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Noise spectrum estimation is a fundamental component of speech enhancement and speech recognition systems. We present an improved minima controlled recursive averaging (IMCRA) approach, for noise estimation in adverse environments involving nonstationary noise, weak speech components, and low input signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The noise estimate is obtained by averaging past spectral power values, using a time-varying frequency-dependent smoothing parameter that is adjusted by the signal presence probability. The speech presence probability is controlled by the minima values of a smoothed periodogram. The proposed procedure comprises two iterations of smoothing and minimum tracking. The first iteration provides a rough voice activity detection in each frequency band. Then, smoothing in the second iteration excludes relatively strong speech components, which makes the minimum tracking during speech activity robust. We show that in nonstationary noise environments and under low SNR conditions, the IMCRA approach is very effective. In particular, compared to a competitive method, it obtains a lower estimation error, and when integrated into a speech enhancement system achieves improved speech quality and lower residual noise.