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Arctic Sea Ice Reaches New Low


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arctic-sea-ice-2012The cap of ice that sits atop the North Pole has shrunk to a record extent—and there is likely still more melting to come before the end of the summer of 2012. As of August 26, Arctic sea ice extent had shrunk to 4.1 million square kilometers, below the previous record minimum of 4.17 million square kilometers set on September 18, 2007.

A burst of melting in early August appears to have been the cause, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. At present, the sea ice seems to be losing an area  the size of South Carolina each day—roughly 75,000 square kilometers—nearly double the usual rate observed in satellite images since 1979.

arctic-sea-ice-extent-graphThis is no surprise, given that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases due to fossil fuel burning, forest clearing and other activities have brought about a rapidly warming Arctic. Each year from 2007 through  2012 has ranked among the lowest sea ice extents on record—and with a few weeks left in the season, it is likely that 2012 will far surpass the previous record. That’s good news for oil companies and others (like the Chinese) looking to explore Arctic waterways for shorter shipping routes and more of the fossil fuels causing climate change in the first place. It’s bad news for those who rely on sea ice, whether the peoples of the Arctic or the polar bears.

2012-sea-ice-extent-comparisonImages: Courtesy of NSIDC

About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Trent1492 6:07 pm 08/27/2012

    @Jctylyer,

    Please do not lump me in with those other listed morons. I have long opposed the propaganda of those nitwits.

    Yet this a a good opportunity to mention that the fake skeptics have been claiming that arctic sea ice was in a recovery.

    “The ice is coming back, will do so in forward and back steps, with forward defeating the back steps. I am on record as saying we will be back to 1977 levels by 2030″

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/11/23/joe-bastardis-2011-arctic-sea-ice-prediction/

    Every time these fake skeptics go out on a limb and make a prediction they fail hard.

    Link to this
  2. 2. priddseren 7:09 pm 08/27/2012

    Shrinking to its lowest extent(not volume) as measured by currently tailored statistical models, which can easily account for the difference.

    I would think the record for the lowest sea ice extent would be the PETM of 56 million years ago, where there was no sea ice at all and the average polar temperature was in the high 70s and the average CO2 concentration was over 1500 ppm, both totally natural(yeah guess what we humans were not around for the PETM so we didn’t build that) and far higher than any global warming prediction.

    So it is probably accurate to say that we have a smaller polar ice cap this summer. To claim it is caused by evil human generated global warming is a stretch of statistical models, when we have evidence of other melts such as greenland, which occur every 150 years. It stands to reason a similar pattern could exist for the entire arctic. To claim this is the smallest polar ice cap ever is an outright fabrication intended to create panic over a theory with questionable data as proof. Nothing like declarations of Armageddon to get around pesky issues like real facts and instead get people to rely on faith in computer models.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Trent1492 8:03 pm 08/27/2012

    Prideseren Ignorantly Spouts: Shrinking to its lowest extent(not volume) as measured by currently tailored statistical models, which can easily account for the difference.|

    Trent Says: These are direct observations from satellites and other instruments.

    Prideseren Says: I would think the record for the lowest sea ice extent would be the PETM of 56 million years ago, where there was no sea ice at all and the average polar temperature was in the high 70s and the average CO2 concentration was over 1500 ppm, both totally natural.|

    Trent Says: Yes, and you have think a return to the PETM is going to be good for civilization, why?

    Prideseren Says:(yeah guess what we humans were not around for the PETM so we didn’t build that) and far higher than any global warming prediction.|

    Trent Says: Well, ignoring your utter ignorance of the fact that we can distinguish between CO2 of anthropogenic sources and natural emissions you seem to be laboring under the delusion since warming has occurred in the past naturally that somehow that precludes humans beings being responsible for warming now. Perfectly illogical.

    > To claim it is caused by evil human generated global warming is a stretch of statistical models,…|

    Wrong. Physics predicted this and physics explains it.

    Observations Reveal External Driver for Arctic Sea-Ice Retreat:

    Abstract:
    “We find that the available observations are sufficient to virtually exclude internal variability and self-acceleration as an explanation for the observed long-term trend, clustering, and magnitude of recent sea-ice minima. Instead, the recent retreat is well described by the superposition of an externally forced linear trend and internal variability. For the externally forced trend, we only find a physically plausible strong correlation with increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration. Our results hence show that the observed evolution of Arctic sea-ice extent is consistent with the claim that virtually certainly the impact of an anthropogenic climate change is observable in Arctic sea ice already today.”

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2012GL051094.shtml

    So now you have no more excuse for your ignorance.

    Prideseren Vomits Forth: When we have evidence of other melts such as greenland, which occur every 150 years.

