Global Sea Ice Extent Reaches Lowest *Ever Level

Here once again is the up to date version of Wipneus’ graphic graphic, this time of global sea ice extent:


As you can see, global sea ice extent has just reached the lowest ever level in the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s satellite records going back to 1979. It was over a month later when the previous record was broken in February 2016, so there is plenty of time for the metric to fall further.

The 2017 curves in the NSIDC’s own extent graphs are coloured in a pale shade of blue. Even so they’re easy to pick out since both Antarctic and Arctic extent are at the lowest level for the date in NSIDC’s records by a considerable margin:



Antarctic sea ice extent is still falling, and the Arctic has been flatlining for several days now and more trouble is heading its way. Another Fram Strait cyclone is brewing, and this time around the storm’s minimum central pressure is already down to 957 hPa according to Environment Canada:


According to the current forecasts it will continue to spin over the central Arctic for several more days, driving export of sea ice via the Fram Strait:

ACNFS sea ice drift forecast for January 20th 2017
ACNFS sea ice drift forecast for January 20th 2017

* In NSIDC satellite records going back to 1979

A Brief History of the Northern Sea Route in the 1930s

I recently found myself in an extended discussion on Professor Judith Curry’s “Climate Etc.” blog with Tony Brown. Tony asserts that:

In 1932, a Soviet expedition led by Professor Otto Yulievich Schmidt was the first to sail all the way from Arkhangelsk to the Bering Strait in the same summer without wintering en route. After a couple more trial runs, in 1933 and 1934, the Northern Sea Route was officially defined and open and commercial exploitation began in 1935. The next year, part of the Baltic Fleet made the passage to the Pacific where armed conflict with Japan was looming.

and asks:

Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting that the northern sea route was not operable from the 1930’s onwards?

My response?

I’m still awaiting your pick of the year in the 1930s in which the NSR was most “open”. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t conform to, for example, the current Canadian Ice Service definition.

I won’t bore you with the long list of questions I asked Tony that he has thus far failed to answer. Instead let’s take a closer look at the history of the Northern Sea Route than Tony is willing and/or able to undertake. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the “History of the Northern Sea Route“? However this does rather gloss over the 1930s. For our initial reference let’s see what Bill Barr has to say in his “The Drift of Lenin’s Convoy in the Laptev Sea, 1937 – 1938″, published in 1980.

Only a few months after Sibiryukov‘s limited success in her attempt at a one-season passage of the Northern Sea Route, so eloquently embodied in her final emergence from the ice of the Chukchi Sea under improvised sails, on December 17, 1932 Sovnurkom (the Soviet of Peoples’ Commissars) took the momentous step of forming the Chief Administration of the Northern Sea Route (Gluvnoye Upruvleniye Severnogo Morskogo Puli), more commonly known as Gluvsevmorput’. Its primary task was to establish safe, reliable navigation from the White Sea to Bering Strait, but in a series of subsequent decrees over the next few years it also acquired a remarkable array of ancillary functions, and along with them, remarkably wide powers. In effect Gluvsevmorput’ was given almost complete control of the entire vast area of Siberia north of 62″ (the latitude of Yakutsk) not only in terms of transport and economic development, but also education, health services and cultural development. Even with these extensive powers, however, the new organization’s first attempt at demonstrating that it was capable of tackling its primary task was a disastrous failure. In her attempt at making a one-season passage of the Northern Sea Route in the summer of 1933 the steamer Chelyuskin became beset in the ice of the Chukchi Sea, and after drifting helplessly for several months, was ultimately crushed and sank on February 13, 1934. However, the new organization’s reputation was definitely redeemed the following year when the icebreaker Fyodor Litke reached Murmansk on September 20, 1934, having succeeded where Chelyuskin had so utterly failed.

To summarise, one of Tony’s “trial runs in 1933” was “a disastrous failure”!

