With it being mid-September now, we are basically at the point where we see the smallest ice coverage up in the Arctic Ocean for the year. Late this month into October, we'll begin to see the ice coverage grow as we get into the colder months. The map above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows the sea ice extent during August 2013, and it averaged 6.09 million square miles. This is still below the 1981-2010 average for August, but the good news was that the number was well above last year’s August average. September 2012 saw the lowest extent of ice in the Arctic since satellite record began. You can easily see the difference between the past two years from the chart below. The increase this year can be attributed to a below-average sea level pressure pattern that kept things cloudy and cool near the North Pole over the summer. Coastal areas of the Arctic were mostly near average. However, the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska and the Barents Sea near were about 4 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
Unfortunately, just because we have more ice this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be seeing a trend of a growing ice shield in the years to come. The extent of ice this August was very similar to the numbers for 2009. The chart above shows the ice extent for the past six years. You’ll notice quite the variability from year to year. These contrasts show up even when you go back over the past many, many years of record keeping. When you look at the records from 1979 to 2010, you can definitely see that year to year variability. However, when you look at the chart as a whole, there is a clear long-term decline in sea ice extent.