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12 June 2019

Data sets at NSIDC selected to guide global climate change assessment

The outlines of Mendenhall Glacier, outside of Juneau, Alaska, are visible in the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) Glacier Viewer, an online database that offers Glacier data. Parameters can include geographic location, area, length, orientation, elevation, and classification. This feature is part of the World Glacier Database, another data set chosen by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to be part of its data catalog. Credit: NSIDC
High-resolution image

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just released a catalogue of benchmark data sets, including four from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), to promote as trusted data sources, simplify user access and support global policy makers.

“It is a credit to NSIDC to be asked to be part of that—that the data NSIDC stewards are considered that caliber,” said David Gallaher, a data manager at NSIDC, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

NSIDC distributes four of the six data sets selected to represent key climate variables in Earth’s frozen regions, known collectively as the cryosphere: the Sea Ice Index (Fetterer, F., et al.), the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS), the Antarctic 1-kilometer Digital Elevation Model (Bamber, J., J. L. Gomez-Dans, and J. A. Griggs), and Geoscience Laser Altimeter System/Ice, Cloud, and Elevation satellite (GLAS/ICESat) 500-meter Laser Altimetry Digital Elevation Model of Antarctica (John P. DiMarzio). The NASA Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) programs at NSIDC provide the stewardship for these data and are instrumental in their quality management and governance.

A long-term view

Flooding in the Black Creek area near Jacksonville, Florida, serves as an example of the increased lower latitude flooding and storm damage caused by rapid Arctic change. Credit: James Balog, Earth Vision Institute
High-resolution image

Earth is currently on track for a three-degree Celsius warming by 2100, according to the WMO. That, however, is if the government commitments pledged during the Paris climate agreement in 2015 are actually fulfilled. Already, this past decade has seen lingering heat-waves and record-breaking storms with just a one-degree warming since the middle of the nineteenth century.

These numbers, however, are just averages. Masked within are extremes. For instance, the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, disproportionately affecting its environment and people. 

But how do we know this to be true? High quality, accessible data informs our understanding of a changing climate. Scientists require reliable data products to deliver statistical analyses, modeling, and climate predictions and forecasting to policymakers. Without the data, their insight carries no weight. So the WMO created the Catalogue for Climate Data through an internationally agreed evaluation process as a staple of trustworthy and recognized datasets.

Timeless data

In October 2017, a team of experts extensively reviewed select data sets, and gave each a quality assurance grade. The WMO brought this diverse group to Geneva, Switzerland, from national data centers, international organizations, and academia to agree upon a set of criteria for essential data sets in temperature, precipitation, sea level, sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers. “We wanted to pick data that could best tell this tale of what’s really going on,” said Gallaher, one of the invited experts.

Longevity, or long-term data, took priority, as did global coverage. For example, a new high-resolution sensor may better depict complex sea ice, but a sensor that has only been around for two years cannot tell the story of sea ice change over the course of decades. The Sea Ice Index data set at NSIDC, which spans 40 years, can.

The Sea Ice Index helps generate these sea ice extent and concentration maps. These maps are available as far back as 1979. Credit: NSIDC
High-resolution image

Other attributes the WMO considered included well-documented metadata—the data about the data—transparency of the documentation, accessibility to the public, discoverability, portability, and usage.

Data are foundational. “That’s why this was done: to show the data, to catalogue and give it a gold stamp of approval,” Gallaher said. This catalogue will be a reference guide for researchers, policymakers and the general public interested in present and future climate reports and analyses. “We have scrutinized the data here. We can’t evaluate every data set on the planet, but at least we evaluate the most important ones,” Gallaher said.

The WMO plans to make their catalogue readily and widely available to the public, serving broader use as a guide to trusted climate data. 

For more information
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns
Global temperatures on track for 3-5 degree rise by 2100: UN

Media contact
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1.303.492.1497

28 May 2019

First data sets from ICESat-2 data now available through NSIDC DAAC

ICESat-2 illustration from NASAIllustration of NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2). Credit: NASA. High-resolution image and NASA release.

NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) was launched September 15, 2018, to measure surface heights of ice sheets, glaciers, ice shelves, sea ice, and even forests. The information it provides will enable scientists to monitor the health of Earth's cryosphere and how it changes over time, which is critically important for decision making around issues such as community resilience and natural resource management.

The NSIDC Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) will ingest, archive and manage all ICESat-2 data, and the first data sets from this new satellite are now available through our ICESat-2 site. The site also includes introductory information on Level-1, Level-2, Level-3A, and Level-3B products to help users identify the most suitable products for their needs.

"These data sets are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak," says NSIDC ICESat-2 Project Manager Steve Tanner. "When combined with data from the original ICESat mission and the airborne data from Operation IceBridge, users will have a decades-long, high resolution view into the dramatic changes taking place in the cyrosphere."

To measure surface elevation, ICESat-2 emits laser pulses—10,000 pulses per second. The data collected by this satellite amounts to nearly a terabyte every single day. To prepare for its role in data delivery, NSIDC had to upgrade its computing storage resources, website, and data services to make data download as fast and easy as possible. Advanced users will be able to use scripts to download data, and use glacier masks to subset data.

Links:

ICESat-2 data at NSIDC
NASA ICESat-2 Mission

Media Advisory
20 March 2019

Arctic sea ice at maximum extent for 2019

Blue marble image with sea iceThis NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice on March 13, 2019, when sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year. Sea ice extent for March 13 averaged 14.78 million square kilometers (5.71 million square miles), the seventh-lowest in the satellite record, tied with 2007. Image credit: NSIDC / NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.78 million square kilometers (5.71 million square miles) on March 13, 2019, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The 2019 maximum is effectively tied with the 2007 maximum at seventh lowest in the 40-year satellite record.

“While this is not a record low year for the Arctic sea ice maximum extent, the last four years have been the lowest in our record, reflecting a downward trend in winter sea ice extent,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Walt Meier. “This is just another indicator of the rapid changes that are occurring in the Arctic due to climate change.”

Please note that the Arctic sea ice extent number is preliminary—continued winter conditions could still push the ice extent higher. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of April with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year’s ice conditions, interesting aspects of the ice growth season and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record. For example, this year has been marked by particularly low extent in the Bering Sea, including substantial ice loss during the month of February.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis is supported in part by NASA.

To read the full analysis of this year's ice conditions, visit NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis page. 

Download the NASA animation of the 2019 Arctic sea ice melt season here.

Read the online version of this news advisory. 

Photo of sea ice from a ship. Scientists collect sea ice data in the Beaufort Sea northeast of Barrow, Alaska. Image credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen. High-resolution image

12 February 2019

Arctic sea ice has been in decline for decades, according to a new scientific paper

Since 1978, Arctic sea ice extent has declined and ice cover has thinned, as reported in a new publication in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences by NSIDC director Mark Serreze and senior research scientist Walt Meier. In contrast, Antarctic sea ice extent has slightly increased.

“When you look at the data, there is no denying that our planet is changing rapidly,” said Serreze. “Arctic sea ice loss is one of the most prominent signals of environmental change in the world, and we’ll continue to see this occur as time goes on. As Earth continues to warm, the Arctic will continue to transform.”

The review study was conducted by observing seasonal sea ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctic via satellite passive microwave records from 1978 to 2017. It discusses the drivers behind the downward trend in sea ice extent, variability around sea ice extent, and predictability of ice conditions in the future.

Arctic sea ice extent

There is natural seasonality in Arctic sea ice extent. Sea ice typically reaches its maximum extent in March, at the end of winter, and its minimum extent in September, at the end of summer.

Arctic sea ice
Sunlight bounces off Arctic sea ice. Credit: wasifmalik/Flickr.

Satellite records have shown a decline in Arctic sea ice extent for all months, with the most drastic loss visible in September and the least during the winter months. This sea ice loss aligns with an upward trend in global average surface air temperatures due to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Thinning of Arctic ice cover

The Arctic ice cover is also thinning and this thinning plays a role in the decline of Arctic sea ice extent. Sea ice is categorized by age classes: first-year ice versus multiyear ice. First-year ice forms in a single growth season and a large percentage of it melts away during the summer months. However, some survives and thickens during the next winter, becoming multiyear ice, which is categorized by having survived one melt season or more. So, older ice is generally thicker ice.

Over the past several decades, the Arctic has lost much of its multiyear ice. This is due to both melt and the export of the ice out of the Fram Strait, and it is not being replaced. Thinner first-year ice, which is more vulnerable to melting away in summer than thicker, multiyear ice, comprises a larger percentage of total ice cover than in the past.

As multiyear ice continues to decline and first-year ice makes up a larger percentage of total ice cover, it is more likely that the Arctic will become “seasonally ice free” in the future, though there is debate among scientists on when this will occur. This means there will be a period of time in late summer or early autumn when there is little to no sea ice present in the Arctic.

Variability

Variability in sea ice extent in any given month is linked to departures from norms in atmospheric circulation patterns, especially those in summer persisting for greater than one month. This includes both dynamic and thermodynamic components, such as winds, temperature, and snowfall.

Variability is particularly important in the Antarctic. In contrast to the Arctic, the Antarctic trends are much smaller and slightly positive. However, the year to year variation in the ice cover is much greater as is the regional geographic variation, with some regions showing large downward trends and others showing large upward trends. Unlike the Arctic, the Antarctic changes to date are best described by variations in ocean atmospheric and oceanic circulation and are not yet responding to the overall warming trend.

The takeaway

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and sea ice loss plays a large role in this. While warmer conditions lead to more melting of sea ice, the loss of sea ice also makes it warmer - a vicious feedback cycle. Some scientists believe this Arctic amplification of temperature change will have impacts on the polar jet stream and mid-latitude weather patterns. It has also been linked to coastal erosion and regional changes in weather patterns, such as increased rain-on-snow events, which could be detrimental to Arctic wildlife.

In addition, as sea ice continues to melt, the Arctic will become more accessible for resource extraction, marine shipping, and tourism, creating a new set of challenges for the region, as well as opportunities. Monitoring and predicting sea ice extent and thickness loss will continue to become more and more valuable as the global economy turns an eye to this ever-changing region.

Full Paper

Serreze, M.C., and W.N. Meier. 2019. The Arctic's sea ice cover: trends, variability, predictability, and comparisons to the Antarctic. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1436: 36-53. doi:10.1111/nyas.13856.

7 February 2019

Twenty-five years of airborne topographic data

NSIDC has updated two key data sets from NASA's Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) sensor, expanding the range of these data sets from 1993 to 2018. ATM observations count among the few ice-surface-height observations collected in the early 1990s, and the recent update provides a 25-year record of continual observations from the same source over some of Earth's fastest-changing regions.

ATM surface comparisonDerived from ATM data, this image compares surface heights for Greenland's Helheim Glacier in 1998 (right) and 2013 (left). Lower elevations are marked in blue and turquoise; higher elevations are marked in yellow, orange, and red. Image courtesy NASA Goddard.

Changes in polar ice have global implications. As sunlight-reflecting ice bodies shrink, our planet absorbs more solar energy. As glaciers melt, ocean levels rise. One way to monitor changing ice conditions is to observe changes in surface elevation because ice bodies shedding mass lose elevation over time.

NASA's ATM laser altimeters measure ice surface heights across North America, Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctica. ATM takes measurements by bouncing lasers off ice surfaces, and measuring the time those lasers take to return to the aircraft. ATM can assess the topography within as little as 4 inches.

NSIDC Project Manager Steve Tanner says, "Earth's frozen places are changing. I've visited a few of the glaciers that ATM has measured. Seeing the glacier heights drop, and seeing those glaciers retreat year after year has given me a vivid picture of how quickly the change is happening."

The aircraft fly about 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground, and ATM lasers follow tight tracks. "The data sets look like Greenland glaciers wrapped in technicolor beads," Tanner says. "But we can stack these yearly observations on top of each other until we get a complete picture of the glacier's changes. The images are beautiful and stark."

NSIDC's updated data sets include IceBridge ATM L1B Elevation and Return Strength, Version 2 and IceBridge ATM L2 Icessn Elevation, Slope, and Roughness, Version 2. NSIDC also offers a complete listing of Operation IceBridge aircraft missions. You can find an introduction to ATM on the NASA site.

26 November 2018

Antarctic Expedition Underway

Thin Ice team on side tripEn route to Antarctica, expedition members take a side trip to Torres Del Paine National Park. Left to right: Clément Miège (Rutgers University), Ted Scambos (CIRES), Lynn Montgomery (CU-Boulder), Bruce Wallin (NSIDC). Photo credit: Clément Miège.

CIRES and NSIDC scientists Ted Scambos and Bruce Wallin are traveling to Antarctica. On the frozen continent, they plan to study snow, namely the fact that some of that snow isn't so frozen.

Surveys from NASA's Operation IceBridge indicate that some Antarctic snow is waterlogged, and where that snow overlies ice shelves—floating tongues of ice fringing the continent—the water content could lead to ice-shelf fracturing. Water may seep into cracks and, because water is denser than snow, it can deepen the cracks it has filled and eventually slide through the ice shelf. When an ice shelf fragments, the glaciers feeding that shelf can accelerate and slide into the ocean, ultimately raising ocean levels.

You can follow the research team's progress, read about previous research, and learn about the team members—including the expedition team and support staff—at the expedition blog: On Thin Ice (https://iceshelf.wordpress.com/).

Media Advisory
8 October 2018

September Arctic sea ice extent at 6th lowest in the satellite record

This image shows Arctic sea ice extent for September 2018, which averaged at 4.71 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles). September 2018 was the sixth lowest September in the nearly 40-year satellite record. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder. High-resolution imageThis image shows Arctic sea ice extent for September 2018, which averaged at 4.71 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles). September 2018 was the sixth lowest September in the nearly 40-year satellite record. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder. High-resolution image
After reaching the sixth lowest minimum on September 19 and 23, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 4.71 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles) for the month of September, tying with 2008 for the sixth lowest September in the satellite record, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The 2018 melt season—from the sea ice maximum in March, leading up to the sea ice minimum in September—reinforced the importance of summer weather patterns in determining if the September average extent will be above or below the long-term trend line, NSIDC scientists said.

Arctic sea ice extent reached record lows in January and February, and stayed at second lowest from March through May. Despite these record and near-record low monthly extents at the beginning of the melt season, less extreme summer weather led to a September extent that was not near record-low levels and was slightly above the long-term trend line.

Monthly September ice extent remains on a downward trend. The linear rate of decline for September ice extent is now at 12.8 percent per decade or 82,300 square kilometers (31,800 square miles) per year.

Read the full analysis of the 2018 melt season in NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis is supported in part by NASA.

Media contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
+1 303.492.1497, press@nsidc.org

-30-

Media Advisory
27 September 2018

Arctic sea ice at minimum extent for 2018

Sea ice on September 23, 2018This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice on September 23, 2018, when sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year. Sea ice extent for September 23, as well as on September 19, averaged 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles)—the sixth lowest in the satellite record, tied with 2008 and 2010. High-resolution image

Arctic sea ice has likely reached its minimum extent for the year, at 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles) on September 19 and 23, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The 2018 minimum ties with 2008 and 2010 as the sixth lowest in the nearly 40-year satellite record. September 23 is the latest day in the year the Arctic sea minimum has occurred in the satellite record—observed this year and in 1997.

Please note that the Arctic sea ice extent number is preliminary—changing winds could still push the ice extent lower. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year’s ice conditions, interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

For more details and images, please see the NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis page at http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2018/09/arctic-sea-ice-extent-arrives-at-its-minimum.

See the NASA feature at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/annual-arctic-sea-ice-minimum-announcement.
Download the NASA animation of the 2018 Arctic sea ice melt season at: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/13075.
See the NOAA Climate.gov feature at https://www.climate.gov/arctic-ice-2018.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis is supported in part by NASA.

'Dirty' sea iceNSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve took this photo of dirty sea ice during a research expedition to the Arctic in August 2018. Credit: Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Ice remnantThis photo, taken by NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve in August 2018, shows a remnant of multiyear ice floating in the Arctic Ocean. Multiyear ice is sea ice that has survived at least one melt season; it is typically 2 to 4 meters (6.6 to 13.1 feet) thick and thickens as more ice grows on its underside. Credit: Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Sea ice seen from icebreakerThis photo shows Arctic sea ice observed from the South Korean icebreaker Araon in August 2018. Credit: Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Sea ice at sunsetThis photo shows Arctic sea ice at sunset, taken by NSIDC scientist Alia Khan during a research expedition on August 2018. Credit: Alia Khan, NSIDC. High-resolution image

IcebreakerIn this photo taken by a camera drone, the South Korean icebreaker Araon makes its way through Arctic sea ice during a research expedition in August 2018. Credit: Alia Khan, Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC. High-resolution image


Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

Press Release
25 June 2018

New study explains Antarctica’s coldest temperatures

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tiny valleys near the top of Antarctica’s ice sheet reach temperatures of nearly -100 degrees Celsius, according to a new study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters. The finding could change scientists’ understanding of just how low temperatures can get at Earth’s surface, and how it happens, according to the researchers.

Blowing snow conditions at a camp site near Vostok Station in Antarctic summer.Blowing snow conditions at a camp site near Vostok Station in Antarctic summer. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

After sifting through data from several Earth-observing satellites, scientists announced in 2013 that they found surface temperatures of -93 degrees Celsius (-135 degrees Fahrenheit) in several spots on the East Antarctic Plateau, a high snowy plateau in central Antarctica that encompasses the South Pole. That preliminary study has been revised with new data showing that the coldest sites actually reach -98 degrees Celsius (-144 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperatures are observed during the southern polar night, mostly during July and August.

When the researchers first announced they had found the coldest temperatures on Earth five years ago, they determined that persistent clear skies and light winds are required for temperatures to dip this low. But the new study adds a twist to the story: Not only are clear skies necessary, but the air must also be extremely dry, because water vapor blocks the loss of heat from the snow surface.

The researchers observed the ultra-low temperatures in small dips or shallow hollows in the Antarctic Ice Sheet where cold, dense, descending air pools above the surface and can remain for several days. This allows the surface, and the air above it, to cool still further, until the clear, calm, and dry conditions break down and the air mixes with warmer air higher in the atmosphere.

“In this area, we see periods of incredibly dry air, and this allows the heat from the snow surface to radiate into space more easily,” said Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and the study’s lead author.

The record of -98 degrees Celsius is about as cold as it is possible to get at Earth’s surface, according to the researchers. For the temperature to drop that low, clear skies and dry air need to persist for several days. Temperatures could drop a little lower if the conditions lasted for several weeks, but that’s extremely unlikely to happen, Scambos said.

Finding the coldest place

The high elevation of the East Antarctic Plateau and its proximity to the South Pole give it the coldest climate of any region on Earth. The lowest air temperature ever measured by a weather station, -89 degrees Celsius (-128 degrees Fahrenheit), was recorded there at Russia’s Vostok Station in July 1983.

But weather stations can’t measure temperatures everywhere. So in 2013, Scambos and his colleagues decided to analyze data from several Earth-observing satellites to see if they could find temperatures on the plateau even lower than those recorded at Vostok.

In the new study, they analyzed satellite data collected during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter between 2004 and 2016. They used data from the MODIS instrument aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites as well as data from instruments on NOAA’s Polar Operational Environmental Satellites.

The researchers observed snow surface temperatures regularly dropping below -90 degrees Celsius (-130 degrees Fahrenheit) almost every winter in a broad region of the plateau, more than 3,500 meters (11,000 feet) above sea level. Within this broad region, they found dozens of sites had much colder temperatures. Nearly 100 locations reached surface temperatures of -98 degrees Celsius.

The atmosphere in this region can sometimes have less than 0.2 mm total precipitable water above the surface. But even when it is that dry and cold, the air traps some of the heat and sends it back to the surface. This means that the cooling rates are very slow as the surface temperatures approach the record values. Conditions do not persist long enough—it could take weeks—for the temperatures to dip below the observed records. However, the temperature measured from satellites is the temperature of the snow surface, not the air above it. So the study also estimated the air temperatures by using nearby automatic weather stations and the satellite data.

Interestingly, even though the coldest sites were spread out over hundreds of kilometers, the lowest temperatures were all nearly the same. That got them wondering: Is there a limit to how cold it can get on the plateau?

How cold is it really?

Using the difference between the satellite measurements of the lowest surface snow temperatures at Vostok and three automated stations, and the air temperatures at the same place and time, the researchers inferred that the air temperatures at the very coldest sites (where no stations exist) are probably around -94 degrees Celsius, or about -137 degrees Fahrenheit.

The research team has also developed a set of instruments designed to survive and operate at the very coldest places through the winter and measure both snow and air temperatures. They are planning to deploy the instruments in the next year or two, during the Antarctic summer when the temperatures are a comparatively mild -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit).

SastrugiThe East Antarctic Plateau is a windswept desolate expanse the size of Australia with few bases or instruments. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Ski tracksSki tracks crossing East Antarctica. The Antarctic polar plateau is a desolate, high-altitude windswept expanse that a few explorers and adventurers have crossed. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

TraverseA science traverse in 2007 to 2009 crossed the East Antarctic Plateau in late summer. The coldest conditions are a few months later, in July and August, during polar night. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

SastrugiPersistent winds shape the surface of East Antarctica’s snow into small dune forms called ‘sastrugi.’ Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

See the American Geophysical Union news release here.

Download a copy of the paper here.

Media contact

Natasha Vizcarra
Media Liaison
National Snow and Ice Data Center
Email: press@nsidc.org
Phone: +1.303.492.1497

Press Release
13 June 2018

Sea ice loss and wave action trigger rapid ice shelf disintegrations in the Antarctic

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

View from Cape DisappointmentLooking out from Cape Disappointment at the ice front of Scar Inlet, this photograph shows blue water on fast ice and then the shelf edge in the distance. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

A new study finds that when Antarctica’s massive ice shelves lack a protective buffer of sea ice, ocean swells from the north flex the shelves and can weaken their stabilizing seaward edge. Regular inundation by summer meltwater as the seaward edge breaks away can also contribute to rapid ice shelf disintegration.

Because ice shelves slow the flow of ice from the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, rapidly disintegrating shelves have troubling implications for sea level rise.

“Sea ice here acts like the bumpers on a car—with the bumpers in place, the car can take a shock and not be damaged. Take them off, and every hit adds up,” said Ted Scambos, study co-author and senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Ice shelves are thick plates of ice, fed by tributary glaciers. They are floating seaward extensions of the grounded ice sheet.

Since 1995, three large ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula—the Larsen A, Larsen B, and Wilkins—have suddenly and dramatically disintegrated.

Happening over a few weeks, or sometimes only a few days, the ice shelf disintegrations mark an unprecedented departure from the more typical and natural recurring calving of larger icebergs every decade or so.

Until recently, researchers thought that intense surface melt due to a warming climate and ice fracturing were the sole culprits. The new findings suggest that loss of sea ice and the calving of the seaward edge into narrow ‘sliver’ icebergs are the trigger that initiates a rapid ice shelf disintegration.

“Our study breaks new ground in how it implicates sea ice change in sea level rise,” said Rob Massom, the study’s lead author and a senior research scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre.

“It introduces ocean wave-induced breakage of the outer margins of ice shelves following loss of a protective sea ice buffer as the straw that breaks the camel’s back, triggering large-scale disintegration of ice shelves weakened by widespread melting and fracturing,” Massom said.

Thwaites Glacier frontThis photograph shows part of the ice front near Thwaites Glacier, with snowed-over icebergs near the grounding line. It was taken from the window of a NASA Operation IceBridge flight in November 2011. Photo credit: NASA.  High-resolution image

Massom, Scambos, and colleagues analyzed disintegration events on three ice shelves that had been stable for centuries or even millennia: the Larsen A Ice Shelf in 1995, the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002, and the Wilkins Ice Shelf in 2008 and 2009.

The researchers confirmed that atmospheric warming led to increased meltwater on the surfaces of the shelves. Pooled meltwater then percolated downward through crevasses, initiating a hydrofracturing process that weakened the ice.

But the team’s analysis revealed a previously under-appreciated link to sea ice: each disintegration occurred during periods with little or no sea ice cover along the ice shelf edge. Without the protective buffer of sea ice, the ice shelves became exposed to wave action that flexed the already fractured ice.

“What we’ve found is that increased flexing of the outer parts of ice shelves by waves sets the ice up for destruction. Even though the movement is tiny, over time the shelf is weakened,” Scambos said.

In each case, ocean swells began impacting the ice shelf edge. As the shelves flexed, pre-existing fractures along the seaward edge chipped off as long, thin, sliver-shaped icebergs instead of the larger tabular icebergs more typical of Antarctic ice shelf calvings. Rapidly losing swaths of the stabilizing keystone blocks from the seaward edge left the remaining ice shelf ripe for runaway collapse.

“Other ice shelves can survive for centuries if they don’t have surface meltwater—or if the water can run off easily,” Scambos said. The Nansen Ice Shelf, for instance, is less susceptible to hydrofracturing because a large drainage system helps funnel meltwater off the shelf surface. “But with meltwater ponding and a legacy of weakening from sea ice loss, you can destroy a shelf in just a few weeks,” Scambos said. “It starts with these keystone blocks being broken out.”

These shelves form a crucial interface between warming oceans and the massive Antarctic ice sheets flowing toward the coasts.

Because ice shelves are already floating in the ocean and displacing their volume, similar to ice cubes in a glass of water, they do not contribute directly to sea level rise when they break up or disintegrate.

Ice shelves do, however, provide a backpressure that moderates glacier flow speed. Once the ice shelves are gone, so is the backpressure, allowing the glaciers to flow more rapidly into the ocean. It is this land-based ice that ultimately contributes to sea level rise.

“We hope that our new findings will both increase awareness of the importance of interactions and linkages between different component parts of the global cryosphere, and also focus and motivate efforts to better understand and model the coupled ice sheet-sea ice-atmosphere-ocean system around Antarctica,” Massom said. “This represents an important pathway towards reducing current large uncertainty in predictions of the response of the Antarctic cryosphere to climate change and its contribution to sea level rise.”

The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough ice to raise sea level by approximately 57 meters (187 feet), about half the length of a football or soccer field. Worldwide, more than 100 million people currently live within one meter of mean sea level, making it critical for researchers to understand the fate of remaining ice shelves, to enable more accurate assessments of future Antarctic ice discharge into the ocean.

The new study was published today in the journal Nature. The study was co-authored by Sharon Stammerjohn of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, Luke Bennetts from the University of Adelaide, Phillip Reid of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Vernon Squire of the University of Otago.

-end-

Skiing researchersThis photograph shows the Larsen B embayment region in February 2016. Researchers Erin Pettit and Phil 'Chucky' Stevens ski toward the Scar Inlet region, with the Antarctic Peninsula to the right. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Larsen CThis photograph shows the northern Larsen C Ice Shelf, looking north, in November 2011. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Scar InletThe sheared area of the northeast side of Scar Inlet Ice Shelf is visible in this photograph, looking south from Cape Disappointment. Photo credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC. High-resolution image

Study citation

Massom, Robert A., Theodore A. Scambos, Luke G. Bennetts, Phillip Reid, Vernon A. Squire, and Sharon Stammerjohn. Antarctic ice shelf disintegration triggered by sea ice loss and ocean swell. Nature 2018, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0212-1.

