Analysis Shows That Arctic Sea Ice Melt Extent Mostly Occurs In Natural Cycles

What is now happening with Arctic sea ice?

By Dr. Sebastian Lüning and Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt
(Translated/edited with permission by P Gosselin)

Summer is now in full swing and the Arctic sea ice that formed over the wintertime is now steadily melting. Typically the minimum in sea ice extent is reached in mid September. Last year (2012) a new melt record was reached for the satellite era, which however only officially started in 1979. How does it look this year?

The Center for Ocean and Ice of the Danish Ocean Meteorological Service provides a new ice graphic on a daily basis and so that the situation can be monitored. The Arctic sea ice extent of 2013 is depicted by the bold dark line on the chart below (Figure 1). This year there is considerably more ice than there was over the three previous years, which perhaps has something to do with the especially hard winter and the late summer start. It remains to be seen how this will develop further. Also in Alaska and the Baltic Sea larger than normal sea ice areas were observed.

Figure 1: Arctic sea ice extent over the years. Source: DMI.

In the meantime it has been officially confirmed that the north polar ice minimum of 2012 was mostly caused by a powerful storm. Three new studies have been able document this (Simmonds & Rudeva 2012, Parkinson & Comiso 2013 and Zhang et al. 2013). The storm ripped apart the ice cover and scattered the ice to the oceans. Also playing a role was the reduced ice thickness. The high temperatures of the current moderm warm period has helped to reduce the sea ice thickness over time, thus allowing the wind to have an easier time than it did earlier.

How did things look before the satellite age?

Here we find some surprises: Thin, shrinking ice was also common in earlier times, but it was not possible to measure it extensively. One phase of especially low sea ice in the Arctic occurred between 1920 and 1950 when submarines were able to surface in ice-free waters directly at the North Pole. A good overview of this period can be found at Judith Curry’s blog.

Now how does that fit with the notion that sea ice would move only in one direction, namely shrink? Strictly speaking the satellite era of sea ice measurement did not begin in 1979, but already a few years earlier. And if these data are accounted for, then an unexplainable disruption occurs in the curve as shown by (Figure 2). The sea ice coverage of 1973-1975 was significantly less than it was at the “official” start of the dataset: 1979. Interestingly this graphic had been included in the first IPCC climate report, but then it was left out in the subsequent reports because it did not fit with the desired catastrophe narrative.

Figure 2: Arctic sea ice extent 1973-1990. From the IPCC AR1.

Slowly scientists are now finding out how fluctuations in Arctic sea ice could be happening. In a paper published in the International Journal of Climatology a team of scientists were able to show that sea ice extent in the western Arctic ocean is 40-79% controlled by natural ocean cycles. Among these is the Arctic Oscillation (AO). Another team of scientists from MIT generated improved Arctic sea ice prognoses where ocean cycles and the associated patterns play a more important role.

When natural ocean cycles are taken into account, then one needs not wonder when the sea ice season in the Beaufort Sea in the Canadian Arctic lasts considerably longer than it did in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. This is shown in the journal of Biogeosciences where the authors reconstructed sea ice cover over the last 150 years. While sea ice covers the the Beaufort sea an average of 9.4 months per year today, earlier it was only 8.3 months. Back then water in this sea was about 3°C warmer than today. According to this new study the Arctic Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) played a great role.

The search for other factors effecting Arctic sea ice coverage continues on. There is evidence that the the sun could have a hand in the game. Also changes in measurement methodology and the evaluation routines have caused jumps in the curves. Does a melting Arctic present only disadvantages? It does not make a contribution to sea level rise because there is almost no net water displacement by floating ice that melts. Judith Curry’s blog names a few economic advantages of a low-ice Arctic Ocean.

Finally everyone wants to know how the Arctic sea ice will develop further. A couple of decades ago scientists were predicting an ice-free Arctic already for today. As this prediction failed to materialize, the date was promptly postponed to 2030. In the journal of Geophysical Research Letters, a team of scientists took a closer look and made more comprehensive calculations. Their result: If one assumes even the most aggressive warming prognoses, an ice-free north polar sea summer could be expected only at the end of the 21st century and a year-round ice-free Arctic Ocean at the end of the 23rd century.


19 responses to “Analysis Shows That Arctic Sea Ice Melt Extent Mostly Occurs In Natural Cycles”

  1. Analysis Shows That Arctic Sea Ice Melt Extent Mostly Occurs In Natural Cycles | Cranky Old Crow

    […] Analysis Shows That Arctic Sea Ice Melt Extent Mostly Occurs In Natural Cycles. […]

  2. Buddy
    1. Ed Caryl

      Upon what do you base your opinion? Do you have any links?

    2. Juergen Uhlemann

      The Beaufort Sea anomaly right now is against your theory

      The Arctic compared to last year for the 15th of July shows quite an interesting picture

      So far the Arctic ice is within the +-2 standard deviation. That’s about 95% of the ice of 1981-2010. I don’t have the data but the remaining 5% of the daily data of 1981-2010 was scattered outside the 95% band (positive/negative). What would we see if a +-3 standard deviation is used?

