NSIDC, 6 March 2012
As in January, sea ice extent in February was low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, but unusually high on the Pacific side of the Arctic, remaining lower than average overall. At the end of the month, ice extent rose sharply, as winds changed and started spreading out the ice cover.
Sea ice extent in late winter can go up and down very quickly, getting pushed together or dispersed by strong winds. Ice extent usually reaches its annual maximum sometime in late February or March, but the exact date varies widely from year to year.
Overview of conditions
Arctic sea ice extent in February 2012 averaged 14.56 million square kilometers (5.62 million square miles). This is the fifth-lowest February ice extent in the 1979 to 2012 satellite data record, 1.06 million square kilometers (409,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average extent.
Continuing the pattern established in January, conditions differed greatly between the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Arctic. On the Atlantic side, especially in the Barents Sea, air temperatures were higher than average and ice extent was unusually low. February ice extent for the Barents Sea was the lowest in the satellite record. Air temperatures over the Laptev, Kara and Barents seas ranged from 4 to 8 degrees Celsius (7 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average at the 925 hectopascal (hPa ) level (about 3000 feet above sea level). In contrast, on the Pacific side, February ice extent in the Bering Sea was the second highest in the satellite record, paired with air temperatures that were 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) below average at the 925 hPa level.