Arctic Ice Moment of Truth 2021

For ice extent in the Arctic, the bar is set at 15M km2. The average peak in the last 14 years occurs on day 62 at 15.04M km2 before descending, though the average can still be above 15M at late as day 73.  Nine of the last 14 years were able to clear 15M, but recently only 2016 and 2020 ice extents cleared the bar at 15M km2; the others came up short. The actual annual peak ice extent day varied between day 59 (2016) to day 82 (2012).

The animation shows in two weeks how this year’s ice extents contracted and then regrew greater than before, coincidental with the wavy Polar Vortex (PV) first admitting warmer southern air and then keeping the cold air in.

As reported previously, most of the action was firstly in the Pacific, especially Sea of Okhotsk upper left, ice shrinking one week by 200k km2 and rapidly growing back 210k km2 ice extent the next.  Okhotsk ice is now 1.1M km2, 96% of 2020 max.  On the Atlantic side, Barents sea upper right lost 100k km2 retreating from Svalbard, then gained 120k km2 back.  Greenland Sea ice middle right lost 100k km2, and then gained 150k km2.  Barents now has 3% more ice than 2020 max, while Greenland sea ice is 85% of last year’s max.

All of this means that 2021 will be hard pressed to pass the 15M km2 threshold.  The graph below shows the situation evolving over the last two weeks anticipating the annual maximum to appear within the fortnight.

Note that Sea Ice Index (SII) went offline day 51 so the MASIE record alone shows the loss of ice extent ending day 56 and climbing up to the present.  The NH ice extent gap is at 244k km2, or 1.6%.  Since the 14 year average has already peaked, further growth will narrow the margin.  (Note that ice extent is affected also by winds piling up drift ice, as well as melting from intrusions of warmer air or water.)

Last year surpassed the average while other recent years were lower.  We shall see what this year does with only 10 days or so to make a difference.

Region 2021063 Day 063 Average 2021-Ave. 2007063 2021-2007
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 14772617 15016830 -244214 14665491 107126
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070689 1070254 435 1069711 978
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 966006 964118 1888 966006 0
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1087120 1087134 -14 1087137 -17
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897827 897842 -15 897845 -18
 (5) Kara_Sea 935006 929650 5356 932067 2939
 (6) Barents_Sea 805710 649490 156220 626044 179666
 (7) Greenland_Sea 669651 625085 44566 616841 52809
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 1224508 1553901 -329393 1220513 3995
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 854597 853148 1450 852767 1830
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1260471 1260567 -96 1256718 3753
 (11) Central_Arctic 3197627 3222365 -24738 3229824 -32197
 (12) Bering_Sea 631115 686765 -55650 660726 -29612
 (13) Baltic_Sea 65146 97873 -32727 104884 -39738
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 1090295 1084593 5703 1129107 -38812

The main deficit to average is in Baffin Bay, partly offset by a surplus in Barents.  Smaller pluses and minuses are found in other regions.

Typically, Arctic ice extent loses 67 to 70% of the March maximum by mid September, before recovering the ice in building toward the next March.

What will the ice do this year?  Where will 2020 rank in the annual Arctic Ice High Jump competition?

Drift ice in Okhotsk Sea at sunrise.

For more on the Pacific basins see post Meet Bering and Okhotsk Seas

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