Global Warming is Winning the Battle Against Arctic Sea Ice — Extent Drops to New Record Lows

Ever since human-forced climate change started to kick off dramatically worsening polar warming events in the 2000s, the Arctic has struggled to cool down to normal temperatures during fall and winter. However, for 2016, this failure of Arctic cooling appears to have grown even more pronounced.

Over the past few weeks, temperature anomalies for the entire region north of the 66th parallel have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. These are very extreme departures — ones we typically have only seen during winter when the poleward heat energy transfer effects of human-caused climate change are at their strongest. But this fall, high local ocean temperatures have combined with a north-bound flood of warmth to turn the Arctic into a glaring global hot spot — featuring the highest above normal temperature readings for any region of the Earth.

New Record Daily Lows for Arctic Sea Ice

So much added heat has had a marked effect on sea ice. Last week, Arctic sea ice again dipped into record low ranges. Edging sideways away from the usual rapid refreeze trend line, by today these record low readings have become rather prominent in measures like those produced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).


(On October 23rd, 2016, Arctic sea ice hit a new record daily low extent of 6,434,000 square kilometers [pink line]. This beat out 2007’s previous record of 6,501,000 square kilometers [blue line] and is now trailing 2012’s October 23 measure of 6,785,000 square kilometers [dashed green line] by a substantial margin. 2016’s record low readings are now about 3 million square kilometers below same day readings for October 23 of 1981 [light orange line at top]. In other words, an area of sea ice approximately the size of one and a half Greenlands has disappeared over the intervening 35 year period.  Image source: NSIDC.)

As a result, sea ice extents are today ranging fully 3 million square kilometers below levels seen during the early 1980s. In other words, an area approximately one and one half times the size of Greenland has been lost over the last 35 years.

Arctic Temperature Anomalies to Worsen over the Coming Week

The anomalous heat build-up in the Arctic pushing sea ice levels to new all-time record low daily ranges is, unfortunately, expected to worsen over the coming week. Today’s beyond-normal temperature departures of around 4.35 degrees Celsius above average are predicted by GFS models to rise to around 6.45 C above average by Sunday.

These high temperature readings are expected to concentrate in regions near the sea ice edge. And so much heat focusing exactly in the region where sea ice is attempting to expand risks a continued lagging of seasonal ice accumulation. 15-20 C above average temperatures are predicted to stretch from the Beaufort through the Chukchi, into the East Siberian Sea, on through the Kara, down along the Northern Edge of the Barents and into an Arctic Ocean zone just north of Greenland.


(We’re currently witnessing a level of heat transfer into the Arctic that is probably unprecedented. So much heat heading north and building up at the pole due to local and global greenhouse gas buildup, ocean warming, loss of summer reflectivity, and increasingly powerful atmospheric gravity waves is now pushing Arctic sea ice into record low daily ranges. As October shifts toward November, this Arctic heat is likely to begin to produce some severe late fall and early winter weather conditions. In the above map, we begin to see a signature hot west, cool east dipole over the US. During past years, polar amplification has helped to generate this extreme weather pattern in the US where heat and drought is prevalent in the west while severe winter weather dominates the east. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

You can see these extraordinary predicted temperature anomalies in the form of a spiky red swirl surrounding the Central Arctic in the GFS temperature anomaly map provided by Climate Reanalyzer above. So much heat at the ice edge reveals a big battle taking place between powerful oceanic and atmospheric heat transfers into the Arctic and a seasonal sea ice expansion that is fading in the face of a human-forced warming of the world.



Climate Reanalyzer


Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

NOAA NCEP Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Leslie Graham

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Leave a comment


  1. Robert, I wonder how much of this heat anomaly is from heat transfer from lower latitudes, vs. latent heat stored in the open water?

    I would say that a comparison with 2007 and 2012 might rule out the latent heat, since both those years had similarly low extent numbers, but on the other hand, the ASIF user Tealight has developed a model for albedo anomaly and energy gain, and 2016 is a significant outlier in terms of cumulative energy gain. If I’m reading his/her charts correctly, obv.

    • It’s part of the cycle of amplifying feedbacks. But it’s pretty clear that the two go hand in hand. Ocean heat accumulation is spread more evenly over the globe. This extends warmth into the Arctic ocean. There, sea ice loss compounds the ocean warming effect which helps to generate polar amplification.

