Arctic Sea Ice Prepping For New Record Lows in 2016-2017?

It’s been a pretty rough Summer for Arctic sea ice. Rougher than one would expect when considering how rapidly Greenland is melting and given that the Gulf Stream appears to be slowing down.

Increased rates of Greenland melt, increased fresh water outflow from rivers into the Arctic Ocean, and increases in ice berg calving have provided more fresh water to the Arctic Ocean (which would tend to cool the ocean surface) and weakened the south-to-north heat transfer of the Gulf Stream. Under such conditions, we’d tend to expect more than a little rebound in Arctic sea ice coverage. What we instead saw was a brief bump in the sea ice area, extent and volume measures during 2013 and 2014.

As of September 2nd, less than two weeks shy of traditional melt season end, sea ice extent in the JAXA measure had hit second lowest on record (please also see Neven’s most recent comprehensive sea ice report for his take on near end season ice states).


(Japan’s sea ice monitoring facility finds Arctic extent values at second lowest on record for September 2, 2015. Image source: JAXA.)

It’s a trend well below the 2014 pseudo-recovery year. One that is now tracking just beyond the previously record-smashing 2007 trend line. The measure of 4.346 million square kilometers is about 60,000 square kilometers below 2007. And though still quite a bit higher than 2012, it’s a swing that pushes toward a somewhat unsettling reassertion of the long-term melt trend. A trend that since the 1970s has reduced late season sea ice coverage by nearly half.

Other measures, though slightly less pronounced than the JAXA monitor, also show significant departures below the pseudo-recovery years 2014 and 2013. The NSIDC extent measure places the 2015 melt season as roughly tied with 2007 as second lowest on record and a 4.586 million square kilometer coverage. Meanwhile, sea ice area is tracking the 2010 melt line at 6th lowest on record for the date at 3.322 million square kilometers — a substantial 370,000 (approximate) square kilometers below 2014 — in the Cryosphere Today measure.

Conditions in Context — Preparation for Another Record-Breaker in 2016 and 2017?

Given recent science and observations showing increased rates of Greenland melt, increased fresh water flows into the Arctic Ocean, and a slowdown of the Gulf Stream, North Atlantic Overturning Circulation, and a related development of a cool pool between Greenland and England, we should probably assume that the Arctic is now involved in a climate change feedback tug of war. On the one hand you have rising atmospheric greenhouse gas levels in the Arctic due to a combination of human emissions and a growing carbon feedback response from permafrost and seabed stores. This heat-trapping atmospheric witch’s brew couples with loss of sea and land ice albedo to push for a continued rapid Arctic warming. On the other hand, you have fresh water outflows interrupting some of the south-to-north heat transfer in the North Atlantic and keeping a lid on some of the ocean heat in the High Arctic and near Greenland.

Laptev Storm

(A storm churns through the Laptev Sea on September 3, 2015, hurling 25-35 mph winds and 6-10 foot seas at the nearby ice. Trends show that 2015 is likely to be a year of ice losses, with end summer area and extent values in the range 2nd to 6th lowest on record. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Adding to this volatile mix is a potentially record-shattering El Nino which will, over the course of the next two years generate an ocean and atmospheric heat pulse that will probably maximize in the Arctic come 2017. Since 2015 is seeing returns to sea ice area and extent values in the range of 2010, 2011, 2008 and previous record low year 2007, there appears to be a preparation for the Arctic to challenge 2012 record low values over the 2016-2017 time period. And if sea ice does hit new record low values during that period of heightened risk we can also expect the whip-lash melt response from Greenland to grow even stronger.




To Compact or Not to Compact?

Cryosphere Today


Gulf Stream Slowing Down

Leave a comment


  1. wili

     /  September 3, 2015

    Good coverage, as usual. Of course, it’s not just how low the area or extent is at the end of the season, but what waters open first and how warm they get how deep. If the Laptev and ESS open early and warm deep, well, you know…

    • wili

       /  September 3, 2015

      And we still don’t have a very clear idea of how these now-likely developments will affect atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns.

