Sea Ice Slowing to Minimum. Not there yet.

September 17, 2012

 Not there yet, but in an interview with Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers last week, the message was clear – the ice has retreated so much that at this point, we will already be experiencing the impacts of a low or  no-ice arctic minimum, including “very interesting” weather in the northern hemisphere this fall and winter. Wow. I can’t wait.

Francis’ comments will be featured in the annual sea ice wrap video, which I’ll publish as soon as the minimum is announced, unless that process goes over into october, in which case there will be more than one sea ice summary.

With luck and a good Skype connection, I’ll be talking to a senior scientist in the Arctic tomorrow. Will post new developments here.

For now, Neven’s Sea Ice Blog and daily graphs are the best resource.


There may be an announcement very soon. The Sydney Morning Herald has a journalist on the scene.

We are a few hundred miles from the north pole. The air temperature is -3C, the sea freezing. All around us in these foggy Arctic waters at the top of the world are floes – large and small chunks of sea ice that melt and freeze again with the seasons.

Arne Sorensen, our Danish ice pilot, is 18 metres up in the crow’s nest of the Arctic Sunrise vessel. Visibility is just 200 metres and he inches the 1,000-tonne Greenpeace ice-breaker forward at two knots through narrow passages of clear water.

The floes are piled up and compressed in fantastic shapes. Two polar bears on our port side lift their heads but resume hunting.

Sorensen has sailed deep into ice at both poles for 30 years, but this voyage is different, he says.

The edge of the Arctic ice cap is usually far south of where we are now at the very end of the melt season.

More than 600,000 sq km more ice has melted in 2012 than ever recorded by satellites. Now the minimum extent has nearly been reached and the sea is starting to refreeze.

‘‘This is the new minimum extent of the ice cap,’’ he says – the frontline of climate change. ‘‘It is sad. I am not doubting this is related to emitting fossil fuels to a large extent. It’s sad to observe that we are capable of changing the planet to such a degree.’’

The vast polar ice cap, which regulates the Earth’s temperature, has this year retreated further and faster than anyone expected.

The previous record, set in 2007, was officially broken on 27 August when satellite images averaged over five days showed the ice then extended 4.11 million sq km, a reduction of nearly 50% compared with just 40 years ago.


But since 27 August, the ice just kept melting – at nearly 40,000 sq km a day until a few days ago. Satellite pictures this weekend showed the cap covering only 3.49m sq km. This year, 11.7m sq km of ice melted, 22% more than the long-term average of 9.18m sq km.

The record minimum extent is now likely to be formally called later today by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Colorado.

Record smashed

The record hasn’t just been broken, it’s been smashed to smithereens, adding weight to predictions that the Arctic may be ice-free in summer within 20 years, say British, Italian and American-based scientists on the Arctic Sunrise.

They are shocked at the speed and extent of the ice loss.

The Cambridge University sea-ice researcher Nick Toberg, who has analysed underwater ice thickness data collected by British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless in 2004 and 2007, said:

‘‘This is staggering. It’s disturbing, scary that we have physically changed the face of the planet. We have about 4m sq km of sea ice. If that goes in the summer months that’s about the same as adding 20 years of CO2 at current [human-caused] rates into the atmosphere. That’s how vital the arctic sea ice is.’’

18 Responses to “Sea Ice Slowing to Minimum. Not there yet.”

  1. The “Sydney morning herald journalist” is the Guardian’s environment editor John Vidal who is currently on board Greenpeace’s ship the arctic sunrise, you can follow their facinating voyage in other reports from aboard ship here:

    Also on board is NSIDC’s Dr. Julienne Stroeve who in an interview with Mr. Vidal has said:

    “This year is significant. At the moment the [ice extent] is below what the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will show in 2014. We are on the extreme edge of the models, suggesting that ice loss is happening much faster than the models suggested,”

  2. astrostevo Says:

    Our planet is about to look asymmetrical as seem from space, one white capped pole missing.

    Our spaceship Earth.

    We’ve broken it.

    We’re living on it.

    We’ve got to stop

    Before we’re stopped in ways that will take

    Too much precious from us.


    “Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics – and you’ll get ten different answers. But there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us, it’ll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tsu, Einstein, Maruputo, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes – all of this. All of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars.”

    – Commander Sinclair, Babylon 5, Season 1, Episode 4 “Infection”

    • astrostevo Says:

      Thanks to :

      for that quote – half recalled, sought for and found there.

    • rayduray Says:

      Dear astrostevo,

      Re: “Whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. ”

      I’m not sure how young you are, but I can assure you that Babylon 5, while entertaining, is hardly worth considering here.

      You see the real story on the future of the Sun is that starting about 4 billion years from now, the Sun will be running out of fuel, the result will be an expanding star, a red dwarf being born. Within 5 billion years, the Sun will be so large that it will incorporate the Earth in its mass.

      Before the Sun grows cold, it will boil off the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.

      The good news? We’ve got a couple billion years to prepare.

      The Sun’s Life Cycle:

    • Martin Lack Says:

      With regret, astrostevo, I must am compelled to be more blunt than rayduray: Babylon 5 is a load of cr@p. However, I think the point you were trying to make (or should have been making) is the one I made on my own blog last week:
      “However, our greatest problem is not that the Universe may well be on a one-way entropic journey to a cold dark future state of nothingness; it is that fossil fuels are going to run out much faster than the fusion reaction in the Sun. Furthermore, just as the Earth will become uninhabitable long before the Sun runs out of fusion energy to dissipate; so the Earth will become uninhabitable long before we humans run out of fossil fuels to burn. That being the case, I think we should stop doing it…”

  3. It’s good to know there is an end to the melting possibly in sight.

    Now we wait to see what all those 600 million extra watts (approx) we gained will have on our weather… No, don’t quote it, it’s based on average annual arctic insolation, the net change from the average melt which was about 2.6 million square kilometres, and doesn’t account for existing heat in the water, or expansion coefficients. Divided by two to be conservative about the melt cycle. The number could easily be 1.3 billion extra watts, depending on how you look at it.

