Arctic Sea Ice Falls into Record Low Ranges — Again

Extreme Arctic warmth this fall has again pushed sea ice levels into record low ranges.

Across the Arctic, temperatures for the months of September and October have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above normal for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line. Such extremely high temperatures have served to slow the rate of sea ice accumulation. The result is that the line in the sea ice graphs appears to be moving more sideways than following the traditional upward trend for this time of year.


(2016 enters near record low extent ranges on October 17 of 2016. Green dashed line represents 2012 sea ice extent, blue line represents 2007, black line the 1981 to 2010 average, orange line 2003, blue line 1994, and yellow line 1980. The gray border represents the 2 standard deviation from trend boundary. Image source: NSIDC.)

Trend lines for 2016 are also now within 90,000 square kilometers of exceeding previous record lows for sea ice extent set in 2007 and nearly matched in 2012 for the date of October 17.

Big Arctic Temperature Spike Driving Losses

Over the next few days, GFS model runs predict that a strong warming trend will take hold over the Arctic Ocean environment. As a result, temperature anomalies for the region above 66 North are expected to again spike to near 5 C above average for this time of year.

Given this predicted heat build-up, it’s certainly possible that refreeze rates will continue to be inhibited and that new record daily lows will be breached this week. Meanwhile, the overall trend for 2016 from January through middle October shows a year that is likely to see the lowest averaged levels of sea ice ever recorded for an entire year.


(Arctic temperatures have remained high throughout the fall — which has contributed to a very slow sea ice re-freeze so far. By Sunday, GFS model runs predict that temperatures over the Arctic Ocean will again push into much warmer than normal ranges for this time of year — possibly further delaying this region’s return to an ice-covered state. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Polar Amplification in Evidence

Loss of sea ice is a primary feature of polar amplification in the Arctic due to human-forced climate change.  Under polar amplification, warming of this region occurs faster than in the rest of the world. During summer, lower sea ice levels allow more sunlight to be absorbed by dark ocean waters — which preferentially traps heat in the Arctic environment. Less ice coverage during winter allows ocean heat to re-radiate into the Arctic which provides a significant boost to temperatures during the cold season.


(Anomalously warm temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have represented more a strange hybrid between fall and summer than a typical drop-off toward winter patterns during 2016. In the graph above, global warming appears to have basically levitated temperatures in the region above 80 North right off the chart. Image source: DMI.)

Last year, a never-before-seen late December warming of the Arctic pushed temperatures at the North Pole above freezing. If human fossil fuel burning continues and greenhouse gas accumulations in the Earth’s atmosphere keep rising, the Arctic is in for more dramatic fall, winter, and spring warming events than even those it is experiencing today. And with global temperatures entering a range of 1-2 C above preindustrial averages, the risk of a complete loss of Arctic sea ice over the coming years is on the rise.



Climate Reanalyzer

The Sydney Morning Herald

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Leave a comment


  1. Haha, Robert, either you were already working on this one when I posted on the 2016 is super warm post, or you are an amazingly fast blogger! Thanks for the HT!

    Here in Canada, we’ve just had a new poll released that shows basically that the Liberal government needs to approve pipelines in order to get the general public’s buy in for pricing carbon and for pushing an energy transition. This is a bit depressing, but it is what it is.

    My hope is that either a) the Liberals figure out that most of the pipeline promotion is coming from AB and SK, and maybe they can just live with losing votes in those provinces (unlikely, considering how badly those provinces took Trudeau’s father’s energy policy in the 70s) and b) that oil demand will soften enough in the future of electric vehicles that the oilsands won’t be able to compete anyway.

    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  October 20, 2016

      Marcel, what do you think stops Canada’s Obama from simply declaring a climate destabilisation emergency, state that he will not be party to the extermination of humanity this century, and close the tar sands down? In other words, act rationally, humanely and sanely. I know EXACTLY why politicians here in Australia do not act in that manner, and, indeed, do the exact opposite.

  2. Kevin Jones

     /  October 18, 2016

    Somehow I fear an ice storm from Hell for the NE USA come late winter.
    So appreciate your hard and great work, Robert.

