctic Sea Ice Trend

April 2017 Arctic sea ice concentration trends since 1979. The deepest blue color shows areas where sea ice has declined by more than 20 percent per decade. (Source: NSIDC)

The Arctic’s floating lid of sea ice continued to decline in April, tying the record set last year for lowest April extent.

This makes it four straight months of record lows in 2017, leaving Arctic sea ice in a precarious state as seasonal warming accelerates with the approach of summer.

These maps shows 2016 (top left) and 2017 (top right) Arctic sea ice age for the end of March and the time series of percent coverage for the Arctic Ocean (bottom). Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy M. Tschudi, C. Fowler, J. Maslanik, R. Stewart/University of Colorado Boulder; W. Meier/NASA Cryospheric Sciences

2016 (top left) and 2017 (top right) Arctic sea ice age for the end of March, and the time series of percent coverage for the Arctic Ocean (bottom). Source: NSIDC, courtesy M. Tschudi, C. Fowler, J. Maslanik, R. Stewart/University of Colorado Boulder; W. Meier/NASA Cryospheric Sciences

According to the latest report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent for April 2017 averaged 394,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for the month. That puts it in a tie with April 2016 for the lowest April extent in the 38-year satellite record.

The thickness of sea ice also is suffering under decades of human-caused warming in the Arctic. One way scientists get a handle on this factor is by keeping track of its age, since older ice generally is thicker.

As the graphic at right shows, Arctic sea ice has been getting progressively younger. The oldest and thickest ice is almost completely gone now. And the region is dominated by ice that’s just a year old or less.

In the mid-1980s, first-year-ice made up 35 to 40 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s ice cover. Today, it’s 70 percent.

As the NSIDC report puts it:

At the end of March, ice age data show only a small remaining coverage of old (5+ years) ice. Since 2011, the oldest ice has comprised less than 5 percent of the total ice cover. During the mid-1980s, such ice made up nearly a third of the ice.

In April, NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve worked with other scientists to sample ice thickness and snow-pack characteristics in the Canadian Arctic. She and her colleagues found that “the ice was unusually broken up and reduced to rubble, with few large multi-year floes,” according to the NSIDC report. Pilots working with the science team “remarked that they had never seen the ice look like this.”

  • Mike Richardson

    Such a high turnover rate in arctic sea ice is concerning, but certainly not surprising given the increasing losses in summer. But it is another important metric in quantifying the effects of climate change, particularly in those regions which will have the greatest global impact. Clearly the region is experiencing more difficulty in sustaining sea ice accumulation, which makes it that much easier for the overall extent to decline year to year with warmer temperatures.

    • CB

      “Such a high turnover rate in arctic sea ice is concerning”

      The overall picture is concerning! It’s a straight line down… and the y-axis is based at zero. We’re headed for a climate the likes of which human eyes have never seen, and it’s coming in a matter of years:


      • Mike Richardson

        Well, you know CB, if you squint and hold the thing upside down, it clearly slows a trend towards MORE sea ice. 😉 Thanks for the graph, though, seriously. Do you ever get the impression some folks would jump from the top of a skyscraper, then argue on the way down with anyone who warned them not to, that because they couldn’t provide an estimate of terminal velocity down to millimeters per second, gravity was still open for debate and any concern about an imminent “splat” was just alarmist propaganda?

        • CB

          “Do you ever get the impression some folks would jump from the top of a skyscraper”

          I very much do.

          I think Climate Denialism is a type of suicidal dementia… and I believe people have the right to end their own lives if living is too painful for them to endure!

          They certainly don’t have the right to take anyone else with them…

          “Since 1978, satellites have monitored sea ice growth and retreat, and they have detected an overall decline in Arctic sea ice. The rate of decline has steepened in the 21st century.”


      • OWilson

        The “End is is always Nigh”, and always coming in a matter of years, you just need to have faith:

        “”The power of an idea that promises a correction of all social and political injustices, be it a holy crusade, fascism, communism, radical Islam, (global warming?) can be compulsive.