Read the research article at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0212-1.

Read the Australian Antarctic Division release at http://www.antarctica.gov.au/news/2018/ocean-waves-following-sea-ice-loss-trigger-antarctic-ice-shelf-collapse.

Media contacts

Agnieszka Gautier & Laura Naranjo
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1.303.492.1497

Press Release
30 April 2018

UK and US polar scientists team up to study Antarctica’s “wild card”

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The main Earth Science funding agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States are teaming up to investigate a massive, rapidly changing glacier in Antarctica. Together, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will launch a $25-million multi-disciplinary effort to investigate ice loss on the Thwaites Glacier and project its future impact on global sea level rise.

These fast-moving glaciers are considered the “weak underbelly” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Satellite observations show calculated changes in ice flow between 1996 and 2008. Red is accelerating; blue is slowing. The black lines indicate the boundaries of the drainage basin—note how Thwaites expands broadly toward the top of the image, covering much of the central West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Changes in flow speed already extend far inland. Thwaites Glacier, in particular, could pave the path for a large retreat of the WAIS. Credit: NASA, NSIDC, and Mouginot et al., 2014  High-resolution image

Thwaites Glacier and its adjacent area have been called the “weak underbelly” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) because of its potential instability. With an area the size of Florida, it currently contributes about 4 percent of global sea level rise, with its flow nearly doubling since the 1990s.

The NERC and NSF partnership, called the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), covers research across Thwaites Glacier and its adjacent ocean region; the glacier flows into Pine Island Bay, part of Amundsen Sea. ITGC is the largest joint UK-US project undertaken on the southern continent in 70 years—since the conclusion of a mapping project on the Antarctic Peninsula in the late 1940s.

Eight large-scale fieldwork and modeling projects aim to improve decadal and multi-century projections of ice loss from an already-accelerating Thwaites Glacier. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will lead the Science Coordination Office (SCO), the ninth project funded, to help researchers communicate across landscapes and disciplines.

“The Thwaites SCO aims to get the most out of the funded resources by sharing them across the projects—logistics, data, and outreach as well,” said Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at NSIDC and the US SCO principal investigator.

Future projections of Thwaites Glacier’s sea level contribution are uncertain. The potential for increased rapid ice loss and faster retreat are not well understood.

“It’s sort of the wild card in our sea level forecasting,” Scambos said. “We need to better understand what processes might push it into this rapid retreat where it’s unloading ice a lot faster.” In some projections, Thwaites Glacier and the surrounding region could raise sea levels as much as half a meter (1.6 feet) in the next 100 years.

When the bedrock slopes inward toward the continent, warm, deep ocean water can flow downward under the ice shelf, chewing away at the grounding line. Melting can be as much as 20 to 50 meters of ice thickness each year. As the glacier’s base recedes, the brakes holding the continental ice ease up and the glaciers feeding the ice shelf accelerate, and thus further thin and recede the ice sheet. Credit: NSIDC, NASA High-resolution image

Massive portions of Antarctica beneath the WAIS dip below sea level. In theory, this inland slope inherently destabilizes the ice sheet, because as retreat begins, the floating ice becomes thicker, leading to more rapid ice flow and further inland retreat. Warm waters are already gouging out the underside and edges of the glacier, removing the basal ice, and causing the glacier to lift off the seabed.

A second process may accelerate this loss further—extreme fracturing and breakup if the glacier’s front cliff reaches 100 meters (330 feet) or more. Ice is too weak to support such a cliff, so it will crack and fall into the sea. This leads to a new cliff, potentially even higher, causing another crack and collapse, and another. “That’s the runaway we’re most worried about,” Scambos said.

So how much ice is there? “It’s a question of where you draw the line,” Scambos said. “A big retreat at Thwaites would trigger thinning in other areas as well.” Thwaites and its neighbor, Pine Island Glacier, sprawl across an 800-kilometer-long (500 miles) plain, widening and deepening inland to a reserve of ice two miles thick and larger than the state of Idaho. Eventually, in the following centuries, the entire WAIS would collapse, raising sea level by 3 to 3.5 meters (9.8 to 11.5 feet).

Edge of Thwaites Glacier
This photograph shows the front edge of Thwaites Glacier’s ice cliff. NASA’s Operation IceBridge uses a fleet of research aircraft to image Earth’s polar ice and study annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers,and ice sheets. Credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA IceBridge High-resolution image

This timing needs to be refined, as does scientists’ understanding of these potential events. To fully understand the causes of change requires research on the ice itself and the oceans around it. This international joint effort will deploy the most up-to-date instruments and techniques available, from ice drills that can make access holes with jets of hot water, to autonomous submarines, and even seals fitted with instrument packs.

Nine proposals in total, and close to 100 scientists from more than 20 institutions will deconstruct nearly every physical aspect of Thwaites Glacier and the adjacent Amundsen Sea. ITGC includes two modeling studies, one specifically focused on the ice-cliff effect, and the other aimed at forecasting how the ice sheet will react in the future.

A third project looks into the glacier’s geophysics by setting off explosive charges to image the sediments beneath the ice, and will use ground-based radars to map internal layering and study the deep ice structure. Another will study the glacier’s widening shear margins, where fast-flowing ice meets slow-moving ice or rock.

Two studies will look at the boundaries between the ice and the adjacent sea, detailing melting, water circulation, temperature, and recent history. Another two geoscience projects, involving marine sediments and exposed rocks on nearby mountains will see if—and for how long—the glacier retreated in the past.

The Thwaites SCO, based at NSIDC and British Antarctic Survey, will work with all the teams to augment the research by sharing data and resources across groups, facilitating public outreach and media contacts, and encouraging broad integration of the research results into a larger and more complete picture of the glacier and its evolution.

The nine funded ITGC projects:

GHOST: Geophysical Habitat of Subglacial Thwaites
Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Pennsylvania State University and Andy Smith, British Antarctic Survey

A survey of the till, hydrology, and bedrock underlying Thwaites Glacier using seismic and radar methods


TIME: Thwaites Interdisciplinary Margin Evolution
Sławek Tułaczyk, University of California Santa Cruz and Poul Christoffersen, Scott Polar Research Institute

Researching the shear margins of Thwaites that control its width and speed


MELT: Melting at Thwaites Grounding Zone and Its Control on Sea Level
Keith Nicholls, British Antarctic Survey and David Holland, New York University

An assessment of the physics and oceanology of melting at the ice-ocean interface of Thwaites


TARSAN: Thwaites-Amundsen Regional Survey and Network
Karen Heywood, East Anglia University and Erin Pettit, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Measuring ocean circulation and thinning beneath the floating ice, and the climate processes that drive the circulation.


GHC: Geological History Constraints on Grounding Line Retreat in the Thwaites Glacier system
Joanne Johnson, British Antarctic Survey and Brent Goehring, Tulane University

Looking at bedrock beneath the ice to learn if and when Thwaites Glacier was smaller in the past, how it recovered, and how it responds to sea level change


THOR: Thwaites Glacier Offshore Research
Julia Wellner, University of Houston and Robert Larter, British Antarctic Survey

Investigating drivers of ice sheet, ocean, and climate change recorded in sediments deposited in the ocean near Thwaites Glacier


DOMINOS: Disintegration of Marine Ice Sheets Using Novel Optimised Simulations
Doug Benn, University of St. Andrews and Jeremy Bassis, University of Michigan

Modeling ice fracture and calving in a rapid marine ice sheet retreat


PROPHET: PROcesses, drivers, Prediction: modelling the History and Evolution of Thwaites
Mathieu Morlighem, University California Irvine and Hilmar Gudmundsson, University of Edinburgh

Advancing computer models of how the ice and ocean near Thwaites will evolve in the coming century


SCO: Thwaites Science Coordination Office
David Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey and Ted Scambos, University of Colorado Boulder

Integrating research and results to build a well-described understanding of the system, and communicate the results


For more information

How much, how fast? A decadal science plan quantifying the rate of change of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet now and in the future.

ThwaitesGlacier.org

Media contacts

Ted Scambos
NSIDC senior research scientist
teds@nsidc.org, +1 720 891 8518

Agnieszka Gautier
NSIDC Science Communication
press@nsidc.org, +1 303 492 1497

Press Release
30 March 2018

In Memoriam: Roger G. Barry (1935-2018)

Roger BarryRoger G. Barry was founding director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center and Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Geography Department. Credit: University of Colorado Boulder. High-resolution image

Roger G. Barry, founding director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), passed away on March 19, 2018, concluding a distinguished career in the study of the cryosphere and mountain climates. His work as a scientist and professor, and his dedication to the formation of centers for the study of the cryosphere helped shape the evolution of climate science.

Born in 1935, Barry grew up in the United Kingdom. As a teenager interested in weather, he began working as a scientific assistant at the UK Meteorological Office in 1952. Soon afterwards, he was plotting data at the Royal Air Force Station, Worksop, in Nottinghamshire while taking correspondence courses in math and physics in the evenings. Failing the military’s eyesight test, he applied for a university program related to another early interest: geography. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Liverpool in 1957, his master’s degree from McGill University in 1959, and his Ph.D. from the University of Southampton in 1965. In addition to his own coursework, he accepted a post as an assistant lecturer at the University of Southampton in 1960. He also began learning Russian through a BBC radio program, an endeavor that would later facilitate some of his international collaborations.

In the mid- to late-1960s, Barry hoped to train graduate students, but felt constrained by the UK’s limited research funding. In 1968, he accepted a post at the University of Colorado Boulder as an assistant professor at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). When the university assumed control of a World Data Center (WDC) for Glaciology in 1976, he became the center’s director.

The center started small, but under Barry’s leadership it grew quickly. At first, the WDC consisted of a library, a glacier photo collection, and a small staff. In 1980, the WDC became a part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). In 1982, NOAA designated the NSIDC as coexistent with the WDC, and the center adopted the NSIDC name.

Under Barry’s leadership in 1993, NSIDC became a NASA Distributed Active Archive Center: the NSIDC DAAC. The NSIDC DAAC provides data and information on snow, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves, frozen ground, soil moisture, cryosphere, and climate interactions, in support of research in global change detection, model validation, and water resource management.

Roger Barry photosTop: Roger G. Barry fills a pilot balloon with hydrogen at Tanquary Fjord in Nunavut, Canada in the summer of 1963. Credit: Roger G. Barry. Bottom: Roger G. Barry teaches a geography class at the University of Colorado Boulder. Credit: Ron Weaver, NSIDC.

Along with training and recruiting a dedicated staff at NSIDC, Barry also fostered international collaboration. Between 1986 and 2005, several Russian scientists visited NSIDC for extended stays and research, and Barry’s visits to Russia in the 1990s paved the way for multiple U.S.-Russian data-rescue efforts. Meanwhile, one of Barry’s visits to China helped facilitate China’s establishment of its own WDC for Glaciology.

At NSIDC, Barry contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments in 1990, 1995, and 2001. He served as a review editor for IPCC Working Groups 1 and 2 in 2007, an effort that earned the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize.

Other honors for Barry include Lifetime Career Awards from the Climate and Mountain Specialty groups of the Association of American Geographers, a Fellowship from the American Geophysical Union, the Goldthwait Polar Medal from the Byrd Polar Research Center, the Founder’s Medal from London’s Royal Geographic Society, the Humboldt Prize from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, a J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and designation as a Distinguished Professor of Geography from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Between 1971 and 2011, Barry supervised 67 graduate students, 36 of whom earned Ph.D. degrees. Over the course of his career, he authored a substantial body of peer-reviewed research as well as numerous textbooks: Atmosphere, Weather and Climate; The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future; Mountain Weather and Climate; Microclimate and Local Climate; Essentials of the Earth’s Climate System; and Synoptic and Dynamic Climatology.

Barry retired as NSIDC director in 2008 and retired from teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2010. Even after his official retirement, he continued to work part-time, along with teaching and writing about climate, weather, and the cryosphere.

In a 2015 paper reviewing his life and work, Barry reflected, “Climatology is a young science, spanning barely half a century, and I have indeed been fortunate to be part of most of it.” He counted among his greatest satisfactions “working with so many brilliant graduate students,” and “establishing NSIDC as a worldwide resource.”

References and Tributes

Barry, R. G. 2015. The shaping of climate science: half a century in personal perspectiveHistory of Geo- and Space Sciences6:87-105. doi:10.5194/hgss-6-87-2015.

Boulder Daily Camera. Roger Barry Obituary. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailycamera/obituary.aspx?n=roger-barry&pid=188547268.

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Hats off to Barry. http://cires1.colorado.edu/science/spheres/snow-ice/barry.html.

Geography Department, University of Colorado Boulder. “In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Roger Barry.” https://www.colorado.edu/geography/2018/03/21/memoriam-professor-emeritus-roger-barry.

Global Cryosphere Watch. “A giant has fallen: In Memoriam, Roger Barry” http://globalcryospherewatch.org/news/rgb/roger_barry.html.

National Snow and Ice Data Center. “First 25 years: the history of the WDC for Glaciology and NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado.” https://nsidc.org/arc/history.html.

National Snow and Ice Data Center. “In Memoriam: Roger Barry, NSIDC Founding Director.” https://nsidc.org/research/bios/barry.html.
 

Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1 303.492.1497

Media Advisory
23 March 2018

Arctic sea ice maximum at second lowest in the satellite record

Arctic sea ice extent for March 17, 2018 was 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center. High-resolution image
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide content for Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis with partial support from NASA.

Sea ice over the Arctic Ocean likely reached its maximum extent for the year on March 17 at 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles), the second lowest in the 39-year satellite record, falling just behind 2017. This year’s maximum extent is 1.16 million square kilometers (448,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles).

The four lowest seasonal maxima have all occurred during the last four years. The 2018 maximum is 60,000 square kilometers (23,200 square miles) above the record low maximum that occurred on March 7, 2017; 40,000 square kilometers (15,400 square miles) below the 2015 and 2016 maxima (now tied for third lowest); and 190,000 square kilometers (73,400 square miles) below the 2011 maximum, which is now fourth lowest.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April.

See the full NSIDC announcement at https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews.

See the NASA feature at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/arctic-wintertime-sea-ice-extent-is-among-lowest-on-record.

Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

Press Release
5 February 2018

Scientists find massive reserves of mercury hidden in permafrost

Alessio Gusmeroli and Tim Schaefer drill a permafrost core on the North Slope of Alaska near Deadhorse. Credit: Kevin Schaefer, NSIDCAlessio Gusmeroli and Tim Schaefer drill a permafrost core on the North Slope of Alaska near Deadhorse. Credit: Kevin Schaefer, NSIDC. High-resolution image
Researchers have discovered that thawing permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere stores twice as much mercury as the rest of the planet’s soils, atmosphere, and oceans. The finding has significant implications for human health and ecosystems worldwide.

In a new study, scientists measured mercury concentrations in cores of frozen ground—or permafrost—from Alaska and used the data to estimate how much mercury has been trapped in Northern Hemisphere permafrost since the last Ice Age.

They found that Northern Hemisphere permafrost regions contain 1,656 gigagrams of mercury (32 million gallons, or enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools), making them the largest known reservoir of mercury on the planet. This amount is nearly twice as much mercury as all soils outside of the northern permafrost region, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined.

The researchers also found that of the 1,656 gigagrams of mercury, 863 gigagrams lie in the surface layer of soil that freezes and thaws each year (27 Olympic-sized swimming pools), and 793 gigagrams are frozen in permafrost (23 Olympic-sized swimming pools).

“This implies permafrost regions contain roughly 10 times the total human mercury emissions over the last 30 years,” said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer, a co-author of the study published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“Previous studies assumed little or no mercury in permafrost regions, but we find the opposite is true,” Schaefer said. “This completely changes our view of how mercury moves through the land and ocean.”

“This discovery is a game-changer,” said Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado and lead author of the study. “We’ve quantified a pool of mercury that had not been done previously with confidence, and the results have profound implications for better understanding the global mercury cycle.”

This diagram shows the modern mercury cycle with major reservoirs in white (gigagrams of mercury) and exchanges between reservoirs in black (gigagrams of mercury per year). Northern Hemisphere permafrost contains 863 gigagrams of mercury in the Active Layer, the layer of ground that is subject to annual thawing and freezing. About 793 gigagrams of mercury is found in Northern Hemisphere permafrost. Credit: Schuster et al./GRL/AGU. High-resolution image

Permafrost is permanently frozen ground and occurs in approximately 22.79 million square kilometers, or about 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere land surface surrounding the Arctic ocean. 

Mercury naturally occurs in the Earth’s crust and typically enters the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions. The element cycles between the atmosphere and ocean quickly. However, mercury deposited on land from the atmosphere binds with organic matter in plants. After the plants die, soil microbes eat the dead organic matter, releasing the mercury back into the atmosphere or water.

In permafrost regions, however, the organic matter gets buried by sediment before it decays and becomes frozen into permafrost. Once frozen, the decay of organic matter stops, and the mercury remains trapped for thousands of years unless liberated by permafrost thaw.

“As long as the permafrost remains frozen, the mercury will stay trapped in the soil,” Schaefer said. Higher air temperatures due to climate change could thaw much of the existing permafrost, allowing the decay of organic matter to resume and releasing mercury that could affect Earth’s ecosystems. The released mercury can accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial food chains and cause harmful neurological and reproductive effects on animals.

“Although measurement of the rate of permafrost thaw was not part of this study, the thawing permafrost provides a potential for mercury to be released—that’s just physics.” Schuster said.

Climate models predict a 30 to 90 percent reduction in permafrost by 2100, depending on actual fuel emissions.

The researchers determined the total amount of mercury locked up in permafrost using field measurements. Between 2004 and 2012, the study authors drilled 13 permafrost soil cores at various sites in Alaska and measured the total amounts of mercury and carbon in each core. They selected sites with a diverse array of soil characteristics to best represent permafrost found around the entire Northern Hemisphere.

These images show soil mercury content (in micrograms of mercury per square meter) in Northern Hemisphere permafrost zones for four soil layers: 0 to 30 centimeters, 0 to 100 centimeters, 0 to 300 centimeters, and permafrost. The permafrost map represents mercury bound to frozen organic matter below the active layer and above a depth of 300 centimeters. Credit: Schuster et al./GRL/AGU. High-resolution image

Schuster, Schaefer, and their colleagues found their measurements were consistent with published data on mercury in non-permafrost and permafrost soils from thousands of other sites worldwide. They used their observed values to calculate the total amount of mercury stored in permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere and to create a map of soil mercury concentrations in the region.

The researchers believe their study gives policymakers and scientists new numbers to work with and calibrate their models as they begin to study this new phenomenon in more detail. The researchers intend to release another study modeling the release of mercury from permafrost due to climate change.

“Permafrost contains a huge amount of mercury,” Schaefer said. “We need to know how much mercury will get released from thawing permafrost, when it will get released, and where.”

-end-

High-resolution images

NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer (left), and researchers Alessio Gusmeroli and Lin Liu prepare to drill a permafrost core on the North Slope of Alaska near Happy Valley airport. Credit: Tingjun Zhang. High-resolution image 

NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer surveying permafrost on the North Slope of Alaska near Utqiagvik. Photo credit: Lin Liu. High-resolution image 

Study citation
Schuster, P. F., Schaefer, K. M., Aiken, G. R., Antweiler, R. C., Dewild, J. F., Gryziec, J. D., …Zhang, T. (2018). Permafrost stores a globally significant amount of mercury. Geophysical Research Letters, 45. https://doi.org/ 10.1002/2017GL075571.

Download a PDF copy
This research article is available for free for 30 days at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017GL075571/pdf.

Read the AGU release at https://news.agu.org/press-release/scientists-find-massive-reserves-of-mercury-hidden-in-permafrost/

Media contacts

Kevin Schaefer
Research scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
kevin.schaefer@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-8869

Paul F. Schuster
Research hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Boulder, Colorado
pschuste@usgs.gov, +1 303-541-3052

Natasha Vizcarra
Media liaison, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Press Release
23 January 2018

Dust on snow controls springtime river rise in the West

Dust darkens the snowpack and enhances snowmelt in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Credit: Jeffrey S. Deems, NSIDCDust darkens the snowpack and enhances snowmelt in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Credit: Jeffrey S. Deems, NSIDC. High-resolution image

A new study has found that dust, not spring warmth, controls the pace of spring snowmelt that feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the amount of dust on the mountain snowpack controls how fast the Colorado Basin’s rivers rise in the spring regardless of air temperature, with more dust correlated with faster spring runoff and higher peak flows.

The finding is valuable for western water managers and advances our understanding of how freshwater resources, in the form of snow and ice, will respond to warming temperatures in the future. By improving knowledge of what controls the melting of snow, it improves understanding of the controls on how much solar heat Earth reflects back into space and how much it absorbs—an important factor in studies of weather and climate.

“The faster the snow melts and the rivers rise, the more nimble water managers need to be in making their allocations,” said Jeff Deems, a co-author of the new study and scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “A faster rise means less time and more uncertainty in making these critical decisions, increasing the risk of error.”

When snow gets covered by a layer of windblown dust or soot, the dark topcoat increases the amount of heat the snow absorbs from sunlight. Lead author Tom Painter of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been researching the consequences of dust on snowmelt worldwide. This is the first study to focus on which has a stronger influence on spring runoff: warmer air temperatures or a coating of dust on the snow.

See the NASA news release here.

Media contacts
Natasha Vizcarra and Agnieszka Gautier
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Press Release
11 December 2017

NASA Sensing Our Planet 2017 features 25 researchers from Canada, Chile, China, France, Norway, Thailand, United Kingdom, and USA

Click here to find Sensing Our Planet online. High-resolution image

Boulder, Colo.—The NASA Earth science data centers highlight the work of twenty-five researchers worldwide in this year’s Sensing Our Planet: NASA Earth Science Research Features. The collection of in-depth science stories reveals the surprising ways that scientists use satellite data to study our planet.

This year’s collection includes stories about scientists learning how the Olympic Mountain range shapes storms; researchers using soil moisture measurements to aid cattle ranching in drought-prone Texas; scientists mapping suitable environments of potential Zika virus outbreaks; researchers tracking algae blooms in the Mediterranean Sea to study deep ocean mixing; and two scientists who questioned whether newly-discovered brown fat—a fat cell more prominent in lean people and those living in colder climates—could unlock a method to fight obesity-related type 2 diabetes.

All twelve stories in Sensing Our Planet feature research using data from the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs). EOSDIS processes, archives, documents, and distributes data from NASA's past and current Earth observing satellites, airborne sensors, field measurements, and related Earth science to ensure that data will be easily accessible to users.

The print version of Sensing Our Planet 2017 is available to researchers, educators, and the public for free. It will be distributed at the NASA booth during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Louisiana. To receive a copy, please send a request to nsidc@nsidc.org. Classroom sets are also available. A PDF version may be downloaded here. Sensing Our Planet 2017 is also available in iBooks format. Download a free copy here.

Sensing Our Planet is written and produced at the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC on behalf of all twelve NASA DAACs and the NASA Earth Science Data and Information System Project (ESDIS).

Listed below are the twenty-five researchers featured in the collection, and the research institutions and their affiliations:

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Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Media Advisory
5 October 2017

Arctic sea ice at 7th lowest September

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2017 was 4.87 million square kilometers (1.88 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution imageArctic sea ice extent for September 2017 was 4.87 million square kilometers (1.88 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that month. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution image
After reaching the eighth lowest minimum on September 13, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 4.87 million square kilometers (1.88 million square miles) for the month of September, the seventh lowest September in the satellite record, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Read the full analysis of the 2017 melt season on NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

Media contact
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
19 September 2017

Arctic sea ice at minimum extent

Sea ice extent superimposed on globe
Arctic sea ice extent likely reached its annual minimum extent on September 13, 2017. Credit: NSIDC. High-resolution image.

Arctic sea ice extent has likely reached its minimum extent for the year, at 4.64 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles) on September 13, 2017, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The 2017 minimum is the eighth lowest in the 38-year satellite record. For more details and images, please see NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

 

Media contact
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org

Press Release
10 August 2017

Not all glaciers in Antarctica have been affected by climate change

This image of Antarctica's western Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf was captured by the Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor on the NASA SeaStar satellite. Credit: NASA. Download high-resolution image.
A new study by scientists at Portland State University and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder has found that the effects of climate change, which are apparent in other parts of the Antarctic continent, are not yet observed for glaciers in the western Ross Sea coast.

Published by the journal Geology, the study found that the pattern of glacier advance and retreat has not changed along the western Ross Sea coast, in contrast to the rapidly shrinking glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The western Ross Sea is a key region of Antarctica, home to a complex and diverse ocean ecosystem, and the location of several Antarctic research stations including the U.S. McMurdo Station, the largest on the continent.

The research team compiled historic maps and a variety of satellite images spanning the last half-century to examine glacier activity along more than 700 kilometers of coastline. The NASA-U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat series satellites were particularly useful, including the newest Landsat 8 instrument, launched in 2013.

The scientists examined 34 large glaciers for details of ice flow, extent, and calving events (formation of icebergs). Although each glacier showed advances and retreats, there was no overall pattern over time or with latitude.

The results suggest that changes in the drivers of glacier response to climate — air temperature, snowfall, and ocean temperatures —have been minimal over the past half century in this region.

The research is part of a National Science Foundation and U.S. Geological Survey study and was motivated by previous work documenting significant glacier retreat and ice shelf collapse along the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula. The region’s ongoing changes were highlighted recently with the cracking and separation of a large iceberg from the Larsen C Ice Shelf.

Earlier studies had documented little change in the western Ross coastline prior to 1995, and the new study confirmed both the earlier work and extended the analysis to the present time.

This work underscores the complexity of Antarctic climate change and glacier response.

Reference

Fountain, A. G., B. Glenn, and T. A. Scambos. 2017.The changing extent of the glaciers along the western Ross Sea, Antarctica. Geology, doi: 10.1130/G39240.1.

Media contacts

Kenny Ma
Portland State University
+1 503.725.8789, kenma@pdx.edu

National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org

Press Release
22 March 2017

Arctic sea ice maximum at record low for third straight year

Arctic sea ice maximum at record low for third straight year

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

BOULDER, Colo., March 22, 2017—Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the third straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

Globe with sea iceArctic sea ice reached 14.42 million square kilometers (5.57 million square miles) on 7 March 2017. Credit: NSIDC/NASA.

On March 7, sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean reached 14.42 million square kilometers (5.57 million square miles), then gradually began its decline with the start of the melt season. The sea ice maximum refers to the point at which sea ice is at its highest seasonal extent. The sea ice minimum will occur sometime in September.

The 2017 Arctic maximum is now the lowest in the 38-year satellite record, beating 2015’s maximum of 14.517 million square kilometers (5.605 million square miles) on February 25, and 2016’s maximum of 14.52 million square kilometers (5.606 million square miles).

NSIDC scientists said a very warm autumn and winter contributed to the record low maximum, with air temperatures 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Arctic Ocean. The overall warmth was punctuated by a series of extreme winter heat waves over the Arctic Ocean, continuing the pattern also seen in the winter of 2015.

NSIDC director Mark Serreze said, “I have been looking at Arctic weather patterns for 35 years and have never seen anything close to what we’ve experienced these past two winters.”

