Arctic in decline: sea ice minimum reaches second lowest extent on record

September 21, 2020

This year’s extent is the second lowest on record. The Arctic sea ice has already lost two-thirds of its volume and there is a consistent decline in sea ice extent over the past decades.

© Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, the 2020 Arctic sea ice minimum extent was likely reached on 15 September at 3.74 million square kilometers.

This year’s extent is the second lowest on record. The Arctic sea ice has already lost two-thirds of its volume and there is a consistent decline in sea ice extent over the past decades.

Speaking from the edge of the sea ice, onboard the Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace Nordic Oceans Campaigner Laura Meller said:

“The rapid disappearance of sea ice is a sobering indicator of how closely our planet is circling the drain. As the Arctic melts, the ocean will absorb more heat, and all of us will be more exposed to the devastating effects of climate breakdown.

The Arctic ice cap is a frozen ocean in urgent need of protection, and world leaders at the UN Biodiversity Summit need to understand the role of oceans in tackling the climate crisis. Healthy oceans are crucial for some of the most marginalized people across the globe who are being impacted by ocean destruction and climate change. We need to hit the reset button right now on how we look after each other and our planet by protecting at least 30% of our oceans by 2030 to help our planet cope with the climate breakdown.” [1]

Arlo Hemphill, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA said:

“The Earth just rang another alarm bell in the climate emergency. The disappearing ice, destructive wildfires in the West, and the storms that have already pummeled the Gulf Coast are evidence that global warming is here and making areas unlivable.

Disappearing ice is opening the Arctic to a new range of threats that were previously impractical due to the ice cover. Increased shipping, fishing, and oil and gas extraction have real potential to destroy this most wild of oceans, reinforcing the need for a new global ocean treaty to protect special places like this one.”

Healthy oceans keep carbon safely stored out of the atmosphere, helping to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis.[2]  By protecting at least 30% of the oceans with a network of sanctuaries, marine ecosystems can build resilience to better withstand rapid climatic changes. Scientists have identified the Arctic as one of the priority areas needing protection as part of a global network of ocean sanctuaries because of it’s vital importance to climate stability.[3]

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise — with a crew of campaigners, activists, and scientists — is in the Arctic to document the sea ice minimum and study marine life in the region. The tour coincides with the United Nations  Summit on Biodiversity where marine protection should be front and center to any discussions about protecting biodiversity.


Photo and video:
For a free-to-use collection of Arctic images see here [more images from the 2020 expedition will be uploaded soon]

Notes to editors



Media Contacts: 

Julia Zanolli, Global Media Lead for the Protect the Oceans campaign, Greenpeace UK: [email protected], +44 (0)7971 769107

Tyler Kruse, Senior Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: [email protected], 808-741-2791

Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

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