For a while it looked like the record for lowest maximum was going to be broken for the third year in a row, especially after an extreme warm event shook the Arctic. But this anomalous heat was followed by anomalous cold, which was just enough to nudge JAXA sea ice extent above last year's record low maximum. By 13 thousand km2, to be precise, which is around 0.1% of total sea ice this time of year.
I don't mind, as I correctly guessed both this maximum's date as well as the final number on Arctic Sea Ice Forum polls, probably for the first (and last) time in my life as an Arctic observer, as the maximum is incredibly difficult to pinpoint.
Here's the best visual representation of maximums throughout the years, produced by ASIF member Hautbois, as it shows when the maximum of a given year was reached, as well as how high it got:
Not a record low maximum, but the fourth maximum in a row that has ended up (well) below 14 million km2. That's for JAXA sea ice extent data (formerly known as IJIS, now provided by ADS-NIPR). The NSIDC has just reported that for their SIE product this year's maximum was also second lowest on record.
Looking at how much sea ice extent was created since the last minimum (total freeze), this past winter ended up fourth lowest since 2006. Of course, back in the day, minimums were higher than they are now, which meant there was less 'room' for re-freezing:
Here's the spectacular drop from anomalously warm to anomalously cold on the DMI 80N temperature graph, which normally isn't all that representative for the Arctic as a whole, but in this case it is:
Now that's quite the roller coaster ride. Lots of extreme weather, not just in the Arctic, but all over the Northern Hemisphere, ever since that sudden stratospheric warming event caused the polar vortex to split and fall apart, back in February. It'll take a while longer for things to stabilize, if stable is the right word for an atmosphere that continues to warm due to an increase in greenhouse gas concentration.
As can be seen on Wipneus' collection of regional graphs, it was Baffin Bay that was the largest contributor to ending the freezing season, and with Okhotsk about to join the party, it's downhill from now on:
That doesn't mean that things will get spectacular right away, even though 2018 is currently second lowest on the JAXA SIE chart. In fact, the sea ice pack will continue to thicken a while longer in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, even though melting will start all around the periphery (which is why volume reaches its peak in April). Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how things get positioned before melt ponds start to form in May. Things have been especially crazy on the Pacific side of the Arctic. More on that later.
Further reading on the Robertscribbler blog: Unusually Warm Early Arctic Spring Predicted Following Second Lowest Sea Ice Maximum on Record