Arctic ice has had a good winter

Each year at the end of winter the Arctic sea ice reaches its maximum extent. Although unsurprisingly this ice maximum receives less media attention than the annual sea ice minimum in September, combining the two gives a better representation of the actual melting trend.

If we look at these last two anchor points things aren’t going well at all. March 2011 brought the lowest winter maximum on record and September 2011 probably broke the 2007 summer melting record as well.

But as a regular you may recall in early November, right before the long polar night set in, here at we – general climate enthusiasts that we are – published two boreal seasonal forecasts, one for the North American winter, and one for the European winter.

Indeed, both delivered seasonal weather patterns according to prediction [see our various updates in the climate forecast section]. Ideally probably we should not be the ones to compliment ourselves, but otherwise we feel a little bit unnoticed* between all these ‘professional’ weather agencies that do get all the attention, and do get it all wrong – Europe especially.

[*) Could anyone help out and try and change this picture? You can order sunshine, snow, or whatever you prefer. Here at Bits of Science we always deliver – because it’s …science…]

In these two winter forecasts we also mentioned a feasible Arctic Oscillation pattern and said that could be some good news for the Arctic sea ice.

And indeed that’s what it got. With one single dip somewhere between January and February the Arctic Oscillation has been in a positive state throughout the boreal winter, from November to March, as shown below [including two-weak forecast] by NOAA image:

Arctic oscillation winter 2012Subsequently the Arctic has managed to cling on to its own cold air [and possibly even managed to remove the Arctic winter thermal inversion] better than in recent winters. The result is shown in the preliminary [it hints at a sea ice maximum at around March 1, but that is too soon to say] Arctic sea ice graph by the NSIDC below:

Arctic sea ice winter 2012
The current maximum is very close to the sea ice maximum of the 2009-2010 Arctic winter – but there is still a good chance there will be some further ice growth along some of the borders. According to NSIDC observations the sea ice extent is large in the Bering Sea area [let’s say Pacific side] and small at the Atlantic side [and of course frozen stiff along Canadian and Siberian coastlines.

That too is a pattern that one could expect. Bering Sea ice extent is influenced by La Niña cold water anomalies and the lesser Atlantic sea ice extent is a result of the positive NAO winter Europe has had*, with Atlantic depressions following a northerly course from Iceland towards the Barents Sea.

[*) Which has led to a dry winter for Spain. As our European early spring forecast shows this picture will not change any time soon for the Iberian Peninsula. That’s bad news for firefighters who are currently trying to tackle wildfires in Catalonia. It’s more often our seasonal forecasts bring bad news, as rainfall and flooding reports in January, February and March from Queensland and New South Wales show. Perhaps by now it’s good to say we don’t actually make the weather – messenger is all.]

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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