Are icebreakers changing the climate?

On July 20, 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy traveled through a break in the sea ice and melt ponds in the Arctic Ocean, during the NASA Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) mission, a field survey aimed at understanding the ecology of the Arctic Ocean. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

In summer months, icebreaking ships head north into the Arctic Ocean, tearing through the sea ice and leaving trails of open water in their wakes. Readers occasionally write in to ask us whether the trails left by these ships contribute to the melting of sea ice. Continue reading

Greenland’s glaciers and the Arctic climate

These before-and-after photographs show Petermann Glacier in July 2009, before the calving event, and again in July 2011. Photographs courtesy Jason Box (top), Alan Hubbard (bottom)

Last summer, a chunk of ice three times the size of Manhattan broke off Petermann Glacier in Greenland and floated out to sea. The calving left miles of newly open water in the deep Petermann Fjord, which had been capped in a thick layer of glacial ice. New research out this summer confirmed that it was likely the largest calving in the region since observations began in 1876. What does this event tell us about climate change in the Arctic? Continue reading

Sea ice and the Arctic coast

eroding coast and house in shishmaref, alaska

Like many villages along the Arctic coast, the Inupiaq village of Shishmaref, Alaska, is increasingly threatened by erosion, which is aggravated by the loss of sea ice and increased temperatures that lead to permafrost thaw. Credit: Shishmaref Alaska Erosion & Relocation Coalition

Why does it matter if the Arctic sea ice melts? We often hear about the global consequences: waning sea ice is expected to lead to even more climate warming. On a more immediate and local level, the loss of summer sea ice is already affecting the land and people near the Arctic Ocean. As the ice melts to reveal the open ocean underneath, fragile coastlines become vulnerable to bigger waves and storms. Continue reading