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Snow and Ice Extent: July Arctic Minimum 2020


In this animation, we watch the snow and ice in the Arctic region shrink between May 1 to July 31 of 2020 in daily satellite images compared to the average daily extent (orange line). July 2020 was the minimum July Arctic sea ice extent on record. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has archives going back to the first satellite with the capability of remotely sensing sea ice extent in 1978.


July 2020 was the minimum July Arctic sea ice extent on record. We have been closely monitoring sea ice in the Arctic because the extent of the snow and ice in the Arctic affects the entire global climate system. For example, snow and ice reflect long-wave solar radiation energy back into space, which prevents it from converting to short-wave radiation. Only short-wave radiation is trapped by greenhouse gases. Therefore, the more ice there is, the less heat can get trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. The less ice there is, the more heat is trapped. This, unfortunately, results in what is called a positive feedback loop -- the more heat that is trapped, the more ice melts, allowing for more heat to get trapped, and therefore more ice to melt, and so on..

Technical Backstory

This video was created at the request of ABC Nightly News through NOAA’s Comms office. The Science On a Sphere real-time snow and ice dataset was used as the starting point. The orange line showing the average daily extent was generated using data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and was created using ArcGIS.


Aired on live television on ABC News Live Prime, 5 MST & 7 MST, in a segment with Ginger Zee called "It's Not too Late" on September 24, 2020

YouTube: 256,000+ views

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- ABC Nightly News (starting around 52:00)

Additional Versions

Another version of this animation that runs through the end of the melting season is available. On September 15th, Arctic sea ice likely reached its annual minimum extent of 3.74 million square kilometers, making 2020 the 2nd lowest in the satellite record.

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Source Files on GitHub

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