Arctic Sea Ice Minimum

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Arctic sea ice is near its smallest extent of 2011, as we near the end of summer and the end of the Arctic ice melt season. This data visualization shows Arctic sea ice as recorded on Sept. 9, 2011 by the AMSR-E instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Through the islands of northern Canada, you can see where the ice has melted back enough to open the Northwest Passage that explorers once only dreamed about. Sea ice appears to be as low this year as it was at the record low in 2007, according to analysis by NASA sea ice scientists and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which maintains records and data of ice, glaciers and snow cover around the world. In 2007, Arctic sea ice melted dramatically to 38 percent below its average since 1979, when consistent satellite observations began. In the years since, that same pace of decline has not continued, but the ice has remained near historically low levels, and scientists say the long-term trend remains in decline. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Josefino C. Comiso, a sea ice specialist, estimates the current decline of sea ice extent at 12.2 percent per decade and the decline of sea ice area at 13.5 percent per decade, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Climate. Extent is the region covered by the farthest reaches of sea ice, and includes some areas of open water between floating ice – by definition, extent includes areas with at least 15 percent sea ice. Area only includes sea ice surface area.


Image courtesy of NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio, Goddard Space Flight Center.


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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.


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Taken on September 15, 2011