Arctic Sea Ice Extent Anomaly Points to Extinction

By: Kerry Koepping, Executive Director, Arctic Arts Project

The process of extinction is self-evident in the dramatic arctic sea ice loss seen this year. Sea Ice extent records in the Arctic continued to fall in 2020 and they reflect a frightening 40-year pattern of total Arctic ice loss.  Human caused climate change is dramatically transitioning the Arctic into a different climate. With total sea ice loss projected in the next decade or two, earth’s biosystems will face unprecedented and potentially catastrophic change. In a recent study in the Journal of Nature Climate Change, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) found that there is already less sea ice and warmer temperatures than the normal range of the Arctic’s previous climate.  Lead study author Laura Landrum states that the research shows that Arctic is fast approaching or has already gone beyond those normal variations- hence a new climate.

Photo: Kerry Koepping

Over the last decade I have personally witnessed these Arctic changes, they are happening very rapidly and dramatically.  This pattern of loss should be an alarming wakeup call for all of us. Because Arctic sea ice is so important to global climate dynamics, this extinction of arctic sea ice will affect humans around the world, from changes to climatic weather variances, loss of nature’s air conditioner, to changes in ocean currents and global biodiversity. I have been fortunate to be involved in bringing the visuals of climate change to the world at large but this visibility makes us all accountable. When people are visually aware of the truths regarding climate change, it makes them personally accountable to the speed of warming. Witnessing breeds understanding.

What’s the data behind the images: The Arctic sea ice extent observed on November 1, 2020 was at an all-time record low of 6.454 million square kilometers. This surpasses the previous record low year by 1.33 million square kilometers (7.787 million square kilometers).  Historically, sea ice growth after the minimum is reached, is rapid and somewhat predictable. This past year’s growth has been neither. The average date of Sea Ice Extent minimum in the Arctic is Sept 14. Following 2020’s minimum seasonal extent, which occurred on September 15, scientists expected the historic rapid ice growth to occur. Then in October the growth slowed to a record low pace leaving November at the lowest recovery point on record.

Arctic Ice Conditions-

National Snow Ice and Data Center

The overall Arctic sea ice concentration and quality continues to decline. The sea ice concentration reflects the thickness and density of the ice and is critical to the formation and or loss of multi-year ice. As of November 1, 2020, the ice thickness at the north pole was only slightly greater than 1 meter, compared to the historic norm of 3-4 meters, and was fractured.  The ice conditions in the Arctic effect everything from global climactic weather changes to ocean water temperatures and economics.

The North Pole ice cap recently proved too thin for the testing of Russia’s new giant icebreaker, “Arktika”. The Arktika icebreaker was conducting operational tests at the north pole to prove its capabilities to crush thick and hard sea-ice. “Ice tests did not work out, the ice thickness was only 1.1 to 1.2 meters instead of the required 3 meters”, said Oleg Shchapin, head of the icebreakers acceptance team, “it was thin and loose, the icebreaker received no resistance at all,”

Photo: Rosatom

What do we do?

In order to slow the dramatic trend in Arctic sea ice loss we need a global refutation of the world’s dependance on fossil fuels. It is very clear.  If high levels of greenhouse gas emissions persist, the Arctic will be without sea ice in our lifetime, dramatically effecting ocean temperatures, water resource management, atmospheric temperatures, and extreme weather anomalies. I have heard recent discussions in the media regarding reduced carbon emissions during the global covid-19 shutdown. Some have perpetuated the misinformation that this lockdown will buy us years in the battle over fossil fuel dependance. The following chart, while showing a reduction in emissions in 2020, still reflects more than 32 Billion Tonnes of CO2 being emitted during the year:


This is not sustainability.  To affect any significant change, emissions need to come much closer to zero.

In recent years the renewable energy industry has proven to be an economically viable and environmentally responsible alternative to the fossil fuel industry.  While challenges of transmission and storage of energy remain, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this, and significant potential solutions are at hand.  This may sound simplistic, and certainly there are complexities to implementing change in our society, but we have the opportunity to recognize where we are and change course now, before the consequences of our current trajectory become even more evident. It is much cheaper and more beneficial to our societies and economies to remake our energy and resource markets to fit with what the earth and our atmosphere can actually provide.

Human’s need to live in harmony with earth’s ecosystems and not simply use resources with disregard for the whole picture. Additionally, we need to respect the wild places as critical to our own existence.  In the words of the great Sir David Attenborough, we need to “Re-Wild the World”


It is time to recognize that the Arctic Sea Ice Extinction is upon us and it is time to act. Listen to the science, and not to world leaders that would have you believe that this is a hoax or conspiracy. Nor to the corporations that disseminate the misinformation of economic impossibilities.

We have the opportunity to make 2021 a year of possibilities and true positive change. We as humans are smart enough, but are we wise enough?
We should not let the threat of extinction of Arctic sea ice  be a bellwether of the threat to our own extinction.