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With New El Nino Predicted, 3rd Hottest January on Record May be Cool Mark for 2017

Last month was pretty darn hot as global temperature measures go.

According to NASA, the world’s thermometer averaged 1.14 C warmer than 1880s temperatures or about 0.92 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline. These readings were the third warmest for January since NASA record keeping began in 1880.

janaury-2017-3rd-hottest-on-record-nasa

(A record hot world cools a little during January of 2017 relative to 2016. Unfortunately, with La Nina fading and a new El Nino predicted and with atmospheric CO2 measures continuing to climb, more record breaking or near record breaking global heat appears to be on the way. Image source: NASA GISS.)

2016-2017 La Nina — Not Very Cool

For a temperature measure that has consistently been producing ‘hottest months on record’ throughout 2016, the dip back to top 3 during January represents an ephemeral respite. More to the point, the fact that this third hottest ever reading occurred during the cool phase of natural variability called La Nina presents little cause for reassurance.

The Pacific Ocean has merely been drawing in more atmospheric heat on balance, as its periodic cycles dictate, during the months of September 2016 through January 2017. But despite a heat draw-down due to this variable cool ocean phase, the period produced consistent second and third hottest months on record globally. In particular, warming at the poles (and especially in the Arctic) appeared to substantially counter the cooling influence of the weak La Nina.

nasa-global-temperature-record

(With a weak La Nina fading, a weak to moderate El Nino apparently on the way, and with atmospheric greenhouse gasses at record high levels, it appears that 2017 temperatures will range close to the record global warmth that occurred during 2016. Image source: NASA.)

Overall, the average temperature of these five cooler La Nina months was 0.876 C above NASA’s 20th Century average (1.096 C above 1880s). A reading considerably warmer than the 1998 super El Nino year average of 0.63 C above 20th Century baselines (0.85 C above 1880s). An average unsettlingly close to the 0.98 C above baseline (1.2 C above 1880s) measure for 2016 as a whole.

Predicted 2017 El Nino Would Push us Back to Near Record Hot Too Soon

With a La Nina period so greatly exceeding 1998 El Nino averages, we can confidently say at this time that the old cherry previously used by climate change deniers for so many frequent misrepresentations has now been left in the dust and ash of the great global burning of fossil fuels continuing unabated since that time and that this year will push CO2 and CO2e levels to above 410 ppm (peak) and 493 ppm respectively.

warm-kelvin-wave-forming

(Warm Kelvin Wave now propagating across the Pacific indicates that a weak-to-moderate El Nino may form by Summer of 2017. Such an event, when combined with record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, would tend to keep 2017 temperatures closer to record warm ranges established during 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

For the coming months, we can say with some confidence that global temperatures again appear likely to start rising. NOAA model guidance now points toward a likelihood of a new weak El Nino forming by May or June. An event that will possibly expand into a moderate strength event come the Fall of 2017. Already, a plug of warmer than normal water is propagating from west to east just beneath the Equatorial Pacific’s sea surface. And this warm water is expected to expand off South America and then spread westward along the Equator in a classic El Nino scenario for the coming months.

El Nino forecasts for this time of year can be rather uncertain. However, if NOAA models are correct, the added warmth over so much surface water in the Equatorial Pacific will also tend to push an atmosphere already loaded with an abundance of heat-trapping gasses to again warm.

beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-el-nino

(NOAA CFSv2 model runs show a moderate El Nino forming by late Summer or early Fall. Image source: NOAA.)

So the La Nina range of 0.95 to 1.15 C above 1880s will tend to tip toward 1.05 to 1.25 C above 1880s during a weak to moderate El Nino event. A range very close to what we recently saw during the record warm year of 2016.

Risks for Heat Related Climate Disruptions to Remain Heightened

So much re-warming so soon on the tails of 2016 is not very good short or medium-term news for the global climate system. It means that issues such as severe droughts and floods, disruption of monsoonal weather patterns, increasingly prevalent wildfires, climate related stresses to crops, global coral bleaching, and immediate melt stresses to polar zones are likely to fail to abate during 2017. The one silver lining being that 2017 is less likely to hit a new record global high temperature mark than 2016 was. But global temperatures hitting so high already at the tail end of three record warm years in a row is little cause for comfort.

