Arctic Ice September 2010 - Update #1
    By Patrick Lockerby | September 9th 2010 11:02 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Patrick

    Retired engineer, 60+ years young. Computer builder and programmer. Linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics....

    View Patrick's Profile
    Arctic Ice September 2010 - Update #1

    This is my first update to
    Arctic Ice September 2010.

    As the Arctic melt season draws to a close there are still a very few people writing about recovery.  A trend towards recovery would be a reversal over at least a decade of all current Arctic ice loss trends.  A reversal would show ice becoming older, thicker and less mobile on average year-on-year.  In fact, the trend is clear: the ice is becoming younger, thinner and more mobile year-on-year.  If that trend continues - and I can see no reason why it should not - then we shall soon see an essentially ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer.  'Soon' could well be 2011.

    In my January 16 2010 article
    Global Cooling : Beyond Parochialism I made some predictions about the Arctic, including these:
    Many hottest weather records are broken in northern hemisphere.
    Summer arctic ice at record low in extent.
    By September the Arctic Ocean is freely navigable by both the northern sea route and the north west passage.


    Reduced ice cover affects sea temperatures, in turn affecting Arctic current flows and air movements. Thinner ice, instead of piling up as pressure ridges due to compression effects, cracks into sections due to tension and agitation effects.
    The Arctic is virtually ice-free by late summer: there is open water at the North Pole.
    Many hottest weather records have indeed been broken.  So much so that we have seen fires in Russia, Alaska and Canada caused by the ignition of tinder-dry tundra and taiga.

    The summer Arctic sea ice extents were indeed at record lows.  There follow a few extracts from NSIDC reports, and then some visuals.

    The rate of decline through the month of May was the fastest in the satellite record; the previous year with the fastest daily rate of decline in May was 1980. By the end of the month, extent fell near the level recorded in 2006, the lowest in the satellite record for the end of May. Despite the rapid decline through May, average ice extent for the month was only the ninth lowest in the satellite record.

    Average June ice extent was the lowest in the satellite data record, from 1979 to 2010. Arctic air temperatures were higher than normal, and Arctic sea ice continued to decline at a fast pace. June saw the return of the Arctic dipole anomaly, an atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the record sea ice loss in 2007.

    The rate of ice loss slowed in the first half of July, primarily because of a change in atmospheric circulation. The dipole anomaly, an atmospheric pattern that dominated the Arctic in June, broke down. It was replaced by a pattern of low-pressure systems tracking across northern Eurasia and then into the central Arctic Ocean.

    [despite the dipole anomaly -]
    Ice extent remained lower than normal in all regions of the Arctic, with open water developing along the coasts of northwest Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

    Arctic sea ice extent averaged for July was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007. After a slowdown in the rate of ice loss, the old, thick ice that moved into the southern Beaufort Sea last winter is beginning to melt out.

    The end of summer is approaching in the Arctic; temperatures are dropping and melt is ending in the high latitudes. Yet summer is not quite over in the lower latitudes of the Arctic Ocean, where sea ice extent continues to decline. Sea ice has melted out extensively in the northern route of the Northwest Passage, but the passage is not completely open.

    Arctic sea ice generally reaches its annual minimum extent in mid-September. This August, ice extent was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007. On September 3, ice extent dropped below the seasonal minimum for 2009 to become the third lowest in the satellite record.

    The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route are largely free of ice, allowing the potential for a circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean. At least two expeditions are attempting this feat, the Norwegian explorer
    Borge Ousland and the Peter I yacht from Russia.
    NSIDC speaks of sea ice extent to describe the state of sea ice.  Extent measures the sea area over which at least 15% ice may be found.  The Cryosphere Today speaks of concentration.  This is much the same thing as extent, but where NSIDC uses a simple logic where <15% plots as no ice and >=15% plots as ice, the CT maps plot the percentages as concentration values.  In general, areas of high concentration tend to contain older and / or thicker ice, so concentration in area is a reasonable first approximation for ice concentration in volume.

    A comparison of ice concentration images from September 06 2009 and 2010 shows that in the course of a single year the area within which a reasonable volume of ice could be found has shrunk greatly.

    image source:

    The next image is an animation of images from every 5th day between August 30 2009 and September 05 2010.

    images source:

    The animation shows the ice extent growing from September 2009 to early April and then declining.  The concentration, however, grows only to about mid January and then begins to decline.

    The rise in extent to early April added young, thin, salty ice - the kind of ice that melts away most rapidly.