        At last there is an answer to every question, the convert feels a rush of relief, his existence now has meaning beyond himself. He gains a fraternal comradeship, a family of like minded. If he can make a good living by joining the movement, so much the better!

        For this, he is willing to yield moral responsibility, and the duty to think for himself. His “authorities” know best, and are not to be questioned, even if they themselves decide not to live by their own rules. Any and all opposing views are to be ridiculed, and summarily dismissed.

        Beyond a certain point it is hard for the follower to reclaim his moral freedom, his ability to think logically and rationally for himself. Without his faith, life seems empty. Without his comrades, existence looms as a lonely prospect””.

        Paraphrased from Kati Marton’s excellent tome, TRUE BELIEVER. (Simon & Schuster 2016)

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  • OWilson

    In other news:

    “The Telegraph reported yesterday, news from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), that ever since December, temperatures in the Arctic have consistently been lower than minus -20 C.

    In April the extent of Arctic sea ice was back to where it was in April 13 years ago. Furthermore, whereas in 2008 most of the ice was extremely thin, this year most has been at least two metres thick.

    The Greenland ice cap last winter increased in volume faster than at any time for years.

    As for those record temperatures brought in 2016 by an exceptionally strong El Niño, the satellites now show that in recent months global temperatures have plummeted by more that 0.6 degrees: just as happened 17 years ago after a similarly strong El Niño had also made 1998 the “hottest year on record”.

    This means the global temperature trend has now shown no further warming for 19 years”.

    Good news for the polar bears, but may upset a few true believers.

    • nosmokewithout

      The interpretations of the likes of Christopher Penrice Booker and Paul Homewood, one, a classicist who denies the link between tobacco and lung cancer and the other an unaccredited denier are pretty much irrelevant. I’d suggest their appeal to yourself is down to your own desperate need to sate your own confirmation bias.

      1) No one is claiming Arctic temperature in December are tropical. So your references to the DMI temperature data is without context, irrelevant, pointless and meaningless.

      2) The reference to this winters increase in volume is likewise meaningless, it is a comment on conditions in isolation, the state of the Arctic can only be judged through the measure of long term trends.

      3) How thin was the ice in 2008? How did the figure of “at least 2m thick” compare to the thickness in 2008? You are comparing two data points, to what end. It is not a valid use of statistics.

      4) Why do you try and fabricate an argument based on a spurious reference to April 2004 and try and infer some rebound this year back to 2004, like that is a reliable way to analyse ice data. I’m sure you realise it is not. I could spuriously point out 2012 had a far higher April ice extent than either 2017 or 2004, yet look at what happened to ice extent that year.

      5) Here you have another go at drawing conclusions from a fall of 0.6 degrees. Do we need to point to regression to mean to highlight the meaningless nature of your ad hoc use of data.

      Cherry picking is not good data analysis. Only the proper analysis of long term trends reveal what is happening. That reveals a disturbing pattern of warming and ice loss. The rubbish you have echoed here is pseudo-statistics and pseudo-science. I know you are only echoing what you have read on other sites, but it is none-the-less rubbish.

      “Arctic sea ice extent in April was nearly 394,000 square miles below the long-term average — an area one-and-a-half times the size of Texas.”

      Now that is a statistical observation. Please note the use of a baseline to which valid comparisons can be made. That is how to use statistics.

      • Tom Yulsman

        Thank you for this reply. Spot on.

        • nosmokewithout

          It’s common sense Tom, and you know what they say about that…..it ain’t that common!

      • OWilson

        A bunch of strawmen, if I ever saw one :)

        The observations above are not mine. Nothing at all to do with me!

        (I added not a word to the quoted article. :)

        You guys need an outlet for your pent up frustration! If I can provide that for you, you can damn me to hell, if it makes you feel better! :)

        • icowrich

          “The observations are not mine.”

          The observations are uncited.