      • The Kara, Barents, Bering and Chukchi are the new routes for heat invasion. The cold core will continue to prefer Greenland over the High Arctic, perhaps a bit less so with a strong El Nino and related amplified storm track. North Atlantic and the Pacific both look pretty rough RE storms from this point forward but definitely worsening through to Winter.

        In any case, great to see you dropping in 🙂

    • You got it… The action of gyres will tend to facilitate this kind of response during 2016 and 2017. Not really looking forward to the possible Greenland whiplash.

  2. As you well know, the U.S. Navy’s forecast is for an ice-free Arctic in 2016. They may be on target.

    • To clarify, we’ll quote Maslowski:

      “Given the estimated trend and the volume estimate for October–November of 2007 at less than 9,000 km3, one can project that at this rate it would take only 9 more years or until 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer. Regardless of high uncertainty associated with such an estimate, it does provide a lower bound of the time range for projections of seasonal sea ice cover.”

  3. Great job, as always Robert! From a humanitarian perspective, I think the consequences of this year’s arctic sea ice extent values need to be watched in terms of the impact on the Northern Hemisphere jet stream, negative arctic oscillations, etc. While we don’t have a Blue Ocean Event on our hands today, I wonder if there is a way to correlate a percentage of a Blue Ocean Event to how wobbly, weak, and erratic a jet stream can be, Based on this year’s melt, we may have some really stuck N. Hemisphere weather patterns on our hands in the coming months.

    If an stuck pattern sets up a negative arctic oscillation over Turkey/Syria, this winter, for example, that’s a lot of internally displaced people and refugees being impacted. I also wonder with all of the fire fighting resources dedicated to a very warm Alaska, if there is enough mutual aid to go around for what the monster El Nino has in store for Australia in the next few months.

    • Record heat in the Ukraine, record wildfires in the US West and a score more related reports indicate that we’re seeing it now. El Nino is having to push 2.5 C + to beat down the RRR for a complete breakout against an amazing atmospheric inertia that had its origins in Arctic warming.

      This weeks’ SST graphs are just nuts. We may see 2.3 and 2.4 C in Nino 3.4 as early as the next two weeks, possibly even the next NOAA report. And Nino 1,2 and 3 are heating up again. I have an SSTA spot departure of +5.7 C in Nino 1+2 from late last night. To that I have to say WTF??? It’s a bit late in the game for these kinds of breakouts in Nino 1+2. But here we have it.

    • Working on a refugee related article for later this evening. Off to the Ukraine now…

  4. Working on a refugee related article for later this evening. Off to the Ukraine now

    Hi Robert, just last nite I Iearned(from my pedi news feeds) that Ukraine has the first 2 cases of polio since Russia in ’10 and before that Europe had not had a case since 2000. They are vaccine related—we know this mechanism is possible but in a population that is vaccinated 90+%, it’s not an issue. This will probably spread to other children, imo, before it’s over due to its highly contagious nature and Ukraine’s difficult societal circumstances. The 10month will probably die. Too young, small body that is more than likely malnourished to handle this pernicious infection.

    • That’s a bad situation. Vaccines are an essential infrastructure.

      • Heartbreaking—with all that’s going on in the world, I’m having a difficult time lasering in on which issue(s) I can devote to during this 4th quarter of my life…

      • – Maria: “… having a difficult time lasering in on which issue(s) I can devote to during this 4th quarter of my life…’
        Go where the heart tugs strongest, and that about which you know, or have a ‘feel’ for.
        With all of the energy and enthusiasm of your first 3/4 of life.
        I find that if I do that, I feel most balanced and able to ‘roll with the punches’ no matter how much they hurt.
        – As a wise Native American chief (I forget who.) advised: “Remember your sorrows”. (In the context of drinking one’s sorrows away.). Good words for all.

  5. Forgot to add—I’d need an epidemiologist to confirm my opinion because I don’t know vaccination rates in these war-torn countries—but my sense is that with this ongoing refugee crisis we will see more of clusters of these vaccine-preventable infections.

    • Christina in Honolulu

       /  September 3, 2015

      USCG icebreakers might not be all bad. The CG’s mission includes maritime stewardship (and safety). In order to be good stewards of the arctic, we need to be able to patrol the arctic. Especially given the increasing presence of commercial and military traffic in the region.