The icebreaker Chelyuskin
The icebreaker Chelyuskin

Next let’s take a look at Bill Barr’s “The First Soviet Convoy to the Mouth of the Lena“, published in 1982:

On 1 October 1932 the icebreaking steamer Sibiryukov emerged from the ice in Bering Strait having completed the first one-season passage of the Northern Sea Route from Arkhangelsk. It was not an unqualified success, however; Sibiryakov had lost her propeller two weeks previously and had managed to reach the edge of the ice only under improvised sails and with a large measure of luck.

Moving on to another 1933 “trial run” Bill informs us that:

In 1933 the newly-formed Gluvsevmorput’ dispatched the first convoy of freighters via the Northern Sea Route to the mouth of the Lena to deliver cargoes bound for the Yakut ASSR. It consisted of three freighters and was escorted by the icebreaker Krasin. Despite heavy ice conditions in the Kara Sea two of the ships reached Tiksi, their destination, and unloaded their cargoes. The third ship, bound for Bukhta Nordvik with an oil exploration expedition, ran aground near its destination and turned back. Severe ice conditions in Proliv Vil’kitskogo forced all three ships to winter at the Ostrova Samuila. A shore station was built and a full scientific programme maintained all winter. Urvantsev, the chief scientist, took the opportunity to make a winter reconnaissance survey of the northern portion of Poluostrov Taymyr using half-tracks. The convoy was freed from the ice by the icebreaker Fyodor Litke in the summer of 1934 and having completed their tasks all three ships ultimately returned safely to Arkhangel’sk.

Not exactly an unqualified success either then, and certainly not a single season transit of the full Northern Sea Route! However despite all her assorted trials and tribulations the icebreaker Fyodor Litke did manage to complete a single season transit from Vladivostok to Murmansk, and according to Wikipedia “became a Soviet propaganda icon”.

Returning to Barr 1980, we discover that:

In the summer of 1935 Fyodor Litke escorted the first two laden freighters, Vantsetti and Iskra, through the Sea Route from west to east; sailing from Leningrad on July 8, they reached Vladivostok on October 8. Meanwhile two other steamers, Anadyr’ and Stalingrad, made the through-passage in the opposite direction, sailing from Vladivostok on July 23 and 25 and reaching Leningrad on October 16.

The following season (1936) saw a spectacular increase in activity along the Northern Sea Route; a total of 160 ships travelled parts of the route (the bulk of them from the west to the mouth of the Yenisey and back), while 16 vessels made the through-passage, 14 from west to east, and 2 from east to west, the latter being Vantsetti and Iskra homeward bound to Leningrad. The ships heading east included the first Soviet warships to utilize the Northern Sea Route, the destroyers Voykov and Stalin, escorted once again by Fyodor Litke

Hence 1935 and 1936 were far more successful years than the previous two, but then we come to 1937. Quoting Barr 1980 once again:

The plans for the 1937 season were equally ambitious, but by then the run of luck had ended. Due to a combination of abnormally severe ice conditions and some very unfortunate decisions as to routing of convoys and deployment of icebreakers towards the end of the season, 25 ships were obliged to winter on an emergency basis at various points in the Soviet Arctic. Perhaps the most critical aspect, however, was that of Gluvsevmorput’s fleet of icebreakers; only one, the veteran Yermak was not forced to winter in the Arctic.

One of the other questions I asked Tony Brown over at Prof. Judy’s was:

It would be helpful if you selected an ice chart from the 1930s to illustrate your point.

Tony still hasn’t got around to doing that, so why don’t we take a look at the August 1936 chart from the archives of the Danish Meteorological Institute:


It certainly doesn’t look to me as though the entire Northern Sea Route was covered by no more than 3/10 concentration sea ice in August 1936. For comparison purposes here’s the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute ice chart for the end of August 2016:


For an eyewitness account of conditions along the Northern Sea Route in 2016 see our series of articles on the voyage of the yacht Northabout

The 11th Key Science Moment of 2016

A brief history of scientific “churnalism” in the age of social media. The “post-truth” of The Guardian’s 11th Key Science Moment of 2016.

