5 January 2011

NOAA/NSIDC: December Arctic Sea Ice Lowest on Record

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The National Snow Ice Data Center (NSIDC) released the Arctic ice summary for December today. It’s the lowest on record at 12 million square km. This is 270,000 sq. km below the previous record.

The highly negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation is likely a contributing factor here.  The negative NAO has drained much of the polar cold down into two main regions; Eastern N. America and Western Europe. The warmer than normal temps over Greenland, and in extreme East Russia have also slowed ice growth.

Hudson bay is normally totally frozen over by late December. Look at the ice cover chart on the right. It’s still not.

Natural atmospheric and ocean oscillations cause the ice coverage to vary from year to year, but the increasing greenhouse gases are almost certainly responsible for the long term steady decline.

Besides the arctic ice coverage, the thickness of the ice is declining even more precipitously. The Polar Science Center at the Univ. of Washington uses data from many sources to produce a model (called PIOMAS) of the volume of Arctic ice. The volume as of Sept. 2010 was the lowest on record.

The outlook for January seems to be for more of the same; at least for the first 10 days or so. The NAO will remain highly negative for at least the next week or so. It’s looking possible that another major snowstorm is on the way for next week too.

In a few days, you can expect to hear that Jan- December 2010 was either the warmest or second warmest year on record as well. NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office (Hadley Center) all do independent analysis.

The data should be fascinating.