The Arctic Sea Ice extent is currently the lowest on record for any January 2nd since the satellite series started forty years ago. To be fair this season has been playing nip and tuck with last season (fig 2), but at the moment the 12.542 million square kilometers, which is 90.6% of the average for this day, is slightly lower than the 12.614 at the same time last year (fig 1). This news caught me out a little, because the last time I looked sea ice extent in the Arctic was holding up quite well. The reason behind this is probably down to the fact that the Arctic has been even milder than usual and had a bad Christmas, a bit like the sales figures at Debenhams.
It might be thinner than ever, but Arctic sea ice this Autumn is doing much better than it did last year, with the sea ice extents up by around 800,000 square kilometres at 88.2% of the 1981-2010 long-term average, compared with being only 81.0% of average in November 2016 (fig 1).
In the Antarctic things are also not quite as dire as they were last Autumn, and although this Autumns sea ice extent is tracking well below the x 2 standard deviation area (light grey) at 91.6% of the 1981-2010 long-term average, it’s almost a million square kilometres higher than at the same time last year (fig 2).
There’s the usual ring of abnormally high positive temperature anomalies around the Arctic at the start of November (fig 1). I had a theory that the largest anomalies were located in areas of open water where no sea ice had formed, but this theory doesn’t look too plausible judging by the latest sea ice extent chart (fig 2). I notice that the recent cold weather in Canada has encouraged early ice formation around the coast of the Hudson Bay, but the area to the north of the Chukchi sea look severely depleted of any sea ice again for this time of the year.
I might be jumping the gun here but…
I think the Arctic sea ice minimum as measured by the NSIDC, reached its summer minimum on September 12th at 4.611 million square kilometres, making 2017 the 8th lowest minimum in the satellite series that started in 1978. The value was over 500,000 square kilometres higher than last years minimum. I’ll bring you the latest news from the Antarctic about the maximum, because the season down there has still not quite finished.
If you read the blog the expectation of the Arctic mission was to reach 90° north in the late summer, in the end they reached 80° 10″ before skedaddling back south. Here’s an extract from the mission blog:-
Last summer (2016), we reviewed a range of satellite-generated images of the Arctic Ocean’s sea-ice cover, and believed there was a reasonable possibility of reaching 88N.
We monitored the satellite-observed sea-ice cover from November 2016 through to March 2017, which indicated less sea ice had formed in each month since records began in 1979. We concluded it may prove possible to reach 90N in the late summer of 2017.
If someone’s exclusive objective had been to go as far north as possible, undertaking no science and with a higher tolerance of risk regarding entrapment, they may have reached closer to 86N this season.
The day we reached 80N, strong NW winds to our north could have opened up the existing ice-free channels to beyond 85N. But within 24 hours the opposite happened, contrary to opinion onboard and ashore, and it was deemed prudent to head south and continue our scientific work in the CAO away from the highly concentrated ice.
It’s worth noting that detailed forecasts of sea-ice movements and ice-types are not available, and ice concentrations vary can dramatically day-to-day (notably due to surface winds and currents), so knowing which year is going to be the year to reach 90N is more by practical trial than infinite analysis. We believe 90N will likely be reached by sail-boat sooner than later.
I think they literally took the sea ice extent charts from the NSIDC (which outlines the extent of sea ice with concentrations greater than 15%), and thought that the dark blue was open water (fig 2). When they did reach the white bit on the map in their yachts, how did they expect to get the remaining 600 miles without the aid of an ice breaker? They were, and still are naive to think that they could have ever gone further north than they did. To my mind the whole thing was just an elaborate publicity exercise. I don’t believe that the ‘scientific research’ that they did will add a lot to what we already know about life in the Arctic Ocean, we already have research vessels that do that each summer, and much more thoroughly I suspect, but the images they took of the Polar bear family clinging to an ice floes were unexpected!
The irony is, that at the same time this publicity stunt of Pen Hadow’s was playing out, the Arctic sea ice which is close to its minimum for this summer, is bucking the trend, with more than 500,000 square kilometres than at the same time last year. I personally think that it will be a very long time before anyone can sail to the North Pole.
The Arctic Ocean has proved many pundits wrong about a record low minimum sea ice extent this summer, including me! My forecast projections for the minimum extent this summer was 3.7 million square kilometres, low but not a record. That forecast which I made in April, looks likely to be out by some 800,000 square kilometres if the sea ice extent bottoms out at 4.5 million square kilometres as looks likely. The Arctic sea ice figures on face value look much healthier than they did last summer to the tune of 500,000 square kilometres. In fact 2017 is now only the sixth lowest extent for the 1st of September, and don’t forget that on the 5th of March this year they were the lowest. So the Arctic this year, for whatever reasons, has managed to keep a lot more of its sea ice than was ever expected. The season still has a couple of more weeks to run, because the average minimum in the Arctic is not till the 11th of September, but I can’t see a catastrophic collapse happening in the next few weeks.
From reading the Arctic Mission blog it looks even more apparent that the BBC headline of a few weeks ago about the Arctic Mission of Pen Hadow Sailing to the North Pole as Arctic ice melts was just as it seemed at the time – completely unrealistic – even fake news of a kind. They’ve now at around 79° north and had their first sight of broken sea ice, and recently seen four Polar Bear’s who look remarkably healthy and are managing to survive on a small patch of sea ice in an Arctic Ocean that’s 98% open water, and it’s now time to do the science whatever that is. Maybe that’s just a euphemism for taking some video and heading back south to Nome, which now looks as if it was the goal of the mission all along, sail as far north as you can, and then return the way you came. Regarding the Polar Bears was a big surprise as even Pen Hadow admitted in his blog: –
Within 24 hours, we saw the FOUR polar bears on ONE ice floe! I confess even I was astonished!
I’d like to bet that this story alone just has to get some air time on the BBC news this Bank Holiday.
This image (fig 2) must have been taken by a drone, as they are moored their two yachts to an ice flow. It’s funny, when I look at the sea ice charts from the NSIDC as I’ve been doing for the last 5 years or more, you get the impression from the sea ice extent charts that the rest of the Arctic ocean is ice-free, when what the charts are telling you is that there maybe a lot of broken sea ice which covers less than 15% of the sea’s surface, which is exactly the part of the Arctic Ocean that the Arctic Mission is in now. These charts are a very valuable resource, but the estimates that they offer as to the area covered by sea ice are still rather crude.
I notice that there’s mention of rough seas and sea sickness in the blog, and the air temperature is now down to -4°C, now that they’ve reached 79° north and paused to do their science. I just can’t see them staying out there for another 22 days before they head for home.