NSIDC: 2014 Sea Ice Max Reached

April 3, 2014



National Snow and Ice Data Center:

Arctic sea ice extent for March 2014 averaged 14.80 million square kilometers (5.70 million square miles). This is 730,000 square kilometers (282,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average extent, and 330,000 square kilometers (127,000 square miles) above the record March monthly low, which happened in 2006. Extent remains slightly below average in the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, but is at near-average levels elsewhere. Extent hovered around two standard deviations below the long-term average through February and early March. The middle of March by contrast saw a period of fairly rapid expansion, temporarily bringing extent to within about one standard deviation of the long-term average.


Average ice extent for March 2014 was the fifth lowest for the month in the satellite record. Through 2014, the linear rate of decline for March ice extent is 2.6% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

In the Arctic, the maximum extent for the year is reached on average around March 9. However, the timing varies considerably from year to year. This winter the ice cover continued to expand until March 21, reaching 14.91 million square kilometers (5.76 million square miles), making it both the fifth lowest maximum and the fifth latest timing of the maximum since 1979. The latest timing of the maximum extent was on March 31, 2010 and the lowest maximum extent occurred in 2011 (14.63 million square kilometers or 5.65 million square miles).

The late-season surge in extent came as the Arctic Oscillation turned strongly positive the second week of March. This was associated with unusually low sea level pressure in the eastern Arctic and the northern North Atlantic. The pattern of surface winds helped to spread out the ice pack in the Barents Sea where the ice cover had been anomalously low all winter. Northeasterly winds also helped push the ice pack southwards in the Bering Sea, another site of persistently low extent earlier in the 2013 to 2014 Arctic winter. Air temperatures however remained unusually high throughout the Arctic during the second half of March, at 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 average.

Here, part of the interview we did with Dr Walt Meier, one of the world’s most respected experts on sea ice – formerly of NSIDC, now at NASA. We conducted this interview in December 2013.

Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

There’s a very informative press release on the NSIDC website, from which I’d like to repeat a quote there by Dr. (Julienne) Stroeve:

“Short term predictions are achievable, but challenges remain in predicting anomalous years, and there is a need for better data for initialization of forecast models,” Stroeve said. “Of course there is always the issue that we cannot predict the weather, and summer weather patterns remain important.”

This summarizes in one sentence one of last year’s big lessons for me. I made the mistake of thinking that the ice was now so thin that it wouldn’t matter much what kind of weather it was exposed to, it would still decrease to or even past the September 2007 level. This turned out to be wrong, weather still precedes ice thickness when it comes to determining the ice pack’s total extent in September.

Paradoxically it’s the decrease in ice thickness that has led to this situation, in the sense that it was probably easier to forecast the minimum extent in the past, where overall thicker ice would reduce the possibility for large negative outliers. Now large swings can go either way, as we saw in 2012 and 2013. Does this make it impossible to forecast the melting season accurately? Not necessarily.

The other big lesson I learned from last year is how important the start of the melting season is. 2012 had such a good start (for melting) that spells of weather that was less conducive to sea ice decrease later on didn’t matter all that much, the trend lines kept going down. Last year it was the exact opposite. Despite an average winter and a record amount of first-year ice, the start to the melting season was so cold and cloudy that the 2-3 weeks of weather conducive to sea ice decrease (high temps, lots of sunshine) later on, just weren’t enough to make the melting season get into the top 3 of lowest minimums.


One Response to “NSIDC: 2014 Sea Ice Max Reached”

  1. chasingice Says:

    2014 is NOT starting out well if you love Arctic ice.

    The small rally in the middle of March is no match for the above average temperatures that are hammering the Arctic pretty much non-stop since the beginning of the year.

    Many people are calling for a record low, and if temperatures remain on the high side like they have been, we could very well see the lowest minimum extent ever recorded.

    This following link is a really good bookmark, as it updates daily, and allows you to watch the temperature throughout the year in the Arctic. You can see that all of 2014 has been above average.

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