Polar Ice Melt Sets Record

Maps of Greenland based on satellite data from July 2012 showing extent of melting surface ice

This summer’s Arctic sea-ice melt surprised many scientists by breaking the previous record, set in 2007. At its seasonal peak, the full extent of Arctic sea ice covered 1.3 million square miles, about 300,000 square miles less than the previous record low (as measured since the advent of satellite imagery). Particularly alarming was the case of Greenland, three-fourths of which lies within the Arctic Circle. Nearly all of Greenland’s surface ice underwent thawing (as dramatically shown in the maps above). In mid-July, an estimated 97 percent of its glacial ice was melting—another record extreme.

The extent of the annual Arctic sea-ice melt has been increasing, particularly over the last six years. Although it is a seasonal event—the ice refreezes as winter approaches—it is seen as evidence of a long-term decline in the amount of Arctic ice. The impact of a less extensive ice cap is being felt, such as in changes to animal habitat, among other impacts. Reduced Arctic ice cover means that less of the sun’s light energy is reflected and thus more heat is absorbed by Arctic waters. The thawing of glacial ice such as on Greenland can contribute to sea level rise.

A major Arctic storm in early August is believed to have contributed to the breaking up of sea ice, thus aggravating this season’s melt. Some scientists who are analyzing the recent satellite data and comparing it with what is known from ice-core samples have indicated that a once-every-150-years “melting event” may be occurring. One research scientist who calls the Arctic ice cap the planet’s “air-conditioner” warns that extensive climate effects are looming, far beyond the loss of polar bear habitat or disruption of native communities’ lifeways.

Image Credit: © Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

Related Links

  • Dramatic Arctic Ice Melt Blows Away Previous Record
    Learn about the record-breaking Arctic sea-ice melt, especially the effects of weather and black carbon soot.
    (Source: LiveScience, September 19, 2012)
  • Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings
    This article highlights the alarms of scientists regarding the increased extent of Arctic sea-ice melt; includes a map comparing this year’s extent of Arctic sea ice to the 30-year average low.
    (Source: New York Times, September 19, 2012)
  • Race Is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures
    This article explores consequences of Arctic sea-ice melt, in terms of access to and competition for mineral deposits; includes map with polar view showing countries that border the Arctic and the line of international waters.
    (Source: New York Times, September 18, 2012)
  • Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt
    View satellite imagery and read about NASA’s ice-cap monitoring projects.
    (Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, July 24, 2012)
  • NASA Earth Observatory: ICESat
    Learn about NASA’s ICESat project, which is dedicated to the study of changes in Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers and their relation to climate change.
    (Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration; accessed September 30, 2012)
  • Cryosat Eyes Ice Thickness Change
    View this animation of data (for winter 2010–11) from the European Space Agency’s Cryosat spacecraft, which monitors changes in the Arctic sea ice thickness.
    (Source: BBC News: accessed September 30, 2012)


  1. Emily DiSands says:

    that was interesting

  2. God says:

    NO WAY

    • Noquiero says:

      Let’s see what the effects of this are over the coimng decade, maybe get a better feel for the data . . .Don’t change anything else, mind you, keep driving vehicles that burn fossil fuels, keep building coal fired power plants to generate electricity, and keep dumping toxic shit in the ocean, air and ground at ever increasing rates ’cause that has NO effect whatsoever . . .

  3. JJJJ says:

    5/5 OH YA

  4. Josh says:

    Interesting stuff

  5. skdosor says:


  6. skdosor says:

    that is cool

  7. kameron says:

    wow interesting

  8. Veronica says:

    he made the mistake, not that he never said ahnnyitg like that and some climate denier must have hacked the site. Steve, I do have some compassion. No one ever said that you were wrong about the salon article originally. Even me, to my shame did not question the veracity of the article. The problem is that once you were presented with PROOF that you were wrong, you did not just admit it and then proceed to ridicule the REAL prediction. I would have had no problem with that, and your reputation would not be suffering from your constant inability to admit making what was initially an honest mistake. Again I appreciate you continuing to keep the issue on the front burner so to speak.

  9. Robin says:

    Is this a bad thing?

  10. Paco says:

    That last chart indicates that the cielmad upswing amounts to mere noise. I haven’t seen this chart before. At first glance it’s disturbing. Then I notice there is no 10 or 100 or 10,000 year old ice measured at all, so it really only represents recent fluctuation after all. Still, the Arctic is not as much of a sceptic’s playground as is the Antarctic which is much more massive, at least.

  11. Addie says:

    Poor arctic animals! Especially Polar Bears! Happy Halloween!!

  12. cheeselover extreme! says:

    bad Bad BAd BAD!!!!!!!!!!!
    Where going to drown!!!!!! DId you guys even read this! It is not cool! It’s warmer than it’s supposed to be!!!

  13. Nathaniel says:

    Oh god. This can add more water in to the oceans, and soon will flood many cities like New York, and Tokyo, Japan. This scale should tell people to stop polluting the air, and start to stop Global warming.
    -Nathaniel, 12 years old.

  14. Jose says:

    THat is really sad. Were all going to dround. Mabye you but not me I live in the mountains. You suckers.

  15. bob bob says:

    interesting stuff. but dont see how it is usefull

  16. the based god says:

    global warming is not real.

  17. not the based god says:

    I am the based god

  18. not the based god says:

    based god is i, i is based god

  19. not the based god says:

    i am the most based


  20. based god says:

    global warming is not real

  21. based god says:

    Dashing through the snow
    In a one-horse open sleigh
    O’er the fields we go
    Laughing all the way
    Bells on bobtail ring
    Making spirits bright
    What fun it is to ride and sing
    A sleighing song tonight!

    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way.
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.
    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way;
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.

  22. hhh says:

    What is Japan and Tokyo and where is New York??????????????

  23. hhh says:

    I think they ARE LIYING

  24. Rupen says:

    This is interesting and will affect Earth greatly in the future.

  25. Rupen says:

    Although, global warming is not true…

  26. THE one and only says:

    yo clobal warming aint cool so yall should try and stop usin c**p

  27. Dave says:

    Would like to see something,anything, on this site that shows something other than a left-leaning viewpoint.