Here’s How Much Arctic Sea Ice Has Melted Since the ‘80s

In Climate, News by

This analysis of decade-long trends in sea ice illustrates just how much we’ve been losing in the Arctic in just the past three and a half decades.

The comparison shows the clear long-term decline of Arctic sea ice fueled by the global rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The dramatic shrinkage of sea ice over the past few decades is driving major changes, from the loss of crucial Arctic habitat to the potential influence of weather patterns around the world.


Current Arctic sea ice area compared to the averages from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Sea ice level in mid-July is already below the annual low of the 1980s.
Credit: Zack Labe/JAXA

The graph, put together by Zack Labe, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, shows the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice right now and compares it to the averages throughout the melt seasons of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. It is clear that with about 50 days of the melt season still to go, sea ice area is already below the point where it would have bottomed out for any year in the 1980s.

Lack of sea ice does more than simply affect polar bears and other northern species. A relatively sudden influx of fresh water melt has the potential to disrupt major ocean currents like the Gulf Stream, causing major climate changes in the North Atlantic.