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Trends in Arctic ice thickness and volume

Posted by Frank Lansner (frank) on 11th January, 2011
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A significant thick ice recovery is taking place now.

Fig 1 Arctic sea ice area (Winter, 31 dec) with colors indicating ice thickness. Data from PIPS2, US NAVY online for all to use:

Fig 1 shows a fascinating inferno of trends moving up and down showing many underlying patterns. Its no wonder that PIPS2 data is not promoted by IPCC or other institutions known to promote AGW, though.

Not much of a trend in total area for these winter (31 dec) data 1998-2010. However I will start out focusing on the event around 2007. These data illustrates how the ice in 2007 was squeezed together and then how the recovery of thicker ice after 2007 has occurred in an impressing speed. With data like this, the idea that the lower 2007 Arctic sea ice level was close to a “death spiral” appears wrong. What we see is an Arctic sea ice playing with its mucles, showing that it is no way near fading away. The 2007 dip appears like an oscllation that the Arctic at any time can quickly recover from.

The area of ice thicker than 2,5 meters has almost doubled from approx 1800 km2 to 3300 km2 in just 2 years 2008-2010 as reported by Steven Goddard:

Here are how the original PIPS2 maps for 31 dec appears 1998-2010:
Fig2 The trends from fig 1 are rather easily recognized. To convert into a graph as in fig 1 I have used software that reads pixel colors (around 40-50.000 pixels used per PIPS-graphic) with only 0 - 5 pixels not able to be defined per map. I then converted data into area and volume units.
As many will be aware, this is not entirely precise due to the round shape of the earth making more southern areas count slightly more than areas closest to the north pole. However, when comparing the same date of the years, the areas occupied are rather similar from year to year and thus it is fair to compare years. So in this article, its more the trends than the absolute values you should focos on.

However, when focussing on thicker ice (nearer the North pole) the “round-Earth-problem” is reduced and allows more quantitative studies.

Here are the Ice thickness for 1 april 1999 - 2010:

The 2007-8 dip impresses indeed but the recovery 2008-2010 is also spectacular - again revealed when focussing on the thicker ice.
Sea ice 1 april has almost doubled for ice thicker than 2,5 m.
- And more: This graphic has last point over 9 months old – cant wait to insert the 2011 apr 1 point. Should the trend 2008-2010 continue just one more year, to 2011 apr 1, then we have the highest level of thick ice measured in data since 1998.

Then the minimum ice extends around 1 October:


Fig4. For the ice minimum, the well known general dive in ice extend 1998-2007 is much more visible.
The huge peak around 2004 of thicker ice again demonstrates how stunningly fast thick ice can grow from year to year in the Arctic. Extend of thicker ice > 2,5 m doubles in just one year 2003 – 2004. This again demonstrates Arctic ice as very dynamic, where larger changes appear normal, not really alarming. If thick Arctic ice can double in one year, how should we be near a “death spiral” for Arctic ice?

Ice volume.
Fig 5
A rough volume calculation where done by multiplying area with ice thickness. In general, the years 2007-2010 are rather similar to 1998-2000.

Then the areas closer to the North pole, the ice volume trends from sea ice thicker than 2,5 m:


Fig 6. The volume of ice from sea ice thicker than 2,5 m has exploded several times, but most significant is the huge rise in sea ice volume from thick sea ice we are witnessing right now. Both the apr 1 and 31 dec volumes have almost doubled 2008-2010. The minimum extend thick-ice volume has risen “only” around 50% 2008-2010.

Above I have illustrated trends in sea ice from PIPS2 data with a focus on the strong rise 2008-2010. There are many opinions on what data is most reliable for ice thickness, PIPS2 or PIOMAS and it reaches beyond this article to fully analyse this. I believe, however, that PIPS2 from the US navy is a product developed over 30 years to be still more useful. If US NAVY uses these data for their submarines etc. (?) certainly the PIPS2 data has to have a certain degree of reliability. (To know more I have mailed the PIPS2 team some questions regarding how often they can verify their day-to-day data with actual measurements. )

I have seen some critics of PIPS2 say that the long term compares are questionable. Well, most of the graphics above shows hardly any ice decrease 1998 – 2010, so this critic is not surprising. Non the less I have thus just focussed on the thick ice 2008-2010 trend.

