The summer sea ice extent and the sea volume over time are steadily decreasing. As this Climate Central Video shows, the receding Arctic summer sea ice is a positive feedback and at the same time, the sea ice is thinning.


In 2011 an MIT sea ice model showed the ice is thinning 4 times faster than the IPCC 2007 models estimated.


NASA images dramatically show that the amount of ice that is multi-year is vanishing fast so that now almost all the sea ice extent is new ice.

Leading Arctic expert, Professor Peter Wadhams (UK), said in November 2011 that the summer sea ice is on track to be virtually gone by 2015. 

The PIOMAS model found 2012 to be a clear record in ice volume loss. The ice overall is thinning as multi-year old ice has been declining rapidly, as is shown by the drop in sea ice maximum in the PIOMAS graph.

As shown in this NOAA animation, after each summer minImum, the amount of ice build up over winter is declining steadily, meaning a tipping point has been passed, as James Hansen says happened in 2007.

The most recent published review of the science finds "the system may be poised to undergo rapid change" (The Arctic’s rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: A research synthesis, Julienne C. Stroeve, 2011).


A huge amount of sea ice (the size of Europe) has been lost already.


A 2011 study by Kinnard finds the duration and magnitude of the current decline in sea ice are unprecedented for the past 1,450 years.

James Hansen said, in 2009 that the Arctic sea ice had passed its tipping point.


Less Arctic summer summer sea ice

= less cooling Arctic & high-mid latitude NH albedo

= increased Arctic warming (Arctic amoplification)

= more N. Hemis  extreme weather & climate disruption &

= more Arctic methane CO2 & N2O emittted

= more global warming =less summer sea ice ....etc.

   Loss of all sea ice throughout summmer

= large boost to Arctic warming  from  the latent heat effe

After 2001, the rate of ice loss switched to a faster rate, with another faster switch from 2007 to present making an ice-free summer Arctic look very likely by 2015. Less ice has been forming over the winter freeze, while more ice is being lost over the summer melt.

Why is the summer sea ice melting away so rapidly?


The reason for the apparent huge error in the model projections is multiple positive feedbacks.

Before the large 2007 sea ice decline, most scientists had estimated the sea ice would remain intact year round until near the end of this century. Scientists now agree on 2030, if not long before. The science consensus now is that the main reason is the loss of albedo cooling and the resulting heat absorption effect. Loss of sea ice causes more loss by more warming — a positive feedback loop.


The latest 2011 research by C. Kinnard suggests it is more complicated. "Arctic sea ice extent is now more than two million square kilometres less than it was in the late twentieth century, with important consequences for the climate, the ocean.... Observations show a more or less continuous decline for the past four or five decades.... Both the duration and magnitude of the current decline in sea ice seem to be unprecedented for the past 1,450 years.... Enhanced advection of warm Atlantic water to the Arctic seems to be the main factor driving the decline of sea ice extent on multidecadal timescales, and may result from nonlinear feedbacks between sea ice and the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. These results reinforce the assertion that sea ice is an active component of Arctic climate variability."


Rapid Arctic surface warming, loss of Arctic albedo, melting of Arctic land ice and change in Arctic ocean currents have set up a complex positive feedback process causing the Arctic to lose sea ice from above and below at an increasing rate.


Perennial (year round) sea ice decline


Information published by the NSIDC suggests that low sea ice extent in the summertime may be having a direct effect on sea ice growth in the winter months. Warmer air temperatures and a lower-than-average sea ice extent were recorded in some areas of the Arctic Ocean in November.


In recent years, low sea ice extent in the summer has been linked to unusually warm autumn air temperatures, resulting from the larger areas of open water (due to ever increasing sea ice loss) that absorb more heat during the summer. This heat must escape back to the atmosphere in the autumn, before the ocean can freeze over. This escaping heat contributes to warmer-than-average conditions, which have been most apparent in October but may now be extending into November.


