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Will the Arctic Ocean soon lose its summer ice cover?

Long-term progress:
The northern ice cover has diminished clearly since 1978, when satellite monitoring began.
Short-term progress:
In 2012, the melt of ice cover was the largest since monitoring began. At the end of summer 2013, the ice cover was clearly larger, but still the sixth smallest in monitoring history.
Progress in relation to targets:
No targets are set for the extent of ice cover in the Arctic Ocean.

Record melting of ice in 2012

Jääpeite 16.9.2012, Nasa, Jääpeite 16.9.2012, Nasa

A satellite image by NASA shows the extent of the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean on 16 September 2012. The yellow line shows the average for annual minimum cover over the last 30 years. Source: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio.

In September 2012, the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean was historically small, at only 3.41 million square kilometres, 0.7 million km2 less than in the previous record year of 2007. The next summer, that of 2013, was unusually cold and stormy in the northern polar region and less of the ice cover melted than in 2012.

The ice cover of the northern polar region has been monitored via satellites since 1979. During this period, the extent of ice has varied greatly from year to year and it is believed that this will continue. However, a longer-term trend is clear: during the measurement period, the ice cover in September has shrunk by some 14% per ten years. In winter, the decrease has been slower: 2.5% in ten years.

In the last few decades, the ice cover has shrunk faster than predicted by climate models. If this trend continues, the Arctic Ocean will lose its summer ice a few decades from now.

Shrinking of the ice cover is further accelerating warming in northern areas, because the dark ocean surface absorbs solar heat more efficiently than snow and ice. Many believe that an even more worrying consequence awaits as the ice disappears and the natural resources of the Arctic become available for large-scale exploitation. With consumption of the current oil and gas resources certain to lead to radical warming, the exploitation of more reserves would be anything but desirable.


  • Nasa. 2012.
  • NSIDC. 2013.


Published 2014-03-26 at 8:59, updated 2016-07-20 at 17:57