Arctic Sea Ice: Volume and Area

Arctic Sea Ice Volume

An estimate of Arctic Sea Ice Volume from 1980 to the end of 2011. Notice that the trend on the minimum volume, which occurs in the Arctic summer, looks as if it will reach zero within the next decade. Click on the graph for a larger version.

I have mentioned previously that the area of sea ice in the arctic is showing a dramatic decline – at the least the Financial Times thinks so. The area of sea ice is relatively straightforward to monitor from satellites, and data is available here. But what about the volume of the sea ice?

If the area is shrinking, one would have to guess that there would be some effect on ice thickness as well. This is not straightforward to measure, or to model, but this week I came across a pretty terrifying estimate of how the sea ice volume is varying. The data from the Polar Science Centre is available here and there is a commentary on the data here. The full dataset is shown on the graph at the head of the page. Shockingly the implication is that the minimum volume of sea ice could reach zero – arctic sea ice in the summer – sometime around 2020.

Of  course there is significant uncertainty in this model, and it could be just wrong. Arch climate skeptic and contrarian Anthony Watts certainly thinks so. Personally I am prepared to let time be the judge – it doesn’t look like we will have to wait for many summers before the truth becomes clear.

Looking on the bright side, perhaps this is the shock we need.  As we have seen repeatedly, countries such as the USA and China are able to use scientific uncertainty as an excuse for their understandable reluctance to change. This may not convince climate scientists, but it is enough to convince a fair proportion of their electorate who too are understandably reluctant to change. I think if the entire Arctic ocean melted one summer soon, that this could be a wake up call to us all. Let’s hope so.


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5 Responses to “Arctic Sea Ice: Volume and Area”

  1. klem Says:

    Are you suggesting that a melted arctic ice cap is bad? I don’t view it that way at all.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      I am puzzled that you don’t view this as bad. A melted Arctic Ice Cap is extremely concerning for (at least) two reasons.

      Firstly I agree that opportunities for trade would due improved, but there is likely to be some kind of a step change in the rate of summer warming. WHen Ice and water exist together, then the water temperature cannot much exceed 0 degrees Celsius. Thus as long as there is a mixture of ice and water in the Arctic ocean year round, this acts as brake on possible Climate impacts further south. If the summer arctic ocean warms much beyond zero degrees celsius it will begin to warm the entire region.

      Although the melting of the Arctic ocean will not directly affect sea levels, if the rising temperature threatens the stability of the Greenland Ice sheet we should be extremely worried.

      All the best


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