Links:

NASA GISS

The Climate Prediction Center

NOAA

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Antarctic Sea Ice Hits New All-Time Record Low

During late February, Antarctic sea ice breached the previous all-time record low for extent coverage since measurements began in 1978. And in the following days, sea ice extent measures near the South Pole have continued to creep lower, gradually extending into unprecedented ranges.

Record Melt During a Period of Considerable Global Heat

antarctic-sea-ice-new-all-time-record-low

(This February, according to JAXA, the Antarctic sea ice extent measure hit a new all time record low. Image source: JAXA.)

Hitherto unseen global heat — driven primarily by human fossil fuel emissions — appears to be the chief contributor to this melting. During 2016, global average surface temperatures rose to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s ranges. This global reading likely represents the warmest surface temperatures the world has experienced in the last 115,000 years. At the same time, the global ocean system has been rapidly accumulating warmth and transferring it through the surface and deep layers of the world’s waters.

Such pervasive heat is producing an ongoing trend of considerable sea ice melt in the Arctic — a trend that has been in place since record-keeping began in 1978. One that, all by itself, is strong enough to drag global sea ice measures lower and lower. The warmth is also producing land ice melt around the world — including glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland and across numerous mountain ranges.

global-sea-ice-anomaly-strongly-negative

(Global warming produced an identifiable global sea ice melt trend during the post year 2000 period. By 2016, that trend had become glaringly obvious. See final paragraph for further discussion. Image source: Wipneus.)

Mild Antarctic Ice Growth Trend Reversed

Sea ice melt in the Antarctic, however, is a possible new feature. In the past, it is thought that fresh water outflow from glaciers in Antarctica and strong winds encircling the Southern Hemisphere sea ice helped to protect it from the initial pulse of human-forced warming. And as recently as 2014 and 2015, Antarctic sea ice experienced new record high readings even as the long-term trend hinted at a possible slow expansion of sea ice near the South Pole. Researchers had indicated that the protection for Southern Hemisphere sea ice might only last as long as fragile wind patterns around the South Pole remained.

For 2016 and 2017, however, that thin veil of protection appears to have fallen. Previous record lows for Antarctic sea ice extent set in 1997 at 2.26 million square kilometers sea ice coverage during the austral summer month of February have now been exceeded by 100,000 square kilometers. As of yesterday, according to JAXA, the new record low stood at 2.16 million square kilometers.

arctic-above-normal

(More above average temperatures predicted this week for Antarctica may extend sea ice record lows somewhat before refreeze sets in. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Antarctic refreeze typically starts during mid-February as seasonal cooling sets in. However, 2017’s warmth has driven an extension of late season melt with Antarctic sea ice continuing to decline through the end of February. At some point during the next week or two, however, refreeze is likely to finally kick in. But this return to rising ice coverage may be still be delayed somewhat by very warm Antarctic temperatures predicted to range as high as 2.9 C above average through the next five days.

Global Sea Ice Coverage Falling Rapidly

This year’s all time record low for Antarctic sea ice extent also comes at a time when the Arctic has been experiencing daily, monthly and seasonal record lows. Highly unseasonable temperatures have dominated Arctic Fall and Winter during 2016 and 2017 — producing never before see low extent coverage during the period. As a result of record lows occurring at the same time in the north and in the south, overall global sea ice coverage has taken a considerable beating and the larger global sea ice trend is now strongly negative.

Links:

JAXA

Climate Reanalyzer

Wipneus

NASA GISS

IPCC Ocean Heat Gain

Global Sea Ice Diminishing Despite Antarctic Gains

What’s Going on With Antarctic Sea Ice?

Unprecedented Climate Extremes: One Year After Record Drought, Lake Oroville is Spilling Over

We know that climate change pushes the weather toward extremes, but this is getting ridiculous. In California, in less than a span of 24 months, water levels at a key reservoir have shifted from record drought to a flood that’s now endangering the state’s water supply system. Unfortunately, it’s these kinds of extreme shifts that we’ve come to expect from human-forced climate change.