    Based on the supposition that the great amounts of young ice would melt or disperse rapidly I predicted an end of year low extent of 3.5 to 3.8 million km2.  The stalling of the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift had a significant effect on ice loss.  Thus far the ice extent is only just below 5 million km2.

    Before I move on to show actual images of the ice, here are some graphs of extent and area.

    image source:


    IARC - JAXA images source:
    Arctic mosaic

    The following images are taken from a recent MODIS Rapidfire Arctic mosaic.  It is interesting to compare these images with the Cryosphere Today concentration maps.  The computed color-coded concentrations coincide well with real color satellite images.

    Annotated mosaic showing locations of subsequent images.
    original images source:

    A - entrance to North West Passage.

    B - East Siberian Sea

    C - Canadian Archipelago

    D - North Pole

    E - north of Svalbard

    F - Baffin Bay

    The North Pole camera

    The camera located on a floe, originally close to the North Pole, shows thick snow.  The ice has thinned during summer, so it is unlikely to be able to carry much weight of snow without being submerged.  The floe is headed south towards warmer waters.  From images in which the sun appears it is possible to deduce that the camera is pointing roughly south east.

    It is very difficult to judge from photos, but the mirage-like appearance at the camera's horizon could be due to open water.  It seems that there is a race on.  Will the ice freeze together and keep the floe from drifting further south, or will the floe break up as it enters warmer waters?

    Time will tell.

    'North Pole' camera image September 09 2010 - 17:41 UTC.


    'North Pole' camera location September 09 2010.
    Camera image and map source:

    The map is a section of a full map from NOAA.  I have added an arrow in red to show what appears to me to be the likely direction in which the camera is currently pointing.

    Further reading:
    Neven continues to post some very perceptive blogs which stimulate a lot of intelligent discussion of the Arctic.  His most recent article on current sea ice extent is:

    Many more of my Arctic-themed articles can be found in
    The ChatterBox Arctic Index


    Patrick the map of the camera locations is out of date, the two cameras are currently at:
    Camera 1 84.128°N 4.315°E
    Camera 2 84.643°N 8.343°E

    Patrick, welcome back to the world of the living.
    As of September 8, 2010 "The Cryosphere Today" shows an Arctic ice area of 3,088,000 km^2. In 2007 it was 2,920,000 km^2 around September 16. Using Cryosphere Today data, and if the high pressure continues over the Beaufort Sea for a few more days, we will be very close to if not below the 2007 figure.
    One number for current Arctic Ice volume that has been mentioned on this blog several times is 4000km^3 which is about 1800km^3 below the record low of 5800km^3 as reported by PIOMAS for 2009.
    Patrick, both you and Epsen have now stated that next summer(2011) that the Arctic could be virtually ice free and I agree that it could but I still think there is just a little bit too much ice left over from this year for next year to be "the year." Winding up with 4000km^3 less of ice next year would be truly phenomenal and extremely scary. My forecast is close to yours, however, August 2012. I think a decline of 2000km^3 +-per year for the next two years is most likely what will happen. So, what I am saying is: I agree there is some possibility that the Arctic could be virtually ice free in 2011, I just think it will more likely happen in 2012, which by the way is no less scary.

    Also from "The Cryosphere Today," Antarctic Ice area has declined about 1,300,000 km^2 during the past 2 weeks probably due to winds and water currents shifting ice closer to the Antarctic Continent. According to their numbers, Antarctic Ice as of September 8, 2010 is 33,000km^2 BELOW their daily running average. Fyi for "climate change deniers" claiming there is so much EXTRA sea ice around Antarctica.

    Hi Patrick,
    good work as usual, but I am a llitle bit nasty as always and I would like to comment on this statement:
    Based on the supposition that the great amounts of young ice would melt or disperse rapidly I predicted an end of year low extent of 3.5 to 3.8 million km2. The stalling of the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift had a significant effect on ice loss.
    I think you were not that wrong. Because last sentence should be understood as: The stalling of the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift had a significant effect on ice extent loss. This is because ice volume loss hasn't be so low and this fact could explain large drops of extent in september.


    Your ice island has broken up on Joe Island!

    Fo'castle is headed down the Strait, stern is still aground.

    It looked like it was sliding by Joe Island, which is the white dot, in the September 7th radar image:

    but the lower section had a notch in it that may have struck Joe Island causing the ice island to break up.