  6. Colorado Bob

     /  September 3, 2015

    New Study Shows How Climate Change Is Already Reshaping The Earth

    A landmark study in the journal Nature documents an expansion of the world’s dry and semi-arid climate regions since 1950 — and attributes it to human-caused global warming.

    This expansion of the world’s dry zones is a basic prediction of climate science. The fact it is so broadly observable now means we must take seriously the current projections of widespread global Dust-Bowlification in the coming decades on our current CO2 emissions pathway — including the U.S.’s own breadbasket.

    The new study, “Significant anthropogenic-induced changes of climate classes since 1950,” looks at multiple datasets of monthly temperature and precipitation over time. The main finding:

    • Colorado Bob

       /  September 3, 2015

      Significant anthropogenic-induced changes of climate classes since 1950

    • – Absolute! “…expansion of the world’s dry zones is a basic prediction of climate science. The fact it is so broadly observable now means we must take seriously… Dust-Bowlification…”

      – To a large extent, it’s already a reality on the US Southwest, West Coast, and PNW in the form of desertification.
      Ps the iconic American “Dust Bowl” was mostly a result of rampant mechanized farming and tilling propelled with fossil fuel. banks, and agribusiness — much like today.
      The buffalo maintained the entire tall grass prairie for hundreds, or more, years — and all was well — drought, or no drought — wind, or no, wind,


  7. Andy in SD

     /  September 3, 2015

    The southern section of Petermann which showed fracturing has crumbled in the past 24 hours and is gone. That is roughly a total of 2 Manhattans of ice loss in the past week and a half.

    • I don’t have the kind of resolution needed to confirm this. Looks to me like a lot of ice floating back and forth in the near sea facing glacial zone. Resolution is too poor to give a clear picture of glacier movement.

      It’s worth noting we did see a big hunk of ice break off from the some zone back in mid July as well.

  8. To be fair, Wadhams could yet be right in the 2016 prediction. I think it’s somewhat of a crapshoot myself – the right setup surely would essentially wipe out all the ice now…

    • I think we need to give a nod to Wadhams. Even if things don’t end up quite so bad as he predicted, it’s sure as hell a far cry from what the mainstream thought would happen a few years ago. He was part of helping us understand an Arctic that’s going through rapid, substantial change. He should be recognized for that significant contribution.

      • danabanana

         /  September 4, 2015

        I’ve seconded Wadhams since he made the claim. The man has spent most of his lifetime working on the ice so how can he possibly not know?

        When he made the claim armchair scientists classed him as an alarmist and as deranged old man but as years have passed observations have proved him correct.

  9. Colorado Bob

     /  September 3, 2015

    European drought impacts people and environment

    It’s official: Europe experienced a severe drought this summer. DW looks at the key points of a new analysis reflecting impacts of high temperatures and low rainfall on the environment and people.

  10. – Watch out for the Japanese whaling interests in the Arctic.

    Whales Face a New Threat From the Melting Arctic’

    Disappearing sea ice is giving hunters a fast new route to get the meat of endangered fin whales to Japanese markets.

    Climate change is hurting whales but not in the way you’d expect.

    For the first time, an Icelandic whaling vessel traversed the Arctic’s Northeast Passage this week, carrying 1,800 tons of frozen endangered fin whale meat to be sold in Japanese markets.

    The ship, called Winter Bay, made the trek through Arctic waters thanks to the near-record-low sea ice extent this summer. That’s opened up a passageway typically impassable for a vessel of Winter Bay’s size.

    After leaving Tromso, Norway, on Aug. 1, the whaling vessel arrived in Osaka, Japan, Monday morning, according to the Japan Times, bringing nearly 40 percent of the whale meat the country consumes annually in just one shipment.

  11. – Her’s a Happy 50th Birthday to an effort. Coal Oil Point Reserve, part of the UC NRS — I was engaged in before aerosol pollution and CC took my attention.