Data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite showed that this winter’s ice cover was slightly thinner compared to the past four years. Data from the University of Washington’s Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System also showed that the Arctic’s ice volume was unusually low for this time of the year.

“Thin ice and beset by warm weather—not a good way to begin the melt season,” said NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos.

NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve said, “Such thin ice going into the melt season sets us up for the possibility of record low sea ice conditions this September.” Stroeve is also professor of polar observation and modeling at the University College London. 

“While the Arctic maximum is not as important as the seasonal minimum, the long-term decline is a clear indicator of climate change,” said Walt Meier, a scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory and an affiliate scientist at NSIDC.

This animation shows the Arctic wintertime sea ice extent from January 2017 through the maximum on March 7, 2017. Credit: NASA.

This animation shows Arctic sea ice from minimum in September 2016 through the maximum in March 2017. Credit: NASA.

This animation shows Antarctic sea ice from maximum in September 2016 through the minimum in March 2017. Credit: NASA.

This animation shows Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent from 1979 through March 20, 2017. The black line is the 1981 to 2010 median, and the gray bands show 50% and 80% of the range of values  for the same period. Yearly extents are color-coded by decade: 1979 to 1989 (green), 1990s (blue-purple), 2000s (blue), and 2010s (pink). This animation is adapted from NSIDC’s Charctic interactive sea ice graph.

Arctic sea ice melts and regrows in an annual cycle, with freezing throughout the winter months and melting in the spring and summer. The ice cover generally reaches its maximum extent sometime in late February or March. After that, ice melts through the summer, hitting a low point or minimum extent, in early or mid-September.

The September Arctic minimum began drawing attention in 2005 when it first shrank to a record low extent over the period of satellite observations. It broke the record again in 2007, and then again in 2012. The Arctic maximum has typically received less attention. That changed in 2015 when the maximum extent also reached a record low.

In the Southern Hemisphere, sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year on March 3 at 2.11 million square kilometers (813,000 square miles). This year’s Antarctic minimum extent was the lowest in the satellite record. However, Antarctic ice extent is highly variable; two and a half years ago, extent was at the highest level in the satellite record.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

Read the NSIDC analysis of the Arctic maximum here.

Read NASA's release here.

Read the NOAA Climate.gov release here.

Media contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1 303.492.1497

Press Release
13 December 2016

Researchers, ski safety experts develop new tool that maps potential avalanches

A researcher prepares to use a laser scanning (lidar) unit to scan snow depth at the Arapahoe Ski Basin Ski area in Keystone, Colorado. Credit: J. Deems, NSIDC/CIRES/CU. Download hi-resolution image.

San Francisco, Calif.—In 2014, two Colorado avalanche control workers were whisked to the hospital after an avalauncher accident near the Continental Divide. They had been using the avalauncher, a compressed gas cannon, to shoot small charges into snowy slopes that posed a serious avalanche risk to motorists below. This is how it’s done in Colorado’s high country: Safety teams use explosives to loosen snow that might otherwise accumulate heavily and eventually slide in a deadly avalanche. That day in 2014, the charge exploded too early, in the barrel of the launcher.

The accident prompted a re-evaluation of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) avalanche control techniques, and resulted in the installation of a remotely deployed system called Gazex, which CDOT had recently started experimenting with. Now, transportation officials have brought in researchers who are applying a new, hi-tech tool that safely maps snow depth in steep terrain, making avalanche control safer and more efficient for safety teams.

Jeffrey Deems, a researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, and his colleagues have developed a new application for laser-scanning (lidar) systems that map snow depth at very high resolution, and have been testing it at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The researchers have been using the laser scanner system to craft detailed maps of the slopes in summer, without snow, and then comparing them to snow-covered slopes months later.

“Conventionally, avalanche experts go out into the terrain and, based on their expert knowledge, estimate where snow accumulates and where safety teams can most effectively deploy explosives,” Deems said. “But these decisions are made in a very uncertain, data-poor environment.”

Avalanche experts commonly make inferences on how much snow has accumulated based on a flat study plot that is not anywhere near the avalanche slope. “From the study plot the experts eyeball a terrain and say, usually when we get six inches here we’ll have twelve inches over there,” Deems said. “That’s not always the case. It’s just a rule of thumb based on experience. With this technology, we can actually show them how much snow has accumulated across the landscape.”

The researchers have been testing the technique at Arapahoe Basin where they help snow safety teams target their explosives placements. The snow depth change maps help the safety teams look for old and new snow accumulation patterns. The data also help the safety team refine their explosives targeting plans, and guide them when they need to decide whether to shoot explosives into certain areas.

“It helps the snow safety team reduce the avalanche danger by more precise targeting,” Deems said. “It also can reduce worker exposure to explosives and reduce costs related to avalanche control by supporting a decision not to use explosives on a given day.”

Deems and his colleagues have also been helping the team at Arapahoe Basin plan their mitigation infrastructure. A ski area expansion is requiring the installation of explosives delivery tram lines, cableways along which charges are placed above the avalanche starting zones and are detonated. In a novel application, the tram line locations are being planned and refined with the aid of the lidar-derived snow depth maps, allowing more efficient and effective tram network design.

Researchers use this laser-scanning (lidar) instrument to map snow depth at very high resolution. Credit: J. Deems, NSIDC/CIRES/CU. Download high-resolution image

“We found that the initial tramway layout was effective at targeting a few high-risk areas, but the lidar snow depth maps revealed other, less obvious accumulation spots, and supported a redesign of the planned tram line network,” Deems said.

The technique does not remove all the uncertainty, only some. “The safety teams are really interested in seeing the spatial variation in the snowpack directly rather than having to infer it,” Deems said. “The maps that we make are maps that avalanche professionals make in their minds, conventionally. Now we could show them this map and instead of spending their mental energy coming up with where they think the snow is, they can start to make decisions based on knowing where the snow is.”

Collaborating with the safety teams has also helped the researchers refine the technique and applications. Deems said, “It’s an important feedback for us, and also potentially a teaching tool for new employees to understand how snow accumulates and behaves on the terrain that they are responsible for.”

Further reading

Deems, J. S., P. J. Gadomski, D. Vellone, R. Evanczyk, A. L. LeWinter, K. W. Birkeland, and D. C. Finnegan. 2015. Mapping start zone snow depth with a ground-based lidar to assist avalanche control and forecasting. Cold Regions Science and Technology 120: 197-204, doi:10.1015/j.coldregions.2015.09.002.

Deems, J. S., T. H. Painter, D. C. Finnegan. 2013. Lidar measurement of snow depth: a review. J. Glaciol. 59, 467–479. doi:10.3189/2013JoG12J154

Media contacts

Jeffrey S. Deems
Researcher, National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
deems@nsidc.org

Kathleen Human (onsite December 12 to 16 at the AGU Fall Meeting)
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)
University of Colorado Boulder
kathleen.human@colorado.edu, +1 303-735-0196, 

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org. +1 303-492-1497

Press Release
12 December 2016

NASA/USGS satellite provides global view of the speed of ice

This image acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, shows a close-up of the terminus of Alaska's Hubbard Glacier on July 22, 2014. With a near-real-time view of how glaciers and ice sheets are moving, researchers can integrate information about atmosphere and ocean conditions to determine what causes these ice sheets to change – and what that means for how much ice is flowing into the ocean. That could help provide critical information to coastal communities that will be most impacted by rising oceans. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and Hubbard Glacier data provided by Marcy Davis of The University of Texas at Austin
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

San Francisco, Calif.—Glaciers and ice sheets move in unique and sometimes surprising patterns, as evidenced by a new capability that uses satellite images to map the speed of flowing ice in Greenland, Antarctica and mountain ranges around the world.

With imagery and data from Landsat 8, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists are providing a near-real-time view of every large glacier and ice sheet on Earth. The NASA-funded Global Land Ice Velocity Extraction project, called GoLIVE, is a collaboration between scientists from the University of Colorado, the University of Alaska, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It aims to better understand how ice flow is changing worldwide – and its impact on sea level.

"We are now able to map how the skin of ice is moving," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the Colorado lead for the GoLIVE project. He and his colleagues are releasing new results from the project at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco. "From now on, we’re going to be able to track all of the different types of changes in glaciers – there’s so much science to extract from the data."

With a near-real-time view of how glaciers and ice sheets are moving, researchers can integrate information about atmosphere and ocean conditions to determine what causes these ice sheets to change – and what that means for how much ice is flowing into the ocean. That could help provide critical information to coastal communities that will be most impacted by rising oceans.

“We can use the method to identify which areas to keep an eye on, or which events might lead to a rapid change,” Scambos said.

To map the ice, the GoLIVE team has written software that is able to follow the surface’s subtle features, like bumps or a dune-like pattern, as they flow toward the ocean. The Landsat 8 satellite collects images of Earth's entire surface every 16 days. By comparing images taken from the same location, but at different times, the researchers use their software to track the features and determine the speed.

Several new capabilities of Landsat 8 enable researchers to generate these global maps. The satellite can take 700 images a day – far more than its predecessors – which means it captures nearly every scene over land, every day, in all the sunlit parts of its orbit. Previous Landsat satellites often did not have the capacity to collect frequent data over remote sites like Antarctica. The imaging system on Landsat 8 is also far more sensitive than past Landsat sensors, allowing it to distinguish far more subtle differences in shading and surface texture. This, plus faster and more precise software, has revolutionized the extent to which ice flow speed can be mapped. These features will be continued in the Landsat 9 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2020.

In Alaska, for example, researchers can observe surging glaciers in almost real time, said scientist Mark Fahnestock of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Often glaciers in Alaska and the Yukon are so remote that speedup events can go unnoticed for months, until a pilot flying over the region reports disrupted ice, he said.

“By measuring ice flow all the time, we can identify a surge as it starts, providing an entirely new way to follow this phenomenon," he said. “We can also follow large seasonal swings in tidewater glaciers, as they respond to their environment.”

Scientists need to see all of this variability in order to identify trends that we need to worry about,” Fahnestock said. The speed of the glacier, combined with other information such as elevation change from NASA’s Operation IceBridge campaign and other sources, provide researchers in Alaska with a better sense of the entire picture of changing ice.

Twila Moon, a research scientist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, uses the global maps to expand the research she does on Greenland glaciers. With the new database, she can study the movements of more than 240 glaciers, which comprise nearly all of the outlets from the ice sheet. Several glaciers in northwest Greenland have had accelerated speed in the last few years, while she saw some glaciers in the southeast experience a large jump in speed, followed by a plateau.

With Landsat 8 making a pass every 16 days, she can also measure seasonal changes. Most glaciers go in cyclic patterns throughout the year, but even those vary. While most speed up in the warmer summer months, Moon has found several that slow down dramatically in the mid- to late-summer. The Heimdal Glacier in southeast Greenland, for example, can move more than 10 meters per day (33 feet per day) in early summer, then drop to less than 6 meters per day (20 feet per day) by August or September.

“We can group these glaciers by looking at the similarities in their behavior,” Moon said. “It’s providing an opportunity to get at the underlying drivers of why they change.”

With measurements of what the seasonal shifts do to glacier speed, scientists can extrapolate what will happen to those glaciers as global temperatures continue to climb, she said. With fast-moving glaciers ending in the ocean, these studies can help scientists estimate how much new ice and water enters the Arctic Ocean. That new water can have both global and local impacts, changing the local ecosystems, ocean flow patterns, and raising sea level.

“We’re approaching a point where we have enough detailed information at different locations that we can start to answer important questions about what makes glaciers tick,” Moon said.

Scientists are working with the new Landsat data to better understand how different environmental changes in the atmosphere and ocean impact flowing ice, said Alex Gardner, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Landsat 8 images, combined with earlier Landsat satellites reaching back to the 1980s, give researchers decades' worth of imagery to investigate these links.

“The question is, how sensitive are these ice sheets to changes in the atmosphere and the ocean?” Gardner said. “We could wait and see, or we could look to the past to help inform what is most likely to happen in the future.”

Gardner combines the detailed Antarctic ice cover seen by Landsat 8 with an earlier continental mapping of glacier flow based on radar data. By piecing the data together, he is working to understand decadal changes in ice flow for the entirety of the Antarctic Ice sheet.                                   

Tracking the changes in speed in Antarctica is key because of the sheer size of the ice sheet and its potential to contribute to future changes in sea level. Almost 2,000 cubic kilometers (480 cubic miles) of ice flows into the surrounding ocean each year.

“Seemingly small changes in ice speed on some of these very large glaciers can have a real impact,” Gardner said.

Gardner and his colleagues have also mapped the glaciers in Karakoram and other high mountain ranges in Asia. There, they find that glacier flow is highly erratic with some glaciers, and others remain relatively unchanged over decadal timescales.

“It’s incredible how these seemingly unchanging glacier systems come alive when we look at their changes through time – they’re much more dynamic than you’d think,” Gardner said.

For more information on Landsat, visit www.nasa.gov/landsat and landsat.usgs.gov.

Media contacts

Natasha Vizcarra
Media liaison, National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Ted Scambos
Senior researcher, National Snow and Ice Data Center
teds@nsidc.org, +1 720-891-8518

Press Release
13 December 2016

NASA Sensing Our Planet 2016 features 30 researchers from Australia, Italy, United Kingdom, USA, and Venezuela

Click here to find Sensing Our Planet online. High-resolution image
Boulder, Colo.—NASA’s Earth science data centers highlight the work of thirty researchers worldwide in this year’s Sensing Our Planet: NASA Earth Science Research Features. The collection of in-depth science stories reveals the surprising ways that scientists use satellite data to study our planet.

This year’s collection includes stories about scientists seeking nature-based solutions to protect New Yorkers from storms; researchers investigating the role that smoke plays in the formation of tornadoes; scientists tracing the environmental decline of the once Fertile Crescent; researchers trying to predict lighting in the most lightning-struck place on Earth, and young scientists accidentally discovering why some coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are plagued by disease and some aren’t.

All twelve stories in Sensing Our Planet feature research using data from NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs). EOSDIS processes, archives, documents, and distributes data from NASA's past and current Earth observing satellites, airborne sensors, field measurements, and related Earth science and ensure that data will be easily accessible to users.

The print version of Sensing Our Planet 2016 is available to researchers, educators, and the public for free. It will be distributed at the NASA booth during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California. To receive a copy, please send a request to nsidc@nsidc.org. Classroom sets are also available. A PDF version may be downloaded here. Sensing Our Planet 2016 is also available in iBooks format. Download a free copy here.

Sensing Our Planet is written and produced at the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC on behalf of all twelve NASA DAACs and NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information System Project (ESDIS).

Listed below are the thirty researchers featured in the collection, and the research institutions and their affiliations:

-end-

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-392-1497

Press Release
6 December 2016

Sea ice hits record lows

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Unusually high air temperatures and a warm ocean have led to a record low Arctic sea ice extent for November, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent also hit a record low for the month, caused by moderately warm temperatures and a rapid shift in circumpolar winds.

Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.51 million square miles) for November, 1.95 million square kilometers (753,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for the month. Although the rate of Arctic ice growth was slightly faster than average, total extent actually decreased for a brief period in the middle of the month. The decrease in extent measured 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) and was observed mostly in the Barents Sea, an area of the Arctic Ocean north of Norway, Finland, and Eastern Russia. NSIDC scientists said the decrease in extent is almost unprecedented for November in the satellite record; a less pronounced and brief retreat of 14,000 square kilometers (5,400 square miles) happened in 2013.

Graph of Arctic sea ice extents
The graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of December 5, 2016, along with daily ice extent data for four previous years. 2016 is shown in blue, 2015 in green, 2014 in orange, 2013 in brown, and 2012 in purple. The 1981 to 2010 average is in dark gray. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data. High-resolution image. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

November 2016 is now the seventh month this year to have hit a record low extent in the 38-year satellite monitoring period. The November extent was 3.2 standard deviations below the long-term average, a larger departure than observed in September 2012 when the Arctic summer minimum extent hit a record low.

Arctic sea ice is still in the early stages of winter freeze-up and is expected to continue expanding until it hits its maximum extent around March next year.

NSIDC scientists said unusually high temperatures over the Arctic Ocean, persistent winds from the south, and a warm ocean worked together to drive the record low Arctic extent. Extending from northeast of Greenland towards Svalbard and Severnaya Zemlya, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 2,500 feet above sea level) were up to 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1981 to 2010 long-term average for the month. Sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Kara Seas remained unusually high, up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average around Novaya Zemlya and Svalbard, preventing ice formation. These high temperatures reflected a pattern of winds from the south, which also helped to push the ice northward and reduce the ice extent.

NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve was in Svalbard during November and noted the lack of sea ice. “Typically sea ice begins to form in the fjords at the beginning of November, but this year there was no ice to be found,” she said.

“It looks like a triple whammy—a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

In the Southern Hemisphere, sea ice surrounding the continent of Antarctica declined very quickly early in the month, and remained far below the range of past November daily extents. The average extent for the month of November was 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles), 1.81 million square kilometers (699,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. This was more than twice the previous record departure from average set in November 1986 and was 5.7 standard deviations below the long-term average.

Broken ice floes in the Weddell Sea
This photograph from NASA Operation IceBridge shows broken floes of sea ice floating in the Weddell Sea. A large area of open water can be seen on the horizon. Credit: J. Beitler/National Snow and Ice Data Center.

NSIDC scientists said that higher than average air temperatures and a rapid shift in Antarctic circumpolar winds appears to have caused the rapid decline in Antarctic sea ice.

Air temperatures 2 to 4 degrees Celsius, or 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average and an earlier pattern of strong westerly winds worked to create a more dispersed sea ice pack in the Antarctic. A rapid shift to a more varied wind structure, with three major areas of winds from the north, rapidly compressed low-concentration sea ice around Wilkes Land, Dronning Maud Land, Enderby Land, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Moreover, several very large polynyas (areas of open water within the pack) have opened in the eastern Weddell and along the Amundsen Sea and Ross Sea coasts.

NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos said, “Antarctic sea ice really went down the rabbit hole this time. There are a few things we can say about what happened, but we need to look deeper.”

NASA scientist and NSIDC affiliate scientist Walt Meier said, “The Arctic has typically been where the most interest lies, but this month, the Antarctic has flipped the script and it is southern sea ice that is surprising us.”

See the full analysis and relevant graphs and images in the NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis page.

See the NASA Earth Observatory feature.

See the Climate.gov feature.

Media contact
Natasha Vizcarra
Media Liaison, National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Press Release
3 November 2016

U.S. and German researchers calculate individual contribution to climate change

This photo is a mosaic image of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, created by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the NASA IceBridge P-3B. The dark area in the middle of the image is open water seen through a lead, or opening, in the ice. Light blue areas are thick sea ice and dark blue areas are thinner ice formed as water in the lead refreezes. Leads are formed when cracks develop in sea ice as it moves in response to wind and ocean currents.This photo is a mosaic image of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, created by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the NASA IceBridge P-3B. The dark area in the middle of the image is open water seen through a lead, or opening, in the ice. Light blue areas are thick sea ice and dark blue areas are thinner ice formed as water in the lead refreezes. Leads are formed when cracks develop in sea ice as it moves in response to wind and ocean currents. Credit: NASA/DMS

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

How much can a single person affect Earth’s changing climate? According to researchers in the United States and Germany, 3 square meters of summer sea ice disappear in the Arctic for every metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) that a person directly or indirectly produces.

How can one person produce 1 metric ton of CO2? That’s about a roundtrip flight from New York to Europe per passenger. Or, a 4,000-kilometer car ride.

Researchers Dirk Notz and Julienne Stroeve hope the findings offer the public a better grasp of their individual contribution to global climate change. The study also explains why climate models usually simulate a lower sensitivity to CO2 emissions and therefore underestimate how quickly the Arctic is transforming to a seasonally ice-free Arctic. Notz is a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. Julienne Stroeve is a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, as well as a professor of polar observation and modeling at the University College London in the United Kingdom.

The paper, titled “Observed Arctic sea-ice loss directly follows anthropogenic CO2 emission,” was published online today by the journal Science.

The findings come more than a month after sea ice in the Arctic reached an annual minimum extent of 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles), a statistical tie with 2007 as the second lowest minimum in the satellite record.

The rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is one of the most direct indicators of ongoing climate change on our planet. Over the past forty years, the Arctic’s summer ice cover has shrunk by more than half. Climate model simulations predict that the remaining half might be gone by mid-century unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced rapidly.

However, a number of studies have found that climate models underestimate the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is why the models might not be the most suitable tools to quantify the future evolution of the ice cover.

To address this issue, Notz and Stroeve derived the future evolution of Arctic summer sea ice directly from the observational record, namely 1953 to 1978 data from the U.K. Met Office’s Hadley Centre Sea Ice and Sea Surface Temperature data set and 1979 to 2015 data from the NSIDC Sea Ice Index. The researchers examined the link between CO2 emissions and the area of Arctic summer sea ice, and found that both are linearly related.

“The observed numbers are very simple,” Notz said. “For each ton of carbon dioxide that a person emits anywhere on this planet, 3 square meters of Arctic summer sea ice disappear.”

“So far, climate change has often felt like a rather abstract notion,” Stroeve said. “Our results allow us to overcome this perception. For example, it is now straightforward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissions for each seat on a return flight from, say, London to New York cause about 3 square meters of Arctic sea ice to disappear.”

The study also explains the linear relationship between CO2 emissions and sea ice loss. “Put simply, for each ton of carbon dioxide emission, the climate warms a little bit. To compensate for this warming, the sea ice edge moves northward to a region with less incoming solar radiation. This then causes the sea ice area to shrink. Simple geometric reasons cause these processes to combine to the observed linearity,” Notz said.

Climate models also simulate the observed linear relationship between sea ice area and CO2 emissions. However, ice cover in climate models have a much lower sensitivity than has been observed. The Science study finds that this is most likely because the models underestimate the atmospheric warming in the Arctic that is induced by a given CO2 emission.

“It seems that it’s not primarily the sea ice models that are responsible for the mismatch. The ice just melts too slow in the models because their Arctic warming is too weak,” says Stroeve.

Regarding the future evolution of Arctic sea ice, the new study finds that the international target of 2 degrees Celsius of global warming is not sufficient to allow Arctic summer sea ice to survive. To stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the world can emit no more than 1,000 gigatons of additional carbon by 2100. However, given the observed sensitivity of the Arctic ice cover, an additional 1,000 gigatons of CO2 will likely result in ice-free Septembers in the Arctic.

The study concludes that Arctic summer sea ice has a realistic chance of long-term survival only in a scenario of lower emissions, such as a global warming target of below 1.5 degrees Celsius as called for by the Paris Agreement.

Download the paper here.

Media contacts

Natasha Vizcarra
Media Liaison, National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Julienne Stroeve
Senior Researcher, National Snow and Ice Data Center
Professor, University College London
stroeve@nsidc.org, +1 303-478-8200

Dirk Notz
Senior Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
dirk.notz@mpimet.mpg.de, +49 170-520-42-89

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Press Release
5 October 2016

Arctic sea ice settles at 2nd lowest minimum and 5th lowest September

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2016 was 4.72 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2016 was 4.72 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. Credit: NSIDC. High-resolution image
 

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

BOULDER, Colo.—At the end of its melt season Arctic sea ice extent stood at second lowest in the daily average and fifth lowest in the monthly average, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sea ice extent retreated to 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles) on September 10, then grew rapidly. At the end of the month, sea ice extent averaged 4.72 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles).

This year’s minimum extent statistically tied with the 2007 minimum, when Arctic sea ice extent was measured at 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles) on September 18.

After the 2016 minimum was reached, ice extent increased rapidly, resulting in this year’s September monthly average being the fifth lowest in the satellite record. Through 2016, monthly average September Arctic sea ice extent has declined at a rate of 13.3 percent per decade. The ten lowest September ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred in the last ten years.

The winter of 2015/2016 was extremely warm over the Arctic Ocean, setting the stage for a possible record low September minimum. However, cool, stormy weather prevailed over the Arctic Ocean from June to August.

Despite the generally unfavorable weather conditions, on 10 September, Arctic sea ice extent reached a seasonal minimum of 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles).

“The 2016 melt season started with a lot of fairly thin ice,” noted NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve. “This may help to explain why, despite summer weather unfavorable to sea ice loss, extent at the seasonal minimum ended up tied for second lowest.”

The cause for the rapid rate of ice growth after the seasonal minimum remains to be fully assessed, but according to NSIDC director Mark Serreze, “The evidence suggests that once the minimum was reached, there wasn’t much heat left on the topmost layer of the ocean, so it only took a little bit of cooling for ice to form.”

Arctic sea ice cover grows each autumn and winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks through spring and summer. Each year, Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. The downward trend in the extent of summer sea ice influences how much sunlight is reflected versus absorbed, which in turn affects climate. The loss of summer ice is affecting Arctic ecosystems and is making the region more accessible to shipping and other activities.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent reached 18.44 million square kilometers (7.12 million square miles) on August 31, 2016. This appears to be its maximum extent for the year. This is the earliest maximum in the satellite record since 1979, and the first time the maximum has occurred in August. This is 240,000 square kilometers (93,000 square miles) greater than the average extent for this date of 18.20 million square kilometers (7.03 million square miles). Despite recent years with record maximum extents in the Antarctic, this year is the tenth lowest Antarctic maximum extent on the satellite record.

NSIDC scientists said an intense wind pattern that spanned nearly half of the continent from the Wilkes Land area to the Weddell Sea in September contributed to the early Antarctic maximum. Stronger than average low pressure in this area, coupled with high pressure near the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic, and near the southern tip of New Zealand in the Pacific Ocean, created two regions of higher northwesterly winds.

See the full analysis on NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1 303 492 1497

Press Release
20 September 2016

NSIDC researchers tackle complexities of sharing Indigenous Knowledge in the digital age

The Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA) is located at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A newly published book chapter discusses the role of technology in sharing and preserving Indigenous Knowledge for future generations. In “Sharing and Preserving Indigenous Knowledge of the Arctic Using Information and Communications Technology,” researchers Heidi McCann and Peter Pulsifer from the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)), and Carolina Behe from the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska analyze how digital technologies afford and impact the preservation of documented Indigenous Knowledge (IK) while maintaining cultural significance and intellectual property rights.

Yup'ik youth makes audio recordingIn Kwigillingok, Alaska, Corey Joseph, a Yup’ik youth and Calista Education and Culture intern, makes a Yup’ik language audio recording for the Yup’ik Environmental Knowledge Project. Photo Credit: Eric Tunuchuk

For millennia, Indigenous community Elders in Alaska have passed down knowledge to their youth in private and with consent. Tangible knowledge—woven baskets, clothing, and tools—and intangible knowledge like oral histories in stories and songs can now be found in libraries, archives, and museums. However, institutions and collectors have not always respected communities’ intellectual property rights, resulting in discord and a growing movement toward Indigenous information sovereignty.

The digital age offers new methods of maintaining control while sharing and passing IK, but there are challenges. Oral histories are particularly vulnerable to misrepresentation. Stories can take on significance based on when and where they are told, and transforming spoken word into written form may take these stories out of context. So documenting IK in digital form presents risks—misuse of knowledge, knowledge appropriation, and misrepresentation. The more dynamic the medium the more it can provide a comparable, rich context of knowledge and how community members live and have lived over time.

