NASA recently released a new animation of MODIS satellite imagery of the Arctic from the past 15 years, as seen below. As you watch the video there are some very noticeable changes, primarily the melting and lack of ice compared to the beginning of the loop, which marks 2003. In addition, you may also notice the decreasing snow cover. Keep in mind that due to the complete darkness in the Arctic during the winter months, the animation skips over these months because there’s nothing to view.

15 years of a changing Arctic by MODIS satellites from Stef Lhermitte on Vimeo.

“Look, for instance, at mid-August and September 2012 the period when Arctic sea ice extent hit a record-low minimum of 3.4 million square miles. Between the heavy cloud cover, you will see lots of dark open water. Compare that to the same period in 2003, when the minimum extent was 6.2 million square miles. Scientists attribute the loss of sea ice to global warming,” according to NASA scientist, Adam Voiland.

The animation in the chart below graphically portrays how the Arctic sea ice extent has lessened over the past several decades. It begins with the year 1979 and graphs the sea ice extent through 2016, the year in which  the record lowest sea ice extent for October and November occurred. Additionally, 2012 featured the all-time record lowest sea ice extent in the Arctic.

Credit: Joshua Stevens, using data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Based on actual data, climate change can be attributed to these drastic changes in sea ice. The rising ocean temperature is the main reason for these changes, which slows or prevents the formation of ice. Warmer air temperatures also play a role, however the sea surface temperature has an affect on the air temperature as well. According to Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “in addition to bringing in warm air, the winds have helped keep the ice edge from pushing southward. There may also be an effect of the winds pulling in warmer ocean waters from the south.”


Jackson is Head of Content and Social Media at WeatherOptics. He is currently a student at the University of Miami, studying Meteorology and Broadcast Journalism. Dill produces forecast articles for the website and helps to manage the content schedule. He has also led the growth of WeatherOptics’ social media accounts, working to keep them aligned with the company’s evolving vision.

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