Media Advisory
27 November 2012

New NSIDC research highlights permafrost, Artic sea ice, Antarctic ice sheets, High Asia'€™s glaciers, and dust on snow

This is a media advisory from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will present new research on permafrost, Arctic sea ice, ice sheet mass balance in Antarctica, glaciers in High Asia's Himalaya-Karakoram region, and dust on snow cover at next week's American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, California.

NSIDC is a University of Colorado Boulder research center that focuses on the world's frozen realms: the snow, ice, glaciers, frozen ground, and climate interactions that make up Earth's cryosphere. The center is funded primarily by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Reporters are invited to attend our scientists' scheduled talks and poster presentations. Among the questions our scientists will be focusing on are:

  • How do glaciers and snow cover contribute to water sources in High Asia?
  • Do climate models accurately project future Arctic sea ice trends?
  • How should permafrost carbon feedback affect global climate policy?
  • Are there other causes of permafrost thaw in the Arctic?
  • How is the mass balance of the North Antarctic Peninsula responding to ongoing ice shelf loss?
  • How did the extremely dusty years of 2009 and 2010 affect snow cover and hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin?

For updates from the meeting, follow @NSIDC on Twitter. For a full list of presentations by NSIDC scientists and staff, see the NSIDC Events Web page. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists:

Monday, December 3

Establishing a collaborative effort to assess the role of glaciers and seasonal snow cover in the hydrology of the mountains of High Asia

Richard Ley Armstrong, NSIDC Senior Research Scientist
Poster Presentation GC11A-0956
8:00 am to 12:20 pm, Moscone South, Hall A-C

NSIDC senior research scientist Richard Ley Armstrong presents preliminary results of an assessment of the role of glaciers and seasonal snow cover in the hydrology of the mountains of High Asia. The five-year study is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and establishes direct collaborative research with institutions in nine countries that depend on water from these mountain ranges and river basins, namely Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

Using combined records of IceBridge and satellite-derived thickness and extent data to constrain future projections of Arctic sea ice

Julienne C. Stroeve, NSIDC Research Scientist
Oral Presentation C11B-07
9:30 am, Moscone West 3005

How reliable are models in projecting future climate? Scientists know these models are reliable when they can reproduce the observed features of recent climate events. NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve uses records of satellite- and air-borne sea ice thickness data to evaluate models of the 5th Phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Does the CMIP5 model reliably capture ice thickness and how it relates to observed summer trends in sea ice extent?

The impact of the permafrost carbon feedback on global carbon policy

Kevin M. Schaefer, NSIDC Research Scientist
Poster Presentation PA13A-1990
1:40 pm to 6 pm, Moscone South, Hall A-C

More than 180 countries are negotiating a new climate treaty that forces nations to cut emissions to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100 placing an overall limit on total global carbon emissions. However, the climate projections set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report currently do not account for emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from thawing permafrost, risking anthropogenic emissions targets that overshoot this 2-degree warming target.

NSIDC research scientist Kevin Schaefer presents his team's recommendations to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), delivered on November 27 at the UNFCC Conference of Parties in Doha. The report, commissioned by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), recommends a special IPCC assessment on permafrost emissions to support negotiations of emissions targets for the climate change treaty, and directly impacts countries with large amounts of permafrost, including Russia, Canada, China, and the United States.

Extending passive microwave Arctic sea ice extents to the early 1950s through a consistent integration of pre-satellite estimates

Walt Meier, NSIDC Research Scientist
Oral Presentation C13H-05
2:40 pm, Moscone West 3005

When sea ice scientists talk about "the satellite record," they refer to a body of sea ice observations that starts in 1978—when passive microwave satellites began collecting data—up to the present. Pre-1978 records do exist in ice charts based on sea ice observations collected by ships, aerial reconnaissance, and earlier satellites. But there are gaps in these pre-1978 data and they are not consistent with the current satellite record.

NSIDC research scientist Walt Meier tests a method to weed out these gaps, extending the current 34-year record to 59 years, spanning 1953 to 2011. What does this new 59-year record say about current trends in Arctic sea ice decline?

Tuesday, December 4

Impacts of snow cover changes on permafrost warming and degradation in the Arctic

Tingjun Zhang, NSIDC Senior Research Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation C21D-03
8:30 am, Moscone West 3007

Changes in air temperature alone cannot account for the observed permafrost warming and thawing in the Arctic. NSIDC senior research scientist Tingjun Zhang investigates other factors that could have caused permafrost warming and degradation in the past few decades.

Zhang's modeling results reveal that changes in the timing of snow accumulation in early winter and the thickness of snow cover are key variables that influence permafrost temperatures. His results also show that these changes have had dramatic impacts on permafrost degradation and the formation of talik, or unfrozen ground in a permafrost area. How has the timing of snow accumulation in the Arctic changed?

Mass balance of the Northern Antarctic Peninsula and its ongoing response to ice shelf loss

Ted Scambos, NSIDC Lead Scientist
Poster Presentation, C21B-0585
8:00 am to 12:20 pm, Moscone South, Hall A-C

NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos uses remote sensing data to assess the northern Antarctic Peninsula's response to ongoing ice shelf loss. Scambos's study shows that mass balance losses are dominated by the major glaciers that had flowed into the Prince Gustav, Larsen A, and Larsen B embayments.

The pattern of mass loss emphasizes the significant and multi-decadal response to ice shelf loss. Areas with shelf losses occurring thirty to hundreds of years ago seem to be relatively stable or losing mass only slowly (western glaciers, northernmost areas). The remnant of the Larsen B, Scar Inlet Ice Shelf, shows signs of imminent break-up, and its feeder glaciers (Flask and Leppard) are already increasing in speed as the ice shelf remnant decreases in area.

Thursday, December 6

Multiscale hydrologic impacts of dust deposition and climate warming in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Jeffrey S. Deems, NSIDC Research Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation C41D-07
9:30 am, Moscone West 3002

Recent studies show that decreased snow albedo from anthropogenic disturbance-induced dust loading to the mountains of the upper Colorado River Basin shortens the duration of snow cover by up to 50 days and advances peak runoff at Lees Ferry, Arizona by an average of three weeks. NSIDC research scientist Jeffrey Deems examines the hydrologic impact of extreme dust years such as 2009 and 2010, as well as interactions with projected regional warming on the Upper Colorado River Basin and selected sub-basins.

Friday, December 7

Variability of snow cover extent and snow melt runoff in the Himalaya-Karakoram

Andrew P. Barrett, NSIDC Research Scientist
Oral presentation, GC52B-04
11:20 am, Moscone West 3001

Melt water from seasonal snow cover and glacier ice contribute a significant component of runoff to the rivers of High Asia. This contribution varies depending on the river basin. NSIDC research scientist Andrew Barrett presents time series of snow extent for 2001 to 2011 for five head water basins of the Indus and Ganges rivers that form a transect along the Himalaya-Karakoram chain, spanning the monsoon-influenced eastern Himalaya and the arid Karakoram. Snow extent is used to estimate snowmelt contribution to runoff.


Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497

Return to News Room