Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013


Changes in Arctic sea ice volume affect regional heat and freshwater budgets and patterns of atmospheric circulation at lower latitudes. Despite a well-documented decline in summer Arctic sea ice extent by about 40% since the late 1970s, it has been difficult to quantify trends in sea ice volume because detailed thickness observations have been lacking. Here we present an assessment of the changes in Northern Hemisphere sea ice thickness and volume using five years of CryoSat-2 measurements. Between autumn 2010 and 2012, there was a 14% reduction in Arctic sea ice volume, in keeping with the long-term decline in extent. However, we observe 33% and 25% more ice in autumn 2013 and 2014, respectively, relative to the 2010–2012 seasonal mean, which offset earlier losses. This increase was caused by the retention of thick sea ice northwest of Greenland during 2013 which, in turn, was associated with a 5% drop in the number of days on which melting occurred—conditions more typical of the late 1990s. In contrast, springtime Arctic sea ice volume has remained stable. The sharp increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Northern Hemisphere sea ice thicknesses as measured by CryoSat-2, from 2010–2014.
Figure 2: Observed and modelled Northern Hemisphere sea ice volume, from 2010–2014.
Figure 3: The relationship between Arctic sea ice volume and summer melting.


  1. Sewall, J. O. & Sloan, L. C. Disappearing Arctic sea ice reduces available water in the American west. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L06209 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. McGuire, A. D., Chapin, F. S. III, Walsh, J. E. & Wirth, C. Integrated regional changes in Arctic climate feedbacks: Implications for the global climate system. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 31, 61–91 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Singarayer, J. S., Bamber, J. L. & Valdes, P. J. Twenty-first-century climate impacts from a declining Arctic sea ice cover. J. Clim. 19, 1109–1125 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Wadhams, P. Evidence for thinning of the Arctic ice cover north of Greenland. Nature 345, 795–797 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Laxon, S., Peacock, N. & Smith, D. High interannual variability of sea ice thickness in the Arctic region. Nature 425, 947–950 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Giles, K. A., Laxon, S. W. & Ridout, A. L. Circumpolar thinning of Arctic sea ice following the 2007 record ice extent minimum. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22502 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Kwok, R. & Rothrock, D. A. Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958–2008. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L15501 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Holland, M. M., Serreze, M. C. & Stroeve, J. The sea ice mass budget of the Arctic and its future change as simulated by coupled climate models. Clim. Dynam. 34, 185–200 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Stroeve, J. C. et al. Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L16502 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Fetterer, F., Knowles, K., Meier, W. & Savoie, M. Sea Ice Index (National Snow and Ice Data Center, Digital Media, 2002).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Zhang, J. L. & Rothrock, D. A. Modeling global sea ice with a thickness and enthalpy distribution model in generalized curvilinear coordinates. Mon. Weath. Rev. 131, 845–861 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Laxon, S. W. et al. CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 732–737 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Wingham, D. J. et al. in Natural Hazards and Oceanographic Processes from Satellite Data Vol. 37 (eds Singh, R. P. & Shea, M. A.) 841–871 (Elsevier, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Warren, S. G. et al. Snow depth on Arctic sea ice. J. Clim. 12, 1814–1829 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Alexandrov, V., Sandven, S., Wahlin, J. & Johannessen, O. M. The relation between sea ice thickness and freeboard in the Arctic. Cryosphere 4, 373–380 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Wadhams, P. et al. Relationship between sea ice freeboard and draft in the Arctic Basin, and implications for ice thickness monitoring. J. Geophys. Res. 97, 20325–20334 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kurtz, N. T. & Farrell, S. L. Large-scale surveys of snow depth on Arctic sea ice from Operation IceBridge. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L20505 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Maslanik, J. & Stroeve, J. C. Near-Real-Time DMSP SSM/I-SSMIS Daily Polar Gridded Sea Ice Concentrations (NASA DAAC at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Digital Media, 1999).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Nurser, A. J. G. & Bacon, S. Eddy length scales and the Rossby radius in the Arctic Ocean. Ocean Sci. Discuss. 10, 1807–1831 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kurtz, N. T. et al. Sea ice thickness, freeboard, and snow depth products from Operation IceBridge airborne data. Cryosphere 7, 1035–1056 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Haas, C., Lobach, J., Hendricks, S., Rabenstein, L. & Pfaffling, A. Helicopter-borne measurements of sea ice thickness, using a small and lightweight, digital EM system. J. Appl. Geophys. 67, 234–241 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kwok, R. et al. Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003–2008. J. Geophys. Res. 114, C07005 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Holland, M. M., Bitz, C. M. & Weaver, A. J. The influence of sea ice physics on simulations of climate change. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 19639–19655 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Maykut, G. A. Energy exchange over young sea ice in the central Arctic. J. Geophys. Res. 83, 3646–3658 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: Configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kwok, R. Near zero replenishment of the Arctic multiyear sea ice cover at the end of 2005 summer. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L05501 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Overland, J. E. & Wang, M. When will the summer Arctic be nearly sea ice free? Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2097–2101 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gregory, J. M. et al. Recent and future changes in Arctic sea ice simulated by the HadCM3 AOGCM. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29, 2175 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Beaven, S. G. et al. Laboratory measurements of radar backscatter from bare and snow-covered saline ice sheets. Int. J. Remote Sensing 16, 851–876 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Willatt, R. C., Giles, K. A., Laxon, S. W., Stone-Drake, L. & Worby, A. P. Field investigations of Ku-band radar penetration into snow cover on Antarctic sea ice. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing 48, 365–372 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Peacock, N. R. & Laxon, S. W. Sea surface height determination in the Arctic Ocean from ERS altimetry. J. Geophys. Res. 109, C07001 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Webster, M. A. et al. Interdecadal changes in snow depth on Arctic sea ice. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 5395–5406 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Giles, K. A. et al. Combined airborne laser and radar altimeter measurements over the Fram Strait in May 2002. Remote Sensing Environ. 111, 182–194 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Romanov, I. P. Morphometric Characteristics of Ice and Snow in the Arctic Basin: Aircraft Landing Observations from the Former Soviet Union, 1928–1989 (National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Ricker, R., Hendricks, S., Helm, V., Skourup, H. & Davidson, M. Sensitivity of CryoSat-2 Arctic sea-ice freeboard and thickness on radar-waveform interpretation. Cryosphere 8, 1607–1622 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study is based on the work of our late colleagues S. Laxon and K. Giles, and we are indebted to them for the excellent foundations they have left. We thank C. Haas and the CryoVEx EM-Bird team for providing us with their data, as well as all those whose publicly available data we have used. This work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, with support from the UK National Centre for Earth Observation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



R.L.T. and A.R. developed and analysed the satellite and ancillary observations. A.S. and D.J.W. supervised the work. R.L.T., A.R. and A.S. wrote the paper. All authors commented on the text.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rachel L. Tilling.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 7115 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tilling, R., Ridout, A., Shepherd, A. et al. Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013. Nature Geosci 8, 643–646 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing