Approaching the middle of May and well into the Arctic sea ice retreat we can see that the sea ice extent (area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice) is still well below the mean over the satellite record.
I like a geographic perspective, so this is the mean sea ice extent 1989-93 on 13 May, the sea ice extent 13 May 2017, and the difference between the two data sets. Reds imply less sea ice than the mean 1989-93, and blues an increased sea ice extent.
There appears to be a general trend of the Arctic sea ice edge retreating between the two data sets, but I think this is in places meteorological - that is the winds are compressing the sea ice. I think this because there is a lot of blue (i.e. more sea ice than the 89-93 mean) just north of the sea ice edge.
The Bering Sea appears relatively sea ice free at this time.
Sea ice is still relatively low in both the the Arctic spring and Antarctic autumn. A geographical perspective always helps so here is the status of the sea ice concentration 23 April 2017 for both polar regions.
Here is the sea ice concentration 23 April 2017 compared with the 1989-1993 mean on the 23 April. Red shades = less sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 23 April, and Blue shades = more sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 23 April.
The stand out regions for me are once more (as in my post in January), the Northern Barents Sea is relatively low, along with the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. There is a consistent retreat of the ice edge almost everywhere, and comparatively a lot of open water in Hudson Bay.
The polynya I saw forming in early February is still clear, and very large in the Southern Weddell Sea. At the moment it is more than than 80,000 km2, although there is clearly a lot of young sea ice covering a large part of the polynya.
In my original post I said this was likely formed by winds from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Well Dr Stef Lhermitte (Delft) has put together the most amazing movie showing the development of the polynya over January and February. It shows satellite sea ice data with winds from the ECMWF overlain.
You can clearly see the winds pushing the sea ice away from the ice shelf as time progresses.
Trying to understand the geographic nature of the very low Antarctic sea ice extent I made the following animation:
The highlight issues in the graphic are the clear lack of sea ice in the Amundsen/Ross Seas and the Southern Ocean off Dronning Maud land. (If you are not familiar with the names off the seas / locations see the map below).
The Weddell Sea is has a relatively compressed sea ice cover this year - but it's clear there is large inter-annual variability.
Off Wilkes Land the sea ice is heavier this year - and it's easy for this to get lost in the headline story around the very low extent. There are several Antarctic research stations along this coast:
I noticed yesterday that a polynya had formed in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf over the last 2 weeks.
In that image it is about 27,000 km2 in area.
I mapped the opening of the polynya from MODIS imagery over the last two weeks. There is cloud in the images but the opening of the polynya is fairly clear.
On 31 January 2017 there is no open water, but then over the 16 day period it opens to the ~27,000 km2 in area. If you're eagle eyed you can see that there is thin frazil ice forming in the open water in front of the ice shelf at the end of the sequence.
Watching the sea ice extent this summer in Antarctica has been a bit surprising. The Antarctic sea ice extent has been tracking at record lows virtually the whole austral summer. We are very close now to the expected sea ice minimum, and this is where we are:
On the left is the sea ice extent from the DMSP satellite 12 February 2017, and on the right the difference between the mean sea ice extent on 12 Feb over the period 1989-93 and 12 Feb 2017. I chose this time period as the cycle has been generally quite stable from year to year.
The current sea ice extent is:
It's clear the sea ice over the summer 2016-17 is showing historic lows. But it's also clear from the sea ice extent above that there is little sea ice left to melt out before the summer turns. Where the sea ice remains - mainly in the Weddell Sea and along the coast of Wilkes Land it is clearly densely packed. If the winds change and the remaining sea ice is decompressed then the extent may fall some more.
This is an animation of the Antarctic sea ice extent from 1 January 2017 to 12 February 2017:
And finally the difference between the mean sea ice extent by day for the 5-year period 1989-1993 minus the concentration from 1 Jan to 12 Feb 2017. Blue shades imply an increased sea ice extent compared with a 5-year mean, and reds imply a decreased sea ice extent.
If you look really closely you can see it is a steam assisted ship.
I really like the colours in the sea ice in the foreground. It's hard not to see that when you are in the sea ice.
And let's not forget the ice bear in the foreground.
The caption on the Met page makes clear they were hunting this bear:
In 1861 the marine painter William Bradford made the first of his eight expeditions to the Arctic. This painting, based on photographs and sketches produced during his final trip, in 1869, shows the artist’s steamer, Panther, plying its way through the summer ice along the northern coast of Greenland. Panther was one of numerous vessels engaged in the search for the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. According to Bradford’s journal, the ship’s crew had decided to hunt the polar bear seen in the foreground, “anxious to possess so fine a skin,” but the bear made a parting glance over its shoulder before heading for the water, managing to escape its pursuers.
But it is art for sure.
There is no way you could get an iceberg with this sort of freeboard close to the shore...
And I love the detail of a wrecked ship mast on the left.
There is a long history of romantic artists balancing the struggle of man against the icy wastes. My all time favourite in that category is Landseer's Man Proposes, God Disposes.
The sea ice around Antarctic is currently still at an historic low. As usual I think it is good to look at a geographic perspective on the sea ice distribution. This is the sea ice concentration 22 January 2017 compared with the 1989-1993 mean on the 22 January.
RED shades = less sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 22 January.
BLUE shades = more sea ice than the 1989-93 mean on 22 January.
The Amundsen Sea has very low sea ice
Probably for me the most striking feature is the extremely low sea ice concentration from Pine Island Bay through to the Ronne Ice Shelf - this is the Amundsen Sea. We are not going to see much more retreat of of the sea ice in this sector as it has already melted. I think it will stay open water until the freeze up begins some around the end of February. It would have been a great year to do ship based oceanography along that coast. I wonder if their could be an impact on ice shelf melt here. It is possible but as you can see from this article - it is water away from the surface and a few hundred metres deep that is in contact with the glacial ice in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, Overall this has to be a result of the recent El Nino, and is a follow on from the polynya events we saw hear in the late winter.
The Bellingshausen Sea has very relatively high sea ice
In contrast you can see it would not be a good year to be working in the Bellingshausen Sea.
The Weddell Sea ice is at this stage in the summer is compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula. This means that there is heavier sea ice to the close to the Peninsula, and much lower sea ice than expected in the rest of the Weddell Sea. If you look at the MODIS Terra Image you can pick out a very sharp sea ice edge.
Shackleton would have been in trouble this summer if he was heading to Elephant Island.
Towards the annual Antarctic sea ice extent minimum.
We expect the sea ice to reach a minimum towards the end of February. Clearly there are places where there is no more sea ice to melt. Where sea ice is present, it is all down to winds over the next month. If they change and move the pack towards open water then - just as we have seen in the Arctic, the concentration could fall much lower. If the winds continue as they have then we could expect the extent fall to slowly as the seasonal melt continues.
Overall it is still to be likely a record breaking year in the Antarctic sea ice extent record.