Facts About the Arctic in September 2020

A detailed dissection of the 2020 minimum of various Arctic sea ice extent metrics can be found on a dedicated thread. All other Arctic news in September will be found below. As is usually the case, let’s set the ball rolling by taking a look at Wipneus’s visualisations of the August PIOMAS gridded thickness data:

together with the computed volume:

and anomaly graphs:

PIOMAS volume at the end of August was still firmly in 3rd place behind 2012 and 2019.

[Edit – September 4th]

However Arctic sea ice extent is firmly in second place behind 2012, although that does not also apply to area:

[Edit – September 15th]

This is the first appearance of some “new ice” on one the Canadian Ice Service’s “stage of development” charts covering the Canadian Arctic Archipelago:

In this case in McDougall Sound to the west of Cornwallis Island.

[Edit – September 19th]

The mid month PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been released:

The computed volume is now in second place below 2019:

The minimum volume so far is on the last day of the available data, so we’ll have to wait another 2 weeks or so before coming to any conclusions about 2020 minimum Arctic sea ice volume.

One curiosity has struck me. The PIOMAS model shows Lancaster Sound almost full of sea ice on September 15th, whereas the Canadian Ice Service chart still does not:

Watch this space!

The 2020 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Extent

I’ve been waiting for the results of the ARCUS SIPN August call, but despite the timetable specifying “26 August 2020 (Wednesday)” they’ve still not been published and I can wait no longer!

Hopefully the August “predictions” will be available soon, but for the moment let’s take a look at the July 2020 Sea Ice Outlook instead:

For the Arctic, the median July Outlook for September 2020 average sea-ice extent is 4.36 million square kilometers, essentially identical to the median prediction in the June report, with quartiles of 4.1 and 4.6 million square kilometers. For comparison, the historical record September low over the period of satellite observations was set in 2012 at 3.57 million square kilometers, and the second lowest record was 4.27 million square kilometers set in 2007. This year’s projection is close to the 2019 observed September sea-ice extent of 4.32 million square kilometers. As was also the case for the June report, only two of the outlooks project September sea-ice extent below the 2012 record. The consensus judgement against a new record low September sea-ice extent hence remains unchanged. Interestingly, as of this report, observed extent stands at a record low for this time of year.

Note that those numbers represent “September 2020 average sea-ice extent” and not the daily minimum. Let’s now take a look at the assorted different flavours of “Arctic sea ice extent” metric. Firstly here’s the NSIDC’s “Charctic” 5 day average extent:

Next here’s JAXA/ViSHOP extent, generally assumed to be a “2 day average”:

Next here’s the DMI version, which neglects to include 2012:

followed by the Alfred Wegenr Institute/University of Bremen version:

Last but not least here is our own favourite high resolution AMSR2 version of extent, plus sea ice area for good measure:

Would anybody care to play “spot the difference” with me?

[Edit – August 31st]

Stop press! The August ARCUS SIPN September average Arctic sea ice extent “predictions” have just been published. Here’s the graphical overview:

According to ARCUS:

The August Outlook is based on a total of 39 forecasts, of which 25 are new August submissions while the remaining 14 are carried over from June and July. The median August Outlook value for the September 2020 sea-ice extent is 4.30 million square kilometers, with quartile values of 4.1 and 4.5 million square kilometers. Of the 39 August 2020 contributions, 16 are based on dynamical models, 17 are based on statistical methods, 4 are based on heuristic approaches (qualitative analyses), and 2 used machine learning-based methods. The median of the August submissions is close to that from July (4.36 million square kilometers) and June (4.33 million square kilometers). The 2020 August Outlook median is higher than 2019 (4.22 million square kilometers) and lower than 2018 (4.57 million square kilometers).

[Edit – September 1st]

Following a one day decline of 51,770 km2 JAXA/ViSHOP minimum extent is now 2nd lowest in their records going back to 1979:

Just 2012 to beat!

