NSIDC commentary notes that if the ice extent does not advance to a new peak in the next few weeks, then this year will see the lowest maximum extent on record for the satellite era. At first glance this would seem to bode ill for the upcoming melt season. However, the University of Washington's ice volume analysis - last updated for the month of January - showed that ice thickness and ice volume were higher than in recent years. First, the thickness: the PIOMAS model's estimate of average thickness at the end of January was the highest since 2006 - see below.
The estimated Arctic sea ice volume was close to that in 2009 and just over 1 standard deviation below the 1979-2014 mean (see below). The volume was notably higher than last year in January, which reflects a persistence of the year-over-year gain that was seen during last year's melt season. It will be most interesting to see if the volume recovery continues this year and if the ice extent and ice volume anomalies continue to show contrasting trends.
According to NOAA's CFS reanalysis, the mean air temperature has been well above normal across most of the Arctic Ocean this winter, with the highest anomalies located near Wrangel Island and the Chukchi Sea. The extent and magnitude of the warm anomalies can be compared to the previous 10 years in the series of images below. The previous 10 winters showed a persistent tendency for warmth over the Barents and Kara Seas and with less unusual warmth on Alaska's side of the ocean. Last winter (2013-2014) saw warm conditions across the entire ocean, but this winter has been notably cooler between 0 and 90 °E, with the warmest conditions now prevailing on our side of the basin.