Arctic sea ice reached record low extent in 2012 – or maybe not

The media are atwitter because the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that: “Arctic sea ice appears to have broken the 2007 record daily extent and is now the lowest in the satellite era….Arctic sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, 2012. This was 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) below the September 18, 2007 daily extent of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles).”

If that is true, then the world has 0.006% less ice this year than in 2007. (Source).

The NSIDC would have us believe that the satellite era began in 1979, but it actually began in 1967. Below is a graph from Steve Goddard with data from IPCC 1990 report showing that sea ice was much lower prior to 1979 which happened to be the year of largest sea ice extent since 1967. We should also note that extent of Arctic sea ice is cyclic. Setting records depends on where you start counting.

SEA ICE ANOMALY 1975-1990In an earlier announcement, NSIDC said “Sea ice extent dropped rapidly between August 4 and August 8. While this drop coincided with an intense storm over the central Arctic Ocean, it is unclear if the storm prompted the rapid ice loss.” NSIDC called the storm “The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012” and noted the storm caused “mechanical break up of the ice and increased melting by strong winds and wave action during the storm.” Nothing to do with global warming. A similar event happened in 2007 to cause the lower sea ice extent reported then.

Curiously, the NSIDC announcement failed to mention their earlier post and earlier satellites when touting the new “low record.” And it may in fact not be a new record even starting at 1979.

Anthony Watts at WUWT reports that “another NSIDC product, the new and improved “multi-sensor” MASIE product, shows no record low” with sea ice extent at ~ 4.7 million square kilometers which is more than in 2007. “Another product, NOAA’s National Ice Center Interactive Multisensor Snow and Ice Mapping System (IMS) plot, also shows no reason for claiming a record at all. Their number is (for 8/22) ~ 5.1 million square kilometers.” And on NOAA’s National Ice Center, “The numbers they give for 80% and marginal ice add up to an extent of 6,149, 305 square kilometers,” far above the hyped low announced. (The National Ice Center (NIC) is a multi-agency operational center operated by the United States Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Coast Guard.)

To put things in perspective, we have this AP story from the Washington Post:

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consul Ifft, at Bergen, Norway.

Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met with as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm.

Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds.

That story was written in November 2, 1922 (see the more detailed original here).

For some additional perspective, a paper published last year found that 8,000 years ago Arctic sea ice extent was just half of the “record” low of 2007.

To recap, the “record” lows of 2007 and perhaps 2012 were aided by ice transport out of the Arctic by storms. It has nothing to do with alleged anthropogenic global warming.

Another thing rarely mentioned: when the Arctic ice reached a low in 2007, Antarctic sea ice reached the greatest extent ever measured. In 2012, Antarctic sea ice remains above the 1979-2008 mean value.

See also:

Ice Follies and Hiding the Decline

Greenland “melting” and media hype


    1. Ditto on my comment above for “specprogrp”. WUWT and Steve Goddard are crooks, liars, incompentent, wrong, etc, etc????

      Two words: Prove it.

      You’ll win friends and influence people across the internet spectrum and gain international fail as the first to debunk both with outright proof of whatever’s wrong with them. Fail to do so and you only look like the face of “global warming alarmism”:

      1. Anthony Watts is a TV weatherman with a high-school degree. Doubt is his product. I prefer Jim Hansen, Kevin Trenberth, Gavin Schmidt, and Don Wuebbles for climate expertise. In other words, real climate scientists with publication records and standing in the climate science community. Has Watts attended an AGU meeting lately?

        You deniers are going to look really stupid in the warmer future ahead.

      2. How was that an attack Johnathan?

        What part of his statement was incorrect?

        Now if I said something like “Johnathan Duhamel has a box full of kiddie porn in his closet” that would be an attack.

        But saying that you are an old codger that grew up in an era when lead poisoning endemic and that your degree is half a century old would not be an attack.

        It doesn’t matter if you have a conniption. It’s only defamation if it isn’t true.

      3. ” … It’s only defamation if it isn’t true. …”

        As in the central accusation made by promoters of man-caused global warming that skeptic climate scientists are paid by ‘big coal & oil’ to lie to the public and ‘manufacture doubt’ about the issue?

        You have proof Watts is paid to lie? Two words: prove it. It’s such a simple challenge, so why is it, in the 20 years we’ve heard this accusation leveled at a wide variety of individuals in an effort to draw a parallel to ‘experts’ working on behalf of the tobacco industry, not one scintilla of proof is ever shown to back up the accusation?