The NSIDC 5 day average extent is now also lower than all previous minima since 1979 apart from 2012:

[Edit – September 4th]

[Edit – September 10th]

After being offline for maintenance the ViSHOP web site is up and running again this morning, to reveal:

JAXA extent stuck on 3.59 million square kilometers two days running! Perhaps the 2020 minimum is here already?

[Edit – September 15th]

A combination of central freezing with peripheral melting has resulted in high resolution AMSR2 area and extent both “flatlining” for several days:

Which means it’s still too early to consider calling the 2020 minimum for any of the assorted metrics!

[Edit – September 18th]

New ice has started appearing on the Canadian Ice Service charts of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and JAXA extent has just posted a 100k daily increase:

The NSIDC 5 day averaged extent is also on the increase:

Here then are the preliminary 2020 minimum extent values for the most watched metrics:

JAXA/ViSHOP – 3.55 million square kilometers on September 13th

NSIDC Charctic – 3.74 million square kilometers on September 15th

Watch this space!

Past Evidence Supports Complete Loss of Arctic Sea-ice by 2035

Our title today is shamelessly plagiarised from the “Watts Up With That” blog of our old friend Anthony Watts. However daring to be different we have redacted the initial word “Claim -“.

The WUWT blog post is bylined “Charles Rotter”, and refers to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change entitled “Sea-ice-free Arctic during the Last Interglacial supports fast future loss“. Here’s an extract from the abstract:

The Last Interglacial (LIG), a warmer period 130,000–116,000 years before present, is a potential analogue for future climate change. Stronger LIG summertime insolation at high northern latitudes drove Arctic land summer temperatures 4–5 °C higher than in the pre-industrial era. Climate model simulations have previously failed to capture these elevated temperatures, possibly because they were unable to correctly capture LIG sea-ice changes. Here, we show that the latest version of the fully coupled UK Hadley Center climate model (HadGEM3) simulates a more accurate Arctic LIG climate, including elevated temperatures. Improved model physics, including a sophisticated sea-ice melt-pond scheme, result in a complete simulated loss of Arctic sea ice in summer during the LIG, which has yet to be simulated in past generations of models. This ice-free Arctic yields a compelling solution to the long-standing puzzle of what drove LIG Arctic warmth and supports a fast retreat of future Arctic summer sea ice.

There’s no mention of “2035” in there, so let’s look instead at yesterday’s press release from the British Antarctic Survey:

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial – the warm period around 127,000 years ago – have puzzled scientists for decades.  Now the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international team of researchers to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with present day.  Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.

During spring and early summer, shallow pools of water form on the surface of Arctic sea-ice.  These ‘melt ponds’ are important for how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space.  The new Hadley Centre model is the UK’s most advanced physical representation of the Earth’s climate and a critical tool for climate research and incorporates sea-ice and melt ponds.

Using the model to look at Arctic sea ice during the last interglacial, the team concludes that the impact of intense springtime sunshine created many melt ponds, which played a crucial role in sea-ice melt.  A simulation of the future using the same model indicates that the Arctic may become sea ice-free by 2035.

That’s more like it! So too is the accompanying image of some melt ponds:

Melt Ponds, Arctic Chukchi Sea. Image: Julienne Strove, National Snow and Ice Data Center

The comments underneath the WUWT article are of course 99% nonsense. Let’s see if we can do better here, shall we?


Facts About the Arctic in August 2020

A new month begins today, and at the moment it looks as though it’s going to be the most interesting one since August 2012. Here once again is the satellite image of the enormous cyclone that was spinning over the Beaufort/Chukchi Seas just a few days ago:

Here too is the effect of the cyclone on the trajectory of the JAXA Arctic sea ice extent graph:

Here too is the current prognosis of the late Andrew Slater’s “Slater Probabilistic Ice Extent” 50 day forecast:

The cyclone has obviously resulted in a reduction in the rate of extent decline, but take a look at the high resolution AMSR2 “compaction” graph:

The gaps between the remaining sea ice floes have evidently increased, and hence the ice area is declining more rapidly than its extent.

[Edit – August 2nd]

Here’s an animation, based on the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration maps, which reveals the motion of the sea ice across the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas for the last two months:

Note in particular the side effects of the recent cyclone, visible at the end of the video.

Here too is a close up of the current state of the remaining ice in the Chukchi Sea, snapped by the Suomi NPP satellite through a gap in the clouds:

Plus the current open water north of Greenland. Perhaps once Polarstern has been flushed out into the open water of the Fram Strait at the end of the MOSAiC expedition she could take another look at this almost completely unexplored area of the Arctic Ocean?

[Edit – August 6th]

The latest gridded thickness data has been released by the PIOMAS team, and here are Wipneus’s visualisations:

According to the Polar Science Center:

Average Arctic sea ice volume in July 2020 was 9,300 km3. This value is  only 400 km3 above the  record minimum  value of 8,900 km3 set in 2019. This makes 2020 the fourth lowest on record for July with 2012, 2017,2019 falling just below 2020.

JAXA extent is still lowest for the date, but following the recent cyclone it looks as though it will not maintain that position for much longer:

Now we’re in the month of August it’s possible to do a direct comparison with AMSR2 data for 2012. Here’s sea ice area for the Central Arctic Basin:

[Edit – August 8th]

All of a sudden JAXA extent is in 3rd place in the race to the minimum:

However let’s also take a close look at the state of the sea ice in the Beaufort and Wandel Seas shall we?

At this juncture I reckon that come mid September second place is now more likely than first. However as always, it still all depends on the weather.

[Edit – August 9th]

Surprising as it may seem, high resolution AMSR2 Central Arctic Basin sea ice area has so far managed to keep up with the precipitous drop in 2012:

North of Greenland the clouds have cleared closer to the North Pole, to reveal this:

Fresh this morning from Terra, a rather cloudy view of the devastation near 80N, 150W:

[Edit – August 10th]

In a not entirely unexpected development one of ex Prof. Judy’s denizens is quibbling about the current condition of sea ice in the Arctic. Hence here is a close up of some “gaping holes in the sea ice cover” at 88N between Greenland and the North Pole:

[Edit – August 13th]

A nice clear view this morning of the marginal ice zone of the “Laptev Bite” and thereabouts from the Suomi satellite :

[Edit – August 16th]

JAXA AMSR2 extent has fallen below 5 million km²:

Having been flushed out of the Central Arctic through the Fram Strait the polar research vessel Polarstern is back, seemingly intent on taking a close look at the North Pole:

[Edit – August 19th]

The mid month PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been published:

According to the Polar Science Center model Arctic sea ice volume is currently third lowest after 2012 and 2019.

[Edit – August 24th]

Arctic sea ice area based on NSIDC concentration data is now in a “statistical tie” with 2012 for the honour of “lowest for the date” in the satellite record:


High resolution AMSR2 area isn’t far behind:

[Edit – August 24th]

A nice clear view of the disintegrating sea ice north of the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas yesterday:

Watch this space very closely for the next few weeks!

The Northwest Passage in 2020

Whilst the Northern Sea Route has opened up early this year, it will be be quite some time before the Northwest Passage follows suit. Nevertheless our old friend Northabout is currently sailing in the direction of Baffin Bay, so now seems as good a time as any to start speculating about the prospects for the Summer of 2020. The passage through Lancaster Sound is already navigable:

However as the Canadian Ice Service chart also shows, there are still some areas of 7-8/10 concentration along the Beaufort Sea coast en route to the Bering Strait. The central Canadian Arctic Archipelago is solid 9-10/10 at present, but what’s the prognosis? Here’s the final CryoSat-2/SMOS merged thickness map of the winter, from April 15th:

This suggests that the thickest ice on the usual route through the Northwest Passage for small vessels was around 1.2 meters in Larsen Sound. This seemed suspiciously thin to me, so next I tried the underlying Cryosat-2 data from AWI, which revealed this:

Suspicions confirmed. It looks like AWI are ignoring CS2 data in the CAA for 2020! Here’s how the CPOM Cryosat-2 numbers look for a similar date, which is hopefully nearer the reality:

The CAA was fairly cloud free on June 23rd, and this satellite image shows that surface melt had started across the entire central section of the Northwest Passage:

NASA Worldview “false-color”image of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on June 23rd 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

All in all it looks to me as though “small vessels” will be able to successfully make it through the Northwest Passage later in the summer of 2020, with thicker ice drifting south into Larsen Sound from the McClintock Channel being a potential bottleneck.

[Edit – August 1st]

Whilst there are certainly some cruise ships planning on voyaging through the Northwest Passage this summer it looks as though there will be very few yachts or other small vessels. According to Transport Canada:

To better protect Arctic communities, pleasure craft are prohibited from operating in Canada’s Arctic coastal waters north of the 60th parallel until October 31, 2020, at the earliest:

  • to limit any potential interaction with remote and vulnerable coastal communities in consideration of minimal health care infrastructure in these waterways that notably comprise the Northwest Passage as well as the territorial sea of Canada surrounding Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast).
  • to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to focus efforts on essential operations including community resupply ice-breaking, environmental response, and search and rescue.

With this proviso:

In the Canadian Arctic coastal waters, the following measures will not apply to:

Foreign pleasure craft exercising their right of innocent passage within the territorial sea. However, any such transits will be subject to receipt of a 60-day written notice in advance of arrival in Canadian Arctic coastal waters to Transport Canada, and be subject to any conditions the Minister determines necessary to ensure the protection of marine personnel and of local communities (for example, additional insurance, rescue strategy).

[Edit – August 6th]

The skies were clear over the Northwest Passage yesterday, and this is what could be seen from the Aqua satellite:

I don’t know about you, but based on that image I reckon a plucky little yacht like Northabout could just about squeeze past the remaining sea ice along the coast of the Boothia Peninsula?

However let’s also take a look at the charts of the Canadian Ice Service shall we? The daily regional maps don’t cover the “squeeze point” yet, but the weekly map dated August 3rd reveals this:

We’re forced to conclude that officially the Northwest Passage isn’t quite “open” yet!

[Edit – August 7th]

The Canadian Ice Service have extended their daily coverage to the “choke point” we looked at above:

The Northwest Passage is still not “officially” open!

[Edit – August 8th]

The southern “choke point” is still blocking the way, and winds are currently pushing ice into the north of Peel Sound:


This Sentinel 2 image from August 6th shows the Bellot Strait to be completely clear of ice, so despite that route 6 through the Northwest Passage may well be very open soon.

[Edit – August 11th]

Snow White is pleased to announce that she cut the ribbon at the 2020 Northwest Passage route 6 opening ceremony earlier today:

[Edit – August 14th]

Whilst this is no doubt only temporary, the route along the coast of the Boothia Peninsula is now blocked by an area of 7-8/10 concentration ice:

[Edit – August 16th]

Route 6 is open once again, and it is also now possible to take a circuitous route around the north of both Somerset and King William Islands without encountering anything worse than 6/10 concentration ice:

[Edit – August 25th]

As one door opens, another one closes?

[Edit – August 27th]

Making one of my periodic visits to MarineTraffic I couldn’t help but notice a “pleasure craft” approaching Bellot Strait!

Firing up a search engine revealed this intriguing news on CBC:

According to the Canadian government, he has no business being there. But 72-year-old Peter Smith is sailing the Northwest Passage anyway, in violation of COVID-19-related orders prohibiting most foreign yachts from entering Canadian waters.

