Report Date: Dec-2016
Following the joint record low in November Arctic sea ice volume, which was
associated with a low ice extent and slow early winter growth, the amount of ice measured by CryoSat in
December was higher than in the years spanning 2010-2012. Despite the extent of the ice cover remaining
low, the ice thickness - 135 cm, on average - exceeds that of 2010, 2011 or 2012.
This is due to comparatively thicker ice being present in the multiyear ice (MYI) region
surrounding the north coast of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago.
Report Date: Nov-2016
Lowest early-winter sea ice growth on record
There is set to be only 10,500 cubic kilometres of sea ice in the Arctic this month - the joint lowest of any
November on record - according to satellite observations processed by the UK's Centre for Polar Observation and
Modelling (CPOM). Although sea ice volume did not hit a record low at the end of summer, due to the ice being
thicker than in most other years, the early winter growth has been 9% slower than usual and has led to today's
The measurements were made using the European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite, which is dedicated to monitoring the polar regions and is
uniquely able to detect the thickness of sea ice floes. Not only are these observations vital for tracking climate change, they are also an
essential resource for maritime operators who increasingly navigate ice infested waters.
The minimum extent of Arctic sea ice on September 10th (4.1 million square kilometres) tied with 2007 as the
second lowest on record, although CryoSat showed that the ice was thicker at the end of summer than in most
other years and so there was substantially more ice than in two other years (2011 and 2012).
CPOM Research Fellow Rachel Tilling explained, “Sea ice is highly mobile and susceptible to deformation, so we need to measure its thickness as well as its extent to be sure how much is there.”
However, although the Arctic sea ice pack usually gains 161 cubic kilometres per day in November, this year's growth has been 9% lower at 139 cubic
kilometres per day, and it is estimated that the final amount will rise to only 10,500 cubic kilometres by the month end.
This would essentially tie with conditions in the Novembers of 2011 and 2012, when levels of Arctic sea ice were at their lowest on record for this time of year.
Although sea ice in the central Arctic is currently thicker than it was in 2011 and 2012, there is far less ice in more southerly regions such as the Beaufort, East Siberian and Kara Seas.
Rachel Tilling added: “Because CryoSat can measure Arctic sea ice thickness in autumn, it gives us a much clearer picture of how it has fared during summer. Although sea ice usually grows rapidly after the minimum extent each September, this years’ growth has been far slower than we’d expect – probably because this winter has been warmer than usual in the Arctic.”
As demand for information on Arctic conditions increases, CryoSat has become an essential source of information for polar stakeholders ranging from ice forecasting services to scientists studying the impacts of climate change.
CPOM Director and Principal Scientific Advisor to the CryoSat mission, Professor Andrew Shepherd, summarised: “In its’ short, six years of life, we have learnt more about Arctic sea ice from CryoSat than from any other satellite mission. But to really understand the role that sea ice plays in the climate system, and the restrictions it places on maritime operations, we must ensure that its measurements are continued into the future.”
A complete assessment of 2016 sea ice conditions will be available from CPOM in the coming weeks.
Report Date: Oct-2016
This year, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) reported that the
extent of Arctic sea ice fell to 4.1 million square kilometres on September 10th - tied with 2007 as the second
lowest on record. However, CryoSat shows that the ice was thicker at the end of summer than in most other years
- 116 cm, on average. Therefore, at 6,300 cubic kilometres there was substantially more ice than in two
other years (2011 and 2012). Thicker ice can occur if melting is lower, or if snowfall or floe-compaction
Report Date: Sep-2016
Winter 2015/16 saw the lowest maximum Arctic sea ice volume recorded by CryoSat since its launch in 2010 (approximately 24,500 km3).
This "minimum maximuma" coincided with the one of the lowest annual maximum ice thicknesses on record of 183 cm in
Following the summer melt period, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) on 10 September 2016 the Arctic sea ice covered 4.14 million square kilometres, tied with 2007
as the second lowest in the satellite record.Measurements of ice extent or area however only give a two-dimensional view of the Arctic,
whereas volume - which combines extent with ice thickness - provides a much more reliable estimate of how much ice remains.
Although the minimum sea ice extent is reported in September, the ice continues to thin for another month, meaning that the minimum volume will occur in October. This year's
low sea ice extent nonetheless suggests that 2016's summer volume will also be one of the lowest on record.
The final figure will however be affected by the nature of 2016's Arctic summer. Previous CPOM research has already demonstrated that lower summer temperatures can allow thicker
sea ice to persist as there are fewer days when it can melt, and reports from NSIDC of cooler weather north of Russia may mitigate against a record minimum.
Further data is nonetheless needed to establish whether there is a long-term downward trend in ice thickness and volume, highlighting the need for continued observations.
A comprehensive assessment of 2016 sea ice volume will be available from CPOM in the coming weeks.
Report Date: Mar-2016
Thin sea ice observed following record low winter extent
This year the winter maximum Arctic sea ice area was the lowest on record, reaching just 14.52 million square
kilometres on March 24th according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre. At 1.8 m on average the ice
is also relatively thin, similar to that measured in 2012 and 2013, and so the total amount looks similar to
the record low of 2013 when there was 24,800 cubic kilometres of ice at peak. To understand how the total
amount of Arctic sea ice is changing we need to combine area measurements with thickness. Sea ice thickness
can now be measured using data from the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 satellite, which was launched in
It is currently too early to say exactly how this years maximum ice amount will compare to previous years
because Arctic sea ice continues to thicken after it has reached its maximum area. - Once Arctic sea ice has
reached its maximum area for the year it continues to thicken for about a month as seawater beneath the ice
freezes to the under-ice surface. We expect the ice to reach its maximum amount towards the end of March or
start of April - explained Rachel Tilling, a sea ice researcher at the Centre for Polar Observation and
Modelling (CPOM) at University College London. This year there is still a lot of thick, older ice north of
Canada and Greenland. But there is less of the thinner, newer ice in regions like the Beaufort and Barents
Seas. The thickening of ice in March this year has been unusually slow. "So far the ice has only thickened
by about 8 cm since February, when usually it thickens by twice this amount" says Tilling. The slow thinning
and absence of new ice could be due to warmer air temperatures over the Arctic, which in February were an
average of 5 degs C higher than the 2003-2015 average [airs.jpl.nasa.gov].
CPOM Director Professor Andy Shepherd says "because we now have a relatively low amount of
ice going in to summer, we can expect the summer minimum to be low too."