Sea Ice Ticker

On 20 September 2019, the icebreaker Polarstern will set sail for the MOSAiC expedition, and a year-long drift in the Arctic sea ice. The 'Sea Ice Ticker' provides the latest information on the sea ice, presented in various forms so that you can track the ice conditions.

Sea Ice Ticker No 14: 8.10.2019 The Search for the Ideal Ice Floe is a Success Story!

Since last week, RV Polarstern has been carefully making her way through the Arctic sea ice, all the while searching for the ideal ice floe to set up camp on. To aid her in this task, helicopters regularly took off from and landed on the accompanying Russian icebreaker Akademik Fedorov, taking aerial measurements with a sensor dubbed the EM-Bird. The device, which measures ice thickness in the direction of flight, makes it possible to initially survey potential ice floes, after which the ships can take a closer look at the most promising candidates. Once the floe had been found, additional tests and measurements were taken directly on its surface, using a variety of methods. In this regard, its thickness and stability were the most crucial parameters; after all, the floe will serve as the basis for an extensive ice research camp for more than a year.

Our multi-sensor sea ice maps show the sector for the starting region and route, as well as RV Polarstern’s current position (see figure). From the ‘zigzag’ route to date (red line), we can see that Polarstern neared a number of individual floes to assess their suitability. With the beginning of the winter season, the majority of the target sector is now home to sea ice, though in some cases it is only a few centimetres thick.

At 9:30 pm ship’s time on 4 October 2019, the time had come: the target floe had been identified and moored to, the ship’s engines were shut down, and Polarstern’s immediate vicinity could now be explored on foot! At the coordinates 85° 04.582’ north and 134° 25.769’ east, the researchers and crew can now begin with the actual heart of the expedition: the drift experiment! On the latest map, the area around Polarstern is also shown at magnification (green box). Since the icebreaker is a strong reflector for radar signals, it can also be recognised as a small white dot on the map.

Sea Ice Ticker No 13: 1.10.2019 Ice Maps from the Russian Research Institute AARI

In order to support navigation in the ice and help plan research activities, not only satellite data, but also the ice charts provided by national sea-ice information services are essential. These charts summarise the results of comprehensive analyses of satellite and model-based data, which are visually conducted by ice analysts. Throughout the MOSAiC expedition, ice charts will be provided by the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg (AARI). The ice information is presented in keeping with the established international standard: yellow indicates ‘open pack ice’ with an ice concentration of between 4/10 and 6/10, orange is ‘close pack ice’ (7/10 – 8/10), and red represents ‘very close pack ice’ (9/10 – 10/10). In the ovals, the ice concentration is described in more detail. The second column shows the respective concentrations of the thickest, second-thickest and third-thickest ice. Information on the ice’s developmental stage, i.e., how thick the ice is, can be found below the column. The last column offers data on the form of the ice, e.g. whether it is pancake ice (0), a large floe (500 m - 2 km; 5), or a massive floe (> 10 km; 7). These charts are provided at on a regular basis.

Sea Ice Ticker No 12: 27.09.2019 Ice Concentration in MOSAiC’s Starting Region

After the successful launch of the MOSAiC expedition from the port of Tromsø at 8:30 pm on 20 September 2019, RV Polarstern is now on a direct course to the planned starting region in the Russian Sector of the Central Arctic. On 15 September 2019 the sea-ice extent in the Arctic reached its lowest total area this year; in the next few weeks, the freezing season will begin again. This is the time when the first layer of ice, referred to as frazil ice, is formed; in turn, nilas appears in the pancake ice, and eventually accumulates to form floes and first-year sea ice. Accordingly, it’s very important that the expedition reach the target region as early as possible, and begin looking for a suitable floe to erect the ice camp on.

Although the route to the target region is currently ice-free, the region itself is characterised by compact ice with a concentration of over 90%. Once there, the research icebreaker RV Polarstern will only be able to reach the final starting position by ramming her way through the ice. By 8 October 2019, roughly two weeks from now, the sun will no longer rise in the starting region, and the Polar Night will begin. When it does, the residual light from the sunset, reflected by the white snow, will be the only natural light source. By then, the camp should have been set up, and all preparations for the drift experiment completed.

Sea Ice Ticker No 11: 24.09.2019 Comparison Map of the Sea Ice Edge Position

In order to make meaningful statements on changes in the sea-ice concentration in different regions for different days, months and years, the differences are portrayed on a comparison map. In this regard, data on the sea-ice concentration from can be used to calculate the daily position of the ice edge (15% sea-ice concentration). The differences to e.g. the long-term average (from 2003 to 2014) or to the monthly mean for the same month in any year can be displayed. Regions that gained sea ice (blue) and those that lost it (red) can be clearly recognised.