Tipping Arctic sea ice 08 Lenton

A 2011 study looking into why the sea ice loss models underestimate the actual rate of loss, found that the Arctic is losing 10% of its permanent sea ice per decade since 1980, which is 4 times faster than models project. In general, the models project the summer sea ice will last until the end of the century but it is now agreed that projection is at least 50 years out. Direct records from Canada (Statistics Canada, December 2011) show the same and more. The largest decline is in the Northern Labrador Sea at a rate of almost 600 square miles or 17 per cent per decade, Hudson Strait down 16 per cent per decade, and Davis Strait down 14 %

When will the the Arctic start to be sea ice free?


What we really need to know is how fast summer sea ice surface albedo is being lost. From the PIOMAS volume loss, it certainly can be seen that the summer sea ice is on a heading to vanish by 2015.


However the Arctic is being heated and energized so fast that the inherent chaos of Arctic systems has to be increasing fast- making an accurate prediction an unlikely exercise. In such a situation, the worst possibility must be acted on.  

The area of summer sea ice determines the amount of vital Arctic summer albedo cooling-as well as snow extent and Greenland ice sheet surface albedo.



Decades ago, Arctic ice covered about 6 million square miles of sea in the winter, and would shrink to about 3 million square miles in the summer. The rate of summer melt increased enormously around 2005, however, and today Arctic summer ice covers only 1.3 million square miles.


Summer sea ice past tipping point A paper by Prof. Tim Lenton in 2012  A recent bifurcation in Arctic sea-ice cover concludes that 2007 was the tipping point for Arctic sea ice decline.

The PIOMAS sea ice volume estimate model shows the 2007 tipping point. Even assuming a linear change in rate (which excludes projected abrupt change) summer sea ice is headed for collapse in matter of years.


The Cryo-Sat 2 satellite radar confirmed the PIOMAS estimates of sea ice thickness published 2013

Arctic sea ice is measured in two ways- as surface ice cover and also as ice volume or the thickness of the ice. There are two kinds of ice cover measurement- extent and area. Extent includes small patches of open water within the general ice cover, while area (at a record loss for 2012) takes the small patches out of the estimate. The area then best indicates sea ice albedo.

Rate of arctic summer sea ice loss is 50% higher than the models  predict.

perrennial sea ice decline

A 2009 review of the sea ice science by D. Perovich  found that both summer and year round (perennial) sea ice are in rapid decline since 2000. This means that following the total loss of summer sea ice all the ice year round will melt away.

Cryosat shows the 2012 winter was a record low for sea ice thickness

Cryosat satellite confirms rapid recent sea ice thinning trend.

Salt connection Cold, salty water from first year ice melt may be forcing the relatively warmer water to the surface, where it's speeding up the decay of more ice.

There are two very different predictions on the future rate of Arctic sea ice loss. Most of experts relying on their sea ice computer models say the Arctic will have year round ice cover for at least several more decades – though the model projections vary widely. There is one model   developed by Wieslaw Maslowski, of the Naval School that in 2006 projected an  ice free Arctic as early as 2016 and results of the revised model published in 2012 gave 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer.Leading Arctic Expert Prof Peter Wadhams has been advising that it could be by 2020 extrapolating the very rapid decline in sea ice volume.

Ice free Arctic may be years , not decades away Overland NOAA Science 2012  NOAA  Extrapolating the sea ice decline is a valid method to predict future sea ice loss-results have ice free summer Arctic in years rather than decades as most models project.

Frequently Asked Questions  Arctic sea ice NSIDC

Damocles project : sea ice could be gone in 10 years.

Arctic sea ice fluctuations pose significant impact on local climates. Changes in sea ice cover alter surface heat and radiation fluxes, surface and atmospheric temperatures, precipitation characteristics, storm tracks, cyclonic activity, as well as local and synoptic scale atmospheric circulation. These modifications are known today to propagate to the lower latitudes with potentially significant consequences for global climates.


Several contribitions to the sea ice melt positive feedback,

that results in more warming,

Loss of snow and sea ice reflectivity of solar energy (ice albedo feedback).

Both thinning and loss of extent reduces sea ice albedo.