Since June 1, Transport Canada has prohibited pleasure craft from operating in Arctic waters “to better protect Arctic communities” from the spread of COVID-19.

But according to a Facebook post on Aug. 20, Bobby Klengenberg, a local observer with the Inuit Marine Monitoring Program, spotted Smith’s custom yacht, the Kiwi Roa, off the coast of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. 

Transport Canada confirmed the sighting in an email to CBC News, and said the vessel was told “to depart Canadian waters and not make landfall.”

A spokesperson said the Canadian Coast Guard will “monitor the vessel’s transit out of the region.” If Smith is indeed found to have broken the law, they wrote, the agency “will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action,” including penalties of up to $5,000.

Watch this space!

Northabout Heads North Again

Regular readers may recall our coverage of the plucky little yacht Northabout’s circumnavigation of the Arctic in 2016? We are delighted to be able to inform you that (s)he is intent on heading back to the Northwest Passage once again next year, intending to travel from east to west this time around.

Meanwhile this year the plan is to visit the west coast of Greenland before returning to Jersey for the winter. Here’s how the news was announced on the local television channel here in South West England:

Northabout is the means of transport employed by Tobias Carter and Sophie Simonin of the Unu Mondo expedition as they attempt to “Enrich the Knowledge of the Arctic World with Scientific Projects” amongst other things:

Unu Mondo is a 4 months sailing expedition into the Arctic aimed to gather scientific data and testimonies from local communities to better anticipate climate change and promote concrete actions.

Leaving from Saint-Malo, France it will reach Greenland (2020) then Alaska through the famous Northwest Passage (2021), stopping on the road in the villages of the West coast of Greenland and will culminate in a documentary.

Unu Mondo team is composed of 2 skippers, a handful of scientists and a pinch of audiovisual professionals.

According to the timeline on the expedition web site Tobias and Sophie originally intended to set sail from France at the end of May. However plans seem to have changed, in part because Sophie recently tested positive for Covid-19. According to the Unu Mondo Facebook page Northabout actually set off for the Arctic from Roscoff on July 7th. Here’s the Unu Mondo Expedition’s latest bilingual video update, which amongst other things reveals Northabout’s somewhat cramped interior:

[Edit – July 14th]

Currently Northabout has reached the middle of the North Atlantic, as revealed by the Unu Mondo live tracking map:

[Edit – July 21st]

The Unu Mondo Expedition team have reached Prince Christian Sound, just north of Cape Farewell in Southern Greenland:

Northabout was last there in October 2016. Here’s what the scenery looks like:

When Northabout was still 400 nautical miles from Greenland the team released a Météo France drifting weather buoy into the North Atlantic:

Watch this space!

Facts About the Arctic in July 2020

The new month starts with JAXA extent “lowest for the date in the satellite record” by a whisker:

The high resolution Arctic sea ice area and extent graphs based on the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration data are also in “statistical ties” for that honour, in records going back to 2013:

The 2020 melting season currently seems to be a game of two (geographical) halves. The sea ice on the Siberian side of the Arctic is currently at record lows:

Whereas the Beaufort Sea is near a record high:

Currently the tell tale signs of surface melt are visible across most of the central Arctic, as are the large number of wildfires across Arctic Siberia:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Arctic on July 1st 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

[Edit – July 4th]

The June 30th PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been released, and here are the results of Wipneus’s number crunching:

This month including a visualisation of the increasing negative anomaly:

[Edit – July 6th]

A break in the clouds over the North Pole reveals the onset of surface melt:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the North Pole on July 6th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite
NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the North Pole on July 6th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

[Edit – July 8th]

After a brief hiatus there are once again some ice mass balance buoys installed at assorted locations across the Arctic. Some have ceased to function, but one of the buoys installed as part of the MOSAiC expedition is still sending back data as it heads towards the Fram Strait. Buoy 387850 is currently located at 81.66 N, 4.19 E. Here’s its ice mass balance plot:

As you can see, both surface and bottom melt are well under way, with just over a meter of ice still remaining.

