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NSIDC Update: Arctic Ocean Losing 4.75% of Ice per Decade

The value of well-funded science is that it produces sustained observations over long periods, not just when an issue is hot.  I am appreciative of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, funded by NASA, NOAA and the National Science Foundation with the task of tracking the state of the cryosphere (Earth’s frozen places). As part of their scientific work, the team at the NSIDC just released new data, current through just two days ago, describing the extent of Arctic sea ice, both in absolute terms (Y axis) and relative terms (the 1981-2010 average).

As you can see, the 2015 Arctic Ocean sea ice extent has consistently fallen well below the old norm in this season of thickening ice:

NSIDC Sea Ice Extent for December 31, 2015

The latest monthly summary by NSIDC (current through the end of November) displays the trend in sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean for the month of November reaching all the way back to 1979 (actual data observations in black, best fit line in blue):

Arctic Sea Ice Extent for November, 1979-2015

The rate of Arctic sea ice loss over the last 36 years (the blue line in the graph) is 4.75% per decade. We can argue about the substantive significance of this trend, but the trend itself is firmly established thanks to the dogged work of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

11 thoughts on “NSIDC Update: Arctic Ocean Losing 4.75% of Ice per Decade”

  1. Leroy says:

    The loss of sea ice in the Artic has implications that a great many people don’t grasp simply because they have little knowledge of this particular topic.

    The Gulf Stream.

    “The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The process of western intensification causes the Gulf Stream to be a northward accelerating current off the east coast of North America. At about 40°0′N 30°0′W, it splits in two, with the northern stream crossing to Northern Europe and the southern stream recirculating off West Africa.

    The Gulf Stream influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. Although there has been recent debate, there is consensus that the climate of Western Europe and Northern Europe is warmer than it would otherwise be due to the North Atlantic drift, one of the branches from the tail of the Gulf Stream…. The Gulf Stream is typically 100 kilometres (62 mi) wide and 800 metres (2,600 ft) to 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) deep. The current velocity is fastest near the surface, with the maximum speed typically about 2.5 metres per second (5.6 mph).”

    The melting of the Arctic Sea ice occurred minimally in the past and it’s occurrence was due – to a very large measure – from the influence of the northern arm of the Gulf Stream in the warm months primarily). Now, due to Climate Change, the Arctic Sea is ice free during much of the summer and has minimal surface ice now even in winter months.

    This has created the scientific phenomena of the Arctic dipole anomaly.

    The Arctic dipole lets even more southern winds into the Arctic ocean in the warm months (of which there are more of now, due to Climate Change) resulting in more ice melting. The lack of sea ice in the Arctic has a “double whammy”. As the ice doesn’t keep the comparatively much colder waters locked in, those colder water rush (literally) towards in Equator regions which pushes the path of the Gulf Stream to the south (which causes it to now curve inwards at the tail end out to sea rather than into Europe). This was observed for the first time in the early 2000s (with some researchers feeling possibly the very late 1990s).

    The Arctic dipole has also been linked to changes in arctic circulation patterns that cause drier winters in very Northern Europe (mainly Scandinavian regions), but much wetter winters in Southern Europe.

    Equally important, it also causes much colder winters in Europe and the eastern coastal areas of North America. The effect of The Gulf Stream in warming areas of the northern part of the American East Coast is noticeable. But more primarily the UK, western, central, and (to a lesser effect) eastern Europe this Arctic dipole anomaly effect has been and is immense.

    If one looks at a map where one can see Europe and North America, it is shocking how far north many of the major European cities are.

    On a comparison, in Canada the city of Montreal is at a latitude of 43 degrees (about even with central Maine) and the city of Edmonton is at a latitude of 53 degrees. Churchill, Manitoba (on the SOUTHERN shore of the Hudson Bay is at 58 degrees latitude.

    In the United States, Columbus, Ohio is at 39 degrees latitude, New York City is at 40 degrees latitude, Boston is at 42 degrees latitude, Chicago is at 43 degrees latitude, and Duluth, Minnesota is at 46 degrees latitude.

    Now for Europe:

    – Madrid, Spain is at 40 degrees latitude (same as NYC)

    – Lisbon, Portugal is at

    – Rome, Italy is at 41 degrees latitude.

    – Paris, France is at 48 degrees latitude (further north than Duluth).

    – Berlin, Germany is at 52 degrees latitude (basically as far north as Edmonton).

    – Amsterdam, Netherlands is also at 52 degrees latitude.

    – London, England is at 51 degrees latitude.

    – Dublin, Ireland is at 53 degrees latitude.

    – Edinburgh, Scotland is at 55 degrees latitude.

    Now compare the NORMAL climates of the European cities with their closest latitude counterpart in Canada or the United States.

    So what we’ve been seeing in drastic winter weather patterns in much of Europe over the last twenty years has been due to this Arctic dipole “anomaly” (which unfortunately is becoming less of an anomaly and more the norm – and due to Climate Change.).

    What gets added in this year (more so for the United States, southern Canada, Central America, and the northern tier of South America) has been the addition – for several months now, and for several months to go – a record-breaking El Nino. The old record was set in 1997 (which handily broke the prior record set in 1982). In 1997, that El Nino peaked (water temperature in its core path) on November 5th. The temperatures stabilized there for a few weeks, dipped a bit and stabilized there for several weeks and then began a months long gradual decline (a normal pattern). On November 4th this year the current El Nino had long since passed by the strength level recorded 18 years earlier… and is STILL climbing.

  2. Al Hopfmann says:

    Now show a chart about the Antarctic ice.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      I have in the past, and you can find a chart at the NSIDC too. The Antarctic ice is gaining in extent in recent years, which is quite interesting in terms of regional climate.

  3. ella says:

    Finally articles are coming out about the 50 degree rise in North Pole temperature during the Goliath winter storm. It ws brief, but the temperature was above freezing at the North Pole.

  4. Bruce Nappi says:

    I see the graph. The data you grabbed was from The 4.5% per decade number is right for that data. But that chart is for December only data. If you look at the chart at the upper right of that page, it shows that the biggest decrease concern is for mid Sept. On page it gives a different number, “Through 2015, Arctic sea ice has now been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. The nine lowest September ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred in the last nine years.” A 13.4% per decade puts us at zero in 73 years. The reason I’m sure they are concerned is that, with all that dark water opening up, the curve won’t stay linear.
    Another problem with area data is that it doesn’t tell what’s happening to thickness. The ice can thin without showing an area effect. But the thickness stores a lot refrigerant ice. If that thins, then once it starts to break up, it goes much faster.
    Since you’re following this, keep an eye out for a summary which gives their “overall” best estimate.

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