On November 7th 2016 we broke this astonishing news on Twitter:

Nobody noticed! Then on November 16th 2016 Zack Labe did likewise:

The story got some legs. Zack got pushback from some “skeptics” and then the AGU blogged about the story.:

My attention was called to this issue last week thanks to the Twitter feed of Zack Labe, a PhD student in Earth Systems Science at the University of California – Irvine. He makes great graphics showing the latest data on polar climate.

Then he got interviewed by the AGU. The AGU linked back to the graphic graphic in question in the clouds at Google, but there was no mention of our November 6th article or the real source of the story. The Arctic Sea Ice Forum (ASIF for short).

It’s now December 18th, and as far as I’m aware that remains the case in the mainstream media (MSM for short). The Arctic Sea Ice Forum grew out the earlier Arctic Sea Ice Blog (ASIB for short). The proprietor of both the ASIB and ASIF has been revealed by CBC to be one Neven Curlin. They recently interviewed Neven, and even gave him top billing above Sir David Attenborough in the resulting podcast:

‘Like watching a train wreck’: Blogger quits writing about climate change

However the title of the CBC article is inaccurate, as CBC would surely have noticed if they’d read Neven’s article on the ASIB on the topic of his “sabbatical”.

Sabbatical (I hope)

Now comes news that the “astonishingly low level” of global sea ice area that we brought to the waiting world’s attention on November 7th has today been chosen by The Guardian as one of their:

12 key science moments of 2016

The story outlined above and the associated graphic graphic are conspicuous only by their absence, but the Grauniad have thoughtfully provided this pretty stock photo of some sea ice:

Scroll down the Guardian’s article to number 11, pausing to read Tamsin Edwards’ section on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at number 9 on the way down (unlike CO₂ concentrations). There you will discover Professor Andrea Sella’s opinion that:

In October, unprecedented weather patterns drove icy winds across Siberia, pushing Arctic temperatures up to 20C above normal and parts of the Arctic Ocean failed to refreeze; in the Antarctic, sea ice thawed faster than usual. For me the bombshell came from a Dutch blogger in late November: a plot of the Arctic plus Antarctic showed sea ice this autumn to be tracking 4m km2 (the size of western Europe) below the normal average. This is a 7-sigma event – with a chance of about one in a hundred billion of being random. The ice doesn’t lie. If we don’t take this seriously now, our children will ask us why.

The “plot of the Arctic plus Antarctic” Andrea refers to was created by “Wipneus”, who I suppose could reasonably be described as a “Dutch programmer”. Neven could reasonably be described as a blogger, although he is much more than that. Although he was born in The Netherlands he no longer lives there.

Here’s the current state of play:


Are your children asking “Why?” yet?

Should anybody wish to pose that question on Twitter please see:

Expensive ENSO Expertise

Regular readers will be aware that in a recent article in the Mail on Sunday David Rose quoted Professor Judith Curry as stating that:

The record warm years of 2015 and 2016 were primarily caused by the super El Nino

The article in question also included this graph:

MoS2 Template Master

It looks as though David’s left hand doesn’t know what his right hand is doing. Was the 2015 El Niño “Super” or “Very strong”? And how about the 1997/98 El Niño. Was that one really merely “Strong”?

We sought the professional opinion of an eminent expert in such matters, according to David Rose at least – Professor Judith Curry. Here’s how we got on, firstly at Prof. Curry’s “Climate Etc.” blog:


Since you mention the subject, I was wondering if Dr. Curry could take a look at the “the authoritative Met Office ‘HADCRUT4’ surface record” mentioned in David Rose’s latest Mail article and explain how it justifies her “The record warm years of 2015 and 2016 were primarily caused by the super El Nino” remark quoted in his previous one:

Post-Truth Global and Arctic Temperatures



“No answer!” was the stern reply! We tried again on a different thread at Prof. Judy’s place.



Bill the Frog has asked me to check the objective criteria Prof. Curry uses for differentiating between “weak”, “strong”, “very strong” and “super” El Niños. Likewise for La Niñas.

Can you assist by any chance Ristvan? Can Judith?



JH, Sure could. But first prove you are just not more loser snark.
Enso is variously but in eqch case precisely defined. I defer to Bob Tisdale comcerning details. And you?