    Trent Says: What is going on here is that it should not really be characterized as occurring every 150 years, but that the mean average gives a figure of 150 years. Yet, that does not quite capture the reality either. Here is a paleoclimatic graph:
    http://www.gisp2.sr.unh.edu/DATA/alley1.html of the melt years for central Greenland. Note that there is not really a 150 year period. Here is the paper that that graph comes from:

    Variations in melt-layer frequency in the GISP2 ice core:
    implications for Holocene summer temlperatures in
    central Greenland:
    http://www.igsoc.org/annals.old/21/igs_annals_vol21_year1995_pg64-70.pdf)

    “Abstract: The rare melt features in the GISP2, central Greenland deep ice core have decreased in frequency over the most recent 7000 years. Calibration of this change in melt frequency against modern spatial variation of melt frequency and temperature in central Greenland, and against modern temporal variability of temperatures in central Greenland, indicates that mean mid-summer temperatures have cooled over the most recent 7000 years, probably by slightly more than I C if variability of summer temperatures has not changed.”

    Them the facts. To bad you will never absorb them.

    Link to this
  4. 4. singing flea 10:00 pm 08/27/2012

    “Shrinking to its lowest extent(not volume) as measured by currently tailored statistical models, which can easily account for the difference.”

    No priddy, you don’t get the prize for planned obfuscation and bastardization of the facts. Sen. Atkins already won it last week.

    You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.

    The fact that two historical lows happened in a period of just 5 years is what deniers call a lucky coincidence. Their leaders point out that this is a fortunate opportunity to pump out more of the hydrocarbons that caused the mess, while the release of methane also goes up. It’s what they call science by proxy, the proxy being the international money market.

    When another devastating hurricane hits the gulf coast this week, and the price of fuel goes up because the oil indusrty was once again unprepared, the industry leaders will party in Tampa because they have another excuse to stick it to the rest of us.

    Teaching real science to a GOPer is like teaching an ape ballet. First you have to teach them how to stop dragging their knuckles.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Xentropa 11:39 pm 08/27/2012

    “Shrinking to its lowest extent(not volume) as measured by currently tailored statistical models, which can easily account for the difference.”

    When the ambient temperature rapidly drops in the Arctic, the water towards the surface would freeze first and spread outwards. This is also accelerated by the low humidity and high thermal conductivity of the air. Deep in the water the thermal capacity of water is pretty high and is kept warm by geothermal contact with the ocean floor as well as being shielded by layers of water from the surface of the cold air.

    In other words: in the Arctic, ice does not form towards deep in the ocean it forms at the surface of the ocean and spreads outward and deep down. The lack of spread and formation of ice is a clear indication that the average temperature of the entire Earth has probably increased.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Dredd 9:37 am 08/28/2012

    An ex-prosecutor who is now a criminal defense lawyer wrote a piece entitled “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as ‘Psychopaths’”.

    A substantial number of these folks are in the U.S. House of Representatives, and are deniers of science.

    http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-peak-of-sanity-5.html

    Link to this
  7. 7. singing flea 10:53 am 08/28/2012

    “The ice is coming back, will do so in forward and back steps, with forward defeating the back steps. I am on record as saying we will be back to 1977 levels by 2030″

    Those forward and back steps are year to year not decade to decade. That is what we call weather and influenced by local weather changes and wind patterns. The effects of greenhouse gas created climate changes is cumulative, not cyclical in the short run. The cyclical nature of climate is based on Milankovich cycles of the earths precession, and other orbital variations, none of which happen in just a few decades.

    As for the quote from Joe Bastardi, once again I can only say people need to check the source. Bastardi is a self declared AGW skeptic. Why do you think WUWT pays attention to him? In the realm of climatologists his beliefs(which is all they really are) put him in the 1% who are in denial in the climate science academia.

    His charts reflect only the past fluctuations. They do not account for feedback loops that are already becoming more influential then even the mainstream scientists predicted.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Chris G 11:40 am 08/28/2012

    Prid: “Shrinking to its lowest extent(not volume)…”

    Here are the numbers on volume. I’m not sure how he derives encouragement from them.

    http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/

    Yeap, the last time the Arctic was ice free was when there was a different set of species on the planet, notably, no humans.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Trent1492 11:47 am 08/28/2012

    @Singing Flea,

    The Denialsphere has only been actively blogging for the past seven years. As time passes their fallacious predictions are coming home to roost. Bastardi’s erroneous predictions are just the tip of the rapidly melting misinformation iceberg they have been peddling. Remember when they were predicting an imminent cooling phase? They don’t but the Internet forgets nothing.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Trent1492 2:27 pm 08/28/2012

    I can not believe I am approvingly quoting Steve Mosher, but Mosher (Spit be upon him) said:

    “you will know you’re a fake skeptic if you try to struggle with the fact of their being less ice in the arctic. You will know your are struggling with that fact if you.

    1. start to question every metric you’ve relied on in the past.

    2. change the topic to the south pole.

    3. Blame things that cant melt ice (like wind). heat melts ice.

    4. search around feverishly for one chart that supports your position.

    5. Forget your own mistakes and focus on others.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/08/27/sea-ice-news-volume-3-number-10-part-1-new-arctic-extent-record/#comment-1066025

    Go figure.