        When it instead appears that there’s been a concentrated effort to manufacture doubt about the credibility of the skeptic scientists rather than engage in genuine debate with them, I’d say the ones who are going to look stupid in a naturally occurring warmer future are the ones who didn’t even attempt to check the veracity of the accusation against skeptics.

      4. “Incompetent” implies that he just doesn’t know any better.

        Actually, Anthony Watts is a con-artist.

        He wouldn’t dare sue anyone that calls him a con-artist. If he did it would just get proven true in a court of law.

  1. Check the link in the margin: “About the author”. It says:
    “I am a retired economic geologist and . . . Exploration geologists are trained not
    only in the geologic sciences, but also in chemistry, physics, botany,
    and geostatistics. I am also trained in the natural history of the
    Sonoran Desert . . . . ”
    So, OK, JD is no slouch, but also not a climate expert. On the ice shelves, check this link, and then download the “full text (pdf)” file below “Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 22 November 2011: the link below

    It ends by stating: “The break-up of the WHIS and associated loss of the epishelf lake at the turn of the 21st century is therefore a significant event at the millennial scale and suggests that current climates at the northern limit of North America are at their warmest in nearly 1,000 years.” Granted, that’s not the as strong a statement as environmentalists might want, but meaningful just the same.

      1. It’s good to see that an economist you can handle numbers like 1000.
        JD it may be satisfying to cling to one-pony pieces of reality that supposedly prove your point, but it might be quite a rude awakening to you to actually put all the pieces
        CO2 levels now at 400 ppm (i.e 1.5 times even the highest
        CO2 levels within the past 800,000 years, 2+ times the lower limits),
        and that’s merely as far back as the ice-core records go.
        migrations in sync with global warming, both on land and in the oceans.
        Plant life migrations in sync with global warming.
        Thinning ice at the
        Admittedly, glaciers are a bit of a mixed bag, with some shrinking due to non-GW causes, others stable or expanding like in the Himalayas and others shrinking in warmer ‘weather’.
        The number of animal species being threatened with extinction due to
        loss of habitat is ever increasing.
        Ocean levels are on the rise.
        Ocean acidification increasing due to absorption of the increased CO2 in the air.
        Shell fish being threatened due to that ocean acidification.
        The frozen tundra melting getting rather murky and ready to release loads of methane (a real GW bummer).
        And yeah, not to forget: The globe
        on average is warmer already compared to pre-industrial levels by a clearly measurable margin.
        And that’s just a sampling of what’s going on.
        As for the references: With your credentials you ought to be able to track them down. Do your homework.

      2. You should do your homework: I’m a geologist not an economist. Some of what you list is true, and not in argument. The cause is the argument. I presume you are a proponent of AGW, if so what is the single best piece of physical evidence do you have to support your position that carbon dioxide is the main cause of what is happening?

  2. First off, MASIE uses data from IMS – so Watts missed that fact. Secondly, MASIE data is actually showing the current sea ice extent is a record low (look on NASA and NSIDC). Thirdly, the record set in 2007 occurred in September, which means the likelihood of even lower ice extent and area are possible by the end of this years melt season.

  3. “Nothing to do with global warming. A similar event happened in 2007 to cause the lower sea ice extent reported then.”

    Except that storms in the Arctic have occurred since the beginning of time. Obviously the lows are going to occur during some special event – that doesn’t mean that ice extent hasn’t been steadily decreasing for decades.

    “If that is true, then the world has 0.006% less ice this year than in 2007.”

    On August 26th, the day it broke the record, yes – how much ice do you think melts in a day? Further melting is expected into September.

    ““The numbers they give for 80% and marginal ice add up to an extent of 6,149, 305 square kilometers,” far above the hyped low announced”

    Because they’re not using the same measurement for sea ice, as you note with “80% and marginal”.

    Honestly, denialism has become a straight conspiracy theory at this point. It is nothing but desperately trying to poke any hole they can in the data.

  4. Exactly the sort of pseudo-logical bafflegab one expects from this author, the Citizen, and Jan Brewer’s Arizona in general.

    1. While the above comment from “specprogrp” is exactly the sort of predictable one-trick pony response I talked about in my American Thinker piece back in February:

      Li’l free advice, if you want to win friends and influence people, you’ll make much better progress by laying out exactly how Jonathan’s pieces are pseudo-logical bafflegab in point-by-point blows supported by irrefutable evidence of not only Jonathan’s science errors but also of his political malice. This “your mama wears army boots” tactic only prompts other readers to react with “So …… you are unable to refute what Jonathan says and the people he cites, then.”

