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September Arctic sea-ice minimum predicted by spring melt-pond fraction


The area of Arctic September sea ice has diminished from about 7 million km2 in the 1990s to less than 5 million km2 in five of the past seven years, with a record minimum of 3.6 million km2 in 2012 (ref. 1). The strength of this decrease is greater than expected by the scientific community, the reasons for this are not fully understood, and its simulation is an on-going challenge for existing climate models2,3. With growing Arctic marine activity there is an urgent demand for forecasting Arctic summer sea ice4. Previous attempts at seasonal forecasts of ice extent were of limited skill5,6,7,8,9. However, here we show that the Arctic sea-ice minimum can be accurately forecasted from melt-pond area in spring. We find a strong correlation between the spring pond fraction and September sea-ice extent. This is explained by a positive feedback mechanism: more ponds reduce the albedo; a lower albedo causes more melting; more melting increases pond fraction. Our results help explain the acceleration of Arctic sea-ice decrease during the past decade. The inclusion of our new melt-pond model10 promises to improve the skill of future forecast and climate models in Arctic regions and beyond.

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Figure 1: Temporal variability of Arctic melt-pond area.
Figure 2: Spatial distribution of Arctic melt-pond area.
Figure 3: Correlation between pond and thin-ice fraction with September sea-ice extent.
Figure 4: Verification of predicted September sea-ice extent.

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NCEP_Reanalysis 2 data were provided by the NOAA National Weather Service, USA, from their website at

We would like to thank A. Turner and E. Hunke for their contributions to the melt-pond model and E. Hawkins for proofreading our manuscript and his advice on how to verify predictions.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.F., D.L.F. and D.S. developed the melt-pond model. M.T. and D.L.F. developed the EAP model. D.S. performed the CICE simulations and the statistical calculations. All authors discussed the results.

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Correspondence to David Schröder.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Schröder, D., Feltham, D., Flocco, D. et al. September Arctic sea-ice minimum predicted by spring melt-pond fraction. Nature Clim Change 4, 353–357 (2014).

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