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Extreme Events in the Cryosphere

The table below lists extreme snow and ice events around the world. These are often, but not always, record-breaking events. However, events that have a significant impact on society, weather, or climate are also listed. Click the Filter Options button to filter the results.

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Description of Event Date Location and Extent Duration Severity, Historical Context Source of Information Other
Record minima sea ice extent, summer and winterFebruary and June 2024AntarcticaLate summer, late Antarctic sea ice extent fell to record lows in 2023 for both the summer minimum and the winter maximum.GCW Sea Ice Assessment for 2023
Great Lakes record low ice coverFebruary 2024Great Lakes, USALate winterAs of 1 March 2024, ice cover on the Great Lakes (USA) is significantly below average for this time of the year. Peak ice cover on the Great Lakes is typically around 53%. In mid-February this year, it was 2.7%. Lake Erie and Ontario are at or tied with their historic lows, with both being essentially ice-free. GCW Interesting Events
Record high temperature at Esperanza Base6, 9 February 2020Antarctic PeninsulaA few daysThe highest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica, 20.75°C (69.35°F) occurred on 9 February 2020 at Argentina's Marambio research base on Seymour Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. A few days earlier, on 6 February 2020, Argentina's Esperanza Base recorded 18.3°C (64.9°F), which surpassed the previous record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) set on 24 March 2015 at the same location. Temperature records from Esperanza date back to 1961. Phys-Org, Twitter, CNN
Record high temperature north of 80NEarly JulyAlert, Canada and Anchorage, AlaskaTwo daysTemperatures in Alert, Nunavut, Canada, peaked at 21°C (70°F). The previous temperature record of 20°C for the town was set in 1956. This is the first time that Alert has recorded two consecutive days exceeding 20°C (68°F) in its history. According to Tyler Hamilton of the Weather Network, this is also the first time a temperature warmer than 20°C has been measured north of 80° on the planet. Anchorage, Alaska reached 32°C (89.6°F) on 4 July 2019, shattering the seasonal high of around 24°C (75°F).The Independent, CBC, The Weather Network
Record minimum extent for January1 January 2019AntarcticaTo be determinedOn 1 January 2019, the sea ice area around the Antarctic continent was the smallest January area since the satellite record began in 1978. The sea ice area was 30,044 sq km (11,600 sq mi) below the previous record low for 1 January, which was set in 2017. Links: USA Today and NSIDC
Record snow extent14-21 June 2017Southern Argentina and ChileOne weekDuring 14-21 June 2017, the southern portion of South America was affected by an intense early winter snowstorm that dumped up to 178 cm (70 inches) of snow in mountainous areas of Argentina and Chile and caused record levels of snow extent both in the mountains and in the adjacent plains. Large values of snow fraction, over 70-80%, in savannah areas of southern Argentina indicate a substantial depth of the snow pack of 15-20 cm or more. This snow cover extent, which reached close to 750,000 km2, has not been observed in the region in at least the last twelve years.P. Romanov, CREST/CUNY (USA)
New record low ice extent for Oct-MarOctober 2016 - March 2017Arctic OceanSix monthsOctober and November set a new record minimum ice extents for their respective months. November was 800,000 km2 below November 2006, the previous lowest November. The record respective monthly lows continued through March 2017, when the ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 7. It was the lowest maximum in the 38-year satellite record. Links: GCW and NSIDC
New record low sea ice extent for NovemberNov-16AntarcticaOne monthAntarctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent much earlier than average on August 31. It reached a new record low (in the satellite era) for the month of November. Link: NSIDC
Record warm winter monthsJanuary-February 2016Arctic OceanTwo monthsThe warmest January and February on record in the Arctic occurred in 2016, with an area-averaged (66-90oN) temperature anomaly of 5.8oC, based on the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) reanalysis products. The unusual warmth covers almost the entire Arctic Ocean, with the Canada Basin and the area north of Franz Josef Land to the North Barents Sea and east of Svalbard having the largests anomalies.Link: NOAA Arctic theme page
A new record low maximum Arctic sea ice extent24 March 2016Arctic OceanMarchArctic sea ice extent reached its maximum on 24 March for 2016 with 14.52 million square kilometers; this is the lowest maximum ever recorded during the satellite era. Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year and was 1.12 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 average. NSIDC - Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis. Link: NSIDC
Lowest maximum Arctic sea ice extent on record 25 February 2015Arctic OceanFebruaryThe maximum Arctic sea ice extent for 2015 was 14.54 million square kilometers which was the lowest maximum ever recorded during the satellite era. The 2015 maximum Arctic sea ice extent was 130,000 square kilometers lower than the previous record low which occurred in 2011 and 1.10 million square kilometers below the 1981 to 2010 average. NSIDC - Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis. Link: NSIDC