    Looks like there has been some further calving at the Petermann glacier front, including one sizable chunk off the tongue in the September 9th radar image that was not there in the September 7th image. Looks small compared to the Lockerby island chain, but still pretty big (much bigger than Joe Island anyway.).

    The "Petermann Glacier Fissure" shows up nicely in the radar images. This may be the line where the future Petermann Island 2011separates from the ice tongue.

    Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island shows up nicely on the radar images and is still ice free. Lake Hazen should serve as a good proxy for heat levels in the atmosphere since it is not in contact with the seas, and therefore ice melting does not occur due to melting from underneath by heat from ocean currents, and is an enclosed system, and thus is not subject to ice loss from wind transport .

    The lake was partially ice free on July 19th:

    with ice continuing to decline through July 23rd based on this radar image

    and was fully ice free some time before July 27th:

    Do you know if a radar image mosaic similar to the MODIS arctic mosaic is ever assembled?

    Looks like more stuff is falling off the leading edge of the Petermann Glacier in the Modis image.

    Too many clouds to tell what happened to the Fo'castle of Lockerby Island from the terra image, but in the radar images it looks like the Fo'castle is tumbling and has scrambled half way down the strait to the next island.

    The front-left? corner of the stern appears to be still in contact with the tiny white dot that is Joe Island and not moving.

    Lake Hazen may be starting to ice up as well.

    Now from memory I can recognize Baffin Island, Banks Island, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island ... Those folks at UIUC certainly do a good presentation job.

    A few years ago, there was a documentary about life on Ellesmere Island.  Wolves and Musk Ox were the big fauna.  There were small plants too, which "thrived" around the skeletons of Musk Ox, where there was a bit of phosphate in the soil.  One particularly nice one was a poppy whose flowers tracked the Sun like a radar dish, to concentrate its heat on the centre of the flower so that it could set seed.

    But alas, because of the lack of insects those flowers are all self-pollinated or even parthenogenic (I can't remember which.)  Not good for genetic diversity.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Good to have you back Patrick.
    The Sea Ice is now so fragmented, but has held up far better than I expected. So next year- I don't know, but the end of summer sea ice is not far away. If the winds don't export the ice, the warm currents will melt it.

    As always you are interesting and informative, providing a narritive and detail that statistics alone do not capture.

    I have deleted a comment by Capuchin.

    I don't have the energy to deal with irrational propaganda.

    Here is what was said, for the record - and for a good laugh.
    I think anyone who even gives thought to arctic ice is a scientific moron. All these observations literally mean NOTHING. the climate of the earth will always change. So what! Earthquakes will always occur. Just because humans construct buildings near a quake zone and are damaged, does this mean it was "human caused"?
    Go back to school yall, have a margariti and relax. Learn some science, then write another story, hopefully a scientific one.

    Capuchin:  don't visit the doctor when you are ill - all those observations mean nothing.  The fact that you undercooked the chicken and got a nasty dose of salmonella doesn't mean your illness was human caused.  Next time there's a thunderstorm, go stand on a hilltop.  After all, people get struck by lightning all the time - it's perfectly natural.  Why defy Thor and take shelter?

    If you post here again attacking science I will just delete your comments.
    I have deleted a comment by Capuchin.

    I don't have the energy to deal with irrational propaganda.
    In the beginning of Science 2.0, only members could comment but we got a lot fewer comments - people have login overload and I am not letting monkeys with openID or whatever on our site to troll.   

    I think anonymous commenting was up for maybe 3 hours before I first issued the phrase, "Who am I, Job?  Why am I enduring this?" and installed a captcha.  And then made author comment moderation.  And then a spam filter.  And then installed a spam module in front of the spam filter.  I think we have solved the spam issue.  Nothing we can do about annoying people who fill in the captcha though.   So I am glad comment moderation still works.

    If I am feeling particularly edgy, I change their name to "John Smallberries".
    Hank: I'm very much in favor of freedom of speech,  but I reserve the right to close the window so that the organ-grinder's monkey can't come in my room and screech at me and my friends.  :-)
    Open water?

    In the article I said:
    It is very difficult to judge from photos, but the mirage-like appearance at the camera's horizon could be due to open water.

    This next image shows what looks like open water ahead of the floe.  However, it could be what is called 'water-sky' - a reflection of distant water on clouds.

    image source:
    Andrew Xnn
    Another great update Patrick.Thanks for all the good work.


    It may well have a step wise decline similar to what we 
    saw in 2007, maybe even twice the amount.