Friday, April 29, 2016

Arctic Sea Ice Doing Poorly

It is still early in the melt season, but the trend line established this year for the Arctic sea ice extent is for at least a near-record low extent this year. This spring saw the lowest sea ice maximum ever recorded. Additionally, throughout the winter ice growth season the extent was consistently a record low for the season and stayed near the 2-sigma line.

NSIDC gets its ice data from the DMSP series satellites. Most recently, this was the F17 satellite in that series. Unfortunately, there has been a sensor malfunction on the satellite and the data is not reliable. As a result, NSIDC has stopped publishing daily updates on the sea ice extent. The good news is that NSIDC is not the only source of sea ice data. The European Union has the EUMETSAT program and the Polar Portal, maintained by Danish Arctic research institutes, publishes daily updates on the ice conditions. Here is their most recent plot and you can see the extent is dramatically low.
Source: Polar Portal

Not only is the extent the lowest ever recorded for this time of year, it is also well below the two-sigma shaded region. The fact that it is well below the 2012 extent is getting attention as well. That was the record-low year shown in red. Now, some researchers are saying this year might break that record.

What is really getting their attention is how this year is record or near-record low for ice volume. The previous low was 2012.

Source: Polar Portal

Notice the maximum volume occurs later than the maximum extent. This is because the ice cap is still getting thicker towards the middle due to very cold temperatures way up north, while is starting to melt at the edges. As you can see from the graph, this year's volume is challenging the record. Combine that with record extent and the situation is favorable for a break-up of the ice cap.

I think it is too early to be able to make accurate forecasts about the ice extent. I would prefer to wait until at least late-June. But, at this point I would estimate the ice extent will be lower than last year's second-lowest extent but not as low as the record of 2012. Right now, my estimated forecast is around a minimum of about 4 million square kilometers.

And, that would not be good.

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