Arctic Sea Ice Watch


One of the predictions of the climate change models is that temperatures will rise faster at the poles than in the temperate and tropic regions. Last year the extent of summer Arctic sea ice dropped to a record low. A new report from the European Space Agency suggests that that low might be shattered this year:

Following last summer's record minimum ice cover in the Arctic, current observations from ESA's Envisat satellite suggest that the extent of polar sea-ice may again shrink to a level very close to that of last year.

Envisat observations from mid-August depict that a new record of low sea-ice coverage could be reached in a matter of weeks. The animation above is a series of mosaics of the Arctic Ocean created from images acquired between early June and mid-August 2008 from the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument aboard Envisat. The dark grey colour represents ice-free areas while blue represents areas covered with sea ice.

Direct route through the Northwest Passage

Current ice coverage in the Arctic has already reached the second absolute minimum since observations from space began 30 years ago. Because the extent of ice cover is usually at its lowest about mid-September, this year's minimum could still fall to set another record low.

Each year, the Arctic Ocean experiences the formation and then melting of vast amounts of ice that floats on the sea surface. An area of ice the size of Europe melts away every summer reaching a minimum in September. Since satellites began surveying the Arctic in 1978, there has been a regular decrease in the area covered by ice in summer – with ice cover shrinking to its lowest level on record and opening up the most direct route through the Northwest Passage in September 2007.

Press release here. More ESA images here. I'll let you know what happens in September.

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  1. Ron,

    Wasn’t there a record refreeze last winter? Further, since records have only been kept since 1978, how is this record really that meaningful? Before the flamewar over global warming starts, could you please explain the significance of this?

  2. Deniers to the left.
    Alarmists to the right.
    No hitting below the belt, no hair pulling or eye gouging.

  3. Duh!

    It’s melting because Sarah Palin’s been up for 2 years.


  4. I dunno John, was there a record freeze last year? I googled it and found this:

    So there was an unusual freeze in the Western US. That sounds more like weather and less like climate, no? I would think that it is less important than average temperatures over a wide area. Remember that some theorize that global warming will alter climate patterns, potentially dropping temps in some areas while raising them overall.

  5. “an area of ice the size of Europe melts away every summer reaching a minimum in September”

    How come sea levels don’t rise 20 feet once a year and wipe out all the coastal cities. Every year.

  6. My guess is that the size of the ice at the other pole probably grows a bit.

  7. How come sea levels don’t rise 20 feet once a year and wipe out all the coastal cities. Every year.

    Ice that’s floating in water (ie, arctic ice) does not change the level of the water when it melts.

    It’s only ice that’s on land (Antarctica with a firm number one, and Greenland in a distant second) that melts and runs into the sea that raises sea levels.

    Want to do some SCIENCE? This is something that you can empirically demonstrate in your own home with nothing more than some ice cubes and a measuring cup.

  8. So ice on land doesn’t melt and reform seasonally?

  9. What’s the market-based solution?

  10. My impression is that ice on land experiences considerably less seasonal melting and refreezing. Obviously, there is some. But I think that being in the water allows warm currents to attack the ice from below, and then the floating ice breaks apart and exposes more surface area, which speeds the melting process.

    By contrast, on land, large, more-or-less static glaciers insulate the overwhelming majority of the ice away from warm air, and so it remains frozen.

    (Contrawise, of course, in the winter, the ocean is full of water to be refrozen into ice, while even very cold temperatures in Antarctica don’t add much ice because, you know, there’s no source of water to be frozen).

  11. There is an implied “See, I told ya” in this piece that is out of place. Even if the arctic is warmer, it does not follow that humans or that CO2 caused it. If CO2 is rising, it could be because there is more warm sea water to emit CO2. And precious climate change models predict most intense warming at BOTH poles. Any theory that predicts things that are not happening is suspect.

  12. We could tie monetary values to polar ice (ice standard) that way as the ice melts our dollar looses value, thus incentivising polar ice production.

  13. So ice on land doesn’t melt and reform seasonally?

    Sure it does. Each hemisphere freezes while the other melts.

  14. So there was an unusual freeze in the Western US. That sounds more like weather and less like climate, no?

    What’s the difference?

  15. Last I heard there were record ice builds in Antarctica?

    piper sums it up best. Correlation does not prove causation. But since we have Americans graduating high school that don’t know the difference between a median and a mean, I suspect you can continue to fool the general public with spurious correlations.

