The Arctic’s melt season has concluded, and this year the sea ice rebounded from its historic low last year, according to a release Friday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Sea ice extent fell to its lowest level of 2013 on September 13, reaching  1.97 million square miles (5.10 million square kilometers). Levels in the previous year fell to a record low of 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers).

“While this is a very welcome recovery from last year’s record low, the overall trend is still decidedly downwards,” NSIDC director Mark Serreze said in the release. That trend is quite visible and striking in our recently published Interactive Map: The Changing Arctic. Though the ice cover can be seen fluctuating from year to year starting in 1979 when tracking began, its overall cover undeniably shrinks.

The areas that saw a rebound in ice this year were the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian sea regions; the Canadian Archipelago also retained more ice, keeping the Northwest Passage closed, according to the NSIDC.

Despite the increase over last year, this year’s low is the sixth-lowest level on the satellite record. Considered a bellwether for climate change, the Arctic’s sea ice has been shrinking steadily by a “pretty darn big” rate of about 12 percent a decade, Serreze told the Associated Press.  (See related poll and discussion: “The Big Energy Question: What Do We Urgently Need to Know as Arctic Development Ramps Up?“)

National Geographic will update the map above soon with the data from 2013. (See further Arctic coverage from the Great Energy Challenge here: The Arctic: The Science of Change.)

Interactive Map: The Changing Arctic
See sea ice recession, shipping activity and key sites.


  1. Patrick Andries
    Winona, MN
    December 3, 2013, 11:13 am

    What I would like to know is why this article has bias. I may be completely wrong, but it is coming from the science community. Granted most of the opinion comes from the interviewee, but there were some dodgy word choices made. She starts a sentence with “DESPITE the increase over last year” and then continues to say how low it was.

    Let’s not forget what is being measured; The “Minimum extent” or “lowest extent” is simply the level of ice at the very beginning of its freezing cycle…I’m no scientist but I’m thinking two things; that number is going to be low sometimes, and just because it has been steady or higher than that in the 30 odd years it has been recorded should, I think, not be good reason for it to be written about so negatively. This is especially true when you consider the age of our planet and how little we know about the ocean’s patterns and environment.

    All I am saying is this information should not be considered good or bad until we have more of it.

    So I poked around the NSIDC website and, upon reading their latest report on the ice, found out that ice growth speed in October was higher than average (but slower than it was last year when it grew with such speed that ice extent doubled through October, the same year that “lowest ice extent” was at a record low). I think that this shows how volatile these freezes are, and cautions me to give positive or negative value to the information, especially from such a small window of time in comparison to Earth’s age.

    Long story short, I suggest reading the actual release from the NSIDC.

  2. Lance Olsen
    October 1, 2013, 8:56 am

    LG is right. The polar ice will fluctuate. It would fluctuate whether the trend was up or down. It’s currently fluctuating on the way down. In context, Arctic sea happens to be on its way down at the same that snow is being replace by rain, mountain glaciers are in decline, and the great icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland are also the scene of ice loss. More interestingly for LG, who correctly refers to time frame, these declines of snow and ice were predicted in 1896, by Arrhenius (sp?).

  3. Dennis Jennings
    Dewey Az
    September 30, 2013, 5:31 pm

    I have spent nearly 60 years in the Arctic and sub-arctic as a geologist and land durveyor. I have done reconn drilling from Fairbanks to the arctic ocean and also extensivly around the north side of the Chugach range. It is rare to find permafrost grond that is less than 80% water ice and at least 10 meters deep. The presence of tussock grasses is a good indicator. i wonder what the effect of the melting of the permafrost both in alaska, canada and Siberia (with its 7 north flowing riverrs) contributing to the salinity and temperature regime of the Arctic ocean is?

  4. Donald E Bloodworth
    September 24, 2013, 8:24 pm

    Coming from a good ol’ country boy who has stirred more than one glass of sweetened iced tea; it would seem plausible as there are a lot of unknown(s) as to the cooling power of the undersea currents coming from the Atlantic and Pacific sides recirculating all of that melted ice?

  5. LG
    September 24, 2013, 6:33 pm

    How can they even attempt to make these predictions with such a little time frame of data analysis? The polar ice will fluctuate, much like any other season on Earth. The Earth may be warming, or is that just another over interpreted piece of information, and just another spike in a world where anything can change in an instant?

  6. jj
    September 24, 2013, 2:19 pm

    In 2007, the scientific consensus was that the Arctic would be “ice-free” by 2013. However, this summer’s ice-melt has been the smallest in seven years, and the global extent of polar sea ice is currently equal to its average over the past 34 years.