Record California Drought

During 2015, California experienced its hottest winter on record. The same winter was also California’s driest in 65 years. It was an extremely dry season that occurred during one of the most intense droughts ever to strike California (2011 through 2016). A period that included the worst dry spell ever to affect the state (2011 through 2014).

driest-period-on-record-for-california

(2011 to 2016 included the driest period on record for California producing extreme water stress for the state. Image source: The US Drought Monitor.)

A 2015-2016 El Nino brought hopes of rain. It also brought concerns that when the rains did finally arrive, they would come as deluges. This concern was driven by the fact that the warming atmosphere now holds an unprecedented amount of moisture. With much of that extra moisture bleeding off of the Pacific Ocean and with El Nino producing a tendency to both intensify the Pacific storm track and to aim rivers of moisture at California, these concerns appeared to be at least somewhat valid.

But, for the most part, the rain held off — increasing concerns that a drought that had already lasted for five years could continue. That an odd weather pattern called the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge might be a semi-permanent feature spurred by warming in the Arctic and a related movement of the Jet Stream northward.

Followed By Record California Flooding

The Jet Stream did flatten and the rains did eventually come, however. And when they did, it was at the oddest of times — when El Nino had long since faded and a weak La Nina — which typically brings drier conditions to the U.S. West Coast — was in full bloom. By January of 2017, the pattern had switched. And when it switched, it switched hard.

A massive river of moisture began to flow from the Philippines all the way to California during December of 2016. The atmospheric river linked up with a raging storm track running 6,000 miles across the Pacific from Japan to the U.S. West Coast. And this combined moisture flow and vigorous storm pattern has pummeled the U.S. West Coast for the better part of six weeks.

river-of-moisture-2017

(Throughout the winter of 2016-2017, a powerful, 6,000 mile long, river of moisture has produced a succession of strong storms running into California. This weather/climate feature is occurring in a record warm/moist atmosphere. The result has been that conditions in California have shifted from extreme drought to extreme flood. Image source: TPW Version 2.)

Some regions of California experienced their wettest January on record. Sacramento was one of these. Throughout California, records for the top ten wettest comparable periods were shattered. According to the Washington Post:

…by one important measure, there’s been more rain and snowfall in the 2016-2017 water year than any other season on record, to date. The California-Nevada River Forecast Center uses an eight-station index in the North Sierra to quantify the region’s precipitation. As of Feb. 12, these eight stations have received 68 inches — 226 percent of normal.

In the region of Lake Oroville — a reservoir that as recently as 2015 had dropped to extreme low levels — the rainfall has been particularly consistent and heavy. And it now appears likely that the winter of 2016-2017 will be the wettest on record for that region at least.

Weather Extremes Damage Critical Water Infrastructure

The Lake Oroville Dam had never seen so much water flowing into its backing reservoir since its completion in 1968. By January, Dam operators were already releasing considerable flows of water through its primary spillway to reduce pressure off the 800 foot tall structure trapping water within the reservoir. By February, more than 55,000 cubic feet of water per second was sent raging down the spillway in an effort to keep water levels below the over-topping line. Unfortunately, the spillway structures supporting the Dam have likely never seen so much continued stress from strong water outflows related to record high water levels. And as of last week, the powerful floods of water released from the Dam had damaged the primary spillway. The spillway’s concrete apron had eroded and initially produced a 300 foot wide sink hole near the top of the spillway that later expanded.

(Lake Oroville forced to use emergency spillway resulting in severe stress to key California water infrastructure. Video source: KCRA.)

Concerns about how an expanding sink hole in the reservoir’s wall could, in the worst case, breach the Dam wall and result in a catastrophic failure spurred operators to shut down and reduce water flows through the primary spillway. The abatement resulted in water levels at Lake Oroville rising to above 901 feet. This triggered an automatic over-spill into a second emergency spillway (the first time this has happened in the Dam’s history). But over-topping water also produced severe erosion — igniting more concerns of structural failure. And on the weekend of February 10th -12th, nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from the Dam’s outflow zone as a potential catastrophic structural failure could cause a 30 foot wall of water to rush through numerous downstream communities.