    • – At about 10 o’clock at mid level some bluffs are visible. Just inland are some eucalyptus groves that are home to many Monarch butterfly overwintering sites.
      The Western Snowy Plover and California Least Tern nesting habitats are near the slough mouth.
      What a rich place to have been involved with. 🙂
      That was my ‘turf’ for a few years.

  12. Colorado Bob

     /  September 3, 2015

    dtlange / September 3, 2015

    – Watch out for the Japanese whaling interests in the Arctic.

    I saw a really great story months back, Orcas from around Iceland are now hunting Beluga whales off northern Canada during their calving season . (Now) The Belugas were helpless. , they had no defenses.

  13. Wharf Rat

     /  September 3, 2015

    Last week, the Pacific Institute published the first comprehensive analysis of the impacts of the drought on California crop revenue and agricultural employment through 2014. The study showed that during the recent drought California’s agriculture sector experienced record-high crop revenue and employment. Crop revenue peaked in 2013 at $33.8 billion, the highest level in California history, and declined only slightly to $33.4 billion in 2014 (all economic data have been corrected for inflation). Statewide agriculture-related jobs also reached a record 417,000 jobs in 2014, highlighting the sector’s ability to withstand the reduction of available water.

    • They mined water to keep the industry going. As long as they could access the water, it’s still doable. Problem is, there’s been quite a lot of trade off to keep ag going. And, of course, there are some pretty hard boundary limits if the situation continues. My view is that California will be forced to adapt to water scarcity going forward. It’s a huge challenge. And ag becoming increasingly questionable.

      • Andy in YKD

         /  September 4, 2015

        I’d be more interested in acres in production and production across the various categories. Revenue could have been given a bump higher from the all the press about prices going higher.

  14. I just *hate* the fact that my prediction for Second Lowest ice extent, area, volume may turn out to be correct after all!

  15. Syd Bridges

     /  September 5, 2015

    Thanks for this post, Robert. Although IJIS has goneup a bit in the last couple of days, It is sobering to see it so close to 2007’s level. Much worse, in my view, is the “Beaufort Masacre” of some of the oldest and thickest ice remaining. This ice was up to four metres thick at the start of this melting season, having drifted from the CAA in the winter of 2013-4. I notice that Neven made much the same pointin his latest bi-weekly update.

    June was a very slow month for melt as far as extent and area were concerned, dropping from record lowest to eighth lowest during the month. But Sam Carana did a good animation showing the loss of thicknes sin the Beaufort Sea ice pack that month. All that excess heat had to be melting something. Now that the Beaufort arm has all but disappeared, all that old ice is gone. In 2014 that ice held and allowed sceptics to claim a “recovery.” What in 2016-2017 will defend the Arctic ice when the Monster El Nino heat moves northwards? Senator Imhofe’s snowballs or Jeb Bush’s business acumen?

  16. Suppose the blob will be there in 2016/17 after it possibly has reformed after the attack of Godzilla. Would that have an effect on a record melt? Personally I think there will be a new record anyway, it’s just a matter of a slight or a mind blowing record.

  17. Arctic Sea Ice Area now at fourth, fifth or sixth lowest levels at 3.13 Mkm2.

  18. jyyh

     /  September 8, 2015

    Nothing constructive to submit but to say I’m pretty much exactly of the same opinion.

  19. James Burton

     /  September 8, 2015

    Thanks for another fascinating El Nino update!
    If the RRR “hot blob” was not there right, now in this developing mega El Nino, would we already see a storm track pulling into California? Given that the blob is a global warming driven new actor, would it likely redevelop after the El Nino passes later next year? I guess I mean, could the RRR there be a regular actor going forward, not a one off event?

    Off topic: warming arctic has another gun loaded and aimed at our heads. From the DM: A giant virus that has been perfectly preserved in the frozen wastelands of northeastern Russia is about to be brought back to life.

    Scientists said they will ‘reanimate’ the 30,000-year-old bug to learn more about it and discover if it is harmful to animals or humans.”

  1. Smoke From Peat Bog Fires Blankets Ukraine and Western Russia Amidst Record Kiev Heat | robertscribbler
  2. Arctic Sea Ice Prepping For New Record Lows in 2016-2017? | 2rhoeas3

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