  16. The Arctic Ice better recognize who is boss. If we allow it to refuse to melt, the next thing you know it will be trying to reclaim break-away provinces.

  17. Why is this a problem again?

  18. Anyway, speaking of ice, did anyone notice Al Gore’s sprint-of-a-speech last night? Talk about the Forgotten Man. Saint Al had a train to catch (wind-powered, of course) and left observers to ask: Who was that fat man?

  19. America needs a candidate with executive experience in governing Arctic areas to deal with any potential problems.

  20. Looks like I need to start planting them white daisies again, hopefully without the black mold this time.

  21. When ice on land melts, the meltwater flows down into the ocean. When winter comes again, the melted ice simply isn’t there anymore to be refrozen.

    Regenerating the ice pack on land can only occur through snowfall, which there isn’t much of in the Arctic.

  22. No one’s explained why my idea of towing broken-off Greenland icebergs to the Morocco coast, chopping them up, and helicoptering them over the Atlas Mountains and dumping them in the Sahara to keep them from melting into the ocean won’t work.

    It sounds “crazy”, but as the singer named after an Arctic mammal says, that’s the only way we’ll ever survive.

  23. Wow, its pretty sad isnt it. One just has to wonder how much more Mother Earth will take.


  24. It now appears there has been no warming for the last 10 years. (Data at And even if there is warming, the questions of whether it’s man made, how much harm it could do, how much would be prevented by huge sacrifices like Kyoto, and especially whether it would be more cost effective to try mitigation schemes such as Benford’s boatload of iron filings, all have not been adequately answered.

    Author Bailey’s apparent overnight transformation from skeptic to disciple (without any serious attempt to answer any of these questions) is so out of character that I can only wonder who’s blackmailing him. Does Al Gore have your heart in a jar in his safe?

  25. “If CO2 is rising, it could be because there is more warm sea water to emit CO2.”

    Hi, Tom. Interesting idea – but have you considered whether there is a way to check on your speculation?

    Of course there is: if the oceans were, on a net basis, emitting CO2 (that is, a “source” of CO2), then ocean levels of CO2 would be FALLING; instead, the ocean is still acting as a SINK for atmospheric CO2, by absorbing it and becoming more acidic (CO2 + H2O + carbonic acid; you know, that stuff in fizzy drinks that bottlers put into it by adding CO2).

  26. Why does anyone care? We already there was less sea ice in the late 1920s.

    As long as the Antarctic ice cap doesn’t melt (and it won’t, because there’s land under it) it’s a nonissue.

  27. And even if there is warming, the questions of whether it’s man made, how much harm it could do, how much would be prevented by huge sacrifices like Kyoto

    At this point, the argument seems to be “Well, just to be on the safe side, let’s throw the virgins into the volcano anyway.”

  28. Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season plummeted to the lowest levels since satellite measurements began in 1979

    The key word there is “1979.” This was the timeframe that Newsweek was running stories about “global cooling” and Al Gore’s bff James Hansen was writing code that proved global cooling (like global warming now) was caused by man-made pollution.

    So, this proves recent times are warmer than its been since 1979. Again, why would we care?

  29. From what I’ve read Arctic scientist say that a shit in polar wind direction is more responsible for the melt than actual temperature rise.

  30. LBJay : There’s shit in our polar winds?!

    I for one, think something needs to be done before fecal gales reach us.

  31. Perhaps we can save some time and effort and just sum up the deniers’ progression of arguments in a few easy steps:

    1. There is no global warming
    2. OK, maybe there’s some warming, but its just a part of the natural cycle
    3. Maybe there’s too much warming to be attributed to the normal cycle, but there’s no proof its man made
    4. So there’s now overwhelming data that shows direct correlation between temp increase and industrialization, but correlation does not equate to cause, so it could totally be a coincidence
    5. So all other possible causes have been ruled out, and global warming is obviously man made – but there’s no proof that policies to curb emissions

  32. Whoops. Accidentally hit “submit” before finished..

    5. …there’s no proof that policies to curb emissions actually work
    6. So there’s proof that curbing policies work, but are a few extra degrees really worth threatening business profits and consumer choice?
    7. AAAAAH! It’s the end of the world! If only we had had some warning. God must be punishing us for our socialist economic policies/acceptance of homosexuality/equality of women/insert scapegoat here…

    That should cover it for the next several decades. See you all in hell…

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