Exploring the Cryosphere Using Data from the National Snow and Ice Data CenterAccess Sea Ice Data (more info) at the National Snow and Ice Data Center ( This site may be offline. )
The National Snow and Ice Data Center ( This site may be offline. ) (NSIDC) maintains the Sea Ice Index (more info) , which consists of data showing trends and anomalies in monthly mean Arctic and Antarctic sea ice concentration and extent of coverage for a period of record beginning in 1979. Data are obtained from algorithms that convert microwave emission measured by satellites to sea ice concentration and extent data. The data are processed to generate means, trends, and anomalies.
Use and Relevance
Use in Teaching
- Temporal trends in sea ice coverage and concentration, including annual changes and changes over the past three decades
- Importance of sea ice in arctic ecosystems, including impacts on habitats and livelihood for indigenous peoples
- The relevance of sea ice formation and melting on ocean circulation
- Impact of global climate change on sea ice coverage and potential for ocean circulation anomalies
- Thermodynamics of sea ice formation and melting and contributing factors such as albedo and ocean circulation
- Exploring "balanced reporting" of environmental concerns in the media and how they compare to the scientific method and original context of sea ice data
- Understanding and practicing statistical tests including averages, means, linear regressions and other models for fitting data, confidence intervals, and trends and anomalies
- Understanding the methodology of how polar orbiting satellites collect data
- Understanding spectral properties of various materials at different wavelengths and polarization
- Understanding how collected data are processed to determine sea ice extent (coverage) and concentration
Exploring the Data
Data Type and Presentation
The NSIDC Near-Real-Time Daily Polar Gridded Sea Ice Concentrations and the Daily and Monthly Polar Gridded Sea Ice Concentrations datasets are used to generate the monthly mean, trend, and anomaly images so that users of the product can monitor monthly mean ice conditions as they evolve.
Data are presented as images (in PNG format) that represent sea ice trends for the past 27 years. Monthly images are available that display sea ice concentration maps, and of anomalies in extent and concentration of sea ice.
Accessing the Data
To access data, users can go to the Compare Months and Years, Animate, or Download Data section of the Sea Ice Index. Users can examine single images or multiple images to generate maps showing sea ice extent, concentration, and anomalies.
For single images, users can choose either the Northern or Southern hemisphere to examine temporal parameters, including monthly and annual changes. The image displays an animation showing changes in sea ice extent relative to the median ice edge for a period spanning from 1978 to 2006 for the month chosen by the user.
Raw data can be accessed via FTP as PNG images and as text files that have monthly time series of Arctic and Antarctic ice extent.
Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations
Tools for Data Manipulation
About the Data
Limitations and Sources of Error
References and Resources
Scientific References that Use this Dataset
- Meier, W., J. Stroeve, F. Fetterer, K. Knowles (2005), Reductions in arctic sea ice cover no longer limited to summer, Eos , Transactions of the American Geophysical Society, 86, 326.
- Fetterer, F., and K. Knowles (2004), Sea ice index monitors polar ice extent, Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Society, 85, 163.
Education Resources that Use this Dataset
- Study of Place, developed by TERC, has a module for middle-school students, which uses data to examine changes in sea ice extent.
- Whither Arctic Sea Ice?, an Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter that provides teaching notes, a case study, and step-by-step instructions for using the sea ice index for examining how the extent of sea ice in the Arctic has diminished over time.
Other Related Scientific References
- Dynamics of Recent Climate Change in the Arctic: A review article from Science that reviews trends in sea ice change and implications for climate change. (Moritz et al., 2002).
Other related Education Resources
- Experimenting with Ice Melt is part of a DLESE Teaching Box that allows students to simulate sea level changes due to changes in sea ice extent through experimentation.
- Looking at Data: "Sea" Ice: A sea ice activity from the 'Using Data to Teach Earth Processes' Cutting Edge workshop.
- A Sea level animation created by Paul Morin and Kent Kirkby (Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota) allows users to explore the impact of rising sea levels relevant to current land masses.
- NOAA's Arctic Theme Page provides data and information that is accessible to scientists, teachers, and students.
- The Arctic Theme Page provides data and historical information on the First International Polar Year.
- Publications, including quarterly reports and special reports are available from the NSIDC.
- NSDIC maintains an archive of news articles reporting NSIDC data.
- Teaching Old Data New Tricks is a feature article from NASA's Earth Observatory that discusses the instrumentation used to obtain sea ice data.