I defer to the BoM in the first instance. How about Judith?


A different Them:

Jim Hunt

I expect the answers you are looking for are in this article by Judith back in 2014



Thanks Tony, but that’s not Judith’s expert opinion on “objective criteria” either.

She did respond to my similar request on Twitter, but I’m still none the wiser I’m afraid:



“No answer!” was the stern reply!

December 2016 Arctic Report Card

This is the Great White Con version as opposed to the NOAA version published during the Fall AGU conference earlier this week, although there is some overlap.

Hot off the presses, here’s how Arctic sea ice age has progressed over the last year and a bit:

The 4 and 5 year old ice looks to be edging away from the area north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago towards the Fram Strait. Here’s the current CryoSat-2 Arctic sea ice thickness map:


Almost no ice over 2 meters thick to be found in the Beaufort sector or anywhere on the Siberian side of the Arctic. Here’s the current AMSR2 Arctic sea ice area graph:


Lowest for the date in the satellite record. Here’s the NSIDC’s long term trend in November sea ice extent:


Act 1 of a 3 act play according to Don Perovich at AGU. Here’s the current PIOMAS Arctic sea ice volume anomaly graph:


Lowest for the date in the satellite record. Here’s NOAA’s Arctic and global surface temperature graph:


Warmest in a record going back to 1900. Here’s the current DMI >80N surface temperature graph:


and here’s the current Arctic surface temperature anomaly map:


Finally, for the moment at least, here’s global sea ice area just for good measure:



Need I say more? How about this:


Ice has no agenda. It just melts.
Out of the labs and into the streets?

Arctic Sea Ice News from AGU

I just watched the live stream of the fall 2016 AGU press conference about the findings of the “First results from the Norwegian Young Sea ICE Expedition”.

Here’s the associated video of the expedition:

Here are the bullet points:

Initial results suggest that the thinner and younger ice is altogether different from older multiyear ice. It moves faster, breaks up easier, melts faster, and is more vulnerable to storms. This has important consequences for the Arctic as a whole, as our current knowledge is largely based on information from the “old Arctic.”

The Atmosphere

• For the first time, N-ICE2015 researchers directly observed large winter storms over sea ice and saw that they have significant effects on the young, thinner ice. The high winds create a lot of stress on the sea ice by pushing it around and breaking it up.
• One winter storm raised the air temperature from -40 F to +32 F in less than 48 hours, while the moisture in the air increased 10 times. All of these factors significantly warm the surface of the snow, even in mid-winter, and slow the growth of ice.

The Sea Ice and Snow Cover

• Researchers on the drifting ice camps found more snow on top of the ice than expected. This insulated the ice from the atmosphere, slowing its growth in winter and surface melt in summer.
• The sea ice was sometimes flooded by seawater as the large snow load pushed the thinner ice below sea level.
• The thinner sea ice was more dynamic than researchers have seen before. This could mean more ridging but also more cracks and leads between ice floes.

The Ocean

• Winter storms caused the sea ice to drift so fast that it increased mixing of the water beneath the ice. Deeper, warmer water was mixed up closer to the sea ice, causing it to melt from below despite winter air temperatures that were below freezing.
• Researchers saw summer storms stir up deep warm waters and melt as much as 25 cm of ice in a single day.

The Ecosystem

• For the first time, N-ICE2015 researchers observed an algae bloom under snow-covered pack ice. Thinner and more dynamic Arctic sea ice allows more light transmission to the ocean, especially through cracks and leads. This triggers earlier phytoplankton blooms under the snow-covered ice.
• The phytoplankton species that dominated the under-ice bloom does not sink to the deep ocean. Such shifts in phytoplankton species composition, associated with early under-ice phytoplankton blooms, could thus have important implications for the strength of the biological carbon pump in the Arctic.

