Arctic sea ice is ebbing faster than normal, and by September it could bottom out at a very low level

By Tom Yulsman | July 6, 2017 8:53 pm
This animation using false-color imagery acquired by NASA's Aqua satellite shows how sea ice just off the Russian coast in the East Siberian Sea changed between June 18 and July 6, 2017. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

This animation consists of false-color images of the Russian coast and adjoining East Siberian Sea acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite. On June 18, the offshore waters were choked with sea ice. By July 6, 2017, a lot of it had broken up. In the false-color scheme, land is green, black is indicative of open water, and ice is a light turquoise. The darker blue prominent in the June 18th image probably is indicative of melting snow and ice that’s causing liquid water to accumulate. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Under frigid winter conditions, the Arctic’s floating lid of sea ice typically expands to a maximum extent in March. But thanks to human-caused global warming, that maximum seasonal spread of the ice has been shrinking over the years — and this past March it reached the lowest level ever observed for the month.

But then, something unexpected happened: In May, sea ice retreated much more sluggishly.

This prompted some people who deny the reality of humankind’s impact on the climate to pounce. “ARCTIC SEA ICE BOUNCES BACK,” shouted one headline (on a blog that bills itself as being dedicated to “common sense on climate change”). Well, hold on…

Now we have the latest monthly report from the scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and wouldn’t you know it: During June, Arctic sea ice shrank faster than average. That resulted in June’s ice cover coming in at sixth lowest in the satellite monitoring era, which began in 1979.

But that’s not the most newsworthy part of the report. In my view, this is: By July 2, Arctic sea ice had retreated to a particularly low level matching what was seen on the same date in 2012.

That’s significant because in 2012, sea ice went on to set a record that has not been broken since. During the summer of that year, ice extent dropped precipitously, and in September it went lower than ever seen before.

A comparison of true-color and false-color images acquired by the Aqua satellite on June 18, 2017 in the same area as shown in the animation at the top of this post. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

A comparison of true-color and false-color images acquired by the Aqua satellite on June 18, 2017 in the same area as shown in the animation at the top of this post. Note the likely melt ponds, which contribute to the break up of sea ice. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Of course, just because Arctic sea ice melted relatively fast in June and is really low now doesn’t mean it will set a new record this coming September. But given the conditions in the Arctic right now, the odds are good that the sea ice extent minimum will be very low.

How low? It’s impossible to know for sure at this point. But scientists of the Sea Ice Prediction Network do their best to make informal forecasts. For their June report, they analyzed predictions from 33 different sources. According to the report, the median forecast is for Arctic sea ice extent to bottom out in September at 4.43 million square kilometers. That would put it in the top five of lowest extents on record.

That relatively low number probably reflects a number of factors. One is temperature — specifically, how cold has it been in the Arctic and for how long?

Source: NSIDC

Source: NSIDC

This is gauged by something called cumulative freezing degree days. This is the sum of daily mean temperatures below freezing over a particular period.

Based on this metric, between July of last summer and July of this year, the Arctic has been “extremely mild,” according to the NSIDC report. Do keep in mind that this is a relative statement. It is a specific comparison to a base period of 1981 to 2000.

You can see just how relatively mild it has been by clicking on the graphic above. From July of 2016 to now, the period has been milder than the same period in 2012, the year Arctic sea ice hit its lowest extent on record.

The relative dearth of days with below freezing temperatures has taken a toll on the sea ice. Across the Arctic, it is thinner than average, according to an analysis by the University of Washington’s Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System, or PIOMAS.

Source: PIOMAS, University of Washington

The image above shows what’s happening. Areas in blue indicate areas where Arctic sea ice is thinner than the 2000 to 2015 average. And as the graphic shows, sea ice thicknesses for May 2017 were below average over most of the Arctic Ocean. (The exception: the red areas north and west of the Svalbard archipelago.)

The scrawny ice cover will make it easier for warm summer temperatures to melt the ice. As the June NSIDC report states, “Starting the melt season with below-average ice thickness raises the likelihood of having especially low September ice extent.”

Time will tell.