Though Western society and Indigenous Peoples have had a tumultuous history, Arctic research under a changing climate has opened doors for reconciliation. This newly published chapter in the book Indigenous Notions of Ownership and Libraries, Archives and Museums discusses possibilities for more securely transferring documented IK in the modern era. The book is available in archive and library centers and data centers, and can be purchased through the publisher, De Gruyter.

book coverThis image shows the Indigenous Notions of Ownership and Libraries, Archives and Museums book cover from the International Federation of Library Associations. Credit: Heidi McCann

MEDIA CONTACT

Agnieszka Gautier
Science Communications
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-1497

Heidi McCann
Knowledge Exchange Coordinator
Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic
National Snow and Ice Data Center
heidi.mccann@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-6069

Carolina Behe
Indigenous Knowledge/Science Advisor
Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska
carolina@iccalaska.org, +1 907-274-9058

Press Release
15 September 2016

2016 ties with 2007 for second lowest Arctic sea ice minimum

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Arctic sea ice concentrationThis image shows a view of the Arctic on September 10, 2016 when sea ice extent was at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data. Credit—NSIDC/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution image

BOULDER, Colo.—The Arctic’s ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent on September 10, 2016, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Arctic sea ice extent on that day stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles), statistically tied at second lowest in the satellite record with the 2007 minimum. The 2007 minimum occurred on September 18 of that year, when Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.15 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles).

“It was a stormy, cloudy, and fairly cool summer,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “Historically, such weather conditions slow down the summer ice loss, but we still got down to essentially a tie for second lowest in the satellite record.”

“It really suggests that in the next few years, with more typical warmer conditions, we will see some very dramatic further losses,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

Arctic sea ice cover grows each autumn and winter, and shrinks each spring and  summer. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. The record lowest extent in the 37-year satellite record occurred on September 17, 2012 when sea ice extent fell to 3.39 million square kilometers (1.31 million square miles).

During the first ten days of September this year, the Arctic lost ice at a faster than average rate.  On average, the Arctic lost 34,100 square kilometers (13,200 square miles) per day compared to the 1981 to 2010 long-term average of 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) per day. The early September rate of decline also greatly exceeded the rate observed for the same period during  the record low year of 2012 (19,000 square kilometers, or 7,340 square miles, per day). By September, the air is cooling and there is little surface melt. This argues that that the fairly rapid early September ice loss was due to extra heat in the upper ocean. Recent ice loss was most pronounced in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska. NSIDC scientists said ice may also relate to the impact of two strong storms that passed through the region during August.

“This has been an exciting year with several record low extents reached during winter and early summer but thanks to a colder than average summer, more ice remained than at the end of 2012,” said Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC senior scientist. NSIDC scientists said there was a lot of thin ice at the beginning of the melt season, because thinner ice does not take as much energy to melt away, this may have also contributed to this year’s low minimum extent.

Please note that the Arctic sea ice extent number for 2016 is preliminary—changing winds could still push the ice extent lower. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

See the full analysis at NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

See the NASA press release.

See the Climate.gov post.

Sea ice extent animation
This animation shows Arctic sea ice extent from 1979 through September 13, 2016. The black line is the 1981 to 2010 average, and the gray band around it shows ± 2 standard deviations for the same period. Yearly extents are color-coded by decade: 1979 to 1989 (green), 1990s (blue-purple), 2000s (blue), and 2010s (pink). This animation is adapted from NSIDC’s Charctic interactive sea ice graph.

Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1 303 492 1497

Press Release
28 March 2016

The Arctic sets yet another record low maximum extent

This photograph from a March 27, 2015 NASA IceBridge flight shows a mixture of deformed, snow-covered, first-year sea ice floes, interspersed by open-water leads, brash ice and thin, snow-free nilas and young sea ice over the East Beaufort Sea. Nilas are thin sheets of smooth, level ice less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) thick and appear darkest when thin. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge. High-resolution imageThis photograph from a March 27, 2015 NASA IceBridge flight shows a mixture of deformed, snow-covered, first-year sea ice floes, interspersed by open-water leads, brash ice and thin, snow-free nilas and young sea ice over the East Beaufort Sea. Nilas are thin sheets of smooth, level ice less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) thick and appear darkest when thin. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge. High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

BOULDER, Colo, March 28, 2016—Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The heat was relentless.” Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean for the months of December, January and February were 2 to 6 degrees Celsius (4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in nearly every region.

Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles) on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Unlike last year, the peak was later than average in the 37-year satellite record, setting up a shorter than average ice melt season for the coming spring and summer.

According to NSIDC, sea ice extent was below average throughout the Arctic, except in the Labrador Sea, Baffin Bay, and Hudson Bay. It was especially low in the Barents Sea. As noted by Ingrid Onarheim at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway: “A decrease in Barents Sea ice extent for this winter was predicted from the influence of warm Atlantic waters from the Norwegian Sea.”

Scientists are watching extent in this area because it will help them understand how a slower Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) may affect Arctic sea ice. “Some studies suggest that decreased heat flux of warm Atlantic waters could lead to a recovery of all Arctic sea ice in the near future,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Julienne Stroeve. “I think it will have more of a winter impact and could lead to a temporary recovery of winter ice extent in the Barents and Kara seas.”

This year’s maximum extent is 1.12 million square kilometers (431,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles) and 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) below the previous lowest maximum that occurred last year.

This late winter, ice extent growth in the Arctic has been sluggish. “Other than a brief spurt in late February, extent growth has been slow for the past six weeks,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Meier is an affiliate scientist at NSIDC and is part of NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis team.

Ice extent increases through autumn and winter, and the maximum typically occurs in mid March. Sea ice then retreats through spring and summer and shrinks to its smallest or minimum extent typically by mid September.

The September Arctic minimum began drawing attention in 2005 when it first shrank to a record low extent over the period of satellite observations. It broke the record again in 2007, and then again in 2012. The March Arctic maximum has typically received less attention. That changed last year when the maximum extent was the lowest in the satellite record.

“The Arctic is in crisis. Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

To read the current analysis from NSIDC scientists, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis.
For more about Arctic sea ice, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice 101.
See the NASA release here.
View the NASA animation here.

Download high-resolution images

This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016This NASA Blue Marble image shows Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016, which averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles) on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution image
Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016, averaged 14.52 million square kilometers Arctic sea ice extent on March 24, 2016, averaged 14.52 million square kilometers (5.607 million square miles), beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers (5.612 million square miles) on February 25. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center. High-resolution image

The bottom part of this image shows a thin layer of ice bordering snow-covered, thick and ridged sea ice in the East Beaufort Sea. The rest of the image shows a lead that is mostly covered by large plates of dark nilas. Leads are narrow, linear cracks in the ice that form when ice floes diverge or her as they move parallel to each other. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge. High-resolution imageThe bottom part of this image shows a thin layer of ice bordering snow-covered, thick and ridged sea ice in the East Beaufort Sea. The rest of the image shows a lead that is mostly covered by large plates of dark nilas. Leads are narrow, linear cracks in the ice that form when ice floes diverge or her as they move parallel to each other. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge. High-resolution image
A thin cover of nilas, consisting of many ice floes that have finger-rafted together along the floe edges floats over the East Beaufort Sea. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice BridgeA thin cover of nilas, consisting of many ice floes that have finger-rafted together along the floe edges floats over the East Beaufort Sea. Credit: NASA/Operation Ice Bridge. High-resolution image


Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
14 March 2016

Warming ocean water undercuts Antarctic ice shelves

This is a joint release of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the University of Colorado Boulder and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Upside-down rivers” of warm ocean water threaten the stability of floating ice shelves in Antarctica, according to a new study led by researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center published today in Nature Geoscience. The study highlights how parts of Antarctica’s ice sheet may be weakening due to contact with warm ocean water.

“We found that warm ocean water is carving these ‘upside-down rivers,’ or basal channels, into the undersides of ice shelves all around the Antarctic continent. In at least some cases these channels weaken the ice shelves, making them more vulnerable to disintegration,” said Karen Alley, a graduate research assistant at NSIDC and lead author of the study. Alley is also a Ph.D. student in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences.

Ice shelves are thick floating plates of ice that have flowed off the Antarctic continent and spread out onto the ocean. As ice shelves flow out to sea, they push against islands, peninsulas, and bedrock bumps known as “pinning points.” Contact with these features slows the flow of grounded ice off the continent. While ice shelves take thousands of years to grow, previous work has shown that they can disintegrate in a matter of weeks. If more ice shelves disintegrate in the future, loss of contact with pinning points will allow ice to flow more rapidly into the ocean, increasing the rate of sea level rise. 

“Ice shelves are really vulnerable parts of the ice sheet, because climate change hits them from above and below,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist and study co-author. “They are really important in braking the ice flow to the ocean.”

The features form as buoyant plumes of warm and fresh water rise and flow along the underside of an ice shelf, carving channels much like upside-down rivers. The channels can be tens of miles long, and up to 800 feet “deep.”

When a channel is carved into the base of an ice shelf, the top of the ice shelf sags, leaving a visible depression in the relatively smooth ice surface. Alley and her colleagues mapped the locations of these depressions all around the Antarctic continent using satellite imagery, as well as radar data that images the channels through the ice, mapping the shape of the ice-ocean boundary.

The team also used satellite laser altimetry, which measures the height of an ice shelf surface with high accuracy, to document how quickly some of the channels were growing. The data show that growing channels on the rapidly melting Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica can bore into the ice shelf base at rates of approximately 10 meters (33 feet) each year.

The mapping shows that basal channels have a tendency to form along the edges of islands and peninsulas, which are already weak areas on ice shelves. The team observed two locations where ice shelves are fracturing along basal channels, clear evidence that basal channel presence can weaken ice shelves to the point of breaking in vulnerable areas.

While no ice shelves have completely disintegrated due to carving by basal channels, the study points to the need for more observation and study of these features, said co-author Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. “It's feasible that as ocean temperatures around Antarctica continue to rise, melting in basal channels could contribute to increased erosion of ice shelves from below."

The study, “Impacts of warm water on Antarctic ice shelf stability through basal channel formation,” was led by University of Colorado Boulder Ph.D. student Karen Alley, who worked with coauthors Ted Scambos of NSIDC and Matthew Siegfried and Helen Amanda Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Their work was funded in part by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Contacts

Jane Beitler,Communications, National Snow and Ice Data Center, press@nsidc.org, +1-303-492-1497
Brittany Hook, Communications Coordinator, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, scrippsnews@ucsd.edu, 858-534-3624

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Media Advisory
16 February 2016

NSIDC researchers to test new Antarctic weather station on frozen Colorado lake

NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos and a colleague install a first generation Automated Meteorology-Ice-Geophysics Observing System-I (AMIGOS-I) at Cape Disappointment on the Antarctic Peninsula on November 2011. NSIDC researchers will be testing version 2 of the system (AMIGOS-II) on the frozen surface of Grand Lake, Colorado.

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

Researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will test a new type of weather and water measurement station on a frozen lake in Colorado. The multi-sensor station is designed to measure weather, snow conditions, water currents, and temperatures where Antarctica’s ice shelves meet the Southern Ocean.

The multi-sensor station is a prototype that is being proposed for installation in several Antarctic regions where changing ocean circulation has brought above-freezing water in contact with the coastline of the Antarctic ice sheet. This leads to rapid melting and faster glacier ice flow off the continent, potentially raising sea level by several inches in this century.

A network of these stations would allow scientists to better understand how ocean currents and wind shifts in the far southern continent are affecting the ice sheet, and would support better predictions of how fast the ice will melt.

The researchers will be testing the station February 21 to 26 on Grand Lake, about two hours northwest of Denver. They will set up the station on the ice and will lower a wire line with ocean instrumentation through a hole in the ice to about 160 feet.

The multi-sensor station is called the Automated Meteorology-Ice-Geophysics Observing System-II or AMIGOS-II. Sensors for air temperature, wind speed, barometric pressure, snow temperature, water temperature, water salinity, and water flow are attached to a 20-foot aluminum tower. An onboard GPS measures any movement of the station on the ice. The station includes a camera to report sky conditions, snowfall events, and storms. Data from the station are sent to NSIDC using a satellite phone system.

The principal investigator for the effort is NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos. The team will be led by Rob Bauer, associate scientist at NSIDC. The team includes NSIDC associate scientist Marin Klinger; Tim White, an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder; Ronald Ross, at Polar66 Engineering, who designed the AMIGOS-II system; and Jennifer Bohlander, a researcher at Polar Science Consultants. The researchers will be assisted by Jim White, town manager at Grand Lake; Jim Gasner, a local fishing guide; and Christopher Brown and Dan Matthews of the U.S. Forest Service.

Media contacts

Marin Klinger
+1 (503) 758-6872
marin.klinger@nsidc.org

Rob Bauer
+1 (303) 492-2378
bauer@nsidc.org

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Press Release
5 January 2016

CU-Boulder Libraries, NSIDC win grant to digitize historical Glacier Photograph Collection

Crevasse in dissipator of Stockje Glacier. Aug. 11, 1894. Photographed by Harry F. Reid. Image Credit: Courtesy NSIDC Glacier Photograph Collection NSIDC Glacier Photograph CollectionAn explorer nears a crevasse on Stockje Glacier in the Pennine Alps, Europe in 1894. Credit: Photograph by Harry Fielding Reid. 1894. Stockje Glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The University of Colorado Boulder Libraries and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) are pleased to announce they have been awarded a $148,586 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to digitize NSIDC's glacier photograph collection. The project could uncover new scientific discoveries related to climate change.

NSIDC manages, archives and disseminates cryospheric and polar data that are in digital form. However, NSIDC also curates a collection of historical archival materials that recorded Earth's glaciated regions prior to modern data gathering methods. The award for the project, set to begin in March 2016, will allow for a dedicated archivist and graduate assistants to digitize, describe, and publish approximately 9,000 images dating back to the 1850s.

The project will complete the digitization of the archive's entire print glacier photograph collection. The images will be available in the University of Colorado Digital Library and NSIDC’s Glacier Photograph Collection.

"I’m excited to work with our partners at NSIDC on this project," said University Libraries associate professor and director for sciences Jack Maness. “Analog items such as these are extremely important to framing our understanding of the earth and how climate change has impacted it over the last two centuries. Providing unfettered access to these images, and ensuring their long term preservation so future generations may also access them, will be a valuable contribution to science and public discourse."

The grant is one of 18 awarded from CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives national competition, which is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Principal Investigators from CU-Boulder include Maness, assistant professor and metadata librarian Michael Dulock, and assistant professor and digital archivist Walker Sampson. Other contributors include:

  • Florence Fetterer, sea-ice and data rescue expert at NOAA/NSIDC
  • Gloria Hicks, librarian at the Roger G. Barry Archives and Research Center (ARC) at NSIDC
  • Ruth Duerr, former data scientist/systems engineer at NSIDC, now at the Ronin Institute, and adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign
  • Allaina Wallace, former archivist at NSIDC and head librarian at the Denver Botanic Gardens
  • Katie Lage, associate professor and map librarian, and head of the Earth Sciences & Map Library at CU-Boulder

Media Contacts

Jack Maness
CU-Boulder Libraries
jack.maness@colorado.edu, +1.303.492.4545

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1.303.492.1497

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Press Release
6 October 2015

Arctic sea ice extent settles at fourth lowest in the satellite record

September 2015 extent mapArctic sea ice extent for September 2015 was 4.63 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center. High-resolution image
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

At the end of its melt season, the Arctic’s ice cover fell to the fourth lowest extent in the satellite record, both in the daily and monthly average, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Sea ice extent hit 4.41 million square kilometers (1.70 million square miles) on September 11 and averaged 4.63 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles) for the month of September.

This year edged out 2008 as the fourth lowest extent since satellites started regularly monitoring sea ice in 1979. The lowest Arctic extent on record occurred in 2012, when sea ice measured 3.62 million square kilometers (1.40 million square miles).

Through 2015, Arctic sea ice has now been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. The nine lowest September ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred in the last nine years.

“What we have seen this summer reinforces our conclusions that Arctic sea ice extent is in a long-term decline and that we are headed for a seasonally ice-free ocean,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

Arctic sea ice cover grows each autumn and winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks through spring and summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. The downward trend in the extent of summer sea ice is important because it influences how much sunlight is reflected, which in turn affects climate. The loss of summer ice is affecting Arctic ecosystems and is making the region more accessible to shipping and other activities.  

The summer melt season began earlier than average. The maximum winter extent, reached on February 25, 2015 at 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles), was also the lowest recorded over the period of satellite observations. Between the seasonal maximum extent in February and the minimum in September, the Arctic Ocean lost a total of 10.13 million square kilometers (3.91 million square miles) of ice—the seventh largest total melt season ice loss in the satellite record. This year’s loss was 1.78 million square kilometers (687,000 square miles) less than the total loss that occurred in 2012, the record low year.

“Every year since 2007 has seen more than 10 million square kilometers of seasonal ice melt, reflecting both a transition towards thinner winter ice that melts out more easily in summer as well as changes in the Arctic climate that foster more ice melt each year,” said NSIDC senior scientist Julienne Stroeve.

In addition to an earlier and record-low maximum, early ice retreat and a fast July and August rate of ice loss contributed to this year’s low minimum extent. Strong winds from the eastern Beaufort Sea contributed to earlier than average melt onset and led to the early development of open water in the Beaufort Sea and along the coast of Canada. The pace of seasonal ice loss also picked up rapidly in July, with Arctic-wide temperatures reaching the second highest during the satellite record (with 2007 ranked as the highest). By the end of July, the fast pace of ice loss during the month resulted in the 2015 extent falling within 550,000 square kilometers (212,000 square miles) of the 2012 record low extent, and tracked below the levels recorded for 2013 and 2014. However, temperatures for August were not particularly warm, and extent ended up fourth lowest.

“Another characteristic of this summer was further loss of the thicker multiyear portion of the ice pack. In the past, most of this multiyear ice was too thick and compact to melt completely, but now it’s more vulnerable,” said Walt Meier, research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Meier is an affiliate scientist at NSIDC and is part of the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis team.

“Ten years ago this would have been an astonishing summer of ice melt,” said Ted Scambos, NSIDC’s lead scientist. “Now it is just another season in a decade of low years.”

See the full announcement at NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
12 October 2015

Powerful winds ablate Antarctica’s snow surface in a previously unrecognized way

Recovery Ice StreamThis grayscale image of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet shows the Recovery Ice Stream flowing out of the Shackleton Range Mountains and merging into Filchner Ice Shelf. The image is from the Mosaic of Antarctica, a map of digital images of the continent based on observations collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Credit—NSIDC, NASA MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica. High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Powerful winds are vaporizing and removing massive amounts of snow from Antarctica, according to a new study published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The finding could shift estimates of how much the ice-covered continent is contributing to sea level rise.

Scientists have thought that most of the snow scoured from Antarctica’s surface was simply redeposited elsewhere. However, researchers from the United States and the Netherlands found that winds vaporize (sublimate) or remove (ablate) 90 percent of the snow in the continent’s wind-scour zones, an estimated 80 billion tons per year.

Wind-scour zones cover roughly 7 percent of the remote continent. These occur where East Antarctica’s katabatic winds—caused by dense, cold air sinking and flowing off the continent—have persistently ablated the ice surface, in some cases for centuries.

The study investigates the Recovery Ice Stream in East Antarctica where the powerful winds have removed as much as 18 meters (more than 50 feet) of snow—equal to 200 years of snow accumulation. The ablation and sublimation carved out pockets that are eroding the surface as fast as the ice flows into the area, preserving the surface shape but removing a lot of snow. Recovery Ice Stream is one of thousands of similar wind-scour zones identified by satellite data.

Indrani Das of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University led the study. Ted Scambos, lead scientist at NSIDC, and Michiel van den Broeke of the University of Utrecht are coauthors in this study and collaborated on earlier studies leading to the GRL result.

Das estimates that because of the sublimation, climate models have been overestimating surface mass by more than 80 billion tons per year. “This impacts the surface snow accumulation estimates of most major glaciers and ice streams of East Antarctica,” Das said.

“What we’re seeing is that East Antarctica—already among the driest regions on Earth—is a bit drier than we thought,” Scambos said. “It’s more likely that it is losing ice, and adding to sea level.”

In most of Antarctica, climate models miss snow loss in the scour zones because they occur on a relatively small spatial scale. Climate modelers involved in the study are now planning to increase their model’s resolution to 5.5 kilometer (3.42 miles), about five times sharper than previous models. They are also incorporating many parameters of blowing and sublimating snow and the physics of katabatic winds. They expect the next model update in 2016.

Das, Scambos, and Van den Broeke worked with coauthors Lora Koenig of NSIDC and Jan Lenaerts of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University, Netherlands.

Reference

Das, I., T. A. Scambos, L. S. Koenig, M. R. van den Broeke, and J. T. M. Lenaerts (2015), Extreme wind-ice interaction over Recovery Ice Stream, East Antarctica, Geophys. Res. Lett. , 42, doi:10.1002/2015GL065544.

Dowload a PDF copy of the study here.

Media Contacts

Natasha Vizcarra & Agnieszka Gautier
National Snow and Ice Data Center
press@nsidc.org, +1.303-492-1497

Kevin Krajick
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
kkrajick@ldeo.columbia.edu, +1.212.854.9729

-end-

Press Release
21 September 2015

New study: Emissions from thawing permafrost add trillions in economic impacts

The village of Qannaaq, Greenland, in the Arctic, is built on permafrost. —Credit: Andy Mahoney/NSIDC
High-resolution image
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing Arctic permafrost could result in an additional $43 trillion in economic impacts by the end of the twenty-second century, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). These extra impacts justify the need for urgent action to reduce emissions from thawing permafrost. The study was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Permafrost or frozen ground, which contain about 1,700 gigatons of carbon in the form of frozen organic matter, have begun to thaw in response to Arctic warming over the past few decades. As the permafrost degrades, carbon dioxide and methane are released, amplifying the effects of emissions from human activity.

Researchers Chris Hope of the University of Cambridge and Kevin Schaefer of NSIDC modeled the range of possible global economic impacts of permafrost emissions under various Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios.

“We want to use these models to help us make better decisions—linking scientific and economic models together is a way to help us do that,” Hope said. “We need to estimate how much it will cost if we do nothing, how much it will cost if we do something, and how much we need to spend to cut back greenhouse gases.”

Under the A1B scenario, which assumes rapid economic growth and projects increased anthropogenic emissions until the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reaches about 700 parts per million in 2100, the authors assumed zero anthropogenic emissions after 2100. They found that the total, cumulative permafrost emissions raise the economic impacts of climate change by 2200 from $326 trillion to $369 trillion, an increase of 13 percent.

A researcher slakes his thirst with ice chopped from an exposed ice layerA researcher slakes his thirst with ice chopped from an exposed ice layer at a thermokarst feature on August 19, 2012 near Toolik Lake, Alaska.Credit: Kevin Schaefer/NSIDC High-resolution image
This suggests that policies aimed at reducing emissions as soon as possible from thawing permafrost could substantially reduce the economic impacts of climate change.

“Reducing fossil fuel emissions and stopping climate change is not a stark choice between jobs and the environment,” Schaefer said. “Rather, we can simultaneously reduce emissions and grow the economy by harnessing the same market forces that created the problem in the first place.”

Schaefer added, “We need to invest to reduce the costs of renewable energy production and the costs of energy conservation and create the optimal policy setting with tax incentives and other means. This will create an environment where consumers will naturally choose the low-carbon option because it is the best economic choice available.”

Reference

Hope, C. and K. Schaefer. 2015. Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost. Nature Climate Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2807.

Media contacts

Natasha Vizcarra
Media Liaison, National Snow and Ice Data Center
+1 303.492.1497,  press@nsidc.org

Sarah Collins
Office of Communications, University of Cambridge
+44 (0)1223.765542, sarah.collins@admin.cam.ac.uk

-end-

Media Advisory
15 September 2015

Arctic sea ice reaches fourth lowest extent in the satellite record

This image shows a NASA Blue Marble view of the Arctic on September 11, 2015 when sea ice extent was at 4.41 million square kilometers (1.70 million square miles).This image shows a view of the Arctic on September 11, 2015 when sea ice extent was at 4.41 million square kilometers (1.70 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data. CreditNSIDC/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution image
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent on September 11, 2015. Sea ice extent on that day was measured at 4.41 million square kilometers (1.70 million square miles). It was the fourth lowest extent recorded since satellites began measuring sea ice in 1979. 

Please note that the Arctic sea ice extent number is preliminary—changing winds could still push the ice extent lower. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

See the full announcement at NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

Media Contact
Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
19 March 2015

Arctic sea ice maximum reaches lowest extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent for February 25, 2015 was 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its maximum extent for the year on February 25 at 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles). This year's maximum ice extent is the lowest in the satellite record.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

To read the current analysis from NSIDC scientists, see /arcticseaicenews/.

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
10 December 2014

NSIDC science at AGU highlights sea ice, buried lakes in Greenland, and avalanche mapping

greenland lakeA frozen meltwater lake is seen along the northeast Greenland coast from aboard the NASA P-3B aircraft on May 7, 2012. Credit: NASA/Jim Yungel
Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will present new research on Arctic sea ice extent predictions, buried lakes in Greenland, and avalanche mapping 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) and is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Reporters are invited to attend our scientists’ press conferences, scheduled talks and poster presentations. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 15

Towards improving sea ice predictability: Evaluating climate models against satellite sea ice observations
Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC Scientist
Invited Oral Presentation, GC12A-01
10:20 a.m. to 10:35 a.m., Moscone West 3002

NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve discusses developments in long-term and short-term sea ice extent predictions. Comparison between models participating in the World Climate Research Programme Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) and observations of sea ice extent and thickness show that historical trends from 85 percent of the model ensemble members remain smaller than observed, and spatial patterns of sea ice thickness are poorly represented in most models.

Part of the explanation lies with a failure of models to represent details of the mean atmospheric circulation pattern that governs the transport and spatial distribution of sea ice. These results raise concerns regarding the ability of CMIP5 models to realistically represent the processes driving the decline of Arctic sea ice and to project the timing of when a seasonally ice-free Arctic may be realized. On shorter time-scales, seasonal sea ice prediction has been challenged to predict the sea ice extent from Arctic conditions a few months to a year in advance.

Radar detections of buried supraglacial lakes across the Greenland Ice Sheet
Lora Koenig, NSIDC Scientist
Press Conference
1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Moscone West 3000

NSIDC scientist Lora Koenig presents the discovery of buried lakes within the Greenland Ice Sheet. Radars flown by NASA’s Operation IceBridge detected the buried lakes around the margins of the ice sheet. Most of the buried lakes had no visible surface expression but the few buried lakes that were visible had a darker blue color where subsurface water was located.

The volume of retained water in the buried lakes is small compared to the total mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet, but the water will have important implications locally for the development of the englacial hydrologic network, ice temperature profiles, and glacial dynamics.

