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Canadian Arctic Sea Ice Reached Record Low in Summer 2012

Time series of minimum sea ice coverage in Northern Canadian Waters, for each summer since 1971. Note that the week of the actual minimum ice coverage varies from year to year.  In the graph above, Percentage Ice Cover refers to the percent of the red area in the inset map that is covered with sea ice. The actual area of the red region indicated on the map is 3,747,890 km2.

Time series of minimum sea ice coverage in Northern Canadian Waters, for each summer since 1971. Note that the week of the actual minimum ice coverage varies from year to year.  In the graph above, Percentage Ice Cover refers to the percent of the red area in the inset map that is covered with sea ice. The actual area of the red region indicated in the inset map is 3,747,890 km2.

Arctic sea ice reached record-breaking low extents during summer 2012, weeks before the end of the melt season. The previous record for the pan-Arctic sea ice minimum extent was set in September 2007 (4.2 million km2). That record was nearly broken in September 2011, when the sea ice extent shrank to 4.6 million km2. In mid-September 2012, the minimum extent reached 3.41 million km2, a new pan-Arctic sea ice minimum extent (based on the NSIDC 1979-2012 satellite record - source: NSIDC).

In Northern Canadian Waters, during summer 2012, minimum ice coverage of 8.4% was recorded for the week of September 10, breaking the previous Canadian Arctic record set in 2011 (9.4%).

In 2012, the CIS observed that the ice melted sooner than normal in most areas. Shifting ice created navigable waters in places that would usually be choked with ice.

Record minimum ice cover years in Northern Canadian Waters are not always exactly in sync with the rest of the Arctic because sea ice tends to be pushed against the Queen Elizabeth Islands and into the passages of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago by the winds and currents, where it accumulates and melts last.

Ice cover in Northern Canadian Waters is variable from area to area and from year to year.

The southern route of the Northwest Passage has been navigable1 since 2006. Sea ice coverage in the southern route reached a minimum of 0% coverage in 2012, which is the same extent recorded in 2011.

The northern route of the Northwest Passage has been navigable for a few weeks every summer since 2007, except for 2009. The previous record for minimum average ice extents along this route was set in 2011 at 4.3% minimum coverage. The record was not broken in 2012 (14% minimum coverage averaged along the entire route).

For more details and graphics on the minimum ice extent, see the Ice Climatology section of the CIS website. The site also provides regular updates by CIS sea ice analysts and forecasters on sea ice conditions in all Canadian waters. The Arctic Seasonal Summary is prepared in the fall season and issued in December. The sea ice melt season for the parts of the Canadian Arctic south of Parry Channel is usually over at the end of October, while the melt season is typically over around mid-November for Hudson Bay and approaches.

1Using here a criteria of less than 60% ice cover over all sections of the Northwest Passage.