October Arctic Ice Report and Outlook


Imagery date refers to Google Earth capture of land forms. MASIE ice extent for October 31, 2016 is displayed. Click to zoom in.

After showing resilience in September, Arctic ice growth faltered in October. The graph shows MASIE ice extents in 2016 in comparison with other years and with SII.


Last year was above average recovery, while both SII and MASIE showed October 2016 well below average, and dropping down to 2007 levels.  Interestingly, MASIE and SII show virtually the same October average extent at 6.1M km2. This amount is 10% below the MASIE Oct. ten-year average, but that figure is 21% below SII ten-year average for Oct.

6.1M km2 is still higher than 2007 by 260k km2 despite the slower recovery this year. There is an anomaly in the 2007 record: a leap of almost 800k km2 on day 303, including E. Siberian Sea adding 460k km2 to more than double its ice extent on that day. Kara also jumped up 50% adding 100k km2. More about those two seas below.

The table shows by region the differences from ten-year MASIE averages for day 305, October 31.

Region 2016305 Day 305 Average 2016-Ave.
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 7283405 8865912 -1582506
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 769445 998163 -228718
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 276157 506472 -230315
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 600113 1001404 -401291
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897773 897591 182
 (5) Kara_Sea 162641 559477 -396837
 (6) Barents_Sea 24522 120163 -95641
 (7) Greenland_Sea 319983 446472 -126489
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 262586 260072 2514
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 728911 782867 -53956
 (10) Hudson_Bay 76561 90864 -14303
 (11) Central_Arctic 3155443 3190140 -34696

Clearly in the table and in the image at the top, ice is missing mostly in the BCE region on the Asian side (Beaufort, Chukchi, E. Siberian) and in Kara and Barents on the European side.

What’s Up with Arctic Ice

For some answers let’s turn first to Dr. Judah Cohen of AER.  His analysis is thorough and interesting (here).  Excerpts:

Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum on September 10th. Despite an initial spurt of ice growth, overall Arctic sea ice has been expanding at an anemic rate. One area to note on the North Atlantic side is in the Barents-Kara Seas, where negative sea ice anomalies have been growing (Figure 13). Recent research has shown that regional anomalies are important and the sea ice region most highly correlated with the winter AO is the Barents-Kara seas region where low Arctic sea ice favors a negative winter AO. Given that sea ice is running well below normal, this currently favors further expansion Eurasian snow cover in the coming weeks, followed by a strengthened Siberian high and a weakened polar vortex/negative AO this upcoming winter.

Sea ice anomalies also remain well below normal in the East Siberian, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. This could favor positive geopotential height anomalies near Alaska forcing downstream troughing and cold weather across eastern North America.

Additional context is provided by Ted Scambos in an article at Discover Magazine (here).  Excerpts below.

An animation of satellite images shows differences in sea ice in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s coast between Oct. 14, 2014 and Oct. 12, 2016. The first image, captured by the Terra satellite in 2014, shows extensive snow cover around Alaska’s Brooks Range (to the left), and sea ice forming offshore. The second image, from the Aqua satellite in 2016, shows the same region — mostly snow- and ice-free. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

An animation of satellite images shows differences in sea ice in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s coast between Oct. 14, 2014 and Oct. 12, 2016. The first image, captured by the Terra satellite in 2014, shows extensive snow cover around Alaska’s Brooks Range (to the left), and sea ice forming offshore. The second image, from the Aqua satellite in 2016, shows the same region — mostly snow- and ice-free. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Arctic sea ice has been been growing much more slowly than average during October. Its geographic extent is now in a rough tie with 2007 and 2012 for the lowest in the satellite record for this point in the year.

According to Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, two big Arctic storms in August contributed significantly to the very low minimum extent in September. They probably did this by “breaking up the ice and stirring a trace of warmth up from deeper levels (5-10 meters below the surface),” Scambos says.

Not too long after the storminess subsided, the surface water refroze fairly quickly, accounting for the rapid expansion of sea ice after the low point in September sea ice

That rapid freeze-up happened in the heart of the Arctic Ocean, where temperatures would normally be coldest. Meanwhile, more at the periphery — particularly in the Barents, Kara and Laptev seas — “the ice edge has barely changed,” says Julienne Stroeve, who also serves as a senior research scientist at NSIDC.

Sea ice has expanded somewhat in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska’s north coast. But the edge is still far short of the long term average in the region.

Arctic Oscillation Index (relative air pressures) hovered around neutral before dropping strongly negative mid Oct., about when ice growth stalled.

Why has Arctic sea ice been growing so slowly in the past couple of weeks? Once again, Scambos thinks the warm sea surface temperatures that have been retarding ice growth also have been warming the air directly above the water. 

“It is not surprising that it is extremely warm in the weeks following near-record minimums [in sea ice extent], because open water beneath the atmosphere buffers the air temperature at near the freezing point for several weeks until several centimeters of ice are formed,” Scambos says. “In this case, I would say that the high air temperature anomaly is an effect, not a cause, of slow sea ice growth, and that the leading cause is ocean temperature.”

What’s the Winter Outlook

Dr. Judah Cohen provides his seasonal forecast here.

Snow cover advance across Eurasia continued consistently above normal for the entire month of October. Also because much of the advance has occurred at latitudes south of 60°N, the snow advance index is also well above normal. Above normal snow cover extent, especially south of 60°N, favors a strengthened Siberian high and a weakened polar vortex/negative AO this upcoming winter with cold temperatures across the continents of the NH.