When all this is said, take a look at the supposed ice thickness dive 1998-2010 according to PIOMAS:
Fig 7 If PIOMAS is correct, then the 30 years of developing PIPS2 US NAVY product has been wasted. But is this likely?

One of the prominent names behind PIOMAS is the scientist Zhang from Washington University. Zhang has also made a stunning re-analysis showing that Antarctic sea surface air temperatures has risen significantly in recent decades. Below is a compare of Zhangs vs hadcrut:


Fig 8, Zhang vs Hadcrut around Antarctica. (Yes, Hadcrut is SST, Zhangs speaks of surfacce air, but these parameters should still show a more common trend over 25 years?) Zhang is not really confirmed by hadcrut, nor by TLT trends in Antarctic temperatures which are cooling, nor by a steady growing amount of sea ice around Antarctica – but Zhang and PIOMAS should be preferred when we talk ice volume in the Arctic?

A non-sceptic discussion of PIPS2 US NAVY vs. Zhangs PIOMAS:

Readers are welcome to mail me for info on software to get precise pixelcounts of colors - a useful tool to retrieve data.

Other Articles by Frank Lansner:


Last changed: 12th January, 2011 at 13:23:52



Dear unknown, I think you should contact US Navy. By Frank Lansner on 3rd August, 2011 at 19:40:11
US Navy describe their PIPS 2 product:
"PIPS 2.0 produces forecast fields of ice displacement, ice thickness, ice concentration (ice edge) and the growth/decay of ice based on both dynamic and thermodynamic effects. "

Why would they write like this i they believed that PIPS2 did - NOT - decribe ICE thickness as you suggest?

As long as US Navy that use these data for navigation (!) and present it as tey do, certainly they must trust their product PIPS2.

Unknown: Write your concerns to US Navy, and if they agree with you they will start write that PIPS2 is NOT describing ice thickness.
I will respect US Navy´s primary description of their product, also if they should choose to change it.

K.R. Frank
By Unknown on 26th May, 2011 at 21:27:22
I not think that you understand what the PIPS 2.0 is. Its the "Polar Ice Projection System". It is a computer model based on old climate models.

It is clearly unrelated to the actual ice thickness in the arctic.

"PIPS 2.0 produces forecast fields of ice displacement, ice thickness, ice concentration (ice edge) and the growth/decay of ice based on both dynamic and thermodynamic effects. PIPS 2.0 is driven by atmospheric forcing from the Navy Operational Global Atmospheric System (NOGAPS) (Hogan et al., 1991)."

As much as I enjoyed this piece about why this computer model does not agree with reality, I'm pretty sure that it is not meant to.

Also... it doesn't cost anything to produce this software. The Navy has oceanographers on staff to deal with this stuff.

Here's the world climate anomalies report from the WMO;

Here's what Environment Canada says;

As predicted in 1992 by the IPCC the ice cap is now shrinking;
Joe Bastardi mentions By Frank Lansner on 18th January, 2011 at 03:49:09
- he does so "SUNDAY MORNING" (16 jan):
"And by the way, the ice, which has been lagging behind, is about to get a big boost as the AO goes toward positive. Remember that forecast is FOR THE SUMMER.. that we will have less ice melt than the past 5 years. Its not summer yet, and the areas lagging are about to turn colder for the rest of winter and spring. The US navy has been doing studies and they reveal precisely what people who dont have their head buried in the sand know, the THICK SEA ICE IS INCREASING! You can look at that yourself here. 211.php

Naturally, this is not showing up in the mainstream, and it takes a blog that is trying to offer counter ideas to show this. But its also fascinating to me that apparently a military organization, who by their very nature have to confront cold hard facts in their dealings, since lives are on the line immediately in their jobs, come up with a different conclusion than is seen in the civilian sector, WHO THEY ARE MADE TO PROTECT.. no matter what the cost.

You do the math. "


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