      The added local heat provides pathways for south to north atmospheric heat transfer and aids in the generation of gravity waves that propagate the phenomena. In other words the system is dynamic and builds on a synergy between the two warming related events.

      High amplitude jet stream wave over Alaska predicted by GFS.

      Extreme sea surface temperature anomalies.

      In other words, it’s true that latent heat in the ocean is providing a big push along with loss of albedo. This aids in the atmospheric energy transfers we are seeing. Ocean-atmosphere synergy in a similar vein to El Nino in that we get teleconnections between events related to ocean surface warming, expansion of the Hadley Cell, and related Jet Stream disruption due to preferential polar amplification. But these upshots are pretty much entirely driven by climate change.

      As with anywhere, the big energy gain is in the ocean. But this has knock-on impacts RE the atmosphere (especially during fall, winter, and spring) which generates a self-reinforcing cycle of polar amplification.

    • Updated for clairity on causes.

      In any case, the question of how much is coming from ocean or atmosphere is kinda moot at this point. Both are gaining heat and both are reinforcing the warming and both are having visible effects in the observational data. But if you’re looking at the issue of heat transfer — that’s a ocean/atmosphere hand shake that becomes a visible impact in the observational temperature data which produces these heat transfers during fall, winter and spring to such a great degree that the observational data on the issue is pretty glaringly obvious.

      • wili

         /  October 25, 2016

        And is the Arctic atmosphere also becoming more laden with water vapor as the ocean is more open for more of the time so more surface for water to easily evaporate from? Water vapor, being a GHG, would tend to hold more heat in, too, right? Or am I missing something?

  2. Kevin Jones

     /  October 24, 2016

    Anyone here old enough to remember the Sherwin Williams house paint logo? We cover the Earth. A bucket of red paint being poured on the North Pole and dripping down equator bound….. jesus….

    • Looks pretty nasty.

      So the post El Nino Arctic heat pulse appears to be continuing. If this keeps up through winter, next summer could see another challenge for new end season record lows. La Nina appears to be on the way which would tend to reinforce the Equator to Pole heat transfer. If this trend continues 2017 will tend to see more record low sea ice levels as well.

  3. Kevin Jones

     /  October 24, 2016

    After the recent plunge, yet still 5C above average, DMI arctic temps for area 80N to 90N shows the beginning of an uptick. Will be interesting to monitor over coming days.

  4. June

     /  October 24, 2016

    Robert, you and Judah Cohen seem to be in agreement about the impact of low sea ice extent. His model has the low extent leading to increased Siberian snow cover in October leading to increased probability of negative Arctic Oscillation leading to blocking areas of high pressure.

    “You’re probably not going to like the forecast for this winter”

    Another prominent winter forecast released this week paints a very different picture from NOAA’s…Meteorologist Judah Cohen, of the private forecast firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Massachusetts…thinks this winter is going to be a predominantly cold and snowy one from the northern Plains to the Upper Midwest on southeast to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

    • It’s the pattern that has dominated more and more — apparently driven by polar amplification. It’s not a permanent feature though. But we’ll probably see this for at least another decade or so. Ironically, we could hope it would last longer if/when a transition away from fossil fuels begins to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

    • Griffin

       /  October 24, 2016

      I hope so. Cold and snow would both be more than welcome to this New Englander.
      Cold kills bugs. Snow is water on layaway. 😃

      • More like past winters. Big flips between warm and cold. Powerful storms as a primary feature. Extreme precipitation a problem due to cold air hitting abnormally hot, moist air over the Gulf Stream.

  5. Kevin Jones

     /  October 24, 2016

    I find it easy to imagine that with so much open water surrounding the Arctic sea ice and such anomalously warm temps we could see increased highly insulating snowfall over the ice helping to set up another very bad melt season for ’17. More insulation, less ice growth, etc.

    • It’s a bad combo.

      One thing that I’ve noticed is that once ice retreats from a region during winter, it doesn’t tend to return. The scale tips to open water and then it just stays there. This winter may challenge some previously ice covered regions. Might want to look for this on the Pacific side in particular this time around.

  6. For the past two weeks Antarctic sea ice extent has also at the lowest level for the date in the 1979-2016 satellite record. So yet another denier meme bites the dust… not that they’ll notice or care.

