Does dusty snow mean less water in the Rockies?

Have you been skiing in the Western U.S. and been surprised by brown snow? We recently talked to a research team that studies these coats of dirt. The dust storms that cause dusty snow appear to be getting bigger, thanks to climate warming drying out this region. Worse, dust on snow may increase flooding and slowly smother water supplies in the southwestern U.S. How bad is this situation and who will be affected by it? Can anything be done? Continue reading

Core of climate history

Lou and the Ice Core Drill

Scientists take ice core samples in cold, windy, and forbidding environments. After drilling through solid ice to retrieve a core, initial measurements are taken before it is sent away for more in-depth analysis and storage. Photo credit: NSIDC courtesy Ted Scambos and Rob Bauer

People have asked how scientists know that today’s climate situation is unusual. Hasn’t the Earth undergone many cold and warm cycles before? Could this just be another? Buried in the world’s ice sheets is a long story of climate on Earth–and the contribution of atmospheric CO2 to warming or cooling. Scientists can access a unique and detailed look at the history of the Earth’s atmosphere through ice cores and start to understand the recent climate in context of past ones. Continue reading

Are scientists conservative about sea ice?

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Guest post by Walt Meier, NSIDC Scientist

Arctic sea ice set a record minimum extent in September 2012, far below the previous record low in 2007. Summer extents have been far lower than average for the last decade, with several record or near-record years. Looking at the numbers, one is tempted to think that the Arctic Ocean may reach nearly sea ice-free conditions within just a few years. But most expert analyses indicate that we’re likely at least a couple decades away from seeing a blue Arctic Ocean during the summer.

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NSIDC at AGU

Photograph of Ira Flatow speaking at AGU

Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, spoke at the AGU Presidential Forum, reminding us why we need to communicate science clearly and effectively. Credit: Laura Naranjo

If NSIDC scientists are busy all year long conducting their own research, how do they keep up with what their colleagues elsewhere are doing? They exchange flurries of emails and phone calls, of course, and collaborate on journal articles and projects. But once a year, many of them are in the same place at the same time for the same reason: to attend the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Whether you’re interested in glaciers or geoids, sea ice or plate tectonics, Earth or Mars, AGU is right up your alley. Each year, more than 20,000 scientists, students, and educators converge in San Francisco for the weeklong meeting. Many of NSIDC’s staff participate in the meeting as well, presenting talks and posters detailing their latest research, data, and success stories. Continue reading

Is Arctic sea ice back to normal?

Arctic sea ice was at record highs in the Bering Sea this spring, and near the long-term average for the Arctic as a whole. But much of that ice was spread thinly across the ocean, and is now melting quickly. This image, from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), shows sea ice in Bristol Bay off of Alaska, on April 24, 2012. |Credit: {a href=http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=77832}NASA Earth Observatory{/a} image by Jesse Allen|{a href=http://nsidc.org/icelights/files/2012/05/bristolbay_amo_2012115_lrg.png}High Resolution Image{/a}

In April, average ice extent in the Arctic Ocean was right near the long-term average for the month. Ice extent even reached a near-record high in the Bering Sea, and still remains above average for that region. Does this mean that the Arctic sea ice has stopped declining? Is it starting to recover?

Unfortunately, scientists say no—and they are not surprised to see such a short upward bump in ice extent. “This does not indicate that the Arctic sea ice is recovering,” said Marika Holland, a sea ice expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Instead, the higher ice extent this year compared to recent years likely just reflects different weather this winter compared to last winter.  “Sea ice exhibits large natural variability due to year-to-year variations in weather,” she said. Continue reading