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Climate Hustle

Making Arctic Sea Ice Loss Real

Posted on 24 December 2011 by Daniel Bailey

It is said that a picture can tell a story that a thousand words can't.  When it comes to the ongoing demise of Arctic Sea Ice, the ice-loss numbers have gotten quite large.  Here's a graphic taken from Dr. Jeff Masters' Wunder Blog, that quite elegantly puts the big numbers into visual context:

Click to enlarge

The extent of Arctic sea ice loss in the summer July - August - September period in 2007 was about 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million square kilometers) greater than in 1980, according to the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. For comparison, the lost ice coverage (orange colors) was equal to an area about 44% of the size of the contiguous U.S., or 71% of the non-Russian portion of Europe.  Image reproduced courtesy of and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. And for the Land down under:

    (Original map from wikipedia)

    The shaded area is actually 3,740,000 km^2 (give or take)or about 4% oversize for the comparison. {That's the disadvantage of not having nice small states like Texas for fine tuning ;)} The area of lost ice represents 47% of Australia's territory including Tasmania, but not the Australian Antarctic Territory.
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  2. For further comparison, that is:

    8% of the area of Asia, or equal to the combined territories of India, Nepal, Bagnladesh and Buhtan;

    31% of the area of Africa, or equal to the area of Sudan, South Sudan and Libya; and

    20% of the area of South America, or equal to the combined areas of Brazil and Colombia.

    Sorry, no maps.
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  3. Good visualisation of area lost. What about mass lost? Presumably this would be even more dramatic.
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  4. @ Doug H The mass loss is indeed dramatic. Being volumetric (non-existing in 3-dimensions), it is more difficult to make that volume loss relational. Here are 3 attempts: Click to enlarge


    Click to enlarge


    Click to enlarge


    Note that this final graphic reveals that Arctic sea ice volume has declined in every month of the year, not just the summer minimums.

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  5. Less technical, but more tasty:

    Late 1970's minimum volume ~16k km^3, on the left; current minimum volume ~4k, on the right:

    Our Arctic ice is now 'pint-sized.' Apologies to you metric folks; there are 2 pints in a quart and 2 quarts in a half-gallon.
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  6. Great graphic, thanks.

    On the picky side: I find 1980 to be a poor choice of start point as it is the highest summer ice area on record and therefore leaves the graph open to the (barely valid) criticism of being cherry-picked. Better IMO to have used 1979. The graphics would not be much different and the choice could be defended in 2 ways: 1979 was the first year available, and 1979 was closer to (only slightly less) than the average summer area from the first 10 years available. A similar comment applies to the choice of 2007 v 2011 as an end point.

    No point in giving the contrarians a valid but insignificant angle to exploit.

    Happy Holidays to everyone.

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  7. Happy Christmas to the Skeptical Science team !!!

    [Ok, its off topic, but stretch a point :)]
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    Moderator Response: [DB] 'Tis the season...Merry Christmas to all!
  8. I liked the explanation in that article of how arctic ice loss affects the jet stream and hence the climate AND weather in the mid-latitudes. Another arrow in the quiver...
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  9. @ arch stanton

    One can go much further back in time than 1979:

    Red is September min, blue is March max (From the Walsh dataset, courtesy muoncounter)

    Or this image from Cryosphere Today:

    And the following graphic from L. Hamilton shows area and extent declining in every month of the year (back to 1978), again:
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  10. Wow! Great graphics. Thanks to all who contributed to furthering my understanding: the picture is clear and frightening.
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  11. DB (and mouncounter) @9 - Thank you, I had not seen the Walsh dataset before.
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