National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

When will the summer Arctic be nearly sea ice free?

Overland, J.E., and M. Wang

Geophys. Res. Lett., 40(10), 2097–2101, doi: 10.1002/grl.50316 (2013)

The observed rapid loss of thick multiyear sea ice over the last 7 years and the September 2012 Arctic sea ice extent reduction of 49% relative to the 1979–2000 climatology are inconsistent with projections of a nearly sea ice-free summer Arctic from model estimates of 2070 and beyond made just a few years ago. Three recent approaches to predictions in the scientific literature are as follows: (1) extrapolation of sea ice volume data, (2) assuming several more rapid loss events such as 2007 and 2012, and (3) climate model projections. Time horizons for a nearly sea ice-free summer for these three approaches are roughly 2020 or earlier, 2030 ± 10 years, and 2040 or later. Loss estimates from models are based on a subset of the most rapid ensemble members. It is not possible to clearly choose one approach over another as this depends on the relative weights given to data versus models. Observations and citations support the conclusion that most global climate model results in the CMIP5 archive are too conservative in their sea ice projections. Recent data and expert opinion should be considered in addition to model results to advance the very likely timing for future sea ice loss to the first half of the 21st century, with a possibility of major loss within a decade or two.

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