The map shows the differences in the sea ice edge position from 23 September 2019 in comparison to the monthly mean position for September in 2012, the year with the lowest summertime sea-ice extent since the beginning of satellite observation in 1979. Generally speaking, we can see a larger extent in all regions of the Arctic, although September 2019 was characterised by the second-lowest sea-ice extent ever observed. However, we can also see that there is now substantially less ice in the northern Laptev Sea, the planned starting region for the MOSAiC expedition (outlined in black on the map); there is also much less ice in the southern Greenland Sea this year. In the expanded data section created especially for MOSAiC on, new comparison maps will be provided on a daily basis, and in two versions (one in comparison to the year 2012, and one in comparison to the long-term average), helping us put the current sea-ice situation in perspective.

Sea Ice Ticker No 10: 20.09.2019 Kick-off for the MOSAiC Expedition in Tromsø

Today MOSAiC, the greatest Arctic expedition of all time, will begin, and the RV Polarstern will depart for her one-year-long overwintering experiment in the drifting polar ice. Over the course of an entire year, more than 600 experts from 60 research institutes and 19 nations will investigate the exchange processes between the ocean, ice and atmosphere. Though the Arctic regions have a tremendous influence on our climate, that influence remains only poorly understood. New data gathered during the expedition will allow us to better grasp how the Arctic climate is evolving; moreover, together with the new insights gained, it will enhance our current climate models, helping us make more accurate forecasts regarding our weather and future climate developments. 

The official launch will be tonight at 8:00 pm Central European Summer Time, when many years of careful preparation will finally pay off, and the adventure will begin! will here intensively accompany the expedition with a focus on sea ice aspects, and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone participating the best of luck, great new findings, and safe travels!

Sea Ice Ticker No 9: 17.09.2019 Sea-ice Buoys

Buoys are independent measuring platforms, which are used to autonomously gather climate-relevant data in the world’s oceans and send it via satellite directly to a base station. They are particularly used in the ice-covered oceans in the polar regions to obtain valuable measurements in the winter months. Braving the extreme (Ant)Arctic weather conditions during this time is a major challenge for marine expeditions or other manned missions. There are numerous types of buoys that can measure the physical and biological properties of the atmosphere and the sea ice as well as the underlying ocean.

This technology will play a crucial role in the unique MOSAiC expedition. While most of the participating researchers will focus on taking measurements on the main ice floe, up to 160 measuring buoys will be installed on other ice floes over a radius of several dozen kilometres around this ‘central observatory’. To install this network of buoys, the RV Polarstern will initially be escorted by a second icebreaker and several helicopters, which will be used to allow the international research team to erect their instruments on the ice. The experts hope that this data will enable them to extend the insights from the measurements on the ‘main floe’ to a larger area. Furthermore, the unprecedented number of buoys working in parallel will provide new insights into the movements of the ice floes in relative to each other, which will then be used, among other things, to improve climate models.

The measurements from the buoys can be followed live on (here). From October, we will also provide an easy-to-use, interactive map to present the buoy date on more quickly and simply.

Sea Ice Ticker No 8: 13.09.2019

The summer sea-ice minimum in the Arctic is an indicator of the global effects of progressing climate change. The September ice extent has been decreasing since 1979. This is the month that marks the end of the melt season, when the lowest absolute ice extent, as well as the lowest monthly mean, is reached. There has been a reduction in this of circa 12 % per decade, and in all probability this year will see the second-lowest level ever. Despite variations in the ice melt from year to year, this year, since the beginning of the melt season in March, the average monthly ice extent has been low (in parts, the lowest ever). Looking at the average ice concentration and extent for the first third of the month (here), we can expect the monthly mean ice extent in September to be 3.9 ± 0.1 million km², assuming similarly progressing weather conditions. This extensive melting is also linked to a reduction in the mean ice thickness, which means that RV Polarstern’s search for a suitable ice floe (a thickness > 1.2 m, to provide a safe base to set up camp on) to serve as a “home port” won’t be easy.

Sea Ice Ticker No 7: 10.09.2019

We’re gradually approaching this summer’s sea ice minimum. This map shows us the sea ice concentration on 9 September, and it can clearly be seen that large parts of the Northwest Passage are free of ice. Although the surface melt is almost over, the ice continues to melt since there is still sufficient warmth in the ocean. Winds can also reduce the sea ice by pushing it together. For comparison the ice edges in 2007 (red) and 2012 (yellow) are shown. In both years the sea ice concentration reached record lows. If the ice isn’t further compacted by strong winds, the sea ice extent in 2019 will near the second-lowest value since the beginning of continuous satellite observation in 1979.