Predicted winter surface temperature anomalies for the United States Dec-Jan-Feb 2016/17 in degrees Fahrenheit. The model is forecasting colder than normal temperatures for much of the Eastern United States, with warmer than normal temperatures for the Western United States. The model uses October Siberian snow cover, sea level pressure anomalies, predicted El Niño/Southern Oscillation anomalies, and observed September Arctic sea ice anomalies. October Siberian snow cover has so far this month advanced at an above normal rate. This is an indication of an increased probability of a weakened polar vortex or a sudden stratospheric warming, and a predominantly negative Arctic Oscillation during the winter and cold temperatures – especially east of the Mississippi. This is a preliminary forecast and not the official winter forecast as the model requires full monthly values for snow cover and sea level pressure anomalies. The forecast will be updated next month. Current forecast produced on October 19, 2016.


Both Cohen and Scambos explanations are consistent with the lack of ice both in BCE on the Asian side (Beaufort, Chukchi, E. Siberian), and in Kara and Barents on the European side.

Warm ocean water reduces ice extents, the air is warmed and moistened, and then snowfall increases. The conditions for winter ice formation are shaping up, though somewhat later than usual, perhaps because of August storm activity.

Lastly, it’s important to realize that two weeks is a short period of time, and Arctic sea ice could start forming up at a more normal rate for this time of year. In fact, that’s what Scambos predicts: “Now I expect that sea ice growth will take a more typical path (typical for the past 5-8 years, at least).”

One more time: Remember the 3 Ws when it comes to Arctic ice extents.  Firstly it’s the Water, and then the Wind circulation, and the Weather.  Air temperatures are an effect not the cause.

For more on this see:

Arctic Sea Ice: Self-Oscillating System

Arctic Not a Refrigerator


  1. Dmh · November 3, 2016

    Thanks for this very interesting analysis.


    • Ron Clutz · November 3, 2016

      Glad that you found it useful. Thanks for commenting.


  2. ozonebustOzonebust · November 6, 2016

    Hi Ron
    Who is it that established the theory on Arctic Sea Ice, Water, Wind and Weather. It appears to me that it should be Wind, Water and Weather.

    A question or confirmation
    Climate models are based on the theory that increased atmospheric CO2 causes atmospheric warming and warming of the globe. That theory is based on the assumption that CO2 levels rise before temperature during the transition between glacial to interglacial. That is, CO2 is released, causing higher relative density / saturation in the atmosphere at that temperature causing warming. Is this still the basis of the warming theory.

    I understand the cut and thrust of it all, but simply ask is this still the core of the theory. Thank you Ron, great site, broad perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ozonebustOzonebust · November 6, 2016

    Thanks Ron
    Other than working in ppm and the time delay that ppm has with temperature, has it been proven without doubt that in fact the atmospheric CO2 relative saturation / density decreases (a negative disequilibrium – less dense) during temperature rises, and that the CO2 density / relative saturation increases during cooling (positive dis-equilibrium). There is a considerable difference between ppm and relative saturation/density.
    And that during interglacial peaks (pre 1800) CO2 was in a constant state of negative disequilibrium . ie a shortage of CO2 based on equilibrium.

    Thanks Ron

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · November 6, 2016

      Martin, This from Clive Best may pertain to your point:

      In stability there is a balance of CO2 Partial Pressures between the surface of the ocean and the atmosphere. At any given temperature the exchange of carbon dioxide molecules between the atmosphere and the ocean surface always reaches an equilibrium. This equilibrium is controlled by the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere equalising to the partial pressure of CO2 in the surface of the ocean. Then the number of carbon dioxide molecules that escape from the sea surface is balanced by the number that enter the sea from the atmosphere.

      If the temperature of the ocean rises then the kinetic energy of the carbon dioxide molecules in the seawater increases and more carbon dioxide molecules will leave the ocean than would enter the ocean. This continues until the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases to balance the new pressure at the sea surface.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · November 6, 2016

      Whoops, I left out the most important part from that excerpt:

      Increasing the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere therefore causes the oceans to take up (inhale) more carbon dioxide. Because the oceans surface layer mixes slowly with the deep ocean (hundreds of years) the increased carbon dioxide content of the surface ocean will be mixed very slowly into the large carbon reservoir of the deep ocean. The rate of our adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is too fast for the deep ocean to be a significant reservoir. So as the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere rises, so too does the concentration in the ocean surface.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ozonebustOzonebust · November 6, 2016

    Thanks Ron, much appreciated.


  5. ADAPT 2030 · November 8, 2016

    Hi Ron, we should have a talk on my ADAPT 2030 channel about sea ice, global cooling and your debate on climate in Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · November 8, 2016

      Thanks. I am only an interested observer on the Australia debate. It’s Roberts, his staff, and advisers like Tim Ball who have insider knowledge of that. My synopsis is based on public info as linked in the post.
      This blog reflects my scientific background and interest to understand the knowns and unknowns regarding climate, based mostly on what I have learned from various people working in the field. My own analyses have been limited to number-crunching temperature time series (Category: Temperature Trend Analysis) and watching Arctic Sea Ice fluctuations.

      Liked by 1 person

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