  7. Griffin

     /  October 24, 2016

    As I have said about many of your posts before Robert, this, in a sane world, would be front page news. Thanks for the post.

    • Cheers, Griff. This kind of news is getting closer to the mainstream. And, in my view, that’s in part due to the great efforts by responsible people like you. We’ve still got a lot of hard work ahead, though.

  8. Mark from OZ

     /  October 25, 2016

    Down Straya way, it’s important to’ stop vexatious lawsuits that threaten jobs and investment.’
    In ‘other’ words, coal mining exports and everything connected to it including the revenue that supports some of the highest paid politicians on the planet.

    ‘The Australian’ ( r-wing, part of Newscorp, run by Murdoch)

    Note: those inside the DC beltway are paying more than close attention.

    On a very positive note, Engie (FR), owners of one of the world’s nastiest (polluting) coal fired power plants here (VIC, AUS), have said ‘au revoir’ as they’ll soon turn off the facility and dismantle it for keeps.
    Tres Bon!

    • Good and bad news abounds. We’re living through rough times. And it’s tough to say, with so much in flux, that anything is certain. Turnbull has been a huge disappointment. Not much in the way of surprises, sadly.

      My father in law mentioned recently that a pro renewables republican (can’t recall the name) at the state level was forced to vote party line against renewables once reaching the national level. In other words, fossil fuels have more than enough influence over the Republican Party to silence anyone who’s pro renewables at the national level. This, of course, was anecdotal. But I don’t doubt this particular bit’s veracity.

  9. climatehawk1

     /  October 25, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

  10. Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere. October 24, 2016. AGU.

    Low-frequency vibrations of the Ross Ice Shelf are likely causing ripples and undulations in the air above Antarctica, a new study finds. Using mathematical models of the ice shelf, the study’s authors show how vibrations in the ice match those seen in the atmosphere, and are likely causing these mysterious atmospheric waves.

    If the study’s predictions are correct, scientists could use these atmospheric waves to measure properties of the ice shelf that are normally difficult to track, such as the amount of stress the ice shelf is under from ocean waves.

  11. Temps are still in the 50s during the day and not freezing at night (most of the time) in this 49’N latitude mountain range. Far beyond ‘not normal’ as the local ski hill usually opens the second week of November. Well, it used to. Pine Bark Beetles are still munching away in the forests happy as can be.

    June’s post link shows me that it’s going to be the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ again this year since last winter’s El Nino actually gave us a little snow after 3-4 solid years of storms just flat missing these mountains. Ski resorts that open with 5″ of base is insane.

    We are in deep trouble for recharging aquifers with the years of inadequate snowpack back to back. Wells are starting to go down in different locations (anecdotal info from friends). Might be good for New England but it’s the shits for the Inland PacNorthwest. The forests are in big trouble here.

    I’ve got green grass growing (at the end of October!) and was attacked by an angry yellow jacket yesterday that actually chased me around. Probably trying to get even for being awake. Should be snowpack under my feet at my elevation instead by now.

    This is big deep sigh time…

  12. More on the relationship of climate, Arctic warming, and possibility that a hotter Arctic could force colder, or at least snowier winters further south (US, Canada, N. Europe, Russia) – in this week’s Radio Ecoshock show.

    At 24 minutes, 40 seconds in, I interview Dr. Ted Shepherd from Reading U. in the UK. The journal Science asked him to evaluate the science of what we know about all this. His paper published September 2nd, 2016 in “Science” Is: “Effects of a Warming Arctic”. Find the abstract here:

    The Radio Ecoshock show is here:
    [audio src="" /]

    • Thanks for this, Alex.

      As for thoughts, it certainly does appear to increase the frequency of dipole formation. But you’ve got the expansion of the Equatorial circulation northward which also tends to complicate this. The trough region ends up stormier, and a bit colder in spurts. The ridge region generates Indian summer and odd drought patterns.

  13. Robert – still open to another interview with you on Radio Ecoshock – on all things Scribbled lately. Drop me a line if you want to do it.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

  14. Now we really do know, we are really sure and can act. Maybe free climate change communication class can be useful for some:

  1. Zanikająca pokrywa lodowa Arktyki | Blog exignoranta

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