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Climate Change

Published on March 12th, 2016 | by Guest Contributor


The Arctic’s Rapid Sea Ice Decline

March 12th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Sustainnovate.
By Henry Lindon

As the vast majority reading this already know, this year’s winter has been quite strange — with temperatures throughout much of the northern hemisphere being considerably higher than at any other time since high-accuracy records began over a hundred years ago.

Accompanying the rather strangely warm winter, reports of record-low levels of Arctic sea ice have been making the rounds lately — with January and February 2016 both seeing new record seasonal lows set.

Part of what’s been driving this rapid decline in Arctic sea ice extent has been the collapse of sea ice age in the region — in other words, the extent of thicker, older ice in the Arctic Ocean has been declining rapidly. This sets the stage for faster and more extensive melting and disintegration during the summer months — as younger, thinner sea ice melts far faster and easier than older ice does.

The video above showcases this change in sea ice age. Roughly 30 years ago (1985), old sea ice (older than 4 years) comprised around 20% of total Arctic sea ice pack. Now that figure resides around 3%. As an inverse of that situation, young ice comprised around 50% of Arctic sea ice pack in 1985, but now it comprises around 70%.

With the speed of the changes that are occurring in the Arctic, it probably won’t be all that long until the summers are essentially sea-ice free in the region.

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  • vensonata

    Wow! Outstanding. A must watch.

  • Nolan Thiessen

    Really great to see the age of the ice taken into account in the animation. Those who deny sea ice melting focus only on area of ice, but never take into account the volume, mass, or age. As my former climatology professor (seen below doing a TEDx talk about his research) said “Ice that was once solid as a rock is now so thin and crispy it doesn’t even slow down our boat. The idea that ice cover is any indication of the health of the arctic is simply a fool’s tale.”

    • Bob_Wallace

      The most important metric for Arctic sea ice is volume. Winters continue to be cold enough to freeze much of the sea surface but over years we are losing ice. The average thickness at peak freeze continues to shrink.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Volume was up in 2013 and 2014 but has now returned to the average decrease line. Look at the PIOMAS volume for February 2015. (Fourth line down, light green.)

        Arctic sea ice extent is at a record low for this year’s freeze. It’s more than two standard deviations below the 1981 to 2010 mean. The quality of the ice is crap, especially on the Atlantic side. The ice is very broken up and large amounts of thicker ice are flowing out through the Fram Strait into the warmer Atlantic where it quickly melts.

        • eveee

          Bob – Great graphs, thanks.The absurdly warm Arctic is one for the record books.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Check this one…

            Someone named Andrew Slater has been plotting freezing day anonomily for the Arctic. Recently the data fell below the lowest limit he had used on his graph and Neven at the Arctic Sea Ice forum added the Terra inCognita extension.

            If people want more information on the Arctic melt this is a good source. Lots of knowledgeable contributors and excellent troll suppression.


            The dashed line in the sea ice extent graph is 2012, the record lowest Arctic sea ice extent in human history. Late in the year there was a persistent storm that created lots of melting (ice/wave movement results in mixing upper cold water with lower depth warmer water). With the crappy condition of this year’s ice a similar storm could essentially melt out the ice by the end of the melting season.

            It’s going to be an interesting year to watch. For those who would just like to see how the season is developing here’s a good site –



          • eveee

            The news about Arctic Sea Ice and February being the warmest month ever recorded underscore a renewed urgency to respond to GW.

    • vensonata

      This guy is great. Beautiful professorial delivery from 30 years of lecturing and a complete hands on knowledge of the arctic over 3 decades of visiting, mixed with encyclopedic academic awareness.

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