    What it does say, pretty firmly, is that this summer pumped a huge, a monstrous quantity of extra heat into our oceans, and it HAS to go SOMEWHERE… unfortunately it’s not re-radiating like it would have in the past.


  4. Where will all the heat go, when the ice is gone? If you think about it, the ice is the buffer zone. It’s the only thing that holds our world temperature stable. Without it, the oceans will be next. Sure they are big. But, just as nothing creates oxygen with the intensity of the forests – NOTHING maintains our temperature like the ice.

    • rayduray Says:

      Hi Stephen,

      You wrote: “But, just as nothing creates oxygen with the intensity of the forests – NOTHING maintains our temperature like the ice.”

      Respectfully, I have proof you are wrong on both counts.

      Here’s a NatGeo report stating that the forests, while important, aren’t dominant in the production of oxygen on the planet:

      “In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release oxygen into the water. Half of the world’s oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis. The other half is produced via photosynthesis on land by trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants. ”

      And regarding the planet’s temperature, the most important stabilizing factor is the deep ocean water. Recall that 97% of the water on the planet is salt water. 3% is fresh, of which about 1/3 is liquid and 2/3 (or 2%) is locked up in ice.

      So we’re comparing the heat potential of 97% vs. 2%. Hand’s down the oceans are far more important to the stability of the temperature of the planet than seasonal ice and snow fluctuations.

      • ontspan Says:

        – A lot of that very deep water isn’t going to know about global warming for hundreds of years because of the very slow ocean overturning. The layer that currently warms is less then half the average depth of the oceans.
        – A large portion of the sea ice melts every year (nearly all of Antarctic sea ice and around half of Arctic sea ice). Melting ice requires much more energy compared to raising the temperature a few degrees for the same amount of water. The energy required to melt the ice during summer is largely released during the winter.
        – The albedo change when sea ice melts is about 70-80%, where sea ice reflects most solar energy while liquid ocean water absorb most of the solar energy. This effect is greatest in the Arctic which receives almost as much solar radiation during the (short) summer days as tropical lattitudes while ice is rapidly vanishing.

        Clearly on yearly and decadal timescales sea ice is very important for the earths climate system.

        • rayduray Says:

          Re: “Clearly on yearly and decadal timescales sea ice is very important for the earths climate system.”

          We might define climate differently. What happens over a one year time frame I’d categorize as weather.

          What the weather is doing on average over a decade I’d call climate.

          I believe Dr. Jennifer Francis is doing some very interesting work right now on how the changing conditions in the Arctic might well be influencing the jet stream and creating more blocking patterns which result in severely anomalous conditions of drought, flooding and hot and cold snaps. This is a very worrisome development if proves to be a real pattern. Because it potentially has such a detrimental effect on agriculture and our ability to maintain our bloated population.

          • ontspan Says:

            (3) Decadal timescales is climate as defined by the WMO we agree on that, ocean overturning on many centuries timescale is much beyond that.

            My point is that the yearly increase/decline of sea ice and the summer ice cover is climate and the climate would be much different if the Arctic is permanently ice-free in summer. In that sense yearly patterns are important to the climate.

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: “In that sense yearly patterns are important to the climate.”

            Oh… I don’t know.

            Will yearly matter? Not to be a bore, but what will matter more is seasonal. Last autumn, some very late open water on the Arctic probably made it possible for the Balkans to suffer severe cold in early winter.

            “Yearly” isn’t the right metric. Climate is shifting the seasons. And the seasonal shift is creating the havoc. And the havoc is creating the chaos. And the chaos is creating the hardship.

            Which is pretty much what we have to look forward to for the foreseeable future.

            So says the paleo-climate record.

            Thank God for these respites of profit taking [ ] in the commodities markets like we’ve enjoyed this week.

            Otherwise it would be wall-to-wall doom and gloom.

  5. The Catch-22 of this melting and refreezing is that more melting means lower salinity, which means a (slightly) higher freezing point.

    The greater melting means that it will take much more heat loss (to outer space) to refreeze the ice so, it is likely that the ice maximum will be below average, so the melting will likely be greater next year?


    • rayduray Says:

      Re: “it is likely that the ice maximum will be below average, so the melting will likely be greater next year?”

      It is unequivocal that the ice volume maximum in June, 2013 will be well below the long term average. Area and extent will rely on the vagaries of the weather.

      As regards next summer’s melt, it’s again a question of weather. However, one statistic is already baked in the cake. That is that multiyear ice will once again be plummeting toward zero. Something that I intuitively sense could be declared in 2016 plus or minus 3 years.

      The rest is just kibbitzing about a slurpee.

  6. Just a suggestion: if the vertical scale of the graph went to zero, it would be even more convincing of the urgency of the situation.

  7. Tiggy Sagar Says:

    What is meant by weather being ‘interesting’ in the northern hemisphere this winter?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      A senior scientist used that word several times in an interview.
      It means exactly what you think it means. See this explanation

  8. […]  Then last Monday, I read the latest post from Climate Denial Crock of the Week that was about Sea Ice Slowing to Minimum.  It was yet another reminder that embracing the truth of what is happening to our planet is vital, […]

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