Reporting System

Arctic Ice News and Analysis

Ice extent for Dec. 2011. Purple line = Median ice edge.

Arctic sea ice extent remained unusually low through December, especially in the Barents and Kara seas.  In sharp contrast to the past two winters, the winter of 2011 has so far seen a generally positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation, a weather pattern that helps to explain low snow cover extent and warmer than average conditions over much of the United States and Eastern Europe.  In Antarctica, where summer is beginning, sea ice is presently above average.

Overview of Conditions
Arctic sea ice extent in December 2011 averaged 12.38 million square kilometers (4.78 million square miles). This is the third lowest December ice extent in the 1979 to 2011 satellite data record, 970,000 square kilometers (375,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average extent.

Ice extent was particularly low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, most notably in the Barents and Kara seas. The eastern coast of Hudson Bay did not freeze entirely until late in the month: normally, Hudson Bay has completely frozen over by the beginning of December. In the Bering Sea, ice extent was slightly above average.

2011 year in review
Arctic sea ice extent fell to its seasonal minimum on September 9, 2011, falling just short of the record low set in September 2007, when summer weather conditions were extremely favorable for ice loss. This summer, the weather was not as extreme as 2007, so it was surprising that ice extent dropped so low. The low ice extent, along with data on ice age, suggests that the Arctic ice cover remains thin and vulnerable to summer melt.

Northern Hemisphere snow cover retreated very rapidly last spring, with record and near-record low snow cover extents in May and June despite higher-than-average winter snow extent as of February and March.

Arctic temperatures 
Air temperatures in December were lower than average over much of the Arctic Ocean, but higher than average over the Kara and Barents seas. Higher-than-average temperatures in these regions stemmed from two major factors.

First, where sea ice extent is low, heat can escape from areas of open water, warming the atmosphere. Second, surface winds in the Kara and Barents Sea ice blew persistently from the south, bringing in heat from lower latitudes. This imported heat also helped to keep sea ice extent low in this area. Conditions over Canada were also unusually warm during Dec, but conditions over SE Greenland have been 6 to 8 degrees Celsius (11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than average, partly because of northerly winds in the area.



January 25, 2012 - Posted by | Arctic Ice | , , , , , , , , , ,

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