Sea Ice Ticker No 6: 06.09.2019

Comparing the current sea ice extent in the Arctic with reference time points in the past allows us to better estimate the current sea ice situation. In order to compare the changes in the sea ice concentration in various regions and for different months and years, the differences in the ice edge are represented on a map. To do this, data on the sea ice concentration is used to determine the position of the ice edge (15 % sea ice concentration) and the difference between this and the long-term average (from 2003 to 2014) for the same month. This makes regions with an increase in sea ice (blue) and a reduction in sea ice (red) clearly visible. In August 2019, there was significantly less ice in the entire Siberian and Canadian continental shelf region than the average for the period 2003 – 2014. Only in small areas of the Greenland Sea (Fram Strait) and in the northern Barents was there slightly more ice. In particular, the ice in the planned starting position for the MOSAiC expedition has declined sharply, making it a favourable point for the RV Polarstern to set off from on its way to the target region.

Sea Ice Ticker No 5: 03.09.2019

Satellite remote sensing is an effective tool for recording sea ice parameters. In order to assess the sea ice situation in the MOSAiC starting region, multiple types of information from satellite observations are used to obtain a better estimate of the sea ice situation in the area. The most important parameters include ice concentration, ice movement and the general condition of the ice surface. In the AWI’s newly developed multi-satellite product for MOSAiC, radar satellite images of the sea ice surface with a resolution of 50 m are combined with ice concentration data with a spatial resolution of 3 km and drift information on the ice movement. This allows us to gain an accurate picture of the ice characteristics in the potential starting region, which makes the preparatory investigations and route planning easier and also depicts the ice conditions during the MOSAiC drift.

The region is currently marked by a fragmented sea ice surface with a sea ice concentration of 20 -100 %. Everything from compact ice to open water can be found here. However, recent weeks have shown how quickly the situation can change, depending on the weather. In the last 48 hours, the ice drift was mainly in a westerly direction. From today, this and other sea ice maps and derived products for MOSAiC will be available in a new section on, click here.

Sea Ice Ticker No 4: 30.08.2019

Climatalogical maps help us gain a better understanding of the current Arctic sea ice situation. This map shows the temperature anomalies at an altitude of 925 hPa (roughly 760 m) over the Arctic, depicted as deviations from the long-term average from 1971 to 2000. Red indicates a positive deviation and blue a negative deviation. We can clearly see that in the period from 1 to 26 August, wide areas of the Arctic were far too warm. Particularly along the Siberian coast, the temperatures were up to 6 degrees higher than the long-term average, and the situation was similar over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Warmth from the atmosphere, together with the wind field and the ocean temperature, is an important factor in the development of the sea ice situation up to the summer minimum in the coming month. You can read more about the effect of these factors on the current sea ice situation here.

Sea Ice Ticker No 3: 27.08.2019

This 'fever chart' allows us to follow the daily changes in the total sea ice concentration in the Arctic.   The red line shows us the values for 2019, while the grey line shows the mean value for the years 1981 – 2010, bordered by an area depicting the span of two standard deviations for all the observed values in the same period (grey band). If we look at the trend for this year, we can see that after a record low in July, it has gradually settled above the line for 2012 – the year with the lowest sea ice extent since the beginning of continuous satellite observations in 1979. The weather in the coming weeks will be crucial to how this curve develops. You can follow these daily maps here. The distribution of high and low-pressure areas and the effect of warm air masses from the lower latitudes will determine the distribution of the sea ice and the total ice cover. We’re following the situation in the planned MOSAiC starting region with bated breath.

Sea Ice Ticker No 2: 23.08.2019

Today’s map shows the likely area in the Arctic from which the research icebreaker RV Polarstern’s MOSAiC expedition will start its drift (section outlined in black). The RV Polarstern will sail from Tromsø/Norway on 20 September, cross the Barents and Kara Seas and then set course for Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya in order to reach the starting area in the Laptev Sea. The sea ice in this region has retreated significantly this year, and the ice concentration is between 50 % and 80 %. You can find a more detailed description of the current ice situation here. It will only be possible to select an ice floe with the necessary size and thickness for the drift station to anchor at once the starting region has been reached. You can find detailed maps of the sea ice concentration on the DataPortal of RV Polarstern is currently on another mission – Expedition PS121.

Sea Ice Ticker No 1: 20.08.2019

Today’s map of the sea ice concentration and extent in the Arctic marks the launch of the “AWI Sea Ice Ticker”. In preparation for the start of the major MOSAiC expedition in Tromsø/Norway on 20 September 2019, twice a week we will present new maps of the sea ice situation in the Arctic, showing the current sea ice development, and so follow the preparations in the lead-up to the expedition. We’re all eagerly awaiting the start of MOSAiC – why not join us?