Fear Not for Arctic Ice New Year 2023

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From Science Matters

By Ron Clutz

Impressive Arctic ice recovery continued in December as seen in the animation below:

The month of December 2022 shows Hudson Bay (lower right) starting with some western shore ice and ending ice covered, adding in that basin 1.25M km2. Just above Hudson, you can see the Gulf of St. Lawrence icing over, and Baffin Bay adding ice as well, now up to 49% of its annual maximum.

At the extreme left Okhotsk Sea also starts with little shore ice and grows from 53k km2 up to 393k km2, reaching down to Japan.  At the top Kara freezes over and Barents and Greenland Seas add ice to their margins. The graph below shows the December ice recovery.

Note the average year adds 2M km2 and 2022 was matching that until the last week or so.  Not surprising when the polar vortex pushed freezing Arctic air as far south as Texas and Florida, incursion of warm southern air into the Arctic inhibited further ice growth.  SII tracked MASIE with somewhat lower extent toward the end.

The table below shows year-end ice extents in the various Arctic basins compared to the 16-year averages and some recent years.

Region2022365Day 365 Average2022-Ave.20203652022-2020
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere1286413013071346 -207216 1276549198639 
 (1) Beaufort_Sea10709661070354 612 1070689277 
 (2) Chukchi_Sea966006964526 1481 966006
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea10871371087133 108712017 
 (4) Laptev_Sea897845897840 89782718 
 (5) Kara_Sea864832886899 -22067 879232-14400 
 (6) Barents_Sea270677438702 -168025 371122-100445 
 (7) Greenland_Sea674210582086 92124 59283981371 
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence889961994988 -105027 86750922452 
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago854843853370 1473 854597245 
 (10) Hudson_Bay12542561237220 17036 1257919-3663 
 (11) Central_Arctic32223613204794 17567 315988162481 
 (12) Bering_Sea373249405344 -32095 249522123727 
 (13) Baltic_Sea2240932724 -10315 798614423 
(14) Sea_of_Okhotsk393473388636 4837 479972-86498 

This year’s ice extent is 207k km2 or 1.6% below average.  Only Baffin Bay and Barents Sea have sizeable deficits to average, while Greenland Sea shows a surplus.  Other Arctic basins are already maxed out or are near their average for this date.

Comparing Arctic Ice at End of Years

At  the bottom is a discussion of statistics on year-end Arctic Sea Ice extents.  The values are averages of the last five days of each year.  End of December is a neutral point in the melting-freezing cycle, midway between September minimum and March maximum extents.

Background from Previous Post Updated to Year-End 2021

Some years ago reading a thread on global warming at WUWT, I was struck by one person’s comment: “I’m an actuary with limited knowledge of climate metrics, but it seems to me if you want to understand temperature changes, you should analyze the changes, not the temperatures.” That rang bells for me, and I applied that insight in a series of Temperature Trend Analysis studies of surface station temperature records. Those posts are available under this heading. Climate Compilation Part I Temperatures

This post seeks to understand Arctic Sea Ice fluctuations using a similar approach: Focusing on the rates of extent changes rather than the usual study of the ice extents themselves. Fortunately, Sea Ice Index (SII) from NOAA provides a suitable dataset for this project. As many know, SII relies on satellite passive microwave sensors to produce charts of Arctic Ice extents going back to 1979.  The current Version 3 has become more closely aligned with MASIE, the modern form of Naval ice charting in support of Arctic navigation. The SII User Guide is here.

There are statistical analyses available, and the one of interest (table below) is called Sea Ice Index Rates of Change (here). As indicated by the title, this spreadsheet consists not of monthly extents, but changes of extents from the previous month. Specifically, a monthly value is calculated by subtracting the average of the last five days of the previous month from this month’s average of final five days. So the value presents the amount of ice gained or lost during the present month.

These monthly rates of change have been compiled into a baseline for the period 1980 to 2010, which shows the fluctuations of Arctic ice extents over the course of a calendar year. Below is a graph of those averages of monthly changes up to and including this year. Those familiar with Arctic Ice studies will not be surprised at the sine wave form. December end is a relatively neutral point in the cycle, midway between the September Minimum and March Maximum.

The graph makes evident the six spring/summer months of melting and the six autumn/winter months of freezing.  Note that June-August produce the bulk of losses, while October-December show the bulk of gains. Also the peak and valley months of March and September show very little change in extent from beginning to end.

The table of monthly data reveals the variability of ice extents over the last 4 decades.

The values in January show changes from the end of the previous December, and by summing twelve consecutive months we can calculate an annual rate of change for the years 1979 to 2022.

As many know, there has been a decline of Arctic ice extent over these 40 years, averaging 70k km2 per year. But year over year, the changes shift constantly between gains and losses, ranging up to +/- 500k km2.

Moreover, it seems random as to which months are determinative for a given year. For example, much ado was printed about June and July 2021 melting faster than expected resulting in higher losses of ice extents. But then the final 3 months of 2021 more than made up for those summer losses

As it happens in this dataset, October has the highest rate of adding ice. The table below shows the variety of monthly rates in the record as anomalies from the 1980-2010 baseline. In this exhibit a red cell is a negative anomaly (less than baseline for that month) and blue is positive (higher than baseline).

Note that the  +/ –  rate anomalies are distributed all across the grid, sequences of different months in different years, with gains and losses offsetting one another.  For example in 2022 the outlier months were June and September where unusual amounts of ice were lost.  Despite above average gains Oct.–Dec., the year ended with a large negative anomaly.gained.  June 2021 lost more ice than the baseline, but about the same as 2017, and not as much as 2012. The gains in Oct.-Dec. 2021 were ~1M km2 above baseline, but were exceeded by the same months in 2019 and 2020.  The bottom line presents the average anomalies for each month over the period 1979-2021.  Note the rates of gains and losses mostly offset, and the average of all months in the bottom right cell is virtually zero.

A final observation: The graph below shows the Yearend Arctic Ice Extents for the last 32 years.

Year-end Arctic ice extents (last 5 days of December) show three distinct regimes: 1988-1998, 1998-2010, 2010-2022. The average year-end extent 1989-2010 is 13.4M km2. In the last decade, 2011 was 13.0M km2, and six years later, 2017 was 12.3M km2. 2021 rose back to 13.06  2022 slipped back to 12.6M. So for all the the fluctuations, the net is zero, or a slight gain from 2010. Talk of an Arctic ice death spiral is fanciful.

These data show a noisy, highly variable natural phenomenon. Clearly, unpredictable factors are in play, principally water structure and circulation, atmospheric circulation regimes, and also incursions and storms. And in the longer view, today’s extents are not unusual.