Media Advisory
2 December 2013

NSIDC science at AGU highlights Landsat-8, Arctic sea ice, Antarctic ice shelves, snow cover, and permafrost carbon feedback

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 the coldest places on Earth, Arctic sea ice, Antarctic ice shelf disintegration, snow cover measurement, and glaciers in High Asia's Himalaya-Karakoram region 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' press conferences, scheduled talks and poster presentations. Among the questions our scientists will be focusing on are:

  • How cold can it possibly it get on Earth's surface?
  • What are the earliest causes of ice shelf change?
  • How have sea ice, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and global snow cover changed since satellites began observing in the 1960s?
  • How do climate model simulations of Arctic sea ice cover compare against observed data?
  • How can we predict seasonal Arctic sea ice extent?
  • How can researchers use remote sensing to improve snow depth measurement and ultimately produce more timely and accurate water budget estimates?
  • How do glaciers and snow cover contribute to water resources in High Asia?
  • How would emissions from thawing permafrost affect global temperature in 2100?

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

Monday, December 9

Taking Landsat to the Extreme

Ted Scambos, NSIDC Lead Scientist
Press Conference
2:30 p.m., Press Conference Room, Moscone West, Room 3000, Level 3

At the coldest spots on Earth, every breath is painful. Clothing crackles and hot water tossed into the air falls to the ground as tiny shards of ice. But how cold can it possibly it get on Earth's surface? Where are these bitterly cold places, and what sort of weather brings on the record-breaking cold? Ted Scambos, Lead Scientist for the National Snow and Ice Data Center, will present new measurements of Earth's coldest temperatures, based on information from the new USGS-NASA Landsat 8 satellite, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on the NOAA series of satellites, and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. NASA's James Irons will provide an overview of the unique features of this eighth Landsat mission and the new insights researchers hope to gain.

Journalists please note that during the press panel and poster session, Scambos will present new information, updated from his team's original abstract.

Potential impacts of the permafrost carbon feedback on global temperature

Kevin Schaefer, NSIDC Research Scientist
Oral presentation, B13N-07
3:10 p.m., Moscone West 2004

NSIDC research scientist Kevin Schaefer presents results from a simulation of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost, using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). By using a statistical analysis of current permafrost projections, Schaefer estimates temperature impacts in the year 2100 with and without the effect of thawing permafrost.

Permafrost Carbon Feedback is the amplification of anthropogenic warming due to carbon dioxide and methane emissions from thawing permafrost. It is not included in current climate-prediction models, including the CMIP5, which is the most recent international effort by scientists to project future global climate.

Tuesday, December 10

Evolving toward the next Antarctic Ice Shelf disintegration: recent ice velocity, climate, and ocean observations of the Larsen B Ice Shelf remnants

Ted Scambos, NSIDC Lead Scientist
Oral Presentation, C21E-06
9:15 a.m., Moscone West 3005

What are the earliest causes of ice shelf change? NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos describes precursor changes that happen more than a decade before an ice shelf breaks up. Data from Earth observing satellites and in situ automated observation systems reveal that these precursor changes have been recently observed in Seal Nunataks and Scar Inlet, two large ice shelves in West Antarctica's Larsen region that remained after the Larsen B disintegrated in 2002. Among the precursor changes are an increase in meltwater lake extent, structural changes in the ice shelf shear margins, grounding line changes, and pre-breakup acceleration of the ice shelves and feeder glaciers.

Are Seal Nunataks and Scar Inlet the next Larsen B?

Weekly LiDAR snow depth mapping for operational snow hydrology: the NASA JPL Airborne Snow Observatory

Jeffrey Deems, NSIDC Research Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation, G22A-08
12:05 p.m., Moscone West 3022

NSIDC research scientist Jeffrey Deems presents initial results from the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) campaign, an airborne remote sensing mission that has created the first maps of the entire snowpack of a major mountain watershed in California, producing the most accurate measurements to date of the amount of water stored as snow. The ASO mapped snow depth in the Tuolumne River Basin in California's Yosemite National Park on a weekly interval in the spring of 2013. The data provided fast-turnaround spatial snow depth and water equivalent maps to the operators of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the water supply for 2.5 million people on the San Francisco peninsula.

CHARIS - The contribution to High Asian runoff from ice and snow, preliminary results from the Upper Indus Basin, Pakistan

Richard Armstrong, NSIDC Senior Research Scientist
Poster Presentation, GC23D-0966
1:40 p.m. to 6 p.m., Moscone South, Hall A-C

NSIDC senior research scientist Richard Armstrong presents preliminary results from an assessment of the role of glaciers and seasonal snow cover in the hydrology of the mountains of High Asia. His presentation focuses on the Upper Indus Basin and the Hunza sub-basin for the period 2000 to 2012.

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.

Wednesday, December 11

Probabilistic forecasting of Arctic sea ice extent

Andrew Slater, NSIDC Research Scientist
Poster Presentation, C31A-0622
8 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., Moscone South, Hall A-C

The changing regime of Arctic sea ice has prompted much interest in seasonal prediction of sea ice extent, particularly as opportunities for Arctic shipping and resource exploration or extraction increase. NSIDC research scientist Andrew Slater presents a daily sea ice extent probabilistic forecast method with a 50-day lead time. The system is highly competitive with any of the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Outlook sea ice extent estimates.

Thursday, December 12

Evaluating Arctic sea ice in the CMIP5 model ensemble

Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC Research Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation, GC42B-06
11:35 a.m., Moscone West 3003

NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve evaluates climate model simulations of late 20th and early 21st century sea ice cover for global climate models participating in the World Climate Research Program Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). Stroeve compares these model simulations against sea ice extent and thickness data from satellite, airborne, submarine and in-situ observations, together with analysis of air temperature and sea level pressure.

Although all of the models show declining ice extent in the period of observations, trends from most of these are smaller than observed. The ability of models to capture the observed variability depends in part on how well they are able to simulate the observed ice thickness distribution, near-surface air temperature and general circulation patterns in the Arctic. Models with overly thick sea ice tend to lose sea ice cover later than models with thinner ice. While long-term basin-wide sea ice thickness data are not available for the Arctic, a combination of satellite data from ERS1/2, ICESat and CryoSat, together with sea ice thicknesses derived from NASA's Operation IceBridge, provide a record of the evolution of ice cover from the early 1990s to present. Submarine sonar data are used to extend the record further back in time but coverage is more limited.

Using satellite data to monitor changes in the cryosphere

Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC Research Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation, U44A-04
4:45 p.m., Moscone South 102

NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve discusses how the cryosphere has changed since satellites began observing sea ice, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and global snow cover in the 1960s. Remote sensing data have been indispensable for documenting climate change in the harsh environments of the polar regions, which are among the most rapidly changing regions on Earth. Changes in response to natural and human induced forces in these regions are amplified, and have profound implications for the rest of the planet.

Media Contact

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

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