Reporters covering AGU remotely may join the press conference via web streaming. Reporters in San Francisco may also interview Lora Koenig at a related oral presentation (C51C-06) on Friday, December 19, 9:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Moscone West 3007.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16

Using sea ice age as a proxy for sea ice thickness
Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC Scientist
Poster Presentation, C21B-0341
8:00 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., Moscone West Poster Hall

NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve talks about the changing relationship between ice age and ice thickness in the Arctic. Researchers in the University of Colorado have been using ice age as a proxy for ice thickness in studying the Arctic’s declining sea ice.  Along with a decline in extent, scientists have also seen a decline in thicker, older ice making the Arctic more vulnerable to higher temperatures. Stroeve and her colleagues compared ice age data from remote sensing satellites to several observational data sets on ice thickness. The comparisons reveal that while a near-linear relationship between age and thickness for ice up to 3 meters thick existed in earlier years, this relationship is changing.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17

Mapping starting zone snow depth with a ground-based LiDAR to improve avalanche control and forecasting
Jeffrey Deems, NSIDC Scientist
Oral Presentation, C31E-01
8:00 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., Moscone West 3007

NSIDC research scientist Jeff Deems presents initial results from mapping snow depth and snow depth change in avalanche starting zones at the Arapahoe Ski Basin Area in Colorado. Starting zones are near or at the top of an avalanche path, where unstable snow breaks loose from the snow-cover and starts to slide. 

Varying distribution of snow depth in avalanche starting zones exerts a strong influence on avalanche potential and character. Extreme depth changes over short distances are common, especially in wind-affected, above-tree line environments. Snow depth also affects the ease of avalanche triggering. Deems tested high-resolution snow depth and depth change maps from a ground-based light detection and ranging (LiDAR) instrument to support active avalanche control and forecasting efforts.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
22 December 2014

Sensing Our Planet 2014 released, now available in iBooks

Sensing Our Planet 2014

Click here to find Sensing Our Planet online. High-resolution image

NASA Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) have released Sensing Our Planet 2014, a collection of in-depth science stories that reveal the surprising ways that scientists use satellite data to study our planet.

This year's collection includes stories of zebras in Botswana re-connecting with old migratory routes, of satellites helping tweak the quality of tea leaves in India, and of the discovery of ancient microbes in a nutrient-deprived deep ocean gyre.

The collection is now also available in iBooks format. Download a free copy here. Readers may also download a PDF or read articles online. For print copies of the publication, please email nsidc@nsidc.org.

Sensing Our Planet is written and produced at the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC on behalf of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) DAACs.

1 December 2014

NSIDC Talks, Posters, and Presentations at AGU 2014

AGU Poster HallA woman walks through the AGU poster hall on the meeting's last day in 2013. (Credit: N. Vizcarra/NSIDC)

Researchers and staff from NSIDC will attend the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting held in San Francisco from December 15 to 19. Please visit the NSIDC booth (#2444) in the AGU exhibit hall. For more information on the conference, visit the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting Web siteBelow, find a list of NSIDC or affiliated talks and posters, as well as sessions hosted by NSIDC scientists and data managers.

Talks, Posters, and Presentations

Names in boldface indicate NSIDC researcher.

Monday, December 15

  • Alley, K.; T. Scambos; D. Long. Assessing Antarctica’s Ice Shelves for Vulnerability to Surface-Melt-Induced Collapse Using Scatterometry. C13B-0458
  • Cullather, R.; S. Nowicki; B. Zhao; L. Koenig; S. Moustafa. Characterization of Recent Greenland Melt Events in Atmospheric Analyses and Satellite Data. GC11A-0531
  • Duerr. R.; J. Beitler; D. Gallaher; K. A. Heightley; M. C. Serreze; R. Weaver. NSIDC: Coping with a Big Data World. IN14B-02
  • Fang, Y.; A. Michalak; C. Schwalm; D. Huntzinger; X. Wei; R. Cook; K. Schaefer; A. Jacobson; P. Ciais; J. Fisher; D. Hayes; M. Huang; A. Ito; A. Jain ; H. Lei; C. Lu; F. Maignan; J. Mao; N. Parazoo; S. Peng; B. Poulter; D. Ricciuto; X. Shi; H. Tian; N. Zeng; F. Zhao; W. Wang. Can terrestrial biosphere models capture the response of atmospheric CO2 growth rate to ENSO? B13C-0201
  • Lavoie, C.; E. Domack; T. Scambos; E. Pettit; H. Schenke; K. C. Yoo; R. Larter; J. Gutt; J. Wellner; M. Canals; J. Anderson; D. Amblas. Paleo-Ice Sheet/Stream Flow Directions of the Northern Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet Based Upon New Synthesis of Multibeam Seabed Imagery. C12B-06
  • Leon, A.; A. Allen; S. Leslie. Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Data and Services at the NASA DAACs. H11G-0940
  • Liu, L.; K. Schaefer; A. Chen; A. Gusmeroli; H. Zebker; T. Zhang. Measuring Thermokarst Subsidence Using InSAR: Potential and Pitfalls. C13D-01
  • Liu, Y.; J. Matthes; D. Moore; M. Dietze; A. Arellano; A. Dawson; A. Fox; S. Goring; J. McLachlan; F. Montane; G. Moreno; B. Poulter; T. Quaife; D. Ricciuto; K. Schaefer; J. Steinkamp - Senckenberg; J. Williams. Assessing the long-term performance of terrestrial ecosystem models in northeastern United States: linking model structure and output. B13C-0196
  • Miller, J.; R. Forster; D. Lonn; T. Scambos; P. K. Munneke; M. van den Broeke. Satellite observation of winter season liquid meltwater storage within Greenland’s firn aquifer: 1992-2014. C21B-0321
  • Mioduszewski, J.; A. Rennermalm; J. Stroeve; M. Tedesco; D. Robinson. Arctic sea ice extent and Greenland ice sheet surface climate co-variability investigated with self-organizing maps and singular value decomposition. C11B-0366
  • Moon, T.; I. Joughin; B. Smith. Seasonal and interannual glacier terminus fluctuations in northwest Greenland and links to sea ice and velocity trends during the 21st century. C11E-06
  • Moon, T.; I. Joughin; B. Smith; M. van den Broeke; M. Usher. Distinct seasonal velocity patterns based on ice-sheet-wide analysis of Greenland outlet glaciers. C12B-02
  • Moustafa, S.; A. Rennermalm; L. Smith; M. Miller; J. Mioduszewski; L. Koenig. Bimodal Albedo Distributions in the Ablation Zone of the Southwestern Greenland Ice Sheet. C13A-0407
  • Pope, A.; T. Scambos; M. Moussavi; M. Tedesco; M. Willis. Estimating Supraglacial Lake Depth with Landsat 8. C14B-04
  • Stroeve, J.; A. Barrett. Towards Improving Sea Ice Predictabiity: Evaluating Climate Models Against Satellite Sea Ice Observations. GC12A-01
  • Tanner, S.; J. Collins; M. Savoie; K. Beam; B. Raup; H. Wilcox; K. Purdon. An Operation IceBridge Portal focused on Data Products and Metadata. IN13B-3642
  • Tedesco, M.; J. Stroeve. Spaceborne estimated long-term trends (1980s – 2013) of albedo and melting season length over the Greenland ice sheet and linkages to climate drivers. C14B-07
  • Wang, K.; T. Zhang. Regional Climate Change in the Northern Hemisphere. C13B-0456
  • Wei, Y.; S. Liu; D. Huntzinger; A. Michalak; W. Post; R. Cook; K. Schaefer; M. Thornton. The Unified North American Soil Map and Its Implication on the Soil Organic Carbon Stock in North America. B11K-06
  • Weaver, R; S. Tanner; D. Fowler; M. Stowe; A. Veale. Big Data Challenges with ICESat-2. IN11C-3629

Tuesday, December 16

  • Brucker, L.; E. Dinnat; L. Koenig. Weekly Polar-Gridded Aquarius Products and their Applications over the Cryosphere. C21C-0377
  • Fahnestock, M.; T. Scambos; M. Klinger. The Next Step in Ice Flow Measurement from Optical Imagery: Comprehensive Mapping Of Ice Sheet Flow in Landsat 8 Imagery Using Spatial Frequency Filtering, Enabled by High Radiometric Sensitivity. C24B-02
  • Forster, R.; J. Miller; C. Miège; L. Brucker; L. Koenig; D. Solomon; N. Schmerr; E. Burgess; J. Box. Recent results on the Greenland Aquifer from remote sensing and in situ measurements. C21B-0335
  • Fowler, D.; T. Haran; M. McAllister; D. Webster. Enhancements for the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) Data Products and Services. C21A-0290
  • Gallaher D.; G. Grant; Q. Liu. The Condensate Database for Big Data Analysis. IN23C-3743
  • Gasiewski, A.; B. Sanders; D. Gallaher; L. Periasamy; G. Alvarenga; T. Scambos; R. Weaver; K. F. Evans; A. Heymsfield; P. Pilewskie; S. Buehler. PC/CIC: A Tandem 3U CubeSat Mission for Global Cloud Ice Mass Measurement. A22F-08
  • Laidlaw, R.; T. Painter; C. Mattmann; P. Ramirez; K. Bormann; M. J. Brodzik; A. Burgess; K. Rittger; C. Goodale; M. Joyce; L. McGibbney; P. Zimdars. The Snow Data System at NASA JPL. IN23D-3759
  • Huntzinger, D.; C. Schwalm; A. Michalak; Y. Wei; R. Cook; K. Schaefer; A. Jacobson; M. A. Arain; P. Ciais; J. Fisher; D. Hayes; M. Huang ; S. Huang; A. Ito; A. Jain; H. Lei; C. Lu; F. Maignan; J. Mao; N. Parazoo; S. Peng; C. Peng; B. Poulter; D. Ricciuto; X. Shi; H. Tian; N. Zeng; F. Zhao; Q. Zhu; W. Wang. Trends in the Global Net Land Sink and Their Sensitivity to Environmental Forcing Factors: Results From the Multi-Scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP). B24B-01
  • MacFerrin, M.; H. Machguth; C. Charalampidis; D. van As; W. Abdalati; T. Scambos. Massive Perched Ice Layers in the Shallow Firn of Greenland's Lower Accumulation Area Inhibit Percolation and Enhance Runoff. C21B-0316
  • McGibbney, L.; K. Rittger; T. Painter; D. Selkowitz; C. Mattmann; P. Ramirez. Improving Running Times for the Determination of Fractional Snow-Covered Area from Landsat TM/ETM+ via Utilization of the CUDA® Programming Paradigm. IN22A-08
  • Matthes, J.; M. Dietze; A. Fox; S. Goring; J. McLachlan; D. Moore; B. Poulter; T. Quaife; K. Schaefer; J. Steinkamp; J. Williams. Constraining Centennial-Scale Ecosystem-Climate Interactions with a Pre-colonial Forest Reconstruction across the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States. B24B-07
  • Moussavi, M.; W. Abdalati; A. Pope; T. Scambos. Validation of supraglacial bathymetry models developed for optical sensors using high-resolution stereo-imagery: Implications for meltwater storage assessments across the ablation region of the Greenland Ice Sheet. C21C-0348
  • Rittger, K.; M. J. Brodzik; A. Racoviteanu; A. Barrett; S. J. Khalsa; T. Painter; R. Armstrong; A. Burgess. Distinquishing ice from snow for melt modeling using daily observations from MODIS. C21C-0344
  • Sanders, B.; A. Gasiewski; D. Gallaher; L. Periasamy ; G. Alvarenga ; R. Weaver ; T. Scambos. Development of a High Resolution Passive Microwave 3U Cubesat for High Resolution Temperature Sounding and Imaging at 118 GHz. A22F-05
  • Scambos, T.; M. Klinger; M. Fahnestock; T. Haran. Advanced Ice Velocity Mapping Using Landsat 8. C21C-0367
  • Stroeve, J.; M. Tschudi; J. Maslanik. Using Sea Ice Age as a Proxy for Sea Ice Thickness. C21B-0341
  • Vizcarra, N.; Stroeve, J.; M. Serreze; T. Scambos; W. Meier. Sea ice data for all: NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis. PA23A-4032 

Wednesday, December 17

  • Armstrong, E.; T. Huang; Z. Xing; S. J. Khalsa; T. Chin; C. Alarcon. Improving application of data quality information in accessing and using satellite data. IN33B-3769
  • Crawford, Alex; M. Serreze. Interannual variations in the summer Arctic frontal zone. A33D-3206
  • Deems, J. S.; P. Gadomski; D. Vellone; R. Evanczyk; A. LeWinter; K. Birkeland; D. Finnegan. Mapping starting zone snow depth with a ground-based LiDAR to improve avalanche control and forecasting. C31E-01
  • Duerr, R.; B. W. Billingsley; D. Harper; J. Kovarik. The Schema.org Datasets Schema: Experiences at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. IN31D-3747
  • Easton, K.; A. Collick; R. Srinivasan; A. Braeckel; S. Nativi; C. McAlister; D. Wright; S. J. Khalsa; D. Fuka. Hydrological Modeling and Repeatability with Brokering. IN31D-3740
  • Hardman, M.; M. J. Brodzik; J. Gotberg; D. Long; A. Paget. Tactical Approaches for making a successful satellite passive microwave ESDR. IN31A-3711
  • Jafarov, E.; K. Schaefer. The effect of organic soil layer on simulated permafrost dynamics. B31G-0131
  • Khalsa, S. J.; S. Nativi; J. Pearlman; F. Pearlman; M. Santoro; R. Duerr; E. Boldrini; S. Browdy. Achievements in Advancing the EarthCube Cyberinfrastructure Vision. IN31D-3742
  • Khalsa, S. J.; D. McGuinness; R. Duerr; P. Pulsifer; P. Fox; C. Thompson; R. Yan. Sea Ice Characteristics and the Open-Linked Data World. C31D-0341
  • Kirchner, P.; T. Painter; M. Skiles; J. S. Deems. Snow surface temperature, radiative forcing and snow depth as determinants of snow density. C32A-05
  • Mu, C.; T. Zhang. Decomposition of Permafrost Carbon with Increasing Incubation Temperature on the Qinghai-Xizang (Tibetan) Plateau. B31G-0106
  • Painter, T.H.; D. Berisford; J. Boardman; K. Bormann; J. S. Deems; F. Gehrke; J. Horn; D. Marks; C. Mattmann; B. McGurk; P. Ramirez; M. Richardson; M. Skiles; A. Winstral; P. Zimdars. The NASA Airborne Snow Observatory: Demonstration Mission 2. C32A-04
  • Raup, B. H.; R. Armstrong; J. S. Kargel; W. T. Pfeffer; J. G. Cogley; R. Hock. Progress and Challenges for GLIMS 2: Merging the GLIMS and RGI Glacier Databases. C31B-0288
  • Schaefer, K.; E. Jafarov. Improved Modeling of Soil Biogeochemistry in Permafrost. B31G-0110
  • Schwalm, C.; D. Huntzinger; A. Michalak; R. Cook; B. ElMasri; D. Hayes; M. Huang; A. Jacobson; A. Jain; H. L. Lei; C. Lu; H. Tian; K. Schaefer; Y. Wei. Attributing Changes in Gross Primary Productivity from 1901 to 2010. GC33H-08

Thursday, December 18

  • Barrett, A.; R. Armstrong; M. J. Brodzik; S. J. Khalsa; B. Raup; K. Rittger. Developing Temperature Forcing for Snow and Ice Melt Runoff Models in High Mountain Regions. C41A-0332
  • Bauer, R.; S. Tressel; T. Scambos. Antarctic Glaciological Data Center: Evolution towards a web-integrated data system for Antarctic Data. IN41C-3669
  • Beitler, J.; S. Tanner; A. Barrett; M. Savoie; H. Wilcox; T. Hoyer; K. Beam. Making Data Visible: Satellite Observations of Arctic Change (SOAC). GC41C-0583
  • Berisford, D.; V. Kadatskiy; J. Boardman; K. Bormann; J. S. Deems; C. Goodale; C. Mattmann; P. Ramirez; M. Richardson; T. Painter. Snow Depth from Lidar: Challenges and New Technology for Measurements in Extreme Terrain. C43D-0415
  • Brodzik, M. J.; R. Armstrong; S. J. S. Khalsa; T. Painter; A. Racoviteanu; K. Rittger. Using an ablation gradient model to characterize annual glacial melt contribution to major rivers in High Asia. H43J-1088
  • Campbell G.; D. Gallaher. Nimbus 3 and 4 Visible Image Climatology: 1969 and 1970. IN43E-08
  • Cao, B.; T. Zhang; X. Zhang; X. Wan; L. Zheng; X. Peng; J. Liu; B. Wu; C. Mu; L. Cao; H. Guo. Thermal State and Characteristics of Permafrost in Qilian Mountains, Northwest China. C41B-0356
  • Deems, J. S.; T. H. Painter. Airborne LiDAR and hyperspectral mapping of snow depth and albedo in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, USA by the NASA JPL Airborne Snow Observatory. C43D-0413
  • Hartzell, P.; P. Gadomski; D. Finnegan; C. Glennie; J. S. Deems. Quantifying Snow Volume Uncertainty from Repeat Terrestrial Laser Scanning Observations. C43D-0419
  • Joiner, J.; Y. Yoshida; L. Guanter; Y. Zhang; A. Vasilkov; K. Schaefer; K. Huemmrich; E. Middleton; P. Koehler; M. Jung; C. Tucker; A. Lyapustin; Y. Wang; C. Frankenberg; J. Berry; R. Koster; R. Reichle; J. Lee; S. Kawa; G. Collatz; G. Walker; C. Van der Tol. On Variability in Satellite Terrestrial Chlorophyll Fluorescence Measurements: Relationships with Phenology and Ecosystem-Atmosphere Carbon Exchange, Vegetation Structure, Clouds, and Sun-Satellite Geometry. B42C-05
  • Lawrence, D.; C. Koven; S. Swenson; W. Riley; A. Slater. Hydrologic controls on the permafrost carbon-climate feedback. B43J-01
  • Liu, J.; T. Zhang. Recent Climate Changes in Northwestern Qaidam Basin Inferred from Geothermal Gradients. GC43C-0744
  • McAllister, M.; L. Booker; D. Fowler; T. Haran. MODIS Data and Services at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). C43D-0433
  • Morin, P.; J. Pundsack; S. Carbotte; C. Tweedie; A. Grunow; M. Lazzara; P. Carpenter; C. Sjunneskog; L. Yarmey; R. Bauer; B. Adrian; J. Pettit. Antarctic and Arctic Data Consortium; Scientific Research Support & Data Services for the Polar Community. IN41C-3662
  • Peng, X.; T. Zhang; D. Yue; R. Jin; K. Wang. Response of Changes in Soil Seasonal Freeze/Thaw to Climate Change from 1950 to 2010 in China. C41B-0358
  • Reed, S.; B. Billingsley; D. Harper; J. Kovarik; M. Brandt. A Solr Powered Architecture for Scientific Metadata Search Applications. IN41C-3659
  • Schuur, E.; A. McGuire; G. Grosse; J. Harden; D. Hayes; G. Hugelius; C. Koven; P. Kuhry; D. Lawrence; S. Natali; D. Olefeldt; A. V. Romanovsky; C. Schaedel; K. Schaefer; M. Turetsky; C. Treat; J. Vonk. Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback. B41O-01
  • Wiggins, H.; J. Stroeve. Arctic Sea Ice Predictability and the Sea Ice Prediction Network. C43B-0393

Friday, December 19

  • Alexander, P.; L. Koenig; M. Tedesco; R. Datta; X. Fettweis. Assessment of Regional Climate Model-Simulated Snow Density Over the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets Using In-Situ Measurements. C51B-0260
  • Booker, L.; A. Leon; S. Tressell. Finding Data Only Gets You So Far: The Role of Data Differentiation in Data Discovery. IN53B-3809
  • Chen, A.; L. Liu; K. Schaefer; A. Parsekian; E. Jafarov; H. Zebker; T. Zhang. Remotely Sensed Active Layer Thickness (ReSALT) from InSAR data near Toolik Lake in Northern Alaska. G53A-03
  • Das, I.; T. Scambos ; L. Koenig; T. Creyts; R. Bell ; M. van den Broeke; J. Lenaerts; J. Paden. Understanding the Role of Wind in Reducing the Surface Mass Balance Estimates over East Antarctica. C54A-05
  • Fricker, H. A.; T. Scambos; R. Bell; S. Carter. Active Lakes of the Recovery Ice Stream, East Antarctica: A Bedrock-Controlled Subglacial Hydrological System. C53B-0304
  • Hayes, D.; G. Chen; J. Mao; R. Birdsey; Y. Pan; D. Huntzinger; C. Schwalm; A. Michalak; Y. Wei; R. Cook; K. Schaefer; A. Jacobson; M.A. Arain; P. Ciais; J. Fisher; M. Huang; S. Huang; A. Jain; H. Lei; C. Lu; F. Maignan; N. Parazoo; C. Peng; S. Peng; B. Poulter; D. Ricciuto; X. Shi; H. Tian ; N. Zeng; F. Zhao. Model and Inventory Perspectives on the Role of Forests in the Global Carbon Cycle: Results from the Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP). B54C-03
  • Jonassen R., F. Horsfall; E. Jafarov; M. Livezey; K. Schaefer. Towards NOAA Forecasts of Permafrost Active Layer Thickness. GC53C-0543
  • Koenig, L.; D. Lampkin; L. Montgomery; S. Hamilton; C. Joseph; S. Moustafa; B. Panzer; K. Casey; J. Paden; C. Leuschen; C. Gogineni. Radar Detections of Buried Supraglacial Lakes Across the Greenland Ice Sheet. C51C-06 
  • Lopez, L.; S. J. Khalsa; R. Duerr; A. Tayachow; E. Mingo. The BCube Crawler: Web Scale Data and Service Discovery for EarthCube. IN51C-06
  • Martinez, E.; J. Glassy; D. Fowler; M. Khayat; S. Olding. Using project life-cycles as guide for timing the archival of scientific data and supporting documentation. IN53C-3817. 
  • Miège, C.; R. Forster; L. Koenig; L. Brucker; J. Box; E. Burgess; D. Solomon. Temporal and spatial variability of the Greenland firn aquifer revealed by ground and airborne radar data. C53A-0278
  • Noble, E.; J. Booth; M. Tedesco; A. Rennermalm; J. Stroeve; P. Alexander; X. Fettweis. Investigating The Impact Of Sea Ice Concentration Extremes On Atmospheric Moisture Transport And Low-Level Winds Over Greenland And Surrounding Seas. C51B-0273
  • Paget, A.; M. J. Brodzik; J. Gotberg; M. Hardman; D. Long. Using image reconstruction methods to enhance gridded resolution for a newly calibrated passive microwave climate data record. A51I-3158
  • Parsekian, A.; E. Jafarov; K. Schaefer. Permafrost Ice Wedge Geometry Estimates from Ground Penetrating Radar Profiling. C51C-05
  • Pope, A.; T. Scambos. Snow, Ice, & Satellites: An Early Career Researcher’s Experience with Twitter. ED51F-07
  • Rosati, A.; L. Yarmey. Enabling Data Discovery and Reuse by Improving Software Usability: Data Science Experiences, Lessons, and Gaps. IN51B-3783
  • Scott, D. J.; R. Duerr. Meeting Today's Data Life Cycle Expectations: Retrofitting Historical Sea Ice Data Records. IN53C-3818
  • Windnagel, A.; F. Fetterer. Arctic Ocean Sea Ice Thickness, Bathymetry, and Water Properties from Submarine Data. C53A-0292.
  • Yarmey, L.; A. Rosati; S. Tressel. Search Pathways: Modeling GeoData Search Behavior to Support Usable Application Development. IN51C-07

Sessions

Armstrong, R.
IN43D. Science Data System Architectures for New Earth Science Missions and Applications Posters
C43F. Glacier Monitoring from In Situ and Remotely Sensed Observations II
C42A. Glacier Monitoring from In Situ and Remotely Sensed Observations III

Brodzik, M. J.
C13D. Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere I Posters
C14B. Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere II Posters
C21C. Remote Sensing of the Cryosphere III Posters

Campbell, G. and Gallaher, D.
IN43E. Dark Data: Rescuing Data from the Edge of Oblivion II
IN41B. Dark Data: Rescuing Data from the Edge of Oblivion I Posters

Deems, J. S.
C32A. Quantifying Spatial and Temporal Variability of Snow and Snow Processes I
C43C. Quantifying Spatial and Temporal Variability of Snow and Snow Processes II Posters

Moon, T.
C23C. Understanding Ice Loss in Coupled Glacier-Ocean Systems through Observations, Modeling, and Theory I Posters
C32B. Understanding Ice Loss in Coupled Glacier-Ocean Systems through Observations, Modeling, and Theory II Posters

Weaver, R.
IN43D. Science Data System Architectures for New Earth Science Missions and Applications Posters

Yarmey, L.
IN41C. Polar Cyberinfrastructure Posters

Town Hall Meeting

Tanner, S.
TH13G. IceBridge DAAC Archive Status, Operation IceBridge Town-Hall meeting

Media Advisory
18 November 2014

Worldwide retreat of glaciers confirmed in unprecedented detail

GLIMS glacier image

This ASTER satellite image from the GLIMS Glacier database shows glaciers in the Langtang area of the Nepal Himalaya (acquired 2003-10-30). Credit: NSIDC/NASA/JPL/GSFC/METI/Japan Space Systems

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A new book from the international GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space) initiative, an international collaboration including the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, provides the most comprehensive report to date on global glacier changes.  

The book, Global Land Ice Measurements from Space, presents an overview and detailed assessment of changes in the world’s glaciers by using satellite imagery from optical satellite instruments such as ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) and Landsat.

While the shrinking of glaciers on all continents is already known from ground observations of individual glaciers, by using repeated satellite observations GLIMS has firmly established that glaciers are shrinking globally. Although some glaciers are maintaining their size, most glaciers are dwindling. The foremost cause of the worldwide reductions in glaciers is global warming, the team writes. 

The full-color book has twenty-five regional chapters that illustrate glacier changes from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Other chapters provide a thorough theoretical background on glacier monitoring and mapping, remote sensing techniques, uncertainties, and interpretation of the observations in a climatic context. The book highlights many other glacier research applications of satellite data, including measurement of glacier thinning from repeated satellite-based digital elevation models (DEMs) and calculation of surface flow velocities from repeated satellite images.

These tools are key to understanding local and regional variations in glacier behavior, the team writes. The high sensitivity of glaciers to climate change has substantially decreased their volume and changed the landscape over the past decades, affecting both regional water availability and the hazard potential of glaciers. The growing GLIMS database about glaciers also contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report issued in 2013. The IPCC report concluded that most of the world’s glaciers have been losing ice at an increasing rate in recent decades.

More than 60 institutions across the globe are involved in GLIMS, with more than 150 scientists from all over the world contributing to this compilation. Jeffrey S. Kargel of the Department of Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Arizona coordinates the project. The GLIMS glacier database and GLIMS web site are developed and maintained by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado in Boulder. 