Maximum Antarctic sea ice extent on record22 September 2014Southern OceanSeptemberAntarctic sea ice extent reached a new record maximum, since the start of the satellite era, on 22 September 2014. The sea ice extent was 20.11 million square kilometers which exceeded the 1981 to 2010 average maximum extent by 1.54 million square kilometers, and the previous record ice extent in October 2013 by 560,000 square kilometers.NSIDC - Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis. Link: NSIDC
Unusual snow cover extent retreat April-June 2013Northern HemisphereFirst half of 2013Snow cover extent in the NH at the beginning of 2013 was the highest ever recorded. Extent remained fairly high until mid-April, when it began to decrease rapidly. Compared to previous maximum snow retreat figures for 30, 45, and 60 day periods, 2013 shows the most rapid retreat of all recorded years in all three categories.CIRES, NSIDC, Rutgers Snow Lab. Link: Web
Record minimum Arctic sea ice extent16 September 2012Arctic OceanSummerArctic sea ice extent averaged for September 2012 was 3.41 million square kilometers. This was 3.43 million square kilometers below the 1979 to 2000 average extent, and 690,000 square kilometers less than the previous record low for the month that occurred in 2007.National Snow and Ice Data Center (USA). Link: NSIDC
Greenland Ice Sheet experiences extensive surface melt 11-12 July 2012Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS, GIS)2 day period The most recent melt event prior to July 2012 was recorded at Summit in 1889. This instance was one of only eight events to occur in the past ~1500 years. Ice core records from this location suggest this type of melt event generally occurs only once every ~150 years.NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Program and the National Science Foundation. Link: Journal paper
Extreme temperatures and snowfall over Northern HemisphereDecember 2009 to February 2010Eurasia, Russia, United StatesWinter monthsChina, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Germany, the U.S., and others reported record or near-record snowfall measurements and/or low temperatures. Inversely, Canada and most of the Arctic region experienced temperatures well above average, as much as +6°C above average, and exceptionally low snowfall. It was Canada's warmest winter on record since 1948.World Meteorological Organization (WMO/TD-No. 1550)
Wilkins ice shelf collapse25 March 2008Wilkins Ice Shelf (WIS), Antarctic PeninsulaSummer monthsWIS is unique in that it is primarily composed of sea ice accumulation and only a small portion of the shelf is made up of land-fed glaciers. Recorded break-ups have occurred in 1998, 2008, 2009, and March of 2013. The most recent event included the loss of the ice bridge supporting the shelf. The March 2008 event saw a loss of 405 sq. km of the shelf. National Snow and Ice Data Center (USA). Link: NSIDC
Loss of ice shelves on Ellesmere Island22 March 2008Northern coast of Ellesmere IslandJuly, AugustA portion of the shelf (Ayles) broke free in 2005, leaving Canada with only five ice shelves by 2008--Serson, Petersen, Milne, Ward Hunt, and Markham. July-August 2008 saw collapses or calving of the Ward Hunt and Searson shelves for losses of 42 sq. km and 122 sq. km, respectivly. The Markham shelf completely broke away from the coast for a loss of 50 sq. km.NASA's Earth Observatory. Link: NASA EO
Larsen B ice shelf breaks up and disintegrates31 January 2002Larsen B Ice Shelf (LBIS), eastern side of Antarctic Peninsula 35 day periodEvidence suggests that the 220-meter thick LBIS had existed for at least 400 years prior to the disintegration event, and probably since the end of the last major glaciation ~12000 years ago. The 720 billion tons of ice that broke off from the shelf may have been a response to fracturing caused by meltwater seeping into surface cracks, resulting in a loss of 1,049 square miles of shelf. National Snow and Ice Data Center (USA). Links: NSIDC, NASA
Record low temperature for Northern Hemisphere22 December 1991GreenlandOne dayIn September 2020, WMO recognized a temperature of -69.6°C (-93.3°CF) at an automatic weather station in Greenland on 22 December 1991 as the lowest ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. The previous temperature record of -67.8°C was recorded at the Russian sites of Verkhoyanksk (February 1892) and Oimekon (January 1933).WMO, SSEC/University of Wisconsin-Madison, The Guardian
Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in HimalayasAugust 4 1985NepalSummer monthsIn 1985, the Nepalese glacial lake Dig Tsho burst, causing huge damages to infastructure. Tsho Rolpa, the largest and most dangerous known glacial lake, still poes a threat despite precautions that have been taken. Past GLOFs in the Himalayas have even affected some communities over 100 km downstream.Germanwatch. Link: Information booklet
Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in Alps During summer months of 1968 SwitzerlandSummer monthsThe Swis Alps hold many small glacial lakes in close proximity of small towns and villages, leaving potential for destruction. A GLOF in 1968 of a lake located on the Grubengletscher glacier caused serious damage to the nearby city Saas Balen. A 1996 GLOF in Iceland produced peak flow rates of over 50 000 m3/s, creating a temporary river only second in volume to the Amazon.Germanwatch. Link: Information booklet