What's really happening to Arctic ice?

Thursday 14 February 2013, 17:24

Paul Hudson Paul Hudson

There’s been a sharp gain in Arctic sea ice since the summer record minimum in September 2012, which Real Science has claimed to be the biggest recovery on satellite record.


But a team team of scientists led by University College London yesterday reported there was a substantial decline in ice volume during the previous two winters.


The analysis uses data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Cryosat satellite, using its high resolution radar altimeter.


This confirms reports that alongside the decline in the spatial extent of ice which has been widely reported using satellite data since 1979, there is crucially much less multi-year (year-round) ice.


This is important, since multi-year ice is older and hence thicker and slower to melt in summer.


First year ice, which is forming now in the Arctic following the record ice-loss this summer, is thinner and much more prone to melting.


Nevertheless it’s been an impressive recovery in Arctic sea ice since last summer.


It’s important to us here in the UK because scientists believe what’s happening in the Arctic may have a direct impact on our summer climate.


According to research at Sheffield University, which I wrote about here, the decrease in Arctic ice extent may be to blame for our run of poor summers – and if it continues, cool wet summers may be something we have to get used to.


Only time will tell whether the recovery in sea ice extent so far this winter is the start of a new trend, or, as most scientists believe, just one of the many false dawns when it comes to talk of a proper meaningful recovery in Arctic sea ice.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    There are good records back to the 1930's/40's. Satellite data from 1979. We know it's in decline. We know it's thinner. We know it's warmer.

    CO2 or another reson doesn't change that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Paul Hudson wrote:

    "Nevertheless it’s been an impressive recovery in Arctic sea ice since last summer."

    Perhaps the reason for the "impressive recovery" (meaning the difference from the previous minimum) is that the previous minimum was the lowest on record? http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/files/2000/09/Figure3.png

    The ice "recovered" so quickly because there was more open water to freeze this winter than in any other since records began. And yes, open water will freeze in winter in the Arctic, global warming or no global warming.

    That anyone would be impressed by the obvious 'spin' being put on this manufactured 'record' by the usual suspects defies credulity. Anthony Watts has called it a “stunning rebound”. Well, since the September 2012 minimum the following sea ice extents have been recorded in the Arctic (NSIDC and all in million km2):

    Oct: 7.0 (2nd lowest Oct extent on record)
    Nov: 9.9 (3rd lowest Nov extent on record)
    Dec: 12.2 (2nd lowest Dec extent on record)
    Jan: 13.8 (6th lowest Jan extent on record)

    That's some "stunning rebound".

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Arctic sea ice decline is likely linked with the AMO in my opinion and will tend to vary in exetnt and thickness accordingly. That said, I would agree with 5&6, that there is strong evidence that minimums are lower now than when the sat records began around 30 years ago, and reasonably good evidence that they are lower than at the start of the 20thC. By how much is open to question.
    This is what you might expect in a warmer world generally, but clearly the low extent in 2012 was not a result of one single year's temp and the role of soot is still being assessed.
    If, for the purposes of argument, we accept that a decline Arctic sea ice extent/volume is driven by warming alone, then it begs the question of how long term feedbacks can manifest beyond the length of any single solar cycle or any naturally occurring ocean cycle. This makes a mockery of AGW claims by the likes of Tamino that he can identify and remove a natural signal from a temp record. It is also generally assumed that Arctic sea ice has been trending downwards since the LIA which also begs the question of how does one determine when the recovery from the LIA actually ended. Does anybody know the source of the apparent scientific consensus that recovery from the LIA ended in the mid 20thC?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @8 ukpahonta

    Surely that headline should be -



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