Over recent days, rainfall in the Oroville region abated — providing a brief window for repairs and reducing stress to the Dam. Round-the-clock emergency repairs in the form of bags of boulders used to buttress the Dam appeared to have shored up the Dam. Meanwhile, water levels within the Dam earlier this week were dropping by 4 inches per hour. Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. And downstream residents began to trickle back in.

noaa-7-day-precipitation-forecast-lake-oroville

(More heavy rain on the way is likely to continue to produce a touch and go situation for the Lake Oroville Dam. If heavy rain continues through spring melt, the Dam could face considerable additional challenges. Image source: NOAA.)

However, the underlying weather conditions that caused so much damage to the Lake Oroville Dam have not yet changed. February and March are typically California’s wettest periods. And the massive river of moisture feeding into a powerful Pacific storm track continues unabated. Over the next 7 days, NOAA predicts that as much as twelve and a half inches of rain could fall on the Lake Oroville region.

Harmed by Drought, Harmed by Flood

So much rainfall will again likely necessitate considerable water outflows from the Dam’s damaged spillways — producing more stress to the already burdened structure. In addition, the arrival of warmer weather come March and April will add snow melt to the already considerable rainfall inflows coming into the Oroville system. To be clear, most experts still think that the overall risk of losing Oroville due to a complete failure of the Dam remain low. However, such a loss would be catastrophic to California.

more-heat-more-heavy-precipitation

(As the climate warms, it produces more record hot weather — which spurs increasing instances of drought. In addition, when precipitation does fall, it tends to come in the form of more heavy precipitation events where the rain that does fall, tends to fall more intensely over a shorter period. As a result, the human forced warming of the Earth is producing a general tendency toward more extreme instances of drought and flooding. Image source: NOAA/UCAR.)

The Lake Oroville reservoir provides drinking water to 23 million residents in California and irrigates 750,000 acres of farmland. In the outside worst case event where the Dam does fail, it would produce a water crisis for numerous residents and communities in addition to any damage caused by severe downstream flooding. But even if the Dam holds through the Spring, extreme deposition of sediment from heavy water flows running into the reservoir will also likely pose challenges to water access.

It’s a case of too much or too little. From 2011 through 2016 drought threatened Lake Oroville’s water supplies. Now it’s flooding. And unfortunately, with climate change, we can expect the weather in many regions to take on extreme characteristics or switch hard from one extreme to the other — as has been the case with California.

Links:

Climate Central

The US Drought Monitor

TPW Version 2

Stress Test isn’t Over for Lake Oroville

Record Rain is Straining California’s Whole Flood Control Network

KCRA

NOAA

Lake Oroville Critical to California’s Complex Water System

NOAA/UCAR

The Permanent Global Coral Bleaching Event

Despite La Nina, Ocean surfaces have not cooled enough to end the worst global coral bleaching event on record. What this means is that many reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, are again under a rising risk of bleaching and mortality for the coming months. This is unheard of. Never before has a mass coral bleaching event lasted for so long or extended through the period of natural variability related ocean surface cooling called La Nina. Perhaps more ominously, the global coral bleaching and die off that began in 2014 may now be a practically permanent ocean feature of the presently destabilized world climate system.

Cool La Nina is Over

According to NOAA, the periodic cooling of ocean surfaces in the Pacific called La Nina is now over. And since La Nina brings with it a variable related low point of broader Earth surface temperatures, after a few months lag, we can expect the globe to start to warm up again.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-feb-9-pacific

(The above map shows sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean on February 9 of 2017. Presently SSTs over the entire Pacific range from about -1.5 C below average to +5 C above average. And as you can see, the Ocean is considerably warmer than normal, despite La Nina. Over the next 1-2 years, this is likely the coolest the Pacific will get. In just one decade’s time, under human-forced warming, it will take a very strong La Nina and a strongly negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation to produce similar sea surface temperatures. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Problem is, the Earth is still ridiculously warm, despite La Nina. Temperatures, driven inexorably higher by fossil fuel burning, have probably bottomed out at about 1 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages during December, January and February of 2016-2017.