          • OWilson

            For the reading challenged global warming genius’s:


            The Telegraph reported yesterday, news from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI).


      • Mike Richardson

        Excellent points. Context and factual accuracy matters in any scientific debate.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Not that actually reading the story with a reasonably open mind is possible in your case, but you might consider it. And if you do, you might actually learn that Arctic sea ice extent last month was NOT “back to where it was in April 13 years ago.” Instead, it was in a tie with April 2016 for the lowest on record. Or you could look at this graph charting average monthly Arctic sea ice extent in April between 1979 and this year: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/ But I’m guessing that you will look at that graph and see what you want to see, not what’s there. Or, since you hate what’s there because you think it conflicts with your righteous political worldview, you will attack the scientists who gathered and analyzed the data that go in to the graph.

      • OWilson

        That’s an awful lot of assuming there Tom.

        I merely posted an article from a current major newspaper quoting The Danish Meteorological Institute.

        The DMI is the official Danish meteorological institute, administrated by the Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate. The institute makes weather forecasts and observations for Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands.

        (I did predict it would met with the usual outrage. :)


        • icowrich

          Actually you didn’t cite a current major newspaper at all. You pasted in text, unsourced, which, in turn, claimed to have gotten its data from The Telegraph (but didn’t cite the article in question), which was said to have referenced a single datapoint from the Danish Meteorological Institute.

          Until you provide a citation for the words you pasted into your post that links to an article that goes on to cite the Telegraph article (which should then cite the survey, properly), it’s hard to credit any of this to “a current major newspaper” at all.

          My guess is that the Telegraph did not leave that one 2013 datapoint in a context-free state the way the uncited article you pasted did.

        • Tom Yulsman

          Mr. OWilson: I did a little digging. (That’s what real journalists do.) And I found the source of your information. It comes from an opinion column in The Telegraph by an English “journalist” named Christopher Booker. I put journalist in quotes, because no real journalist would deny truth like this man does. (See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/06/another-arctic-ice-panic-world-temperatures-plummet/)

          Let’s just put aside the fact that Booker’s piece is not a standard news article, but is instead a work of pure opinion. Instead, let’s consider the source of the information you cited himself. Among other things, Booker claims that the overwhelming scientific evidence that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic is a “scam.” (see: https://web.archive.org/web/20160907000454/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1531446/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html ) He also says that white asbestos “poses no measurable risk to health whatever…” (see: https://web.archive.org/web/20160907000646/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthcomment/3313214/Asbestos-the-most-expensive-word-in-history.html ).

          But Booker doesn’t stop there with his well-paid denialism. He also denies the proven link between second-hand smoke and mortality. This despite the scientific evidence that of the 480,000 Americans who die each year of tobacco use, 41,000 of these deaths are from second-hand smoke. (For his tobacco denialism, see: https://web.archive.org/web/20160907000327/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1556118/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html. And for the scientific truth, see: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/resources/data/cigarette-smoking-in-united-states.html?gclid=CjsKDwjw0cXIBRCxjqnE3K3sHhIkAL1LezSsK7qeGSGy8jfYXm6RmO9dtGjAXLUQMRTVqM8rB2k1GgKV5vD_BwE )

          And there’s more. Booker wasn’t the original source of the bogus, cherry picked claims made about the Danish Meteorological Institute. Booker was quoting a blog called “Not a lot of people know that.” (See: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/arctic-defies-fake-news-stories/ ) All the comments made here in the comments section of ImaGeo about cherry picking and presenting individual data points without any context apply to this blog. Among other things, the author makes wildly ridiculous — and I would even say delusional — claims that the “Greenland ice sheet continue [sic] to grow at record rates.” Here’s what the long-term trend in Greenland actually looks like: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069666/full. (From “A high-resolution record of Greenland mass balance, Malcolm McMillan et al, Geophysical Research Letters, 2016: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069666/full )

          Mr. OWilson: If you want to be taken seriously, why don’t you try being serious for a change? If you insist on getting your “facts” from people who deny things like the link between tobacco and cancer, people might be forgiven for thinking that you are a purveyor of fake news and other forms of total bullshit.