Thin sea ice also lets more solar energy through the ice warming it from inside

Heat energy absorption by exposed dark open water and land surface

Loss if sea ice insulation of water.


Latent heat of ice

The is a big factor to come. The point about summer conditions is that as long as there is SOME ice present on the sea surface, however thin the layer, then the ocean temperature below it is held to 0 degrees C because the absorbed solar radiation melts the bottom of the ice rather than warming the water. Also the atmospheric temperature is held to close to 0C because warmer air melts the surface snow layer on top of the ice and is thereby cooled. The sea ice, even when thinned, continues to act with 100% efficiency as an air conditioning system for ocean and atmosphere alike. BUT, as soon as the sea ice layer goes, this process ceases and the sea can warm up rapidly. Latent heat is an enormously powerful buffer - the amount of heat that you have to pump in to melt 1 kg of ice will subsequently heat that same amount of melted water to 80C.

Is the loss of sea ice reversible?

A couple of scientists have suggested that if the summer sea ice melts away- it is reversible, meaning the ocean surface could re-freeze. It is based on a model. In reality itis impossible because even if all GHG emissions suddenly stopped the global temperature would continue to increase for a long time, so the idea of the Arctic refreezing is impossible, without local geoengineering to cool the Arctic.


The best option by far is low scale local Arctic cooling while there is still a thin ice cover.

peren age sea ice NOAA Sea ice Arctic 2013 NSIDC Arctic sea ice vol spiral NOAA sea ice extent graph

NSIDC Interactive map

PDF: Arctic Sea Ice Tipping Elements, T Lenton, 2012

VIDEO A New Climate State: Arctic Sea Ice 2012

NASA Arctic melt

Ocean warming

The extent of Arctic summer sea ice has declined about 1 million sq. miles since the 1970s.

The sharp decline in summer Arctic sea ice is unprecedented, and consistent with human-induced climate change. (USGCP Climate Change US 2014)

Abrupt loss of sea ice cover (e.g. 2007) have been projected by some models

noaa sea ice an AR5 sea ice trends crop


Average Sea Ice Extent                    Winter maximum 15 million sq. km /5.8 million sq. miles Summmer minimum 7 million sq. km./2.7 million sq. miles) (NSIDC)

2015 sea ice thick double sea ice melting factors

IPCC AR5 WG1 2014 Arctic  

Sea ice air Cond NH crops Mar 2015

The Arctic sea ice floats on the Arctic Ocean. Its winter average area is15 million square km/5.8 million sq. miles) Its average low summer area  7 million square km/2.7 million sq. miles.(NSIDC


Scientists warned  years ago the Arctic summer sea ice is the air conditioner for the entire Nothern Hemisphere.

Models project abrupt declines and Arctic summer sea ice is in an overall extreme raipd decline.

sea ice Air Cond U Ilinois cr MOC

Models project a very rapid decline summer sea ice from 2020 and possible near zero by 2035 for worst and even  best case scenarios, and with possible abrupt loss (as in 2007, 2012)  late summer ice free could occur any year from now. However it is the decline in albedo cooling that matters, and that declines rapidly on the currwnt worst case emissions.  


Sea ice high low May 2015 sea ice Arctic & Antarctic crop

July 2019 Arctic sea ice loss=

20 trillion tons CO2/

25 years global warming

Disapp sea ice extent conc

July 2019 Loss of Artic summer sea ice= another 1 trillion tons of CO2

2019 discussion paper Rapid decline of Arctic sea ice volume: Causes and consequences:  sea ice loss 15 years

Arctic sea ice AR5

      Recent Research


11 Dec 2019 Arctic sea ice may disappear

sooner than thought


28 Nov 2019 New Study Narrows Window for Ice Free Arctic To As Early As 2044 (even possible 2035)


22 July 2019 Loss of Arctic's Reflective Sea Ice Will Advance Global Warming by 25 Years/1 triilion tons CO2. No sea ice models are predictive

ac19 ac19

Model projects No Arctic sea ice year-round by 2200