What this means is that the likely range for annual global temperatures over the next 5 years will be about 1 to 1.3 C above 1880s averages. These readings are so high (the warmest in 115,000 years) and have risen so much, in such a geologically short span of time, that many of the world’s more sensitive species are now being pushed out of their habitats and are undergoing considerable heat-related mortality events.

Great Barrier Reef Under Threat From Bleaching for Second Year in a Row

Perhaps the most obvious of these horrendous fossil-fuel burning spurred instances is the global coral bleaching event that began in 2014. More ominously, it now appears that surface temperatures in the range of 1 C hotter than 1880s and above may well be enough to push the world into a permanent or near-permanent state of global coral bleaching and mortality. What this means is that each year, from now on, there is a considerable risk of widespread coral bleaching. It also means that reefs impacted by bleaching will tend to have shorter cool periods in which to recover.

global-coral-bleaching-forecast

(NOAA’s 60 percent certainty map shows very widespread coral bleaching expected over the next few months. Presently, bleaching is predicted for the region of the Great Barrier Reef. But other reef systems [see below] fall under higher risks for considerable reef mortality events in the current forecast. Image source: NOAA.)

For February through May of 2017, very warm and warming sea surface temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere are expected to produce extraordinarily widespread risks of coral bleaching. Many areas are predicted to see the highest coral bleaching alert level NOAA has a measure for.

According to NOAA:

Multiple coral reef regions are already experiencing Alert Level 1 bleaching stress (associated with significant coral bleaching). Alert Level 2 bleaching stress (associated with widespread coral bleaching and significant mortality) is expected in the Northern Cook Islands, Southern Cook Islands, the Samoas, Wallis & Futuna, Northern Tonga, Southern Tonga, the Society Archipelago, and the Austral Islands in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 1 bleaching conditions are also expected in the Tuamotu Archipelago in the next 1-4 weeks and in Tuvalu in the next 5-8 weeks.

The prediction map also includes the potential for high alert levels (level 1) for sections of the Great Barrier Reef which last year experienced its worst coral bleaching event on record. Needless to say, a second year of bleaching would be a devastating additional blow to a critical ocean life support system and one of Australia’s priceless national treasures.

Links:

Global Coral Bleaching Event Status

Earth Nullschool

NOAA: La Nina is Over

Hat tip to George Hayduke

 

January Arctic Sea Ice Volume is Lowest On Record by a Considerable Margin

Almost continuous warm, moist air invasions of the Arctic during fall and winter of 2016 and 2017 have resulted in the lowest sea ice refreeze rates on record. As a result, the amount of ice covering sections of the Northern Hemisphere ocean is now remarkably lower than during past comparable periods. In other words, we’ve never seen a winter in which Northern Hemisphere sea ice was so weak and reduced.

One key measure, sea ice volume, has shown particular losses when compared to past years. And even taking into account a long term trend of ice losses for the northern polar region that has been ongoing since the 20th Century, the 2016-2017 losses stand out like a flashing red indicator light. A trend directly related to the human-forced warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions.

piomas-sea-ice-volume

(Significant sea ice losses during the winter of 2016-2017 show up clearly in the above PIOMAS graph. PIOMAS is a model measure of sea ice volume. And as you can well see when looking at the red line at the left hand side of the graph, the departure from past years is currently quite large. Image source: PIOMAS.)

In the above PIOMAS graph we find that January sea ice volume averaged around 14,000 cubic kilometers. This reading is roughly comparable to the early July average for the period of 1979 through 2016 — a time when the Arctic saw continuous declines in sea ice. The present reading is also about 1,500 cubic kilometers below the previous record low for the month of January set in 2013. And anyone looking at the above graph can well see that the departure is significantly below the trend line (about 8,000 cubic kilometers below the falling 38 year average for this time of year).

It’s worth reiterating that these are the lowest sea ice volumes ever seen for this time of year in the Arctic. A new record that comes after consistent new record lows occurring throughout the past 38 year period.

