Highest Svalbard Sea Ice Since 1988

  • Date: 09/04/20
  • Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

From 3-7 April this year, sea ice around Svalbard Norway has been the highest since 1988, but only 6th or 7th highest since records began in the 1970s.

Svalbard ice extent 2020 April 7 graph_NIS

Pack ice is year surrounds Bear Island (Bjørnøya) at the southern end of the archipelago for the first time since 2009 at this date, and continues the pattern of high extent and thickness of ice in the Barents Sea since last summer.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo SVALBARDPOSTEN

On the 3rd of April 2020, it looked like the highest extent on record had been reached, according to the NIS graph above. But because the graph only goes back to 1981 (see the ‘Min/Max’ dotted line), that’s not the case: it was only the sixth highest compared to records that go back to at least 1969 (and 81,483 sq km above the 1981-2010 average).

However, the difference between extents on 3 April 1988 (511,048 sq km) must be almost statistically indistinguishable from 3 April 2020 (507,194 sq km) because it’s certainly indistinguishable on a graph as crude as the one presented to the public above. Although their archived ice charts availble online only go back to 1998 for April, the NIS noted on 3 April 2020 via Twitter [my bold]:

The last time there was this much #seaice around #Svalbard on this day of the year was 1988, with 511,048 sq km. This year’s extent has only been exceeded by, in ascending order, 1988, 1971, 1977, 1969 and 1978.

On the 7th of April, NIS noted the ice was similarly 7th highest on record (79,124 sq km above the 1981-2010 average at 502,563 sq km), compared to records going back to at least 1969.

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