  • OWilson

    Bottom line.

    With all the incessant wailing, self flagellating and gnashing of teeth about the rapid melting of the North Pole ice, it turns out we have more Arctic sea ice now than we had in 2012, five years ago!

    6 previous Junes had less ice.

    How do you spin that as bad news? :)

    Oh yeah, the “could”, and the “likelihood”. Conjecture!

    But wait, “But then, something unexpected happened: In May”, Seems that Mother Nature always has “something unexpected up her sleeve to dash the worst fears of the true believers. Maybe even a “Maunder Minimum” around the corner :)

    So this stuff is not set in stone, and it is far from “settled science”. :)

  • CB

    Bottom line: This has been happening for a long time, and the trends suggest we are in store for absolutely no ice at all at the winter minimum within years at the current rate of decline. The bottom of the y-axis is zero:

    • jonathanpulliam

      Slowly, as Terrestrial sea-levels rise a mere 1/3 of an inch over the past quarter century.

      • nosmokewithout

        If all the Arctic sea ice were to melt tomorrow, sea level would be unaffected. You seem to have missed the point.

  • OWilson


  • Tim STL

    Obviously a Chinese hoax! Those scumbags have aircraft-carrier sized hot air blowers that they use to shrink the ice, all for the purpose of tricking us to destroy our coal jobs.

    • OWilson

      The 4 Largest Solar Power Companies in the world recently went bankrupt and took literally billions of investment dollars with them, including billions in taxpayer subsidies. A total of well over $25,000,000,000.00


      Nobody cares where that money went, because it will never make the MSM Fake News!

      Giant Scams, or just poor planning by the thousands of Crony Capitalists and their Bought and Paid For Politicians? :)

      We report, you decide!

      • Mike Richardson

        LOL! “Fake news!” Man, Trump’s got quite a flock of parrots ! Wilson wanna cracker?

      • Juan Lopez

        So maybe we should just bail them out- yeah?

      • Null66

        So resistant to reality!

        • OWilson

          This reality? :)

          “Ellen Shocks LGBT Community & Confirms She is Moving On”

          “I made $3 million from home using this simple trick!”

          “Trump and his family are suddenly Russian plants AFTER he beats Hillary”

          “Hillary still ahead by 14!”

          “Trump has no path to …….. “(fill in the gap!)

          “Early exit polls say it’s President Kerry!!!

          “Early exit polls say it’s President Hillary!!!”

          “We have ……….years to save the Planet!!!” (fill in the gap)

          Obviously, there’s a huge population of dupes out there who believe this stuff!

          But it’s not my reality!

  • OWilson

    I can see I didn’t change any hearts or minds here with my comments. :)

    But that was not my intention. I did acknowledge the comments of all true believers who responded to me, so I leave you with your faith intact, and to the absolute certainty of your beliefs!


    Y’all can have the last word, but keep it clean, ya hear? There may be children listening!

  • jonathanpulliam

    AGW was basically the “fake news” hoax of the century.

  • jonathanpulliam

    This is the same NASA that lost the original Australia-based moon-landing video tapes. The same NASA that is known to have doctored and outright forged the phony atmospheric CO2 data which came to factor in 4 phony IPPC technical publication retractions and re-statements. The same NASA that overruled the rocketry experts and launched the ill-fated Challenger crew to its doom. Like Texan Lance Armstrong and Texan Roger Clemens, Texans with names like “Deke” were big-time cheaters and Texas-sized prevaricators. The moon landings was NASA’s Texican-stained Stanley Kubrick-directed version of Rosie Ruiz’ fraudulent Boston Marathon run. NASA has zero credibility on anything.

    • OWilson

      You sound like a Global Warmer, in drag! :)

      • Mike Richardson

        Actually, substitute “Warmer,” or ” Leftist” for Texan, and I’d say he sounds a lot like you. Particularly the conspiracy thinking about climate data. Probably shares a lot of you ideology as well. You should be nicer to him, Wilson, and he might join your fan club! :)

        • OWilson

          Looking at your DISQUS comment approval ratings, Mikey, I’d say you need him a lot more than I do! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            LOL! Ironic that someone who decries a popularity obsessed culture that gave us the Kardashians apparently values his own popularity more than the truth. Narcissists are so easy to manipulate. 😉 Just ask Putin.