Related information:

GLIMS book: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783540798170
GLIMS Web site: http://glims.org
GLIMS Glacier Database: http://glims.colorado.edu/glacierdata/

Contact information:

Bruce Raup, National Snow and Ice Data Center, braup@nsidc.org, +1 303-492-8814
Jeffrey S. Kargel, University of Arizona, Kargel@hwr.arizona.edu, +1 520-780-7759

Media:

Jane Beitler
jbeitler@nsidc.org
+1 303-492-1160

Press Release
7 October 2014

Arctic sea ice continues low; Antarctic ice hits a new high

arctic sea ice minimum extent

This image shows that Arctic sea ice extent for September 2014 was 5.28 million square kilometers (2.04 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data. Credit--NSIDC. High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean melted to its sixth lowest extent this year, while sea ice surrounding the Antarctic continent continued to break winter records, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Arctic sea ice cover grows each winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. Summer sea ice extent is important because, among other things, it reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate.

At the end of its melt season, Arctic sea ice fell to the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record, both in the daily and monthly average. Sea ice hit 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles) on September 17 and averaged 5.3 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) for the month of September.

"Twenty years ago, having ice extent this low would have astounded us," said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. "Now it is expected."

This year edged out last year as the sixth lowest extent since satellites started measuring sea ice in 1979. The lowest Arctic extent on record occurred in 2012, when sea ice measured 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). The succeeding lowest years are 2007, 2011, 2008, and 2010.

Through 2014, Arctic sea ice has now been declining at a rate of 13.3% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. The ten lowest September ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred in the last ten years.

“This year was nothing surprising. Overall we’re continuing the long-term decreasing trend,” said Walt Meier, research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “We’re still well below average and there’s no indication that we’re going to recover.”

Between the seasonal maximum extent that occurred on March 21, 2014 and the September 17 minimum, the Arctic Ocean lost a total of 9.89 million square kilometers (3.82 million square miles) of ice; which is the ninth largest in the satellite record, but the least amount of seasonal loss since 2006. This year’s loss was 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) less than the total loss that occurred in 2012.

Weather conditions prevailing over the summer of 2014 were unremarkable. The one significant weather pattern over the summer was a larger than normal pressure gradient over the Laptev Sea that drove southerly winds, brought warmer air and helped drive sea ice northward. This led to the tongue of open water that reached to within 5 degrees latitude of the pole. However, this pressure gradient was not particularly extreme so thinner ice cover in the area was also a significant contributor. Sea surface temperatures may also have played a role.

“The fact that minimum ice extent in 2013 and 2014 still fell so low despite ordinary weather suggests that the system has settled into the low trend,” said NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve.

Meanwhile, sea ice surrounding the Antarctic continent reached its maximum extent on September 22 at 20.11 million square kilometers (7.76 million square miles). This is 1.54 million square kilometers (595,000 square miles) above the 1981 to 2010 average extent, which is nearly four standard deviations above average. Antarctic sea ice averaged 20.0 million square kilometers (7.72 million square miles) for the month of September. This new record extent follows consecutive record winter maximum extents in 2012 and 2013. The reasons for this recent rapid growth are not clear. Sea ice in Antarctica has remained at satellite-era record high daily levels for most of 2014.

"What we're learning is, we have more to learn," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at NSIDC.

The unusual sea ice growth in Antarctica might be caused by changing wind patterns or recent ice sheet melt from warmer, deep ocean water reaching the coastline, according to scientists at NSIDC.  The melt water freshens and cools the deep ocean layer, and it contributes to a cold surface layer surrounding Antarctica, creating conditions that favor ice growth.

See the full announcement at NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
22 September 2014

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for 2014

arctic sea ice minimum extent

This image shows a NASA Blue Marble view of the Arctic on September 17, 2014 when sea ice extent was at 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data. Credit--NSIDC/NASA Earth Observatory. High-resolution Image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

The Arctic's sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent on September 17, 2014. Sea ice extent on that day was measured at 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles). It was the sixth-lowest extent recorded since satellites began measuring sea ice in 1979. The number is above the 2012 record extent but is still below the long-term average.

Sea ice extent in Antarctica, where it is late winter, has surpassed the satellite-era record for maximum ice extent. We will report the 2014 Antarctic maximum sea ice extent and date of maximum in October, since it may still continue to grow for a short while.

Please note that the Arctic sea ice extent number is preliminary—changing winds could still push the ice extent lower. NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

See the full announcement at NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

Media Advisory
2 April 2014

Arctic sea ice reaches maximum extent for 2014

map

A NASA Blue Marble view of Arctic sea ice on March 21, 2014.
—Credit: NSIDC
High-resolution Image

NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 21 at 14.91 million square kilometers (5.76 million square miles), making it the fifth lowest maximum in the satellite record.

To read the full analysis from NSIDC scientists, see https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews.

Download data images of the 2014 Arctic sea ice maximum here.

For further inquiries, please contact Natasha Vizcarra at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
27 March 2014

New study: Seasonal Arctic summer ice extent still hard to forecast

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013, the day before the National Snow and Ice Data Center estimated Arctic sea ice to have reached its minimum extent for the year. A cloud front can be seen in the lower left, and dark areas indicate regions of open water between sea ice formations. —Credit: NASA
High-resolution image

Will next year's summer Arctic ice extent be high or low? Can ship captains plan on navigating the famed Northwest Passagea direct shipping route from Europe to Asia across the Arctic Oceanto save on time and fuel? A new study says year-to-year forecasts of the Arctic's summer ice extent are not yet reliable.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), University College London, University of New Hampshire and University of Washington analyzed 300 summer Arctic sea ice forecasts from 2008 to 2013 and found that forecasts are quite accurate when sea ice conditions are close to the downward trend that has been observed in Arctic sea ice for the last 30 years. However, forecasts are not so accurate when sea ice conditions are unusually higher or lower compared to this trend.

"We found that in years when the sea ice extent departed strongly from the trend, such as in 2012 and 2013, predictions failed regardless of the method used to forecast the September sea ice extent," said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC and professor at University of College London. Stroeve is lead author of the study, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters.

"That downward trend reflects Arctic climate change, but the causes of yearly variations around the trend are harder to pin down," said Lawrence Hamilton, co-author and a researcher at the University of New Hampshire. "This collection of forecasts from many different sources highlights where they do well, and where more work is needed."

Arctic sea ice cover grows each winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. Scientists consider Arctic sea ice as a sensitive climate indicator and track this minimum extent every year to see if any trends emerge.

Multi-channel passive microwave satellite instruments have been tracking sea ice extent since 1979. According to the data, September sea ice extent from 1979 to 2013 has declined 13.7 percent per decade. The recent years have shown an even more dramatic reduction in Arctic ice. In September 2012, Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum: 16 percent lower than any previous September since 1979, and 45 percent lower than the average ice extent from 1981 to 2010.

Long-term predictions of summer Arctic extent made by global climate models (GCMs) suggest that the downward trend will likely lead to an ice-free Arctic summer in the middle of the century. GCMs are in overall agreement on loss of Arctic summer sea ice as a result of anticipated warming from the rise in greenhouse gases this century.

Shorter-term forecasts of summer ice extent are harder to make but are now in high demand. The shrinking ice has caught the attention of coastal communities in the Arctic and industries interested in extracting resources and in a shorter shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Many of the forecasts analyzed in the study focused on the state of the ice cover prior to the summer melt season. According to the study, including sea ice thickness and concentration could improve the seasonal forecasts.

"It may even be possible to predict sea ice cover a year in advance with high-quality observations of sea ice thickness and snow cover over the whole Arctic," said Cecilia Bitz, co-author and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

"Short term predictions are achievable, but challenges remain in predicting anomalous years, and there is a need for better data for initialization of forecast models," Stroeve said. "Of course there is always the issue that we cannot predict the weather, and summer weather patterns remain important."

The study analyzed forecasts from the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Outlook, a project that gathers and summarizes sea ice forecasts made by sea ice researchers and prediction centers. Contributors to the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook project employ a variety of techniques to forecast the September sea ice extent, ranging from heuristic, to statistical, to sophisticated modeling approaches.

The National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research supported the study.

Information

Download a copy of the study here.
Read more on Julienne Stroeve's research on her NSIDC scientist bio page.
For more on the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Outlook, see their Web site.
For a regular analysis of sea ice conditions in the Arctic, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis page.

Media Contacts

Natasha Vizcarra, National Snow and Ice Data Center Media Liaison, +1 303.492.1497, press@nsidc.org
Lori Wright, University of New Hampshire Media Relations, +1 603.862.0574, lori.wright@unh.edu
Hannah Hickley, University of Washington Media Relations, +1 206.543.2580, hickeyh@uw.edu

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Media Advisory
17 December 2013

NSIDC wins dark data recovery award

award ceremony

NSIDC technical services manager Dave Gallaher (second from the left) and NSIDC data specialist Garrett Campbell (third from left) receive the award from Integrated Earth Data Applications director Kerstin Lehnert (left) at the American Geophysical Union's Cryosphere Reception.
—Credit: IEDA
High-resolution Image

A project by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that produced the earliest satellite maps of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice has been given the International Data Rescue Award in the Geosciences. The award encourages improvements in the preservation and access of research data, particularly of dark data—untagged and untapped data that are found in repositories and have not been analyzed or processed.

The award was announced last week during a reception for cryospheric scientists at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

NSIDC's Nimbus data recovery project recovered, reprocessed, and digitized infrared and visible data from the NASA Nimbus I, II, and III missions. Before the project, tapes of the data languished and gathered dust in a government storage facility. The project has yielded the earliest satellite maps of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. NSIDC technical services manager Dave Gallaher, data specialist Garrett Campbell, and NASA scientist Walt Meier comprise the project team.

The NSIDC Nimbus project was one of sixteen entries to competition. Honorable mentions were awarded to oldWeather, where more than 17,000 citizen scientists read and transcribed handwritten historical weather records; the recovery of nuclear explosion signals archived at Borovoye, Kazakhstan; and a project to process Australia's Landsat data holdings.

The Integrated Earth Data Applications and Elsevier Research Services organizes the competition. This year's judges included members of the U.S. Geological Survey, the British Geological Society, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Research Data Alliance, Geoscience Australia, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

For more information on the NSIDC Nimbus Data Recovery Project, visit the project Web site and our Monthly Highlights feature.

To learn more about the award, visit the Elsevier Web site.

Media Contacts

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

David Gallaher
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1.303.492.1827
david.gallaher@nsidc.org

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Press Release
9 December 2013

Landsat 8 helps unveil the coldest place on Earth

Sastrugi snow formations on the surface of the snow in East Antarctica

Sastrugi stick out from the snow surface in this photo near Plateau Station in East Antarctica. Most of Antartica looks quite flat, despite the subtle domes, hills, and hollows.
—Credit: Atsuhiro Muto
High Resolution Image

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.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Scientists recently recorded the lowest temperatures on Earth at a desolate and remote ice plateau in East Antarctica, trumping a record set in 1983 and uncovering a new puzzle about the ice-covered continent.

Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and his team found temperatures from −92 to −94 degrees Celsius (−134 to −137 degrees Fahrenheit) in a 1,000-kilometer long swath on the highest section of the East Antarctic ice divide.

The measurements were made between 2003 and 2013 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on board NASA's Aqua satellite and during the 2013 Southern Hemisphere winter by Landsat 8, a new satellite launched early this year by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

"I've never been in conditions that cold and I hope I never am," Scambos said. "I am told that every breath is painful and you have to be extremely careful not to freeze part of your throat or lungs when inhaling."

The record temperatures are several degrees colder than the previous record of −89.2 degrees Celsius (−128.6 degrees Fahrenheit) measured on July 21, 1983 at the Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica. They are far colder than the lowest recorded temperature in the United States, measured at −62 degrees Celsius (−79.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Alaska, in northern Asia at -68 degrees Celsius (−90.4 degrees Fahrenheit), or even at the summit of the Greenland Ice Sheet at -75 degrees Celsius (−103 degrees Fahrenheit).

Scambos said the record temperatures were found in several 5 by 10 kilometer (3 by 6 mile) pockets where the topography forms small hollows of a few meters deep (2 to 4 meters, or 6 to 13 feet). These hollows are present just off the ice ridge that runs between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji—the ice dome summits of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Antarctic bases sit on each of the sites and are generally not occupied during Antarctic winters.

Under clear winter skies in these areas, cold air forms near the snow surface. Because the cold air is denser than the air above it, it begins to move downhill. The air collects in the nearby hollows and chills still further, if conditions are favorable.

"The record-breaking conditions seem to happen when a wind pattern or an atmospheric pressure gradient tries to move the air back uphill, pushing against the air that was sliding down," Scambos said. "This allows the air in the low hollows to remain there longer and cool even further under the clear, extremely dry sky conditions," Scambos said. "When the cold air lingers in these pockets it reaches ultra-low temperatures."

"Any gardener knows that clear skies and dry air in spring or winter lead to the coldest temperatures at night," Scambos said. "The thing is, here in the United States and most of Canada, we don't get a night that lasts three or four or six months long for things to really chill down under extended clear sky conditions."

Centuries-old ice cracks

Scambos and his team spotted the record low temperatures while working on a related study on unusual cracks on East Antarctica's ice surface that he suspects are several hundred years old.

"The cracks are probably thermal cracks—the temperature gets so low in winter that the upper layer of the snow actually shrinks to the point that the surface cracks in order to accommodate the cold and the reduction in volume," Scambos said. "That led us to wonder what the temperature range was. So, we started hunting for the coldest places using data from three satellite sensors."

More than 30 years of data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on the NOAA Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) series gave Scambos a good perspective on what the pattern of low temperatures looked like across Antarctica.

"Landsat 8 is still a new sensor, but preliminary work shows its ability to map the cold pockets in detail," Scambos said. "It's showing how even small hummocks stick up through the cold air."

Scambos suspected they would find one area that got extremely cold. Instead they found a large strip at high altitude where several spots regularly reach record low temperatures. Furthermore, dozens of these extremely cold areas reached about the same minimum temperatures of −92 to −94 degrees Celsius (−134 to −137 degrees Fahrenheit) on most years.

"This is like saying that on the coldest day of the year a whole strip of land from International Falls, Minnesota to Duluth, Minnesota to Great Falls, Montana reached the exact same temperature, and more than once," Scambos said. "And that's a little odd."

A physical limit

Map of the coldest temperature measurements in Antarctica

This image shows the location of record low temperature measurements for Antarctica. The red dots show where the record satellite-measured surface temperatures and the earlier record low air temperature occurred. Shades of gray are a compilation of the lowest MODIS-sensor land surface temperature readings made by NASA's Aqua satellite during 2003-2013, with darker grays representing the coldest areas. Landsat 8 thermal images acquired in July and August of 2013 provided more detail on the coldest areas (purple squares). Elevation of the Antarctic surface is shown in green lines, and a blue lines provide an outline of the Antarctic continent, its islands, and the edge of its floating ice sheet.
—Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center
High Resolution Image

The scientists suspect that a layer in the atmosphere above the ice plateau reaches a certain minimum temperature and is preventing the ice plateau's surface from getting any colder.

"There seems to be a physical limit to how cold it can get in this high plateau area and how much heat can escape," Scambos said. Although an extremely cold place, Antarctica's surface radiates heat or energy out into space, especially when the atmosphere is dry and free of clouds.

"The levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, traces of water vapor and other gases in the air may impose a more or less uniform limit on how much heat can radiate from the surface," Scambos said.

Scambos and his team will continue to refine their map of Earth's coldest places using Landsat 8 data. "It's a remarkable satellite and we've repeatedly been impressed with how well it works, not just for mapping temperature but for mapping crops and forests and glaciers all over the world," Scambos said.

"The uses for Landsat 8 data are broad and diverse," said James Irons, Landsat 8 project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "And Scambos' work is an example of some of the intriguing science that can be done using Landsat 8."

In the longer term, Scambos and his team will try to design weather stations and set them up in the area where the record temperatures occur to confirm the data from Landsat 8 and MODIS. Currently, most of the automated weather stations in the vicinity do not work properly in the dead of winter.

"The research bases there don't have people that stay through the winter to make temperature measurements," Scambos said. "We will need to investigate electronics that can survive those temperatures."

View the NASA animation The Coldest Place in the World.

Media Contacts

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

Katy Human
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
kathleen.human@colorado.edu
+1 303-7350196

Kate Ramsayer
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
kate.d.ramsayer@nasa.gov
+1 301-286-1742

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Media Advisory
5 December 2013

Sensing Our Planet 2013 Released

Click here to find Sensing Our Planet online. High Resolution Image

NASA Earth data centers have just released Sensing Our Planet 2013, a collection of in-depth science stories that reveal the surprising ways that scientists use satellite data to study our planet.

This year's collection includes stories about a mysterious drop in global sea levels in 2010 and 2011, strange atmospheric explosions and mercury rain over the Arctic, and "crazy bad" air pollution in Beijing.

Sensing Our Planet is written and produced at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) on behalf of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) data centers.

Download a PDF or read articles online. For print copies of the publication, please email nsidc@nsidc.org.

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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
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
3 October 2013

Arctic sea ice avoids last year’s record low; Antarctic sea ice edges out last year’s high

2013 Arctic sea ice minimum

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2013 was 5.35 million square kilometers (2.07 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. —Credit: NSIDC
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

This September, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record, which began in 1979. All of the seven lowest extents have occurred in the last seven years, since 2007. Satellite data analyzed by NSIDC scientists showed that the sea ice cover reached its lowest extent on September 13. Sea ice extent averaged for the month of September was also the sixth lowest in the satellite record.

"A relatively cool and stormy summer helped slow ice loss compared to the last few summers," said NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve. In contrast to 2012, when sea ice reached a new record low in the satellite record, cooler conditions in the Arctic this summer helped to retain more sea ice. "This summer's extent highlights the complex interaction between natural climate variability and long-term thinning of the ice cover," Stroeve said.

"For Earth's ice and snow cover taken as a whole, this year has been a bit of a bright spot within a long-term sobering trend," said NSIDC director and senior scientist Mark Serreze.

Arctic sea ice, however, continues to be thinner than in past years, as confirmed by direct satellite observations and estimates of ice age, and therefore more vulnerable to breakup by storms, circulating currents, and melt. "While Earth's cryosphere, that is, its snow and ice cover, got a shot of hope this year, it's likely to be only a short-term boost," Serreze said. While most of the ice cover now consists of young, thin ice, a pack of multiyear ice remains in the central Arctic. Multiyear ice is ice that has survived more than one melt season and is thicker than first-year ice.

Arctic sea ice extent reached its lowest point this year on September 13, 2013 when sea ice extent dropped to 5.10 million square kilometers (1.97 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 5.35 million square kilometers (2.07 million square miles). This places 2013 as the sixth lowest ice extent, both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. September ice extent was 1.17 million square kilometers (452,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average.

The Arctic ice cap grows each winter as the sun sets for several months and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year the Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum extent in September. It hit a new record low in 2012. This summer's low ice extent continued the downward trend seen over the last thirty-four years. Scientists attribute this trend in large part to warming temperatures caused by climate change. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 13.7 percent per decade. Summer sea ice extent is important because, among other things, it reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate.

In addition to the decline in sea ice extent, a two-dimensional measure of the ice cover, the ice cover has grown thinner and less resistant to summer melt. Recent data on the age of sea ice, which scientists use to estimate the thickness of the ice cover, shows that the youngest, thinnest ice, which has survived only one or two melt seasons, now makes up the majority of the ice cover.

As the Arctic was reaching its minimum extent for the year, Antarctic sea ice was reaching record high levels, culminating in a Southern Hemisphere winter maximum extent of 19.47 million square kilometers (7.52 million square miles) on September 22. The September 2013 monthly average was also a record high, at 19.77 million square kilometers (7.63 million square miles) slightly higher than the previous record in 2012. Scientists largely attribute the increase in Antarctic sea ice extent to stronger circumpolar winds, which blow the sea ice outward, increasing extent.

In contrast to the sharp downward trend in September Arctic sea ice, Antarctic September sea ice has been increasing at 1.1 percent per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. "The tiny gain in Antarctica's ice is an interesting puzzle for scientists," said NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos. "The rapid loss of ice in the Arctic should be ringing alarm bells for everyone."

Information and graphics

For the full analysis of the summer melt season and additional images, please see Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
20 September 2013

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for 2013

Scientists watch from the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy as it cuts through multiyear sea ice in the Arctic Ocean on July 6, 2011. —Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Sea ice in the Arctic appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Sea ice extent fell to 5.10 million square kilometers (1.97 million square miles) on September 13, 2013, and has begun its seasonal autumn and winter growth.

Sea ice is frozen ocean water that melts each summer and refreezes each winter. The Arctic sea ice minimum marks the day—typically in September—when sea ice reaches its smallest extent. This year's minimum extent is notably higher than the record low recorded last year of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) on September 16, 2012.

NSIDC scientists said this year's higher extent is a temporary reprieve for the sea ice. "While this is a very welcome recovery from last year's record low, the overall trend is still decidedly downwards," said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

"The pattern we've seen so far is an overall downward trend in summer ice extent, punctuated by ups and downs due to natural variability in weather patterns and ocean conditions," Serreze said. "We could be looking at summers with essentially no sea ice on the Arctic Ocean only a few decades from now."

NSIDC research scientist Julienne Stroeve said this year's summer was cooler than the last several summers and that helped to slow the melting. Stroeve said, "Despite the lower temperatures, ice extent still fell well below the long-term average. That's consistent with the Arctic's ice cover being thinner than it was a few decades ago."

Arctic sea ice has long been recognized as a sensitive climate indicator. The region's sea ice extent—defined by NSIDC as the total area covered by at least 15 percent of ice—has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years.

"No single year's turnaround can erase that," said NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos. "Let's not lose sight of the fact that 2013 is a very low extent year, despite the increase from last September."

Please note that this number is preliminary—changing winds could still push the ice extent lower. NSIDC will release a full analysis of the melt season in early October, once monthly data are available for September.

For more details and images on the Arctic sea ice minimum extent, see the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis Web site. The site provides regular updates by NSIDC scientists on the condition of the Arctic sea ice.

See an animation of this summer's sea ice extent produced by NASA Scientific Visualization Studio at https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?4104.

Media Contact

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303-492-1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
7 August 2013

NASA DAAC Contract Awarded to NSIDC

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Contacts:
Jane Beitler, NSIDC: jbeitler@nsidc.org or +1 303 492-1497
Katy Human, CIRES: kathleen.human@cires.colorado.edu, or +1 303-735-0196

NASA has selected the University of Colorado Boulder for the management and operations of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System Snow and Ice Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC). Under the contract, valued at about $42 million, the DAAC will provide data and services related to sea ice, ice shelves, ice sheets, snow cover, and more. The contract period is from Aug. 1 through May 31, 2014, with four one-year extension options.

The DAAC, operated at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) since 1993, is the largest of several data management and research activities at NSIDC. NSIDC supports research into the Earth's frozen realms, offering more than 500 data products, primarily from Earth observation satellites. Researchers, commercial users, educators, and others worldwide use NSIDC data and information.

The NSIDC DAAC serves NASA's mission to understand the Earth and its response to natural and human-induced change, as part of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System. The DAAC processes, archives, documents, and distributes data from past and current Earth Observing System satellites, and from field measurement programs. To date, the NSIDC DAAC has stewarded and distributed more than 800 terabytes of data to researchers and other users.

The data distributed by the NSIDC DAAC provide a unique view of snow and ice processes and changes from space. Notably, researchers use NSIDC DAAC data to study ongoing changes in the cryosphere, such as the record-low extent and thinning of Arctic sea ice in 2007 and 2012, sudden events like ice shelf break-ups, and unprecedented surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2012.

More information

For more information about NSIDC, visit our Web site at https://nsidc.org.

For more information about the NSIDC DAAC, visit the DAAC area of the NSIDC Web at https://nsidc.org/daac/.

For information about NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), visit https://earthdata.nasa.gov.


National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
7 March 2019

Arctic change has widespread impacts

As the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the globe, permafrost, land ice and sea ice are disappearing at unprecedented rates. And these changes not only affect the infrastructure, economies and cultures of the Arctic, they have significant impacts elsewhere as well ­­­— according to a commentary in Earth’s Future, led by research scientist Twila Moon of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“To many, the Arctic seems like a distant universe — one that could never impact their lives,” said Moon. “But the reality is, changes in the Arctic are increasingly affecting the rest of the world, causing amplified climate change, sea level rise, coastal flooding and more devastating storms.”

Light reflects off Arctic sea ice. Light reflects off Arctic sea ice. Credit: NASA.  

Sea Level Rise

The melting of land ice has contributed to 60 percent of sea level rise since 1972. Arctic land ice comprises over two million square acres, and studies have confirmed this area is diminishing rapidly due to climate change. In addition, most land ice in this region is thinning. If current warming trajectories are maintained, Arctic land ice is expected to be a major contributor to projected global sea level rise, contributing up to one meter this century. Three out of four of the U.S.’s largest cities — New York, Los Angeles and Houston — are coastal and 39 percent of the U.S. population lives in shoreline counties. As sea levels continue to rise, coastal cities around the U.S. and world will be increasingly forced to deal with the impacts, including flooding, freshwater contamination, coastal erosion, higher storm surges and more.

Extreme Weather Events

In addition to the increased storm surges and flood events caused by sea level rise, a current hypothesis states that changes in the Arctic jet stream may be significantly affecting storms and extreme weather events, including snow storms and droughts, in the continental U.S. as well as Canada, Europe and Asia. For example, Arctic warming has been linked to a recent extreme drought in California.

Infrastructure Damage

Under the “business as usual” emission scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change RCP8.5 estimates that Alaska will face $5.5 billion dollars in infrastructure damage between 2015 and 2099. Almost half of this will be directly due to permafrost thaw. In addition, this permafrost thaw will release significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, contributing to further warming of the planet.

Coastal Erosion and Arctic Amplification

Sea ice extent and sea ice thickness have both declined in the past several decades. This sea ice loss has caused dramatic coastal erosion in Siberia and Alaska, and has serious global consequences as sea ice helps to regulate Earth’s climate by reflecting incoming solar radiation. As sea ice cover declines, Arctic warming is amplified due to these decreases in surface reflectivity.

Looking Forward

“As the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, we’ll continue to see impacts worldwide, including in tropical and temperate countries with big cities, large economies, and lots of infrastructure,” said Moon. “If we want to safeguard our people and society, we need to act now to both reduce emissions to curb warming and to prepare for the inevitable changes already set in motion.”

Co-authors of the commentary include Irina Overeem and Gifford Miller of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, Matt Druckenmiller of NSIDC, Ted Scambos of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Henry Huntington of Ocean Conservancy, George Kling of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, Amy Lauren Lovecraft of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Christina Schädel and Edward A. G. Schuur of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society of Northern Arizona University, Erin Trochim of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Francis Wiese of Stantec, Dee Williams of the Study of Environmental Arctic Change Science Steering Committee and Gifford Wong of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Media Advisory
25 March 2013

Arctic sea ice reaches maximum extent

Arctic sea ice extent on March 15 was 15.13 million square kilometers (5.84 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 15 at 15.13 million square kilometers (5.84 million square miles). This year's maximum ice extent was the sixth lowest in the satellite record (the lowest maximum extent occurred in 2011). The ten lowest maximums in the satellite record have occurred in the last ten years (2004 to 2013).

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the winter season in early April, once monthly data are available for March.

To read the full analysis from NSIDC scientists, see https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews.