    Link to this
  11. 11. HubertB 10:50 am 08/29/2012

    There is a greenhouse gas in the arctic. It is methane. It comes from Siberia. It results from soot from the factories of China falling on the tundra. Soot causes permafrost to melt and release methane.
    While it is politically correct to blame carbon dioxide for all greenhouse effects, such is not the case. Political correctness demands Californians blame carbon dioxide for the desertification caused by their misuse of water. Political correctness demands that only carbon dioxide be labeled a green house even though methane would be a far more powerful green house gas if it could be so labeled. In fact if it were politically correct, there is enough methane being released from Siberia to raise the temperature of the Arctic.
    Soon the temperature of that area will be warm enough to make the ice cap melt. That will mean the end of polar bears. Polar bears evolved some 600,000 years ago. The world was warm enough to melt the polar ice cap 11,000 years ago and during the days of the Roman Empire. Polar bears also went extinct then.
    It is politically incorrect to put pressure on China to reduce pollution.
    Meanwhile the oceans will continue to become more acidic because of carbon dioxide. Therefore, governments do not need to force factories to install scrubbers to remove sulphur dioxide and trioxide from factory emissions. Ocean acidification is not being caused by sulphuric acid, a far more powerful acid. It is caused by carbon dioxide, something more easily taxed.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Dredd 12:13 pm 08/30/2012

    The 2012 Republican platform states:

    “The environment is getting cleaner and healthier. The nation’s air and waterways, as a whole, are much healthier than they were just a few decades ago. Efforts to reduce pollution, encourage recycling, educate the public, and avoid ecological degradation have been a success.”

    Anyone know what planet they are talking about?

    http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-right-is-wrong-3.html

    Link to this
  13. 13. bigtruck797 6:34 pm 08/30/2012

    HubertB If polar bears went extinct 11,000 years ago or during the Roman empire why are there polar bears today? They couldn’t have re-evolved that fast.

    Link to this
  14. 14. qapmoc 12:46 pm 09/2/2012

    You know it is a pity that one or two full time anti-climate guys paid by the various industries can out blog you genuine guys on many web sites who only have your spare time for blogs such as this.

    Link to this
  15. 15. DrJehr1 6:00 pm 09/6/2012

    To the climate change deniers: Please stop talking about 56 million years ago. Yes, the earth was warmer then. The earth has been much hotter and colder than now. My concern (and I assume that of most others) is to have a climate which is consistent with keeping all of us alive and comfortable. This summer we suffered through losing 20% of our corn crop due to excessive heat and drought in the midwest, which will cost each of us about $600-$800 in increased food prices. This happened after only 0.8 degrees of planet warming. Please try to imagine the heat and drought which will be happening when the planet has warmed a full 8.0 degrees.

    The earth will be fine. Many species will become extinct, but many more will just adapt. Yes we will probably lose polar bears and I, for one, am greatly saddened by this, but I’ll get over it. The question isn’t, “will the earth survive?”, or is it, “will we survive?” it is, “HOW will we survive.” How many millions will die of starvation? What will happen when we lose 80% of the corn crop instead of just 20% ? What will happen when coastal cities start to flood? How many times will we rebuild them before we abandon them to the sea? How much money will we waste? How many lives will be lost? How many billions will we spend to build levies to protect the coasts before we give up and let the sea take them. What will happen to all the people living in south florida when it’s under water? How will they be resettled? What will be the costs of that? Humans can adapt to living almost anywhere. Just travel a bit and visit subsaharan africa, or northern alaska. Our concern is that our lives of comfort and plenty are in jeopardy.

    The above is fact; now for my opinion. Personally, it is my opinion that it is far cheaper to stop using fossil fuels than to suffer the consequences. Just looking at the increased cost of food, the cost of repairing the damage due to increased severe storms, floods and draughts (not to mention the cost of resettling the majority of our population who live along the coast) should offset the increased cost of green energy, and eventually, we should actually save money. I installed a solar water heater which paid for itself three times over before I had to move. Simple things like that can create a great start. The promise of green energy is that although there are large startup costs, the continuing cost of energy are lower that that of using fossil fuels.

    To Trent1492: choosing a date such as 2030 before you’re convinced is a little foolish. (I assume that if sea ice is gone by 2030 you will join us – after all, you’re on record that it will be back to normal.) If we were magically able to stop dumping CO2 into the atmosphere today the earth will continue to warm for 40 years because of all the CO2 we’ve dumped already. Waiting another 20 years before you begin to see reality will be too late. In the past, slow learners were weeded out by natural selection. People who lived in areas which started to become deserts and were quick learners left and survived. Those who were insistent that things would return to the past died. We are using almost all of the fertile available soil to produce the food to feed the billions we have today, and the population is growing. There are no better fields to move to. Unfortunately, we are all hostage to each other. We must all wake up or suffer the consequences.

    Link to this

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