    3. DirkH

      “Of course….it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone looking at the science,”

      I looked at the “science”, and nothing that the warmunists do still surprises me.

  3. ArndB

    @ „In a paper published in the International Journal of Climatology a team of scientists were able to show that sea ice extent in the western Arctic ocean is 40-79% controlled by natural ocean cycles.”

    Maybe! Maybe individual conditions in the North Atlantic play a more important part than “natural ocean cycles”. Was the sudden warming of the Arctic in winter 1918/19 (for details see the online book: , which raised the Northern Hemisphere air winter temperature as much as during the recent warming period (in the USA until 1933 in Europe until 1939), part of a cycle, or a separate event?

    See the ca. 110 pages book “How Spitsbergen Heats the World – The Arctic Warming 1919-1939”; online at:

    The book discusses in details the circumstances and facts of the artic warming almost a century ago. However, Chapter 8: “Caused Naval War the Arctic Warming”, p. 87-96, raise the question, whether the four years naval war in the North Sea and UK Western Approach, have had a stake in the sudden temperature shift at Spitsbergen (and subsequently beyond) in winter 1918/19. All sea water around GB flow to the North and reach Spitsbergen and the Arctic Oceans within a couple of months.

    The early Arctic Warming in the 20th Century offers an excellent case to study the connection between the ocean and air temperature change. The prime interesting point is that the 20 years of warming was particular pronounced during the winter season, which means no or little direct influence of the sun. As long as there is no convincing explanation, why and what has caused a pronounced and sudden shift in the oceanic structure at the entrance to the Arctic at the end of WWI, it might be reasonable to consider a man made contribution by activities at sea from August 1914 to November 1918.

  4. John F. Hultquist

    If one searches with a string like this ‘ arctic ice free by ‘
    one will get a few hits. Using Bing, I got 164,000,000.

    One was to an article on BBC for 12 Dec 2007. Projected date of an ice-free Arctic was 2013.
    Then on 7 April 2011 this was corrected by R. Black to be “this decade.”

    Pick a year. Someone is sure that is the point of rapture. Buddy’s 2016 season of rapture is as good of a guess as anyone else makes. Neither less-ice-Buddy nor more-ice-Joe B. can present a mechanism that we can actually examine to check these ideas. Buddy says “much of the temperature rise on the planet over the past 10 years has gone to warming the oceans” which, I guess is a necessary ploy to explain why the atmosphere’s temperature has not risen for 15 or so years. That makes me want to know what happened 15, 12, 10 (?) years ago to have atmospheric warming stop and ocean warming start. At least Joe B’s historical analog explanation makes logical sense and has not been falsified as has the CO2 catastrophic doom hypothesis.

    As a final thought I still want to know what the consequence will be if 90%, 95%, or 100% of the Arctic Ocean is ice free for a few weeks in September.

  5. Mr. Africa

    it is frustrating that now that the earth has not warmed we have the new mantra of “97% of the heat has gone into the oceans.” that notion didn’t exist just a few years ago, but now it has become the excuse dijour of warmistas.

    1. DirkH

      Well it’s gotta be somewhere. Best when it’s somewhere where it can’t be observed. Preserves the pretense that they are scientists. For a while.

    2. ArndB

      @Mr. Africa: “now …… we have the new mantra of “97% of the heat has gone into the oceans.””

      Surprised? Let’s say: About 85% of earth climate is generated (or dependent) on the oceans; HERE is an overview about ‘ocean dimension – hydrological cycle’:
      __ in subsection : “d. The time matters”
      In JPG:
      The ocean is the source on which science should have discussed James Hansen CO2 presentation before the US Senate in 1988, and sceptics question the main stream of climatic research ever since.

  6. Stephen Richards

    17. Juli 2013 at 14:25

    Do you want to put any money on your prediction ?

  7. R. de Haan

    17. Juli 2013 at 14:25 | Permalink | Reply

    Nice try:) Actually almost all scientists have been “behind the curve”

    What curve? (LOL), What warming? Now official: Earth is cooling since 1982

    Use Google Translate. Dutch – English

    1. DirkH

      Great dataset, Ron!

  8. R. de Haan

    Oh Buddy, before I forget, would you please be so kind and point the position of the heat that according to you has been stored in our oceans on this map:

  9. R. de Haan

    Love this article from E. M Smith, “Why land air temperature is exactly wrong”:

  10. R. de Haan

    An Ice free Arctic in 2016? Bwhaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    Won’t happen in your life time Buddy.

  11. R. de Haan

    In the mean time some rowers are trying to cross the Arctic so they can proof that climate change is real. Steven Goddard keeps track of their progress.
    Hopefully they have more luck in 2016. (LOL)

  12. R. de Haan

    Another ambitious team by the way did cross the Arctic… car.

  13. jj

    Actually, the arctic ice ensembles published up to 2005 all predicted a predominantly ice-full arctic through 2080 and most even beyond 2100.

    only since 2007 and then 2012 did we realize that we are headed toward an ice free summer by 2020 and likely an ice free winter sometime in the early 2100’s

    here are the ensembles.

    the ice free arctic summers were determined when the Cryosat II data was used to confirm the PIOMAS models last year.