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
5 February 2013

NSIDC launches "€œGreenland Ice Sheet Today,"€ reviews extreme melt season of 2012

Aerial view of meltwater lakes and streams on Greenland Ice Sheet east of Kangerlussuaq. —Credit: James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey

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.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center today launched a Web site that offers the latest satellite data and periodic scientific analysis on surface melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, a significant climate indicator watched by climate scientists worldwide. The site presents images of the widespread melt on Greenland during 2012 and scientific commentary on the year's record-breaking melt extent.

In recent years, the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced strong melting, but the 2012 melt season far exceeded all previous years of satellite monitoring, and led to significant amounts of ice loss for the year.

The Greenland Ice Sheet contains a massive amount of fresh water, which if added to the ocean could raise sea levels enough to flood many coastal areas where people live around the world. The ice sheet normally gains snow during winter and melts some during the summer, but in recent decades its mass has been dwindling due to strong melting.

"Greenland Ice Sheet Today" is live at /greenland-today/ and features analysis by the NSIDC science team and satellite images updated daily, with a one-day lag. A daily melt image shows where the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced melt on that day.

The site was inspired by the extreme melt event on the Greenland Ice Sheet in July 2012. While evidence of past heat waves similar to this can be found in ice core records, it had never been seen in the satellite record.

NSIDC scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder developed Greenland Ice Sheet Today with partial support from NASA, and with data from Thomas Mote of the University of Georgia, and additional collaboration from Marco Tedesco of the City University of New York.

NSIDC will post scientific analysis and commentary throughout the year, as conditions warrant.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
27 November 2012

UNEP report urges policymakers to account for thawing permafrost in climate projections

NSIDC research scientist Kevin Schaefer (left) is lead author in a U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) report that highlights the impact of permafrost carbon feedback on global climate. The Lena River delta in Siberia (right) is an example of permafrost and shows polygons formed by the intersection of ice wedges. —Credit: Schaefer's photo by Natasha Vizcarra courtesy NSIDC, polygon photo by Konstanze Piel courtesy Alfred Wegener Institute.)

This is a press release 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.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has released a report recommending the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assess the impact of permafrost carbon dioxide and methane emissions in the negotiation of emissions targets and global climate change policy discussions.

The report recommends that the IPCC compile a special assessment report on permafrost. It also recommends that nations with extensive permafrost create national monitoring networks and make plans to mitigate the risks of thawing permafrost. These nations include Russia, Canada, China, and the United States.

"The infrastructure we have now is not adequate to monitor future changes in permafrost," said lead author Kevin Schaefer, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). "We need to greatly expand our current networks to monitor permafrost, which requires direct investment of money and resources by individual countries."

"Individual nations need to evaluate the risks of thawing permafrost and make plans to protect communities in the most vulnerable regions," Schaefer said. Homes, businesses, and other infrastructure in the far north were built on ground that stayed frozen, and may collapse if this ground thaws.

Permafrost is ground that stays frozen for at least two years in a row and occurs in about a quarter of the land surface in the Northern Hemisphere. The report, titled Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost, said Earth's permafrost contains 1,700 gigatons of carbon as frozen organic matter, twice that currently in the atmosphere. If this organic matter thaws and begins to decay, the resulting carbon dioxide and methane emissions will amplify global warming.

"The release of carbon dioxide and methane from warming permafrost is irreversible: once the organic matter thaws and decays away, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost," Schaefer said.

"Anthropogenic emissions targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2 degrees Celsius maximum warming target," he added.

Targets for anthropogenic emissions in the proposed U.N. climate change treaty limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100, placing an overall limit on total global carbon emissions.

However, the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost are not included in current climate-prediction models.

"This report seeks to communicate to climate treaty negotiators, policy makers, and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost," said U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world," he said.

"Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems, and infrastructure has been neglected for too long," Steiner added.

According to the report, Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost.

Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 246 to 415 gigatons by 2200. Emissions could start within the next few decades and continue for several centuries, the report said.

"Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 percent of total emissions," Schaefer said. "This must be factored in to treaty negotiations expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol."

The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beginning 2005. While the U.N. climate change treaty encourages industrialized countries to limit GHG emissions, the Kyoto Protocol commits them to do so. Industrialized countries are expected to recommit to the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol in 2013.

Schaefer's co-authors include Hugues Lantuit of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany; Vladimir E. Romanovsky of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the United States; Edward A.G. Schuur of the University of Florida in the United States; and Isabelle Gärtner-Roer of the University of Zürich in Switzerland.

NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer (left) and his field research team drill permafrost cores at Prudhoe Bay, on Alaska's North Slope. Credit: Photo by Tingjun Zhang courtesy NSIDC
High-resolution image

Information and graphics

Download images and figures featured in the report at ftp://sidads.colorado.edu/pub/ppp/graphics/2012_permafrost_unep
See the UNEP Press Release at https://www.unep.org/newscentre
For more information and high-resolution photos of permafrost and frozen ground, see: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/frozenground
For more in formation about Kevin Schaefer's research, see https://nsidc.org/research/bios/schaefer.html

Media Contacts

Natasha Vizcarra, NSIDC Media Liaison, +1 303 492 1497, press@nsidc.org
Michael Logan, UNEP Public Information Officer, +254 20 762 5211 / +254 725 939 620, michael.logan@unep.org

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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.

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
13 November 2012

NASA Sensing Our Planet 2012 released

shari on the ice

Click here to find Sensing Our Planet online. High-resolution image

NASA Earth data centers have just released Sensing Our Planet 2012, a collection of in-depth science stories that reveal the surprising ways that scientists use satellite data to study our planet.

In this year's collection, researchers in Alaska search the Arctic for odd methane bubbles suspended in lake ice; a NASA researcher posits that the extreme heat wave in Russia in 2010 caused the unusual storms and flooding in Pakistan thousands of miles away; and researchers combine data from fishermen's logbooks, satellite data, and game theory to project the fate of the tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The collection also includes stories about fleeting phytoplankton in the Antarctic, the strange ozone hole over the Arctic, and new land change data handled by the newly formed South African National Space Agency, among others.

Sensing Our Planet is written and produced at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) on behalf of the NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) data centers.

Download a PDF or read articles online at https://earthdata.nasa.gov/user-resources/sensing-our-planet.

For print copies of the publication, please email nsidc@nsidc.org.

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Media Advisory
26 October 2012

NSIDC lead scientist joins Landsat Science Team

Scambos

NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos joins the Landsat Science Team. —Credit: Peter Gibbons, NSIDC
High-resolution Image

NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos has been selected by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as a member of the Landsat Science Team. The team provides science support on issues critical to the mission of the Landsat Earth-observing satellites, which have been documenting forest fires, tsunamis, moving ice sheets, and other everyday changes of the Earth's surface for the last forty years.

Scambos will serve from 2012 to 2017 and will provide technical and scientific input to the USGS and NASA on issues vital to the study of the cryosphere. His research interests include glaciology, remote sensing of the poles, climate change effects on the cryosphere, Antarctic history, geochemistry, and planetary science.

Since 1972, a series of six Landsat Earth-observing satellite missions has provided a unique and continuous record of global land-surface features. The upcoming Landsat 8 satellite, to be launched in February 2013, will extend the global record further into the 21st century. NASA and the USGS jointly manage the Landsat program.

The Landsat Science Team will play a key role in ensuring the link to forty years of similar data from the first six Landsat missions, providing the most detailed record of the planet, and the most sensitive measure of change available in satellite data.

Scambos will focus on the new capabilities of the Landsat-8 system for polar and glacier research, including its two new channels and its improved radiometric sensitivity (light-measuring precision). These have important uses for snow and ice surface mapping, ice melt detection and melt pond measurement, and thermal mapping of debris-covered glaciers and the ocean surface near large floating glaciers.

For more information on the Landsat Program, visit their Web page at landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov.

For more information on Ted Scambos's research, visit his bio at https://nsidc.org/research/bios/scambos.html.

See the USGS Press Release at https://www.usgs.gov/news?ID=3429.

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
2 October 2012

Arctic sea ice shatters previous low records; Antarctic sea ice edges to record high

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2012 was 3.61 million square kilometers (1.39 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.
—Credit: NSIDC

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

This September, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the lowest extent in the satellite record, which began in 1979. Satellite data analyzed by NSIDC scientists showed that the sea ice cover reached its lowest extent on September 16. Sea ice extent averaged for the month of September was also the lowest in the satellite record.

The near-record ice melt occurred without the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007. In 2007, winds and weather patterns helped melt large expanses of ice. "Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still reached a new record low," said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier. "This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Arctic, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable." Multi-year ice is ice that has survived more than one melt season and is thicker than first-year ice.

NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said, "It looks like the spring ice cover is so thin now that large areas melt out in summer, even without persistent extreme weather patterns." A storm that tracked through the Arctic in August helped break up the weakened ice pack.

Arctic sea ice extent reached its lowest point this year on September 16, 2012, when sea ice extent dropped to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 3.61 million square kilometers (1.39 million square miles). This places 2012 as the lowest ice extent both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Ice extent was 3.29 million square kilometers (1.27 million square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

The Arctic ice cap grows each winter as the sun sets for several months and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year the Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum extent in September. It hit its previous record low in 2007. This summer's low ice extent continued the downward trend seen over the last 33 years. Scientists attribute this trend in large part to warming temperatures caused by climate change. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 13 percent per decade. Summer sea ice extent is important because, among other things, it reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate.

In addition to the decline in sea ice extent, a two-dimensional measure of the ice cover, the ice cover has grown thinner and less resistant to summer melt. Recent data on the age of sea ice, which scientists use to estimate the thickness of the ice cover, shows that the youngest, thinnest ice, which has survived only one or two melt seasons, now makes up the large majority of the ice cover.

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted. Serreze said, "The big summer ice loss in 2011 set us up for another big melt year in 2012. We may be looking at an Arctic Ocean essentially free of summer ice only a few decades from now." NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve recently spent three weeks in the Arctic Ocean on an icebreaker ship, and was surprised by how thin the ice was and how much open water existed between the individual ice floes. "According to the satellite data, I expected to be in nearly 90% ice cover, but instead the ice concentrations were typically below 50%," she said.

As the Arctic was experiencing a record low minimum extent, the Antarctic sea ice was reaching record high levels, culminating in a Southern Hemisphere winter maximum extent of 19.44 million square kilometers (7.51 million square miles) on September 26. The September 2012 monthly average was also a record high, at 19.39 million square kilometers (7.49 million square miles) slightly higher than the previous record in 2006. Temperatures over Antarctica were near average this austral winter. Scientists largely attribute the increase in Antarctic sea ice extent to stronger circumpolar winds, which blow the sea ice outward, increasing extent.

NSIDC scientist Ted Scambos said, "Antarctica's changes—in winter, in the sea ice—are due more to wind than to warmth, because the warming does not take much of the sea ice area above the freezing point during winter. Instead, the winds that blow around the continent, the 'westerlies,' have gotten stronger in response to a stubbornly cold continent, and the warming ocean and land to the north."

Information and graphics

For a full analysis of the summer melt season and additional images, please see Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.
An NSIDC animation of the Arctic melt season is available at: https://youtu.be/AztEry44A9A
An NSIDC animation of the Antarctic melt season is available at https://youtu.be/CBD8hWbiFMI
For more information and visualizations of thinning sea ice, see the NOAA Climate Watch article, "Arctic Sea Ice Getting Thinner, Younger."

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

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Press Release
19 September 2012

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for the year and the satellite record

arctic sea ice

Sea ice can take many forms, as seen in this image of Arctic sea ice from a recent Operation IceBridge aerial survey. Varying thicknesses of sea ice are shown here, from thin, nearly transparent layers to thicker, older sea ice covered with snow. —Credit: NASA
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

BOULDER, ColoradoArctic sea ice cover likely melted to its minimum extent for the year on September 16, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Sea ice extent fell to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles), now the lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.

"We are now in uncharted territory," said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. "While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur."

Arctic sea ice cover grows each winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. This year's minimum follows a record-breaking summer of low sea ice extents in the Arctic. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, breaking the lowest extent on record set on September 18, 2007, of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles). On September 4, it fell below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles), another first in the 33-year satellite record.

"The strong late season decline is indicative of how thin the ice cover is," said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier. "Ice has to be quite thin to continue melting away as the sun goes down and fall approaches."

NSIDC scientists have observed fundamental changes in the Arctic's sea ice cover. The Arctic used to be dominated by multiyear ice, or ice that survived through several years. Lately, the Arctic is increasingly characterized by seasonal ice cover and large areas are now prone to completely melt away in summer.

"The later minimum date is somewhat surprising because we expected that the late melt in the Chukchi and East Siberian seas would result in cool surface waters that would quickly refreeze once the atmosphere cooled," Meier said. "However, ice loss continued north of the Laptev Sea, opening up a gap in the ice cover that reduced extent."

Arctic sea ice has long been recognized as a sensitive climate indicator. The region's sea ice extent—defined by NSIDC as the total area covered by at least 15 percent of ice—varies from year to year because of changeable weather conditions. However, ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years. This year's minimum will be nearly 50 percent lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos said that thinning ice, along with early loss of snow, are rapidly warming the Arctic. "But a wider impact may come from the increased heat and moisture the warmer Arctic is adding to the climate system," he said. "This will gradually affect climate in the areas where we live," he added. "We have a less polar pole—and so there will be more variations and extremes."

NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve said, "Recent climate models suggest that ice-free conditions may happen before 2050, though the observed rate of decline remains faster than many of the models are able to capture."

Serreze said, "While lots of people talk about opening of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic islands and the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast, twenty years from now from now in August you might be able to take a ship right across the Arctic Ocean."

For more details on the minimum ice extent, see the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis Web site. The site provides regular updates by NSIDC scientists on the condition of the Arctic sea ice.

Please note that this number is preliminarychanging weather conditions could still push the ice extent lower. During the first week of October, NSIDC will issue a full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, including a discussion of how the summer's low ice extent may affect the winter ice growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

Information and graphics

For the scientific report and data images, please see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

A news release by NASA is available at https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-seaicemin.html

NASA's image of the September 16 minimum may be downloaded here: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003900/a003998/Minimum_SeaIce_Area_2012_09_16.1080.tif

Contact:

Natasha Vizcarra
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
(303) 492-1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
27 August 2012

Arctic Sea Ice Breaks 2007 Extent Record

shari on the ice

Scattered ice floes are seen from the bridge of the USCGC Healy on August 20, 2012, northwest of Barrow, Alaska. Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest daily extent in the satellite record on Sunday, August 26, 2012. —Credit: U.S. Coast Guard
High-resolution image

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record yesterday, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, 2012. This was 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) below the September 18, 2007, daily extent of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles).

NSIDC and NASA scientists will host a media teleconference today, August 27, at 1 p.m. MDT/3 p.m. EDT, to discuss this new record low Arctic sea ice extent.

NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said, "By itself it's just a number, and occasionally records are going to get set. But in the context of what's happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it's an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing."

According to NSIDC Director Mark Serreze, "The previous record, set in 2007, occurred because of near perfect summer weather for melting ice. Apart from one big storm in early August, weather patterns this year were unremarkable. The ice is so thin and weak now, it doesn't matter how the winds blow."

"The Arctic used to be dominated by multiyear ice, or ice that stayed around for several years," Meier said. "Now it's becoming more of a seasonal ice cover and large areas are now prone to melting out in summer."

With two to three weeks left in the melt season, NSIDC scientists anticipate that the minimum ice extent could fall even lower.

In 2007, Arctic sea ice extent reached an all-time low in the satellite record that began in 1979. Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle of melting through the warm summer months and refreezing in the winter. While Arctic sea ice extent varies from year to year because of changeable weather conditions, ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years. The pronounced decline in summer Arctic sea ice over the last decade is considered a strong signal of long-term climate warming.

NSIDC will release a full analysis of the melt season in early October, once monthly data are available for September.

For the full announcement and to download data images and maps, see NSIDC's Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis page (https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews).

See NASA's news release Arctic Sea ice Shrinks to New Low in Satellite Era.

The panelists for today's media teleconference are:

  • Walt Meier, Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Joey Comiso, Senior Research Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact Natasha Vizcarra at press@nsidc.org or Maria-José Viñas at mj.vinas@nasa.gov by 1 p.m. MDT/3 p.m. EDT today for dial-in instructions.

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Media Advisory
30 July 2012

Turn of the century drought worst in 800 years, study says

A new scientific study indicates the turn-of-the-century drought in the North American West was the worst of the last millennium—with major impacts to the carbon cycle and hints of even drier times ahead.

The study, titled "Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America," indicates that the major drought that struck western North America from 2000 to 2004 severely reduced carbon uptake and stressed the region's water resources, with significant declines in river flows and crop yields. It was published on July 29 in Nature-Geoscience. NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer is a co-author on the study, along with Christopher Williams of Clark University. The study was led by Christopher Schwalm of Northern Arizona University (NAU).

Researchers found that the turn-of-the-century drought was the most severe region-wide event of its kind since the last mega drought 800 years ago. "The turn-of-the-century drought may be the wetter end of a new climatology that would make the 21st century climate like mega-droughts of the last millennium," said Schwalm.

Under normal climate conditions North America absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere due to plant growth, offsetting to anthropogenic carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. "Our study shows the turn-of-the-century drought reduced plant uptake by half in western North America," said Schaefer.

The current drought that has currently engulfed country is as intense in the western United States as the turn of the century drought, but also includes large portions of the Midwest and Eastern United States.

Climate models indicate drought conditions in the American West may be the new normal as the planet warms, expanding the region that is already chronically dry. "This will not only reduce carbon uptake," says Schaefer, "but will also would trigger a whole host of significant water resource challenges in a region already subject to frequent water shortages."

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

More Information

Kevin Schaefer

Media Contacts

NAU Office of Public Affairs: opaffairs@nau.edu or +1 928.523.2282
Christopher Schwalm: +1 928.523.8413
NSIDC Press Office: natasha.vizcarra@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

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Media Advisory
20 June 2012

Study: Global climate trends threaten Antarctic penguins

Three Emperor penguins stand in the sun, on the sea ice off the coast of Dumont d'Urville in Terre Adélie, Antarctica. A recent study projects an uncertain future for the species if global warming trends continue. NSIDC scientists Julienne Stroeve and Mark Serreze contributed to the study.
—Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC
High Resolution Image

If warming trends in global climate continue, thinning and shrinking Antarctic sea ice could push Emperor penguin populations toward extinction, says a study published today by the journal Global Change Biology. NSIDC scientists Mark Serreze and Julienne Stroeve contributed to the study, which was led by biologist Stephanie Jenouvrier of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

The researchers studied a population of Emperor penguins at the coast of Terre Adélie in Antarctica. To project how penguin populations may fare in the future, the researchers used historical sea ice observations, future sea ice predictions from climate models, and a demographic model based on half a century's worth of observations on the penguins at Terre Adélie.

The study found that if temperatures continue to rise at their current rate—causing Antarctic sea ice to shrink—the penguin population of Terre Adélie could respond by declining toward extinction by the year 2100. "Our median projection shows a decline in the number of breeding pairs by 81 percent over this period, and a good chance (43 percent) of a more severe decline of 90 percent or more," the study says.

Sea ice, or frozen ocean water, plays an important role in global climate research as it reflects heat back into space and helps balance the heat circulating in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere. Much attention on sea ice has focused on the Arctic Ocean, because it has been declining rapidly in the last several decades. For this study, the researchers focused on the south polar sea ice. Stroeve says, “The Antarctic sea ice has been seeing a slightly positive trend for the last few years. But if the planet continues to warm, we may also have reductions in the Antarctic sea ice and that will surely affect the penguin population.”

Emperor penguins breed and raise their young almost exclusively on sea ice. If that ice breaks up and disappears early in the breeding season, massive breeding failure may occur, says Jenouvrier. “As it is, there's a huge mortality rate just at the breeding stages, because only 50 percent of chicks survive to the end of the breeding season, and then only half of those fledglings survive until the next year,” she says.

Also collaborating on the study were Marika Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Christophe Barbraud and Henri Weimerskirch of the Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, and Hal Caswell of WHOI.

More Information

WHOI News Release
Stephanie Jenouvrier
Mark Serreze
Julienne Stroeve

Media Contacts

WHOI Media Relations Office: media@whoi.edu or +1 508.289.3340
NSIDC Press Office: natasha.vizcarra@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

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Media Advisory
1 May 2012

Grand opening of renovated National Snow and Ice Data Center

solar panel installation

Workers install solar panels on the roof of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The Green Data Center project includes the solar panels as well as new technologies for cooling that drastically cut energy usage.
—Credit: Ronald Weaver
High Resolution Image

Media are welcome to attend the invitation-only grand opening of the renovated National Snow and Ice Data Center, to be held from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, May 4.

The event, including a reception and tours, will showcase the newly installed technologies that have slashed NSIDC's energy footprint by more than 70 percent. This project, known as the NSIDC Green Data Center, serves as a model for data centers around the country that want to reduce their environmental impact.

For its green renovations, including the installation of a novel indirect evaporative cooling system and the installment of a solar power array, NSIDC has received the Governor's Award for High-Impact Research, from Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as the Green Enterprise award from the Uptime Institute, and a sustainability award from CU-Boulder.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciencesa joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationand supports research into Earth's frozen regions including sea ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost and climate interactions.

Details

Date: Friday, May 4
Time: 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Location: 1540 30th Street, CU-Boulder East Campus (Map)

For more information about the NSIDC grand opening contact Jane Beitler at jbeitler@nsidc.org or 303-492-1497.

To read more about the Green Data Center, visit the project Web page: https://nsidc.org/about/green-data-center/

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Press Release
17 April 2012

NSIDC wins Green Enterprise IT award from Uptime Institute

green data center award logo

The Green Data Center at the National Snow and Ice Data Center was selected as a winner of the 2012 Green Enterprise IT (GEIT) Awards, presented by Uptime Institute. The GEIT Awards showcase organizations that are pioneering energy-efficiency improvements in their IT and data center operations. NSIDC will be honored at the seventh annual Uptime Institute Symposium, taking place in Santa Clara, CA, from May 14 to 17 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. NSIDC will present a case study about its award-winning initiative to the Symposium audience.

NSIDC is being recognized for its Green Data Center project, an innovative redesign of the data center cooling system that slashed energy use by more than 90 percent. The project demonstrates how other data centers might cut energy usage.

"The technology works, and it shows that others can do this too," said NSIDC Technical Services Manager David Gallaher, who led the project. "Data centers are big consumers of energy, and a lot of it is for cooling." According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of 2006, U.S. data centers were estimated to consume 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, equivalent to the electricity consumed by 5.8 million average U.S. households. By 2020, the carbon footprint of data centers will exceed the airline industry.

The Green Data Center design team was led by David Gallaher, in collaboration with Director Mark Serreze, and DAAC Manager Ronald Weaver from NSIDC; Rick Osbaugh from RMH Group in Denver; Otto Van Geet from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); and Lee Gillan from Coolerado Corporation.

More Information

For more information on the project, see the NSIDC Green Data Center Web site.

To learn more about the award, visit the Uptime Institute Web site.

Contact
Jane Beitler
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
jbeitler@nsidc.org

David Gallaher
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1.303.492.1827
david.gallaher@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
12 April 2012

NSIDC science at IPY 2012

shari on the ice

NSIDC researcher Shari Gearheard (right) and hunter Lasalie Jonasie (left) keep an eye on a polar bear while traveling on Arctic sea ice. Gearheard leads the ELOKA project, a unique effort to document local and traditional environmental knowledge in the Arctic. NSIDC scientist Peter Pulsifer will talk about the project at IPY 2012.
—Credit: Edward Wingate
High Resolution Image

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists will present new research at the 2012 International Polar Year (IPY) Conference in Montreal, Canada, from April 23 to 27. IPY ran from 2007 to 2008, but researchers are still working on data collected during the effort. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists. For more information, contact NSIDC Press Liaison Natasha Vizcarra at natasha.vizcarra@nsidc.org.

The mission of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is to improve our understanding of the Earth's frozen realms. This includes our planet's floating sea ice cover, lake ice, glaciers, ice sheets, snow cover and frozen ground, collectively known as the cryosphere. The National Snow and Ice Data Center is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Presentations

A Conceptual Framework for Managing Very Diverse Data for Complex, Interdisciplinary Science. Lessons from the IPY

Mark Parsons
10:00 a.m., Tuesday 24 April, Room 524C

The International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY) was a good case study in data management. Researchers produced huge amounts of very diverse data covering complex interdisciplinary science. Now that the research is completed, what will happen to these data? How will they be archived and made available for future generations? NSIDC data expert Mark Parsons discusses strategies for long-term data management solutions to the challenges of diverse data.

The Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic: Building a Network Across Knowledge Domains

Peter Pulsifer
11:45 a.m., Tuesday 24 April, Room 520BC

NSIDC researchers are working with indigenous Arctic people to document and understand environmental changes that are occurring there. People who live in the Arctic are noticing and documenting changes to weather, climate, and sea ice conditions. Pulsifer will discuss the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA) project, a unique effort to share and preserve information about local environmental knowledge. For more information on the ELOKA project, attend Pulsifer's second talk at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, ELOKA: Technical Approaches for Indigenous Knowledge Documentation (room 520A).

A New Sea Ice Concentration Climate Data Record for Monitoring Arctic Change and Variability

Walt Meier
10:15 a.m., Thursday 26 April, Room 520BC

Scientists from NSIDC and NOAA are collaborating to produce a consistent, long-term data record for sea ice, known as a climate data record (CDR), to better document long-term changes in sea ice and climate. Data on sea ice extent are one of the most important indicators of climate change. In the Arctic Ocean, sea ice has declined by more than 30 percent since 1979. But scientists use a variety of algorithms and data sources to study sea ice and the methods are not always completely documented. Meier will talk about the development of the new sea ice CDR, which aims to provide clear data so that researchers can better understand how climate is changing.

Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice in the CMIP5 Climate Models

ted and amigos on the ice

Ted Scambos poses with the AMIGOS station, a weather, GPS, and camera station set up to record changes on the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Scambos will discuss his project during a poster session at IPY 2012.
Credit: Ted Scambos
High Resolution Image

Julienne Stroeve
11:45 a.m. Friday 27 April, Room 516D

Researchers are working on new climate models that better capture observed changes in the climate system, such as the rapid retreat in the Arctic sea ice cover during the last 50 years. Climate models in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) grossly underestimated the amount of observed sea ice loss. Sea ice plays an important role in the climate system, and may contribute to feedbacks that would further warm the Arctic. Stroeve will discuss the latest efforts to improve sea ice projections for the next IPCC report, AR5, scheduled for publication in 2014.

Towards the Next Antarctic Ice Shelf Disintegration? Recent Changes in the Larsen B Ice Shelf Remnant and its Tributary Glaciers

Ted Scambos
Poster Presentation: Tuesday 5:00 p.m.