There was also mention of the “waves in ice” event that the R/V Lance experienced back in June 2015:


P.S. A recording of the N-ICE2015 press conference is now available:

Next up on the live stream is was the 2016 “Arctic Report Card“. Here’s the associated video:

No doubt because of the recent controversy concerning the effects of the 2015/16 El Niño the first graphic that caught my eye was this one:


In the question and answer session the obvious question was asked. The answer was that while attribution is difficult the 2015/16 El Niño did have some effect on Arctic sea ice. However currently we’ve only seen “the first act of a 3 act play”. Act 2 will be the maximum extent in March.

In answer to another question, a focus of research over the next 10 years should be the interactions between mid latitudes and the Arctic.

P.S. A recording of the Arctic Report Card press conference is now available:

A variety of cryospheric posters are available via:

Post-Truth Global and Arctic Temperatures

“Post-truth” is the the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016. The definition reads as follows:

post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

and according to Oxford Dictionaries:

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

Our old friend David Rose has been remarkably quiet on the topic of Arctic sea ice recently. Presumably the objective facts from the Arctic are impossible to spin to his satisfaction even for a man of David’s talents? However that didn’t stop him from penning an article for The Mail on Sunday at the end of November on the topic of the recent “record highs in global temperatures“:

Global average temperatures over land have plummeted by more than 1C since the middle of this year – their biggest and steepest fall on record.

The news comes amid mounting evidence that the recent run of world record high temperatures is about to end. The fall, revealed by Nasa satellite measurements of the lower atmosphere, has been caused by the end of El Niño – the warming of surface waters in a vast area of the Pacific west of Central America.

MoS2 Template Master

The Mail article helpfully included this one year old video from the World Meteorological Organization, explaining the basics of the El Niño phenomenon:

According to the commentary:

This phenomenon affects weather conditions across the equatorial Pacific, with potential knock on effects in other parts of the world.

We’ll get on to the “potential knock on effects” in the Arctic eventually, but let’s start with a snippet of Mr. Rose’s “post-truth politics”:

Some scientists, including Dr Gavin Schmidt, head of Nasa’s climate division, have claimed that the recent highs were mainly the result of long-term global warming.

Last year, Dr Schmidt said 2015 would have been a record hot year even without El Nino. ‘The reason why this is such a warm record year is because of the long-term underlying trend, the cumulative effect of the long-term warming trend of our Earth,’ he said. This was ‘mainly caused’ by the emission of greenhouse gases by humans.

Other experts have also disputed Dr Schmidt’s claims. Professor Judith Curry, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, said yesterday: ‘I disagree with Gavin. The record warm years of 2015 and 2016 were primarily caused by the super El Nino.’ The slowdown in warming was, she added, real, and all the evidence suggested that since 1998, the rate of global warming has been much slower than predicted by computer models – about 1C per century.

David Whitehouse, a scientist who works with Lord Lawson’s sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the massive fall in temperatures following the end of El Nino meant the warming hiatus or slowdown may be coming back. ‘According to the satellites, the late 2016 temperatures are returning to the levels they were at after the 1998 El Nino. The data clearly shows El Nino for what it was – a short-term weather event,’ he said.

In case you’re wondering where the politics is in all of this, you need look no further than here:

The Twitter account of the United States’ House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology quotes a Breitbart article by another old friend of ours, James Delingpole, which quotes David Rose’s article in the Mail on Sunday:

The last three years may eventually come to be seen as the final death rattle of the global warming scare. Thanks [sic] what’s now recognised as an unusually strong El Nino, global temperatures were driven to sufficiently high levels to revive the alarmist narrative – after an unhelpful pause period of nearly 20 years – that the world had got hotter than ever before.

In case you’re also wondering about the objective facts of the matter David Rose quotes with approval “the authoritative Met Office ‘Hadcrut4’ surface record” in his latest article in the Mail on Sunday this very morning:

New official data issued by the Met Office confirms that world average temperatures have plummeted since the middle of the year at a faster and steeper rate than at any time in the recent past.

The huge fall follows a report by this newspaper that temperatures had cooled after a record spike. Our story showed that these record high temperatures were triggered by naturally occurring but freak conditions caused by El Nino – and not, as had been previously suggested, by the cumulative effects of man-made global warming.

