The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today that on September 16, 2012 sea ice extent dropped to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year. In response to the setting sun and falling temperatures, ice extent will now climb through autumn and winter. However, a shift in wind patterns or a period of late season melt could still push the ice extent lower. The minimum extent was reached three days later than the 1979 to 2000 average minimum date of September 13.
This year’s minimum was 760,000 square kilometers (293,000 square miles) below the previous record minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred on September 18, 2007. This is an area about the size of the state of Texas. The September 2012 minimum was in turn 3.29 million square kilometers (1.27 million square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average minimum, representing an area nearly twice the size of the state of Alaska. This year’s minimum is 18% below 2007 and 49% below the 1979 to 2000 average.
This image shows the ice extent using sea ice concentration data from the DMSP SSMI/S satellite sensor. The black area represents the daily average (median) sea ice extent over the 1979-2000 time period. Layered over top of that is the daily satellite measurements from September 16, 2012. An animation showing the sea ice extent from January through September 14, 2012 can be found here.
The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean dropped below the previous all-time record set in 2007. This year also marks the first time that there has been less than 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979. This animation shows the 2012 time-series of ice extent using sea ice concentration data from the DMSP SSMI/S satellite sensor. The black area represents the daily average (median) sea ice extent over the 1979-2000 time period. Layered over top of that are the daily satellite measurements from January 1 – September 14, 2012. A rapid melt begins in July, whereby the 2012 ice extents fall far below the historical average. The National Snow and Ice Data Center will confirm the final minimum ice extent data and area once the melt stabilizes, usually in mid-September.