Walsh and Chapman Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice

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Walsh and Chapman Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice
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The Walsh and Chapman Sea Ice Data Set provides a long record of Arctic sea ice concentrations on a monthly basis for 1870-2011. Historical observations were gridded and combined with satellite-derived sea ice concentrations for the recent decades. Mostly climatologies before the 1950s. The Walsh and Chapman sea ice data set is the main input data set into the HadiSST sea ice analysis for the Northern Hemisphere for 1870-1978.

Key Strengths

Key Strengths

One of only a few long-term records of Arctic sea ice concentration extending before the satellite era

Most reliable historical coverage is near the ice edge due to the reliance on ship-based observations

This product may be revised and updated; contact J. Walsh

Key Limitations

Key Limitations

There are three distinct periods of observations, ranging from sparse ship-based observations to complete satellite coverage, that may cause inhomogeneities

The quality varies by region and users should contact data set developers for regional-scale analyses

Please cite data sources, following the data providers' instructions
Suggested Data Citation
Dataset DOIs
Hosted Climate Index Files
Usage Restrictions


Expert Developer Guidance

Expert Developer Guidance

The temporal and spatial inhomogeneities in the data sources that went into the construction of this dataset require that any historical analysis of the data is done with caution and an understanding of the limitations of the data.

There are three periods for which the sources of the data change fundamentally:

1972-1998: Satellite period - hemispheric coverage, state-of-the-art data accuracy
1953-1971: Hemispheric observations - complete coverage from a variety of sources. The observational reliability varies with each source, but is generally accurate.
1870-1952: Climatology with increasing amounts of observed data throughout the period.

Because most of the direct observations of sea ice (1870-1971 period) are from ships at sea, they are generally the most complete near the ice edge. The conditions north of the ice edge are often assumed to be 100% covered during this period. The satellite era has shown otherwise with concentrations between 70-90% frequently occurring well north of the ice edge in the post-1972 data. For this reason, we recommend using a measure of ice extent, when doing historical comparisons of hemispheric sea ice coverage for periods which include data prior to 1972. This is done by assuming that all grid points with ice concentrations greater than some threshold (15% is commonly used) is assumed completely covered by sea ice.

Regional or grid point analyses may benefit by using the concentration data as it is distributed but the completeness of the historical record will vary regionally. Please contact Bill Chapman (chapman@atmos.uiuc.edu) if you have a question regarding the inventory of data included in this dataset for a specific region. 

(Bill Chapman, U Illinois, May, 2002)##

Other Information

Earth system components and main variables
Type of data product
Dataset collections

Years of record
Data time period extended
Yes, data set is extended
Input Data

historical charts, switching to SMMR & SSM/I in 1978

Vertical Levels:
Missing Data Flag
Missing data present
Ocean or Land
Ocean Only
Spatial Resolution

1° x 1°

Model Resolution (reanalysis)
Data Assimilation Method
Model Vintage (reanalysis)

Key Publications
  1. Chapman, W.L. and J.E. Walsh (1991): Long-Range Prediction of Regional Sea Ice Anomalies in the Arctic. "Weather and Forecasting", 6(2), pp. 271-288.
  2. Kelly, P. M. 1979: An arctic sea ice data set, 1901-1956. Glaciological Data, Report GD-5: Workshop on Snow Cover and Sea Ice Data. World Data Center-A for Glaciology [Snow and Ice], 101-106.
  3. Technical Report of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) No. 109 (ISSN 0447-3868) titled "Report on 30 years of Observation of Sea Ice" by Marine Department, JMA. Published by JMA, Tokyo, February 1988.
  4. Walsh, J.E. (1978): A data set on Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent. World Data Center-A for Glaciology (Snow and Ice), "Glaciological Data, Report GD-2", part 1, pp. 49 - 51.
  5. Walsh, J.E. (1978): A data set on Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent. World Data Center-A for Glaciology (Snow and Ice), "Glaciological Data, Report GD-2", part 1, pp. 49 - 51.
  6. Walsh, J.E. and C.M. Johnson (1979): Analysis of Arctic sea ice fluctuations 1953-77. "Journal of Physical Oceanography", 9(3), p. 580-591.