The Mail on Sunday’s report was picked up around the world and widely attacked by green propagandists as being ‘cherry-picked’ and based on ‘misinformation’. The report was, in fact, based on Nasa satellite measurements of temperatures in the lower atmosphere over land – which tend to show worldwide changes first, because the sea retains heat for longer.

There were claims – now exploded by the Met Office data shown here – that our report was ‘misleading’ and ‘cherry-picked’.

Yet bizarrely, the fiercest criticism was reserved for claims we never made – that there isn’t a long-term warming trend, mainly caused by human emissions.

This just wasn’t in our report – which presumably, critics hadn’t even read.

We’ve explained all this to David before, yet bizzarely we obviously need to do so again. Here’s the Mail’s version of the latest HADCRUT 4 data from the Met Office:


and here’s ours:


Can you spot any “cumulative effects of man-made global warming”?

Messrs Smith, Rose, Delingpole, Whitehouse et al. may well be unaware of the fact that the satellite temperature data they’re so fond of cherry picking doesn’t include data from the lower troposphere between 80 degrees North and the North Pole. Just in case they fancy spinning the latest objective facts from the Arctic in the near future, here’s the long term autumnal temperature trend:


and here’s the long term November Arctic sea ice extent trend:


NASA Researches Storm Frank in the Arctic

Regular readers may recall that as 2016 began we pondered how “Storm Frank” might have affected the Arctic. Now NASA have published some research into that very topic, entitled ” The Impact of the Extreme Winter 2015/16 Arctic Cyclone on the Barents–Kara Seas”. The paper itself is paywalled, but according to an associated article on the NASA web site:

A large cyclone that crossed the Arctic in December 2015 brought so much heat and humidity to this otherwise frigid and dry environment that it thinned and shrunk the sea ice cover during a time of the year when the ice should have been growing thicker and stronger.

The cyclone formed on Dec. 28, 2015, in the middle of the North Atlantic, and traveled to the United Kingdom and Iceland before entering the Arctic on Dec. 30, lingering in the area for several days. During the height of the storm, the mean air temperatures in the Kara and Barents seas region, north of Russia and Norway, were 18 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) warmer than what the average had been for this time of the year since 2003.

The extremely warm and humid air mass associated with the cyclone caused an amount of energy equivalent to the power used in one year by half a million American homes to be transferred from the atmosphere to the surface of the sea ice in the Kara-Barents region. As a result, the area’s sea ice thinned by almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) on average.

At the same time, the storm winds pushed the edges of the sea ice north, compacting the ice pack.

Here’s a video with commentary by Linette Boisvert, lead author of the paper:

From the commentary:

As a result of this cyclone, the concentration of the sea ice in the Barents and Kara Seas decreased by ten percent, and the sea ice edge moved northward. The loss in sea ice area during this time was equivalent to the size of Florida. Sea ice extent stayed low throughout the month of January with large parts of the Barents and Kara Seas remaining unseasonably ice-free, which probably helped contribute to a record low Arctic sea ice maximum.

Somewhat earlier than last year another strong cyclone has been having a similar effect on the Arctic over the last week. A cyclone entered the Central Arctic via the Fram Strait, reaching a minimum central pressure of 954 hPa on November 14th:


Here is the Wavewatch III wave height forecast for November 15th 2016:


and here is NOAA’s temperature anomaly reanalysis for November 16th 2016:


As a consequence of the strong winds, huge waves and 20 degrees Celsius temperature anomaly across much of the Arctic, sea ice area has been falling during a period when it is usually increasing rapidly:


Global Sea Ice At Record Low Levels

NSIDC 5 day averaged Antarctic sea ice extent is now at a record low level for the date, since satellite measurements began in 1979:


NSIDC 5 day averaged Arctic sea ice extent has been at a record low level for the date for quite a while:


Combining those two facts means that global sea ice extent is also at a record low level for the date by a considerable margin. The gap with all previous years in the satellite record is even more stark if you look at global sea ice area:


The October Arctic sea ice volume numbers from PIOMAS have also just been published:


By October 31st that metric was also “lowest ever” for the date.