We are getting closer to the minimum sea ice area, which comes a bit earlier towards the end of the melting season than sea ice extent because of the simple fact that low air temps start to make melt ponds and even water between ice floes freeze over. This effect shows up immediately in sea ice area data, but a bit later in sea ice extent data, due to the different ways they are calculated.
The Cryosphere Today minimum SIA was recorded quite early in 2005 (August 31st) and quite late in 2006 (September 16th), but in the last few years minimum sea ice area occurred between September 7th and 9th. Even though we still have about two weeks to go, it's interesting to have a preliminary look today at what the different sea ice area graphs are showing us.
The main reason is that the Cryosphere Today SIA has passed the 3 million square km for the second time in recorded history, the other time this happened, was in 2007 (graph courtesy of Piotr Djaków):
The 3 million mark has been passed 10 days earlier than 2007 and only a drop of about 68K square km is needed to break the minimum SIA record, but it might take the full two weeks to happen. Area can now go up and down very arbitrarily, depending on weather conditions. If things turn really bad up there, we might even see an early minimum SIA like in 2005, with no record broken. But chances of this happening are slim.
Larry Hamilton's bar chart gives an excellent impression of how this year stacks up so far, compared to minima in other years:
There are some other SIA graphs that are updated on a daily basis, such as the one by Arctic ROOS which uses SSM/I data provided by NERSC:
Although not as low as on the Cryosphere Today SIA graph, the 2011 trend line is also getting very close to 2007, after seemingly having beaten the 2008 minimum SIA already. We see the same thing on this SIA graph by IARC-JAXA (also known as IJIS), the research center that produces the well-known SIE graph and bases its data on the AMSR-E sensor aboard the Aqua satellite:
There are some differences in the details of course, which is to be expected as different sensors and algorithms are used to record and process the data, but all sea ice area graphs seem to agree that 2011 has passed the 2008 minimum SIA and is very close to the 2007 record. In two weeks we'll know more, if not everything. Extent will soon follow.