  5. Oh wow. This author is flat out lying to us.
    Check the ipcc records for sea ice extent back to 1973. It shows a relatively linear decline in sea ice.
    This is a politically motivated news article, rather than true objective journalism. As scientists well know – when it comes to disinformation, the only thing worse than religion, is politics.

  6. I love how this author thinks he’s more clever than all the world’s climate scientists combined. They agree, in overwhelming numbers, that the globe is warming. Jonathan, your background in geology does not qualify you to cross-examine this kind of data in with any competency, nor question the expertise of THOUSANDS of climate scientists who specialise in the field. Trying to pick apart various pieces of data, limit some ranges, and ignore others is just playing with numbers to try to hold on to some delusion that the globe is not warming. We have ice core data going back 800,000 years. Try to explain today’s searing hot temperatures in that context. But you’ll happily ignore any data which does not fit with your delusion. We can also directly measure carbon in the atmosphere in ppm. It’s FAR HIGHER today, 394 ppm, than ever measured. Now let hear you try to argue that carbon somehow is not a greenhouse gas. You’re just posting political delusions and propaganda, not science.

    1. Joe, you have blinders on. In my posts I do not deny that the globe has warmed from the last glacial epoch nor from the more recent Little Ice Age. Climate is cyclical due to natural variation and nothing we’ve seen so far is outside of natural variation. I see no evidence, however, that carbon dioxide is the major cause as you AGW types keep insisting, while presenting no physical evidence to support your position. I deal in real data. You, like most other AGWers, fall back on invalid arguments such as Appeal to Authority and ad hominem attacks since you have no real data in refutation. And, by the way, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide for most of the history of this planet was well over 1,000ppm as my background in geology tells me.

  7. I’m almost embarrassed to be a fellow geologist visiting here, with such
    a lack of scientific sources and due diligence for this piece.
    start with the first graphic. IPCC Satellites? The IPCC has never had
    satellites and was not even in existence until 1988. But what of the
    data? It seems to show “Sea Ice Extent Anomaly” from 1973 to 1990, with
    1973/74 showing about -1 Mkm2 at the low point, so somewhat down, but
    an amount equaled in 1977, the mid-80s and 1990. So not so unusual, and
    compared to today when we are running an anomaly of, oh, about -4 Mkm2,
    not so much either. There are good sources for earlier ice extent, not
    anecdotal but done scientifically, see here for a start:
    And I’m sorry,
    but an AP story from 1922 tells us nothing without knowing where, to
    what areal extent they looked at, to what conditions were they comparing
    it to, etc. There are no quantitative numbers in to help us get
    context at all!
    Sorry, no more time now to go further. K.

    1. I should mention that, ignoring the red chicken scratches this guy “Goddard” has placed on the image, it appears that the higher anomalies referred to as “year of largest sea ice extent since 1967” are surely in 1978, not 1979 when the (non-NISDC) satellites used by NISDC were launched.

    2. The term IPCC satellites is perhaps unfortunate; it refers to satellite data used by the IPCC, satellite data that preceded 1979, See note above:
      The figure I show is from the original, pre-hockey stick 1990 report. That graph is figure 7.20 which appears on the top right corner of page 224, The 1922 story is just anecdotal to show there was “unusual” melting in the Arctic before the dawn of AGW. and here is another one:
      “A considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past enclosed the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been, during the last two years, greatly abated.” “2000 square leagues [approximately 14,000 square miles or 36,000 square kilometers] of ice with which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74E and 80EN have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared.”

      -from a letter by the President of the Royal Society addressed to the British Admiralty, written in 1817 (Royal Society, London. Nov. 20, 1817. Minutes of Council, Vol. 8. pp.149-153).

      1. No polar scientist would claim that the arctic has been static in the past. There are many published articles and even books on this, and the Russians have great archives of ice changes along their lengthy coasts. The first “Polar year” of arctic studies was way back in 1882. Yet, none of the prior changes have been as great (and certainly pan-arctic, not local) as the past 6 years.

  8. OK, so Part 2. Lets look at the ice situation 8,000 ya. Was it the mystical cause-less “Natural Variation”? Or was it the Holocene Climate Optimum
    when the earth’s axial tilt was 24° and nearest approach to the Sun (perihelion) was during boreal summer. The Milankovitch cycles are currently not that favorable.
    Also, it looks as though commentator’s on WUWT have shown several mistakes in the blog post on MASIE, and there have been corrections and retractions.

  9. Part 3. Let’s look at the statement, which stands alone to show it’s importance in the authors opinion, “If that is true, then the world has 0.006% less ice this year than in 2007.”
    How is this an important fact in terms of our discussion of the arctic sea ice? Does it relate in a meaningful way? What are the concerns about loss of arctic sea ice? Not that the volume lost will make a significant dint in the total ice on planet earth! Instead, that the loss of the ice AREA will affect such things as ecosystems, weather systems, the jet stream, and the summertime albedo of the arctic. It may significantly alter weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere. It will cause amplified warming of the Arctic, with many impacts including the possibility of permafrost melt and higher methane releases.

  10. There are two different methods of measuring arctic ice coverage. That is a good thing, just as it is good that we have both land stations and satellites to measure air temperature.
    Under mixed conditions during the melt season, microwave indices see more water less ice, while NIC index sees more ice less water. So they will each have distinct results and trends.
    My only concern is that the news only reports the microwave results, and ignores the equally valid NIC index.As of today NIC shows artic ice extent tracking above 2007.
    Arctic ice extent for August 29 from NIC:
    2007. 5.04 M sq miles
    2012. 5.93 M sq miles

    The data is available here. Select start year 2006 and month of August.”

      1. A Russian view of the Arctic
        “In winter, the newly formed ice actively grows up to a 1.2 meter thick layer, while the costal ice grows up to 2.0 meters. Consequently, the Arctic sea ice layer does not change significantly. Moreover, according to Genrikh Alekseev, in the summer, ice melts in various seas unequally. This year, the seas through which the Northern Shipping Route passes are covered with an unusually thicker ice layer. The Barents Sea is covered by a thin ice layer, but the amount of ice in the Kara, Laptev, East-Siberian and Chukotskiy seas exceeds the level of 2007. The conditions in the Arctic in the warm summer can be considered abnormal, but the Northern Shipping Route has not been completely freed from ice yet. This means icebreakers will be needed in the future, says the scientist.”
        The extreme melting of ice in the summer 2012 is most likely the last gesture that the warming is ending. In fact, ice is a product of climate, and when comparing the graphs of the air temperature and melting ice, one can see that they coincide, Genrikh Alekseev said.

      2. Wow, that was a strange article, was it not? I mean, “Arctic sea ice is “rejuvenating””!, and “The extreme melting of ice in the summer 2012 is most likely the last gesture that the warming is ending.” OK, those are just opinions, but what about “The Barents Sea is covered by a thin ice layer, but the amount of ice in
        the Kara, Laptev, East-Siberian and Chukotskiy seas exceeds the level
        of 2007.” There is no ice at all in any of those seas! (see But, he says, it’s the end of a mysterious “60-year climate fluctuating cycle” that started 75 years ago, even though “The nature of these cycles is known vaguely, and scientists are still unaware of the laws under which oceans live.” How rigorous! Well, perhaps Putin forced him to do the interview, for Gazprom.

      3. As you suggest they must be looking at something other than NSIDC products. I had to do some searching to find out what data sources might underlie the comments by Alekseev. Since he is based at AARI, I guess he’s informed by the sea ice charts they have produced for decades. The most recent example can accessed here:
        We should show some respect for these people, who currently lead the ETSI, and are serious sea ice and arctic experts, even if they write in Cyrillic.

  11. The main point of this article is that there is no absolute authority on ice coverage in the Arctic. Below are mentioned two authorities, NIC and AARI, with alternative perspectives to NSIDC. They should not be disregarded.

    For example, Some of the AARI data on ice conditions are reports from Russia’s fleet of 75 ships designed as ice-breakers operating in the Arctic along the Northern Shipping Route (NSR).

    In recent years the entire length of the NSR has been accessible to shipping from mid-July to October.3 This is achieved by stationing polar ice-breakers in the straits and other areas of difficult ice conditions to provide escort as required. However, through voyages of the NSR have not been made in any regular fashion. Several experimental voyages have been accomplished by ice-breakers escorting cargo ships for the duration of the transit. In 1984 and 1985, cargo ships, a majority being the new SA-15 arctic ice-breaking vessels, made transits from Vancouver, B.C. and Japan to ports in the western sector of the NSR. Remarkably, several of the SA-15 voyages were unescorted for the length of the NSR.

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