          • OWilson

            Trolls are even more reliable!

            They always show up when prodded, just like you! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            You are reliable, at least in favoring projection over self reflection. So that “Global Warmer, in drag,” comment doesn’t constitute trolling? No? Not even a little bit? 😉 Oh, you are just too funny.

            And as for being “ignored completely,” it seems at least a few folks liked my posts taking you to task over satellite temperature measurements (I know, they don’t count, because they aren’t you, and it’s all about you, right? But you’re certainly no narcissist, eh? 😉). And on that topic, have you found some new scientific evidence contradicting the revision of the satellite data? Findings by reputable scientists that Arctic sea ice is actually on an upward trend (aside from cherry-picking one year as you did earlier)? I can wait. Remember, I’m always here for you, Wilson. 😀

          • OWilson

            Mikey want a cracker? :)

            Don’t forget to turn out the light!

          • Mike Richardson

            You know, repeating a phrase I used and substituting my name for yours really isn’t doing much to disprove you’re a parrot. Still reliably demonstrating your complete inability to sense irony, I see.

            So does “obsessive overuse of emoticons” include your own overuse of ” :) ” ? May want to reflect a bit on that yourself, eh? (You also might want to Google “How to tell when I’m being mocked”) — :)

            Since you profess such concern about “science based discussions” I would have expected some actual discussion from you about the satellite temperature readings or whether the trend in the Arctic is towards more or less sea ice, but you’ve admitted you’re done. Well done, I might add — like burnt toast. Catch ya later, Wilson! :) 😉 :)

          • OWilson

            There you go with the cheap hit and run leading questions again, after I gave you the last word.

            You really are needy :)

            So here you go Mikey:

            NOAA publishes the temperature of the lower troposphere (that’s where you live) as derived from their satellite data.

            This data is published monthly.

            It shows an warming anomaly, as of July, 2017 of 0.21 degrees, over the entire 38 year record.

            This has nothing to do with me, so if you wish to dispute the figure, go take it up with them!


            Now go find someone else who will actually respond to your nonsense!

            I’m the only one, and I can only do so much for you, Mikey. I try my best :)

            You need more, shall we say, “professional” help!

          • Mike Richardson

            Considering the general caliber of your remarks, you’re hardly one to judge on any moral high ground others for “cheap, trolling, hit and run” comments. But, since you’ve finally mentioned the NOAA satellite data, let’s discuss that a little more. Yes, I’m well aware of what the troposphere is and NOAA’s monthly records of it. The problem, however, is that those readings have apparently not been taken at the same time of the day over the course of their observations. Thus, the temperature readings would have reflected cooler temps later in the afternoon or evening, and resulted in cooler averages. Corrected for the shift in later readings, the satellite data is actually closer to readings taken at the surface, which NOAA also collects, and states is accurate. So do you think satellite measurements of temperature at the same location and time of year should also be taken at the same time of day? If they aren’t, shouldn’t you maybe not accept and repeat these averages as though they were the gospel? Since NOAA has also collected surface temperature readings without these problems, wouldn’t it make sense to refer to this information instead? Also, I’d appreciate a simple answer as to whether Arctic ice appears to be in an upward or downward trend, since you still haven’t answered that question, either. Thanks!

          • OWilson

            You are a tiresome bore!

          • Mike Richardson

            Insults and evasions are not answers to the questions asked. Perhaps you should send in a resume to be White House press secretary. Your inability/unwillingness to provide a straight remains consistent. No matter, I will continue to question. Until later.

          • OWilson

            Ever considered a puppy? :)

  • balagan123

    Another storm like the one in 2012 in the fall will send the ice plummeting again. Note something else of interest, though. The distance between the two slopes remains more or less constant. In other words pretty well the same amount of ice is created each year which implies that the same amount of brine is produced, suggesting that the same amount of surface water is drawn northward from the Atlantic.



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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