Presently, approximate 5 C above average temperatures are dominating the region above the 66 North Latitude. Over the coming days, a pair of warm air invasions of the North Pole region near 90 N are expected to push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average and to near the melting point on two separate occasions. This pair of, not at all normal, events will likely produce additional sea ice losses in a polar region that is already seeing very unusual low sea ice concentrations, volumes and extents.

image

(Warm storm invasions of the northern polar region that inject high heat content, ice-melting moisture and far above average temperatures into the High Arctic have been a frequent occurrence over recent months. By February 10, GFS models predict that another such storm will push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average for the North Pole and surrounding regions. This will produce yet one more powerful blow to sea ice attempting to rebuild in the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

After these events roar through, the Jet Stream is predicted to flatten somewhat — allowing cooler air to re-establish over the Central Arctic as warmer air invades the mid-latitudes. As a result, air temperature anomalies in the 66 N and above region are expected to fall back to a range of 1 to 2 C above average in the 7 to 14 day timeframe. Such a return to closer to normal conditions may allow for more short-term bounce-back toward previous record low ranges in the volume measure. But a much longer period of closer to average conditions would be required for a full recovery.

Overall, refreeze season tends to last until April. So some time does remain for a bit of recovery. And we have seen extent measures trend closer to past record lows over recent days. However, considering the massive losses experienced during fall-winter of 2016-2017, two months is unlikely enough time to produce a significant recovery even if cooling to more reasonable above average temperatures were to occur and remain in place for an extended period.

Links:

PIOMAS

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Antarctic Sea Ice Likely to Hit New All-Time Record Lows Over Coming Days

Throughout the record global heat of 2016 and on into 2017, the world’s sea ice has taken a merciless pounding.

In the Northern Hemisphere, extreme warming of the polar region pushed Arctic sea ice extents to record low daily ranges throughout the winter, spring and fall of 2016. And even today, after many months of daily record lows, sea ice in the Arctic remains more reduced (in most measures) than it has ever been for this time of year.

On the other side of the world, the story is much the same. For it now appears that the ocean region around Antarctica is about to experience an all-time record annual low for sea ice:

antarctic-sea-ice-new-record-low

(JAXA Antarctic sea ice measure for all years since 1978 shows a strong challenge to the previous record low for extent set in 1997 [lower left hand corner of the graph]. With 2-4 weeks left in the melt season, the present measure is just about 170,000 square kilometers above the 1997 record low during Southern Hemisphere summer.)

Anomalous warmth, though less intense than in the Arctic zone, did finally begin to invade the austral polar region during Southern Hemisphere spring and summer (2016-2017). And since mid October, sea ice surrounding Antarctica has remained in record low daily ranges (see lower red line on the graph above). Wednesday, February 1st’s, JAXA measure of 2.42 million square kilometers of sea ice extent remaining is now just about 170,000 square kilometers above the previous record low sea ice extent set during mid-to-late February of 1997.

During this time of year, average drops in sea ice extent are around 50,000 square kilometers per day. So if all things were equal, we’d expect melt inertia to push the measure into new record low ranges over the next 3-5 days. Unfortunately, there appears to be an added impetus for melting as another blast of above average temperatures is being drawn into Antarctica underneath strong ridging features in the Southern Hemisphere Jet stream.

antarctic-warmth

(Warmth building into Antarctica over the next two weeks may be the final straw that tips the near ocean region into new all-time record lows for sea ice extent. The above GFS model prediction for February 9th rendered by Climate Reanalyzer shows temperature anomalies predicted for Antarctica and the surrounding regions. Red to orange is warmer than average, blue to purple is colder than average.)

As a result, over the next week, temperatures around Antarctica and in the nearby region of the Southern Ocean are expected to average between 1.2 and 1.8 C above the already warmer than normal 1979 through 2000 average. Meanwhile, parts of West Antarctica’s coastal zone are expected to hit as high as 5-20 C above that average.

With more warmth on the way, with measures already striking nearly half a million square kilometers below previous daily record lows, and with at least two weeks remaining in the melt season, it appears likely that we are in for a new all-time record low for sea ice extent in the ocean region surrounding Antarctica. If the new record does occur, it will happen during a time when the Arctic is also experiencing daily record lows for sea ice during Northern Hemisphere winter and as the world is experiencing global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

Links:

JAXA Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer

 

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