Now let’s take a look at buoy 386840, currently located at 74.30 N, 132.60 W in the Beaufort Sea:

It looks as though the ice thickness has increased, but surely that can’t be right at this time of year? To try and find out I downloaded the raw data and plotted the temperature readings from the buoy’s thermistor string:

It looks to me as though the ice floe carrying the buoy is currently floating on some warm fresh water from a recently drained melt pond, which is confusing the sensor designed to measure the position of the bottom of the ice. There certainly seems to be far less than the claimed “1.653 m snow and ice thickness” still remaining to be melted!

[Edit – July 15th]

A very unusual image. Hardly a cloud in the sky over the North Pole yesterday:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the North Pole on July 14th 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

The July 2020 extent “plummet” shows no signs of ending just yet. Here’s the JAXA/ViSHOP version:

[Edit – July 17th]

JAXA AMSR2 extent is now below 7 million km², and the high resolution version is lower still:

As the “Laptev Bite” and the Atlantic periphery of open water extends further towards the North Pole, Central Arctic Basin extent is now also at record lows for the date in the AMSR2 record:

[Edit – July 19th]

Wipneus has crunched the mid month PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers, and here are the results:

Extent is currently lowest in the satellite era by a long way, but modelled volume is only fourth lowest!

Watch this space!

[Edit – July 21th]

At long last there’s a sub 1000 hPa MSLP low pressure area slowly wending its way across the central Arctic:

It seems to have bottomed out at 997 hPa. Perhaps this will inhibit the ongoing “plummet” in extent? JAXA extent fell by 114,342 km2 yesterday.

[Edit – July 23rd]

The Northern Sea Route has opened unusually early this year:

Based on the AMSR2 concentration maps from the University of Hamburg that happened on July 13th. The final choke point, as is so often the case, was the Vilkitsky Strait. According to the charts from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, by the 14th there was a narrow way through occupied by no more than 3/10 concentration ice:

[Edit – July 25th]

A mere three days away, and the GFS and ECMWF forecasts are in agreement, so there is a decent chance this setup will materialise in the real world:

Graphics via Tropical Tidbits

A 972(ish) hPa MSLP cyclone sitting over the ice Beaufort Sea by 12Z on Tuesday.

[Edit – July 27th]

The Sea Ice Prediction Network July forecast for this year’s September minimum extent have been released. Here’s the graphical overview:

This year’s median projected value from the July forecasts of 4.3 million square kilometers is essentially identical to the median from the June forecasts. Quartiles are 4.1 and 4.6 million square kilometers. As was also the case for June, only two projections, both by dynamic models, are for a new record low, below the mark of 3.57 million square kilometers set in 2012. One dynamical model predicts the September sea-ice extent above 5.0 million square kilometers, compared to two in the June report.

Note that the numbers quoted are for the average NSIDC extent across the month of September, not the lowest daily JAXA extent, which I suggested earlier would be “below 4 million km²” this year.

Meanwhile over on Twitter this evening (UTC):

[Edit – July 28th]

The MSLP of the (Great?) Arctic cyclone sank below 970 hPa overnight:

Here’s an early false colour snapshot of how (s)he looks from on high this afternoon (UTC), courtesy of the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite:

[Edit – July 29th]

First up today we have a more complete “true colour” image of the cyclone doing its worst yesterday, including a fairly clear view in the bottom left corner of the initial damage to the sea ice covering the eastern Beaufort Sea. This one is from the Aqua satellite:

Watch this space!

Facts About the Arctic in June 2020

As is our current habit this month’s report begins with the high resolution Arctic sea ice area and extent graphs based on the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration maps:

Area and extent are currently vying for second place with 2019 on the “lowest for the date” leader board, a little behind 2016 at this point in the 2020 melting season.