  3. Kevin Jones

     /  October 18, 2016

    It took Bill McKibben about ten minutes to share this on Twitter.

  4. miles h

     /  October 18, 2016

    central Greenland 15-20C above average!?? both staggering and horrifying.

  5. -Tidewater glaciers — Greenland
    October 18, 2016
    Kangersuneq Qingordleq, Greenland Retreat Causes Separation

    Kangersuneq Qingordleq is one of the most southerly tidewater glaciers in Greenland. It is a 15 km long glacier flowing from the mountains between Prince Christian Sound and Lindenow Fjord. It is more akin to an Alaskan tidewater outlet glacier than ice sheet fed Greenland outlet glaciers. Greenland tidewater outlet glaciers in this region have experienced substantial retreat since 1990

    – Terminus of Kangersuneq Qingordleq in 2005 Google Earth image. Red arrow is 1999 terminus, yellow arrow is 2016 terminus.

  6. climatehawk1

     /  October 19, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

  7. George W. Hayduke

     /  October 19, 2016

    As frustrating as this news is I’m still dumbfounded by the amount of heat the arctic saw in the early months of this year. Do you see this trend making a repeat appearance similarly next year? Could be a nasty cycle…

    • Cate

       /  October 19, 2016

      George, agreed. In just two or three months we may have an answer to your question. Meanwhile, I have rather obsessively taken to checking the DMI graph every morning—it’s heading down today, at last, but it’s all relative, and the forecasts call for continuing anomalous warmth. Very worrying

  8. Svante Törnquist

     /  October 19, 2016

    Is anyone measuring the average deviation (of sea ice extent) from normal? 2016 wasn’t a record year when looking at the minimum extent, but how about the average deviation from normal during the whole year?

  9. wili

     /  October 19, 2016

    Good to have you back, rs. Here’s another graph you might want to add to your article (especially the second one) having to do with Arctic albedo fedback, which seems to have really taken off this year:

  10. miles h

     /  October 19, 2016

    interesting…turning CO2 directly and cheaply into ethanol fuel. its far from a solution to CO2, but a step forward perhaps?… at the very least we could have a drink whilst the icecaps melt 😉

    • Maybe… Usually these discoveries are applicable in the lab but aren’t scalable. And, often, such claims have turned up false in the past.

      The reality, as is, is that cessation of fossil fuel burning is the primary current effective method to mitigate climate change and that sources claiming otherwise have tended to be found to be promoting misinformation.

    • Oale

       /  October 19, 2016

      That’ll look spectacular under microscope as the electrodes discharge in pure CO2 in the presence of vaporized water. Depending on what activation energies are needed you could get almost any colors (including ultraviolet) in the vapor and the mixed-in copper in the electrode. Imagine a really small multicolored thunderstorm. Yield is pretty high for material that (not) cheap (graphene nanoassembled with copper) but still it could be cheaper and at least in theory more readily produced in quantities than the previous tries with rare earths or palladiun… At least you could get your own distillery at your home since the energy required would need to come from solar wind or such. Great if they have been able to find lower activation energy for this reaction, main info here could be the cheapish electrode involved, the structure sounds like it should pretty durable for the purpose, unlike some other tries.

      But this sort of stuff wasn’t very topical during studies in 1990s, I haven’t really been following modern chemistry trends, in fact I’m not even sure should this be in inorganic or organic catalysis.

      • It’s basically electrolysis for ethanol. Not a bad way to store energy provided by wind and solar that is net carbon neutral or net carbon negative. OK. I’m thinking this could be helpful if it can be scaled.

  11. miles h

     /  October 20, 2016

    a few issues: can the process run on air, or does the CO2 have to be extracted first? is it scalable? it isnt carbon negative. ….the most useful application might be as an energy store for small scale generation?

    • It’s more an energy transfer and storage mechanism than an energy source. If the CO2 must be put in solution, then its viability drops further. If it can pull carbon out of the air and then be used in a non-energy/materials application, then it would be carbon negative.


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