ArcGIS Living Atlas

Use the Sea Ice Aware App to Monitor Conditions in the Poles

We’ve all seen the striking animations of polar sea ice extent using satellite data, often coming from NASA, NOAA , or even our own John Nelson. Sometimes they show the seasonal wax and wane, a rhythmic heartbeat of the poles. Sometimes they’re more dramatic, showing the annual minimum from year to year with a very perceptible trend (at least in the Arctic).


animation of changes in sea ice


These visualizations capture our attention because the trend of decreasing ice in the Arctic is dramatic and clear. We see the melting ice, the starving polar bears, and we make the connection that something just isn’t right in the high latitudes.


starving polar bear on piece of sea ice
Reductions in contiguous areas of sea ice force polar bears to swim more, reducing their hunting efficiency, and causing starvation.


Tracking Current Sea Ice Conditions

So what is happening with the sea ice right now? After the warmest July in history and warmest summer on record, 2019 was the second lowest extent of sea ice observed in the Arctic since satellite measurements began (only 2012 was lower). Sometimes it can be challenging to find that information (let alone the data), especially for both poles. But there’s a new application that allows you to track the status of sea ice in the poles.


Sea Ice Aware app interface

The Sea Ice Aware app leverages a series of new layers and maps available in ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and NOAA. Updating each month, this information is important for understanding big picture changes in the poles, and also for analyzing regional trends such as the opening of shipping lanes and ports, along with areas for natural resource exploitation.

Using this web application, you can dig deeper into the NSIDC information to

Unlike those striking animations you’ve seen on social media or in documentaries, these layers and web maps have full analytical capabilities. Skip the downloads and complex FTP sites, and use the layers directly in the ArcGIS platform, including in ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Pro, or even products like ArcGIS Notebooks to support your workflows. In fact, check out this blog by Gonzalo Espinoza on analyzing the sea ice layers by using ArcGIS API for Python in Notebooks.

For questions or comments on this blog or the Sea Ice Aware app, please visit our GeoNet. If you’re interested in the source code for the app, it can be found on GitHub.

About the author

Dan leads development of ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World environmental content, which includes information about Earth's land, ocean, atmosphere, and ecosystems. Prior to Esri, Dan worked at NOAA for two decades, leading data visualization efforts for research, communications, and education.


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