However following the extremely warm spring in Siberia, the sea ice area along the assorted sea that comprise the Northern Sea Route is well below all previous years in the AMSR2 record:

Another effect of the sweltering Siberian spring is evident in the melt ponds visible below the clouds across the southernmost parts of the Laptev Sea:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Laptev Sea on June 1st 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite
NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the Laptev Sea on June 1st 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite

plus the East Siberian Sea and Chaunskaya Bay:

NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the East Siberian Sea on June 1st 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite
NASA Worldview “false-color” image of the East Siberian Sea on June 1st 2020, derived from the MODIS sensor on the Terra satellite

[Edit – June 4th]

The May 31st PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been released, and Wipneus has crunched the numbers:

Here too is the latest volume graph:

According to the Polar Science Center’s May 2020 update:

Average Arctic sea ice volume in May 2020 was 21,500 km3. This value is 1700 km3 above the record minimum value of 19,800 km3 set in 2017, making it the sixth lowest on record. Monthly ice volume was 39% below the maximum in 1979 and 25% below the mean value for 1979-2019. May 2020 ice volume falls 0.8 standard deviations above the trend line. Daily volume anomalies for May progressed at a fairly normal pace for recent years. Average ice thickness is in the middle of the pack for the more recent years. Ice thickness anomalies for May 2020 relative to 2011-2018 continue the April pattern and show relatively thin ice along the Russian Coast and thicker than normal sea ice in the Barents sea. There are some fairly strong positive anomalies in the eastern Beaufort and north of Greenland. This anomaly pattern is likely due to the very strong positive Arctic-Oscillation index pattern that occurred during the Winter of 2020.

There looks to be a lot of anomalously thick ice waiting to melt out on the Atlantic periphery, and it will be interesting to see how the thicker ice in the eastern Beaufort Sea fares as the melting season progresses.

As also suggested by the area graph above, the Northern Sea Route is going to be open early in 2020. In fact a ice hardened tanker has already begun its journey through, unsupported by an icebreaker:

It was the “Christophe de Margerie” that on the 19th May kickstarted this year’s shipping season across the eastern part of the Northern Sea Route. The vessel owned and operated by Russian shipping company Sovcomflot loaded up liquefied natural gas in Sabetta and is due to arrive in the Chinese port of Jingtang on the 11th June. It was the earliest east-bound shipment on the route ever for this kind of vessel.

Shipments in the Northern Sea Route 27th May 2020. Map by MarineTraffic
Shipments in the Northern Sea Route 27th May 2020. Map by MarineTraffic

By 27th May, the ship had made it almost to Wrangel Island, information from ship tracker service MarineTraffic shows. The “Christophe de Margerie” is accompanied by nuclear powered icebreaker “Yamal”.

In the wake of the almost 300 meter long vessel now follows the “Vladimir Voronin”, a vessel that is operated by company Teekay. The “Vladimir Voronin” on the 25th May left Sabetta and was on May 27th located in the Vilkitsky Strait north of the Taymyr Peninsula.

The ”Vladimir Voronin” is not accompanied by icebreaker. The “50 Let Pobedy” that escorted the ship out of Sabetta and eastwards towards the Vilkitsky Strait has now returned and appears to be on its way back to Sabetta.

[Edit – June 17th]

The mid month PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have just been released. Here’s the thickness map:

and the volume graph:

In addition JAXA extent is now in a “statistical tie” with 2019 in the “lowest for the date” competition:

Watch this space!

Facts About the Arctic in May 2020

Let us begin this month’s report from the far north with the high resolution Arctic sea ice area and extent graphs based on the University of Hamburg’s AMSR2 concentration maps:

Area is currently lowest for the date in the AMSR2 record. After briefly occupying that position extent has increased over the last few days of April due to winds causing sea ice to move in the direction of the far North Atlantic:



The Alfred Wegener Institute has now finished reanalysing their CryoSat-2/SMOS thickness data, and the resulting volume graph looks like this:

“Measured” Arctic sea ice volume is the lowest in the CryoSat-2 era as we head towards the main 2020 melting season, which in my calendar at least begins on June 1st. The PIOMAS modelled volume numbers should be released shortly.

