Publication Date June 9, 2017

Arctic Sea Ice Primed for Phenomenal Melt Season

A fjord in southern Greenland, as seen during NASA's Operation IceBridge's last flight of the 2017 Arctic campaign, on May 12, 2017. IceBridge has operated over the last few year to supplement observations of Arctic sea ice ahead of the upcoming Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), due to launch in 2018. Photo: John Sonntag, NASA

The Arctic Ocean’s coating of sea ice—now remarkably thin and sparse after a record-warm winter—could plummet by late summer to the lowest extent in 38-plus years of observations. Weather conditions over the next few weeks will determine just how much melting ultimately occurs. However, the ice is so depleted that even a melt season from here on that’s average by recent standards could leave the ice at a record-low extent.

Thus far, the 21st century has seen two grand dips in Arctic sea ice extent, in 2007 and in 2012. In both cases, the ice saw a modest but incomplete recovery, and the 38-year observation period can be easily split into “before” and “after”: each year after 2007 has seen a lower minimum than each year beforehand.