Articles | Volume 6, issue 6
Research article
16 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 16 Nov 2012

A simple approach to providing a more consistent Arctic sea ice extent time series from the 1950s to present

W. N. Meier, J. Stroeve, A. Barrett, and F. Fetterer

Abstract. Observations from passive microwave satellite sensors have provided a continuous and consistent record of sea ice extent since late 1978. Earlier records, compiled from ice charts and other sources exist, but are not consistent with the satellite record. Here, a method is presented to adjust a compilation of pre-satellite sources to remove discontinuities between the two periods and create a more consistent combined 59-yr time series spanning 1953–2011. This adjusted combined time series shows more realistic behavior across the transition between the two individual time series and thus provides higher confidence in trend estimates from 1953 through 2011. The long-term time series is used to calculate linear trend estimates and compare them with trend estimates from the satellite period. The results indicate that trends through the 1960s were largely positive (though not statistically significant) and then turned negative by the mid-1970s and have been consistently negative since, reaching statistical significance (at the 95% confidence level) by the late 1980s. The trend for September (when Arctic extent reaches its seasonal minimum) for the satellite period, 1979–2011 is −12.9% decade−1, nearly double the 1953–2011 trend of −6.8% decade−1 (percent relative to the 1981–2010 mean). The recent decade (2002–2011) stands out as a period of persistent decline in ice extent. The combined 59-yr time series puts the strong observed decline in the Arctic sea ice cover during 1979–2011 in a longer-term context and provides a useful resource for comparisons with historical model estimates.