[Edit – May 5th]

The April 30th PIOMAS gridded thickness numbers have been released, and Wipneus has worked his usual magic. By way of comparison with the AWI metric:

Obviously differing from CryoSat-2/SMOS, PIOMAS has 2020 volume a long way above 2017, in amongst a gaggle of other years.

[Edit – May 13th]

The middle of May is rapidly approaching, so let’s start to set the scene for the forthcoming melting season. First off here are the hi res AMSR2 area and extent graphs:

Extent is currently significantly above 2016 due to the recent “dispersion” mentioned above, but area is very close to an all time low for the date.

Next take a look at the current northern hemisphere snow cover anomalies from the Rutgers University Snow Lab:

Whilst there is a positive anomaly near Hudson Bay, there are significant negative anomalies across Siberia and Alaska. This does not augur well for sea ice retention along both the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage by September 2020.

Watch this space!

China’s big Covid-19 business?

We’ve already come across Glen Owen and Harry Cole, broadcasting batty bunkum about the novel coronavirus pandemic from the platform of the Mail on Sunday. Glen and Harry are now turning their searchlight away from science, and submitting business and economics to its cold, hard glare. In an article under one of the Mail’s trademark lengthy headlines they tell to us today the tall tale of the:

“‘Suited svengalis’ who help the Chinese government decide which British businesses to buy will be investigated by MPs amid fears Beijing is using coronavirus pandemic to advance its commercial interests”

Political figures and advisers who profit by helping the Chinese regime to target British businesses are to be investigated by MPs amid growing fears that Beijing is using the cover of Covid-19 to advance its commercial interests. 

The move comes after a China backed company mounted an attempted coup at Imagination Technologies, a UK firm which designs graphic chips for apple. 

The company was sold to private equity business Canyon Bridge Capital Partners in 2017 for £550million in a deal approved by Theresa May’s Government on the basis that the company would remain subject to US laws. 

However, the organisation later moved its head office to the Cayman Islands – outside US jurisdiction. Last week, senior MPs sounded the alarm after China Reform Holdings, the Beijing-backed lead investor in Canyon Bridge, tried to take control of the firm – amid fears it planned to transfer the ownership of intellectual property to China.  

I’m afraid I’m a bear of very little brain, and it’s unclear to me what Covid-19 has got to do with the alleged “attempted coup”. Perhaps the terrible twins can elucidate?

Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Foreign affairs Committee, warns ‘suited svengalis’ who profit from the skills they’ve acquired over years of training would face scrutiny. 

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he says: ‘too frequently, we’ve seen those who once wrote the rules and negotiated agreements to protect us, and some who still sit in our Parliament, selling the tricks they learned in Government.’ 

This newspaper has seen correspondence linking Global Counsel, the public affairs company chaired by Peter Mandelson, to Canyon Bridge. Global Counsel’s staff includes Alex Dawson, who was working for Mrs May in Downing street when the 2017 deal was agreed.

In the correspondence, Ben Wegg-Prosser, the company’s managing director, advises Canyon Bridge over how to respond to MPs demanding reassurances over the British company’s future.

Or perhaps not. Please excuse my French, but WTF has any of that got to do with Covid-19 pandemic? Please feel free scan the rest of the article if you have a well developed sense of the ridiculous. Then you’ll no doubt be able to point out to me the Covid-19 reference(s) that I must have inadvertently blinked and missed.

I still haven’t received any answer from anyone at the Mail on Sunday following my last such enquiry, but I’m a glutton for punishment, so here we go again:

Watch this space!

(But please don’t hold your breath)