Melt onset dates, freeze onset dates, and melt season duration were estimated over Arctic sea ice, 1979-2001, using passive microwave satellite imagery and surface air temperature data. Sea ice melt duration for the entire Northern Hemisphere varied from a 104-day minimum in 1983 and 1996, to a 124-day maximum in 1989. Ranges in melt duration were highest in peripheral seas, numbering 32, 42, 44, and 51 days in the Laptev, Barents-Kara, East Siberian and Chukchi Seas, respectively. In the Arctic Ocean, average melt duration varied from a 75-day minimum in 1987 to a 103-day maximum in 1989. On average, melt onset in annual ice began 10.6 days earlier than perennial ice, and freeze onset in perennial ice commenced 18.4 days earlier than annual ice. Average annual melt dates, freeze dates, and melt durations in annual ice were significantly correlated with seasonal strength of the Arctic Oscillation (AO). Following high-index AO winters (January-March), spring melt tended to be earlier and autumn freeze later, leading to longer melt season durations. The largest increases in melt duration were observed in the eastern Siberian Arctic, coincident with cyclonic low pressure and ice motion anomalies associated with high-index AO phases. Following a positive AO shift in 1989, mean annual melt duration increased 2-3 weeks in the northern East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. Decreasing correlations between consecutive-year maps of melt onset in annual ice during 1979-2001 indicated increasing spatial variability and unpredictability in melt distributions from one year to the next. Despite recent declines in the winter AO index, recent melt distributions did not show evidence of reestablishing spatial patterns similar to those observed during the 1979-88 low-index AO period. Recent freeze distributions have become increasingly similar to those observed during 1979-88, suggesting a recurrent spatial pattern of freeze chronology under low-index AO conditions.
Additional publication details
Duration of the Arctic sea ice melt season: Regional and interannual variability, 1979-2001