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UW Today

The September 2012 record low in Arctic sea-ice extent was big news, but a missing piece of the puzzle was lurking below the ocean’s surface. What volume of ice floats on Arctic waters? And how does that compare to previous summers? These are difficult but important questions, because how much ice actually remains suggests how vulnerable the ice pack will be to more warming.

New satellite observations confirm a University of Washington analysis that for the past three years has produced widely quoted estimates of Arctic sea-ice volume. Findings based on observations from a European Space Agency satellite, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, show that the Arctic has lost more than a third of summer sea-ice volume since a decade ago, when a U.S. satellite collected similar data.

Combining the UW model and the new satellite observations suggests the summer minimum in Arctic sea ice is one-fifth of what it was in 1980, when the model begins.