          • OWilson

            Looks like the “link between tobacco and cancer” will be the last dying argument of global warmers :)


          • nosmokewithout

            Are you aware O Wilson, the ice mass balance map you have just posted is for Tuesday the 9th of May. So are you trying to educate us about the unremarkable fact, that Tuesday, this week, over a 24 hour period, Greenland experienced a increase of ice mass balance above the long term average for that day.

            Try this graph.


            The maps show where melt has been experienced over the last two days, more interesting is the graph to the right. The graph represents percentage surface area melt since the 1st of January. It shows three elements of melt.

            Firstly, the dark grey curve represents the averaged melt from the 1st January for the baseline period 1989-2010. Secondly, the shaded region represents the variability in melt for that period. Thirdly, the blue line represents the percentage of area melting from the 1st of January 2017. Please examine this line closely. To say the melt so far this year is anomalous would be grossly understating quite how different this seasons melt is.

            The maps you have posted are next to useless in highlighting anything about long term ice mass balance on the Greenland ice sheet. One days worth of positive ice mass growth will occur regularly, the ice sheet will fluctuate YOY, as will ice melt. This year so far, melting is occurring across a far larger area of the Greenland ice sheet when compared against the long term average. There is no good news for Greenland’s ice sheets, and you sir clearly don’t understand the charts you are posting!

          • OWilson

            Well, that clears that up, then. :)

          • Tom Yulsman

            Mr. OWilson: Do you deny the link between tobacco and both morbidity and mortality? Is that what you meant? If you do not deny it, why is it that you still feel confident in the information you presented here, which is based on the writing of an opinion columnist who denies those links and the fact that asbestos is a carcinogen? One could be forgiven for thinking that you don’t actually care that the man you use as a source is a crackpot. Or that you are so blinded by your ideology that nothing anyone says, no data, no scientific results, no logic, no reason — nothing whatsoever — will have any impact on you, unless it is consonant with your own preconceived notions. Or perhaps you just enjoy all the attention your antics generate. Whatever is the case, this does not reflect well on you at all.

            As for your Roy Spencer graph, you look at it and evidently think, “LOOK, TEMPERATURES HAVE PLUMMETED SINCE THEIR PEAK IN 2016! SEE — GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX!!” If you cannot see how patently absurd that is, you are beyond hope.

          • OWilson

            Whatever one’s bias towards The Telegraph, I respect the information provided by the Danish Meteorological Institute, which I posted here.

            Your anti-asbestos, and anti-smoking campaigns may be laudable, but are of no interest to me, and have little to do with the subject at hand.

            What is also “patently absurd”, is your strawman fake “quote”, which is nothing but a pure invention.

            For the record, I think nothing of the sort! :)


          • nosmokewithout

            You don’t even understand the information you have “posted here” from the Danish Meteorological Institute, so how can you respect it?

          • OWilson

            I understand it perfectly, that’s why I posted it.

            You are welcome to your own opinion of what they are reporting.

            I have no control over your “opinion”.


          • nosmokewithout


            “Annual mean temperature since 1873 for weather stations in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and East Greenland. Since 1873, temperatures in Copenhagen and Torshavn have been increasing. Temperatures in East Greenland also increased until around 1940. After this time, a downward trend was observed until mid-1970’s when temperatures started rising again.”

            All from the Danish Meteorological Institute. Does it make a difference being given the information from a source you respect!

          • OWilson

            I agree with everything they said in that quote.

            What’s YOUR problem? :)

            According to NOAA, we have a warming anomaly of 0.27 degrees, over the satellite record of 38 years.

            NOAA agrees, the Danish Meteorological Institute agrees, and so do I.

            Your problem, again?

  • http://www.carlkruse.com Carl Kruse

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • oatwillie

    I heard a ship that went up there to study the effects of climate change
    Got frozen in the ice.



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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