New data show that the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf is likely to disintegrate in the near future, potentially allowing the glaciers that flow into it to speed up. Scar Inlet is the last remaining portion of the Larsen C, the large Antarctic ice shelf that collapsed dramatically in 2002. Since then, researchers have been carefully monitoring the remaining area of the ice shelf, which buttresses two large glaciers, the Flask and Leppard. Data from GPS and weather monitoring stations at Scar Inlet show that temperatures have remained above average and snow accumulation has been low, two conditions that might be tied to ice shelf collapse. Satellite data suggest that if the Scar Inlet portion of the ice shelf collapses, the glaciers behind it will likely speed up, moving more ice from the Antarctic Ice Sheet into the ocean.

More information

Contact: For further inquiries, please contact Natasha Vizcarra at natasha.vizcarra@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

For updates from the meeting:

Follow us on Twitter (@nsidc)

Find us on Facebook/nsidc.

For more information about IPY2012, visit the meeting Web site at https://www.ipy2012montreal.ca.

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Media Advisory
4 April 2012

Thawing permafrost 50 million years ago led to global warming events

Carbon dioxide released from thawing permafrost may have contributed to a major global warming events about 55 million years ago, suggests a new study published today in the journal Nature. NSIDC scientists Tingjun Zhang and Kevin Schaefer contributed to the study, which was led by climate scientist Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts.

The study suggests that carbon released from thawing permafrost could explain the ancient warming event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and a series of smaller warming events that followed, between 55 and 52 million years ago. Schaefer estimated permafrost carbon storage and release in the Arctic and Antarctica, based on current observations of carbon storage in permafrost. He said, "We found that changes in the Earth's orbit triggered massive releases of CO2 and methane from thawing permafrost in Antarctica."

Previous research had shown that atmospheric carbon levels rose massively during the PETM, and temperatures warmed by about 5 degrees Celsius. Researchers had thought that most of the carbon released during that time came from frozen methane gas in ocean sediments. The new study found that instead, carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost amplified warming due to changes in the Earth's orbit.

Schaefer and Zhang have previously studied how the carbon stored in permafrost could contribute to future climate warming. Schaefer said, "If the Arctic permafrost thaws out, it will release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere and amplify warming due to the burning of fossil fuels." For more details on his work, see the 2011 press release, Thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming in decades to come, says new study.

For more information on the study, read the press release from the University of Massachusetts News Office. The journal article is available from the journal Nature (subscription may be required), or upon request.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
20 March 2012

NSIDC scientist leads Nunavut-Nepal exchange

researcher in Nepal

Prayer flags blow in the wind just outside the village of Burje, the home base of Gearheard and colleagues during their recent visit to the Tsum Valley, Nepal. Gearheard traveled to Nepal with a group of Inuit from Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada, to share knowledge and experiences about living in a changing climate.
—Credit: Shari Gearheard

From February 3 to 17, NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard traveled to Nepal with a group of Inuit from Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. The team exchanged knowledge and ideas with Nepalese and Tsumbas, residents of the Tsum Valley, a high alpine region experiencing rapid environmental change, much like the Arctic. Gearheard said, "Communities in both these regions depend upon snow and ice and that snow and ice is changing."

Gearheard lives and works with Inuit hunters and Elders in Clyde River, studying how environmental change is affecting the region, and how the people who live there are affected by and respond those changes. Gearheard and fellow Arctic researcher Henry Huntington, of Huntington Consulting, came up with the idea of comparing communities in high altitude mountain regions with communities in high latitude polar regions. What environmental changes were people observing? How were the communities responding to these changes?

In Nunavut, climate change has led to declining sea ice and changing weather patterns. In the Tsum Valley, weather patterns are also shifting and glaciers are receding rapidly. "We were especially interested in providing an opportunity for people living in these communities to be able to interact directly with each other and share knowledge and experiences, as well as share their cultures and worldviews," Gearheard said.

researcher in Nepal

Inuit hunter Liemikie Palluq (left) and NSIDC researcher Shari Gearheard dressed in the traditional clothing of their Tsumba hosts. Sharing culture, traditions, and ways of life were an important part of the exchange.
—Credit: Henry Huntington

Gearheard and Huntington traveled with three men from Clyde River: hunters David Iqaqrialu and Liemikie Palluq, and Mike Jaypoody, a young filmmaker and computer technician. Also joining them were Tiina Kurvits from the United Nations Environment Programme/Global Resource Information Database (UNEP/GRID)-Arendal and the "Many Strong Voices" project, and Dhawa Lama, a Kathmandu-based guide originally from Tsum Valley, who is working with different organizations and individuals to bring beneficial projects back to his home community.

In Tsum, the group saw many similarities between life in the far North and life in the high mountains of Nepal. "Like the Inuit, Tsumbas are seeing rapid social change a well as environmental change," Gearheard said, "The introduction of tourism and technology is speeding up the pace of life, adding new stresses."

Researchers have a lot to learn from people who depend on snow and ice for their livelihoods, says Gearheard. "These communities have important knowledge and observations, as well as strategies for responding to change," she said, "There is great power and benefit in facilitating opportunities for them to directly share their experiences and knowledge with each other."

For more information on Gearheard's work, see her Research Web page. Find more photos from the exchange in the NSIDC Photo Gallery.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Job Announcement
23 January 2012

Glacio-hydrologist for Himalayan glacier study

The Integrated Water and Hazard Management (IWHM) programme and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) seek a glacio-hydrologist to work on a project entitled Monitoring and Assessment of Changes in Glaciers, Snow, and Glacio-hydrology in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas.

For more information see the job announcement on the ICIMOD jobs Web page: https://www.icimod.org/vacancies. Applications are due by January 29, 2012.

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Press Release
7 December 2011

New study details glacier ice loss following ice shelf collapse

researcher in Nepal

CU-Boulder graduate student Adina Racoviteanu collected snow and ice samples for isotopic analyses near the summit of Mt. Mera, Khumbu region, Nepal. Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world at 27,825 feet, is visible in the far left background.
—Credit: Mark Williams, University of Colorado

study area map

The High Asia mountains funnel water into such major river basins as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
—Credit: James Schweithelm, USAID

A University of Colorado Boulder team is partnering with the United States Agency for International Development to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle 10 countries.

NSIDC scientist Richard Armstrong, and Mark Williams of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at CU, are the two faculty members leading the four-year study. They said the aim is to provide a comprehensive and systematic assessment of freshwater resources in the so-called "High Asia" region, which encompasses five mountain ranges and watersheds totaling roughly 1 million square miles. The area under study is roughly equal to one-third of the contiguous United States.

This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow. Such data ultimately will provide a better understanding of the timing and volume of runoff in the face of climate change, said the CU-Boulder researchers.

The High Asia mountains funnel water into such major river basins as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The High Asian mountain ranges under study include the Himalaya, Karkoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir and Tien Shan. The mountain ranges straddle Bhutan, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Through the partnership, scientists and students within the 10 countries will carry out collaborative research with CU-Boulder scientists. The project also will support satellite data processing by CU-Boulder staff and trainings for local institutions and observers within the study area to collect water and precipitation samples for the project.

While about one-third of the world's population depends to some degree on fresh water within the High Asia hydrological system, not enough data exists on river and stream flows and the contribution of seasonal snow and glacier melt to paint an accurate picture of the water resources there, said Armstrong, a senior research scientist at NSIDC.

The team requires an accurate quantitative portrait of each major river basin and sub-basin in High Asia. The Indus River, for example, which is fed by waterways from the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountain ranges, comes together at the city of Besham, Pakistan, "where it immediately turns into the largest irrigation system in the world," said Williams. "The sources of water in High Asia feeding the major foothill regions where most of the people live are really the crux of this study."

Armstrong said there is a lot of misinformation in the public arena regarding glaciers, including reports that glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than anywhere else in the world and, if this rapid melting continues, rivers are on track to first flood and then dry up. "Those reports simply are not true," Armstrong said.

USAID is an independent United States government agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.

"USAID wants to know how the High Asia water resources affect local populations," said Armstrong, also a fellow at the CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. "They are looking at this challenge from a sustainability perspective, including what is going to happen to rivers like the Indus and the Brahmaputra in the next 20 years."

The researchers will use remote-sensing satellite data from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency to develop time-series maps of seasonal snowfall amounts and recent changes in glacier extent, said Williams, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder geography professor. They also will use local meteorological and river discharge data from throughout the High Asia study area.

"What's really driving this study are questions about water security," said Williams. "There is a lot of international interest in accurate water resource data from the High Asia region and what the water security consequences are, since water conflicts between countries can escalate rapidly. This study should provide answers as to what is real and what is false."

"Once we have a picture of recent and current conditions, we can go forward and run computer 'melt models' based on the temperatures at various elevations, giving us trends in snowmelt and glacier melt by region and time," said Armstrong. "That's when we start to come up with water volumes for individual rivers and streams from both melting snow and ice."

The modeling results will be verified using geochemical and water isotope "tracer" techniques developed at CU that allow researchers to follow water as it courses through mountain landscapes. Previous studies by Williams and his research group showed high mountain groundwater in Colorado dominated by snowmelt can be locked underground for decades before emerging into downstream waterways. "These isotopic and geochemical measurements provide unique fingerprints, allowing a CSI-like approach to tracing water sources," said Williams.

Critical to the project is the university's expertise in remote sensing research through NSIDCincluding assessing changes in Earth's snow and ice coverand INSTAAR's research on the physical, chemical and biological processes in "critical zones," which are the areas between treetops and groundwater. INSTAAR administers both the Long-Term Ecological Research site at Niwot Ridge west of Boulder and the Critical Zone Observatory project in the Boulder Creek watershed for the National Science Foundation.

One of the biggest project challenges will be to obtain data from some of the most remote regions on Earth, said Williams. The water, rain and snow samples collected by collaborators within the study area will be sent back to CU-Boulder for analysis.

The research will bring together scientists and government officials in the countries of High Asia to coordinate and compare results on what part of river flows come from glaciers and seasonal snow. This sharing of information is important because the rivers of Asia can cross several country borders. USAID support will contribute to the research and coordination and CU-Boulder will make its archived and new data on snow and ice easily available to all the countries and their citizens.

The CU team will hire Asian project managers and collaborate with research scientists affiliated with various Asian institutes. "We already have some good scientific contacts in the region, people we know who are reliable and who can deliver," said Armstrong.

A number of CU undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in the study and support will be available to Asian students by way of the funding provided to Asian project partners.

"One of the main project goals is to transfer scientific understanding to people in the region who can continue these measurements and analysis once the USAID project is finished," said Armstrong. "The idea is to provide the local population with the information they need to make decisions that will increase sustainability as land use and climate change."

Contacts:

Richard Armstrong, 303-492-1828
Richard.Armstrong@colorado.edu

Mark Williams, 303-492-8830
markw@snobear.colorado.edu

Jim Scott, CU media relations
303-492-3114
Jim.Scott@colorado.edu

Katherine Leitzell, NSIDC Press Office
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
(303) 492-1497
leitzell@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
1 December 2011

NSIDC scientist contributes to NOAA Arctic Report Card

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration today released the 2011 Arctic Report Card, an annual compilation of scientific observations of the changing Arctic region.

NSIDC scientist Walt Meier co-wrote the section on Arctic sea ice. Arctic sea ice extent was the second-lowest in the satellite record this fall, continuing a downward trend in ice extent seen over the last 30 years. In addition to changing sea ice, the report chronicles warmer-than-average air temperatures in the Arctic, increasing vegetation on northern land, and acidification of the Arctic Ocean as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Contact

NSIDC press office
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

For more news from NSIDC, follow us on Twitter (@nsidc) or find us on Facebook.

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Media Advisory
30 November 2011

Permafrost paper in Nature

permafrost researchers

Kevin Schaefer's research team drills permafrost cores on Alaska's North Slope. A new editorial in the journal Nature predicts large carbon releases from thawing permafrost.
Credit: Kevin Schaefer, NSIDC/University of Colorado at Boulder

As Arctic temperatures rise, permafrost will thaw, releasing greenhouse gases that will accelerate the warming of the planet. But how much or how quickly is not well understood. In an editorial piece published today in the journal Nature, NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer joins a group of forty-one international experts working to pin down that number.

The researchers calculate that permafrost thaw will have a greater effect on climate than previous modeling studies have predicted. Arctic soil is thought to hold around 1,700 billion tons of organic carbon, around four times more than all the carbon ever emitted by modern human activity and twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. As the Arctic warms, the frozen soil thaws and microbes begin to break down frozen plant and animal matter, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

In this paper, researchers in a group called the Permafrost Carbon Network predicted how much of the permafrost is likely to thaw, how much carbon that will release, and how much of that carbon will be in the form of methane, which has a much greater effect on warming than carbon dioxide. Their collective estimate is that the amount of carbon released by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times greater than reported in several recent modeling studies.

The editorial is available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7375/full/480032a.html.

For more information on Kevin Schaefer's research, read All About Frozen Ground: Methane and Frozen Ground.

Contact:

Kevin Schaefer
+1 303.492.8869
kevin.schaefer@nsidc.org

NSIDC press office
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

To keep track of news from NSIDC, follow us on Twitter (@nsidc) or find us on Facebook.

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Media Advisory
28 November 2011

NSIDC science at AGU: Arctic sea ice, climate change, and permafrost carbon

antarctica scene

Yankee Camp, in Antarctica, basks in the Antarctic sunlight. NSIDC researchers will bring their findings on polar regions to the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting, December 5 to 9, 2011.
—Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists will present new research at the 2011 American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, California, from December 5 to 9. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists. We also invite you to visit NSIDC in the AGU Exhibit Hall at booth numbers 1437 and 1439, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Tuesday through Friday.

NSIDC supports research into our world's frozen realms: the snow, ice, glaciers, frozen ground, and climate interactions that make up Earth's cryosphere. We work to ensure that past, present, and future science data remain accessible for studying the Earth and its climate.

Oral Presentations

A New Sea Ice Concentration Climate Data Record for Tracking Arctic and Antarctic Variability and Change

Walt Meier
4:45 p.m. Monday, December 5
Moscone West 3009

Scientists from NSIDC and NOAA are collaborating to produce a consistent, long-term data record for sea ice, to better document long-term changes in sea ice and climate. Data on sea ice extent are one of the most important indicators of climate change: in the Arctic Ocean, sea ice has declined by more than 30 percent since 1979. However, scientists use a variety of algorithms and data sources to study sea ice and the methods are not always completely documented. That can make it difficult to compare data over long periods of time, for effective measurements related to climate. The new project creates a consistent data record, developed using multiple algorithms and including estimates of uncertainties. (C14A-03)

Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice in the CMIP5 Climate Models

Julienne Stroeve
11:40 a.m. Tuesday, December 6
Moscone West 3011

Climate model simulations, prepared for the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, failed to predict the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice extent over the last five years. NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve examines the latest model output for the next IPCC report, evaluating how well these models can predict changes in ice extent. (C21D-04)

Can we avoid the permafrost carbon tipping point?

Kevin Schaefer
10:40 a.m. Thursday, December 8
Moscone West Room 3003

Researchers predict that climate change in Arctic regions could lead to a tipping point where thawing permafrost begins to pump carbon into the atmosphere. That extra carbon would intensify the effects of climate change. When will the tipping point occurand can reducing emissions now ensure that we do not reach it? Scientists have now run a series of model projections to determine how much the temperature can increase before permafrost reaches its tipping point. (GC42B-01)

Poster presentations

Global policy implications of thawing permafrost

Kevin Schaefer
1:40 - 6 p.m., Tuesday December 6

New research by NSIDC and NOAA scientists indicates that thawing permafrost could cause the world to overshoot its target concentrations for carbon dioxide emissions, leading to a warmer climate. Global targets for fossil fuel emissions would need to be reduced by 15 percent in order to account for this extra carbon, the researchers say. For more information on the science of permafrost carbon, make sure to also attend Shaefer's related talk, "Can we avoid the permafrost carbon tipping point?" (PA23C-1759)

The evolution of the data scientist

Mark Parsons
8:00 a.m. - 12:20 p.m., Tuesday December 6

What is a data scientist? NSIDC data expert Mark Parsons illustrates one man's journey in data science and how it echoed the evolution of the discipline. He explores how the discipline got to where it is today and how it continues to evolve in a data ecosystem where researchers work with ever larger and more complicated data sets, across many disciplines. (IN21B-1421)

For a full list of talks and posters presented by NSIDC staff, see NSIDC Talks, Posters, and Presentations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Conference.

For further inquiries, please contact press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.
For updates from the meeting, follow us on Twitter (@nsidc) or find us on Facebook.

For more information about the American Geophysical Union fall meeting, visit the AGU Web site at https://www.agu.org/meetings//.

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Media Advisory
3 November 2011

NSIDC Receives Award for Green Data Center Design

data center cooling units

NSIDC technical services manager David Gallaher points out features of the new cooling units during the construction of NSIDC's Green Data Center. A key element of the redesign, these new evaporative units reduce cooling energy by more than 90%, compared to the traditional air conditioning units that they replaced.
—Credit: Ron Weaver/National Snow and Ice Data Center

The Green Data Center Team at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, has received the Colorado 2011 Governor's Award for High-Impact Research. The team was recognized for its innovative data center redesign that slashed energy consumption for data center cooling by more than 90%, demonstrating how other data centers and the technology industry can save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

The Green Data Center went online in summer 2011. The heart of the design includes new cooling technology that uses a fraction of the energy required by traditional air conditioning. The second phase of the project, to be completed in late 2011, includes an extensive rooftop solar array that will result in additional energy savings. The design team was led by NSIDC technical services manager David Gallaher, in collaboration with several Colorado-based companies and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Researchers around the world who study Earth's snow, ice, and climate, access data from NSIDC's active data archive, a bank of computers and storage devices that require a cool environment to operate. The machines themselves generate heat. "Even in the dead of winter, our computer room air conditioners were cranking full tilt trying to chill off the 100-degree-plus heat coming off the back of these units," Gallaher said.

Just cooling NSIDC's computer room used to require over 300,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, enough to power 34 homes. "There was a certain irony that here we are working on climate research and our data center was consuming an awful lot of power," Gallaher said.

The Green Data Center design takes advantage of Boulder's arid climate. "We're using a new technology called indirect evaporative cooling," Gallaher said. These units, manufactured by Coolerado Corporation, cool by blowing air over water, using much less energy than compressors. Unlike traditional evaporative cooling, indirect evaporative cooling does not add humidity to the room, maintaining the dry environment that computers need.

Smart control technology also saves energy. During much of the year, the system cools the data center by pulling in and filtering outdoor air. On hot days, the new cooling units automatically step in. The solar array will normally feed energy back into the electrical grid, further reducing the center's net carbon footprint. In case of a power outage, the solar array will charge the batteries that provide NSIDC's emergency power supply.

"The technology works, and it shows that others can do this too," Gallaher said. "Data centers are big consumers of energy, and a lot of it is for cooling." According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of 2006, U.S. data centers were estimated to consume 61 billion kilowat- hours of electricity, equivalent to the electricity consumed by 5.8 million average U.S. households. By 2020, the carbon footprint of data centers will exceed that of the airline industry.

NSIDC received a grant for the project from the National Science Foundation (NSF) under its Academic Research Infrastructure Program, with additional support from NASA. NSIDC, which is supported entirely by federal research funding, manages scientific data from NSF field programs and from NASA's Earth Observing System remote sensing program.

The Green Data Center was conceived when NSIDC faced an expensive replacement of its aging, ailing computer room air conditioners. The new evaporative cooling units not only save energy, but offer lower cost of maintenance.

The Governor's Award for High-Impact Research recognizes innovations by Colorado's federally sponsored science and technology laboratories that have made significant impacts beyond the labs. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will present the award during a reception at the LEEDS Platinum-certified Xcel Energy building in downtown Denver on November 15th.

The Green Data Center team includes David Gallaher, NSIDC Director Mark Serreze, and Ronald Weaver from NSIDC; Rick Osbaugh from RMH Group in Denver; Otto Van Geet from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); and Lee Gillan from Coolerado Corporation.

For more information on NSIDC's Green Data Center, including a monitor of computing center energy usage and cooling, visit https://nsidc.org/about/green-data-center/.

NSIDC supports research into Earth's frozen regions, including sea ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost, and climate interactions. NSIDC performs scientific research, manages and distributes scientific data, and educates the public. For more information, visit https://nsidc.org.

The 2011 Governor's Award for High Impact Research is sponsored by CO-LABS.

Contacts:
Jane Beitler
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
jbeitler@nsidc.org

Elizabeth Lock
University of Colorado Boulder
Media Relations
303-492-3117
elizabeth.lock@colorado.edu

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Media Advisory
19 October 2011

NSIDC scientists present new research at world climate conference

NSIDC scientists will present new research at the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Open Science Conference in Denver, Colorado, from October 24 to 28.

The conference, titled Climate Research in Service to Society, focuses on how science can best serve society in dealing with climate change. Researchers from around the world will present the latest scientific findings on climate, including new observations of climate, improved climate models, and potential solutions to policy questions.

On Thursday, October 27, NSIDC Director Mark Serreze will convene a session of oral presentations related to the cryosphere—frozen areas of the world—and climate. Researchers will present new observations of the Greenland Ice Sheet, future projections of Arctic sea ice decline, and research on the connections between Arctic sea ice loss and changing weather patterns. NSIDC researcher Kevin Schaefer will talk about the carbon frozen in Arctic permafrost, and how it could add to climate change.

NSIDC researchers Julienne Stroeve, Andrew Barrett, Andrew Slater, and Walt Meier will also present new research at poster sessions during the conference. For more information visit the conference Web site at http://www.conference2011.wcrp-climate.org/index.html.

Contact:
press@nsidc.org
+1 303.492.1497

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Press Release
4 October 2011

Arctic sea ice minimum 2011

sea ice extent for September 2011

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2010 was 4.90 million square kilometers (1.89 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.
—Credit: NSIDC

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

This September, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the second-lowest extent in the satellite record, which began in 1979. Satellite data analyzed by NSIDC scientists showed that the sea ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low, while other data sources showed that ice extent matched or even fell below the record-setting low extent in 2007.

The Arctic ice cap grows each winter as the sun sets for several months and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year the Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum extent in September. It hit a record low in 2007.

The near-record ice melt followed higher-than-average summer air temperatures, but without the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007. In 2007, winds and weather patterns helped melt large expanses of ice. "Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels," said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier. "This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable." Multi-year ice has survived more than one melt season and is thicker than first-year ice.

NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said, "It looks like the spring ice cover is so thin now that large areas melt out in summer, even without persistent extreme weather patterns."

Arctic sea ice extent reached its lowest point this year on September 9, at 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

This summer's low ice extent continued the downward trend seen over the last 30 years. Scientists attribute this trend in large part to warming temperatures caused by climate change. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade. Sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate.

In addition to the decline in sea ice extent, a two-dimensional measure of the ice cover, the ice cover has grown thinner and less resistant to summer melt. Recent data on the age of sea ice, which scientists use to estimate the thickness of the ice cover, shows that the youngest, thinnest ice, which has survived only one or two melt seasons, now makes up 80 percent of the ice cover. NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve said, "The oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic continues to decline, especially in the Beaufort Sea and the Canada Basin. This appears to be an important driver for the low sea ice conditions over the past few summers."

NASA senior scientist Joey Comiso of Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said the continued low minimum sea ice levels fits into the large-scale decline pattern that scientists have watched unfold over the past three decades. "The sea ice is not only declining; the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic," Comiso said. "The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover."

While the sea ice extent did not dip below the 2007 record, the sea ice area as measured by the microwave radiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about 10 days in early September, Comiso said. Sea ice "area" differs from extent in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted. Serreze said, "The big summer ice loss this year is setting us up for another big melt year in 2012. We may be looking at an Arctic Ocean essentially free of summer ice only a few decades from now."

NSIDC scientists use sea ice extent data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) sensor on the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F17 satellite. Other data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer — Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) sensor on the NASA Aqua satellite, processed by researchers at the University of Bremen, showed sea ice extent falling slightly below the 2007 minimum.

Information and graphics

For a full analysis of the summer melt season and additional images, please see Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

An animation of the melt season is available from NASA at: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a010000/a010800/a010828/index.html.

An animation of ice age changes from 1980 to 2011 is available from NOAA at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features

Contact:

National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado Boulder
+1 303.492.1497
press@nsidc.org

Steve Cole
NASA Headquarters,
Washington DC
+1 202.358.0918
stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

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Press Release
25 July 2011

New study details glacier ice loss following ice shelf collapse

aerial view of crane glacier in antarctica

Crane Glacier is one of the several Antarctic glaciers that fed into the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which dramatically collapsed in 2002. A new study provides detailed information on how much ice these glaciers are losing into the ocean.
—Credit: Erin Pettit, University of Alaska Fairbanks

An international team of researchers has combined data from multiple sources to provide the clearest account yet of how much glacial ice surges into the sea following the collapse of Antarctic ice shelves.

The work by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the Laboratoire d'Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Toulouse, France, and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) details recent ice losses while promising to sharpen future predictions of further ice loss and sea level rise likely to result from ongoing changes along the Antarctic Peninsula.

"Not only do you get an initial loss of glacial ice when adjacent ice shelves collapse, but you get continued ice losses for many yearseven decadesto come," says Christopher Shuman, a researcher at UMBC's Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. "This further demonstrates how important ice shelves are to Antarctic glaciers."

Shuman is lead author of the study "2001-2009 elevation and mass losses in the Larsen A and B embayments, Antarctic Peninsula" published online today in the Journal of Glaciology.

An ice shelf is a thick floating tongue of ice, fed by a tributary glacier, extending into the sea off a land mass. Previous research showed that the recent collapse of several ice shelves in Antarctica led to acceleration of the glaciers that feed into them. Combining satellite data from NASA and the French space agency CNES, along with measurements collected during aircraft missions similar to ongoing NASA IceBridge flights, Shuman, Etienne Berthier of the University of Toulouse and Ted Scambos of the NSIDC produced detailed ice loss maps from 2001 to 2009 for the main tributary glaciers of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

"The approach we took drew on the strengths of each data source to produce the most complete picture yet of how these glaciers are changing," Berthier said, noting that the study relied on easy access to remote sensing information provided by NASA and CNES. The team used data from NASA sources including the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments and the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat).

The analysis reveals rapid elevation decreases of more than 500 feet for some glaciers, and it puts the total ice loss from 2001 to 2006 squarely between the widely varying and less certain estimates produced using an approach that relies on assumptions about a glacier's mass budget.

The authors' analysis shows ice loss in the study area of at least 11.2 gigatons per year from 2001 to 2006. Their ongoing work shows ice loss from 2006 to 2010 was almost as large, averaging 10.2 gigatons per year.

"This study shows where the tracking of sea level rise is heading in terms of the level of detail possible and the instrumentation that can be brought to bear," Scambos said. "We're showing that glacier changes can start fast, with a single climate or ocean 'bang,' but they have a long persistence."

More information

The article is available online on the Journal of Glaciology Web site.

An animation showing ice edge changes for the Larsen B ice shelf and its adjacent tributary glaciers is available online, at https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?3803. A map showing elevation changes of tributary glaciers is available at https://nsidc.org/sites/nsidc.org/files/images/news/2011_crane_thumb_0.jpg

A companion paper, "The triggering of sub glacial lake drainage during rapid glacier drawdown: Crane Glacier, Antarctic Peninsula," by the same three authors, led by Scambos, is also available online in the Annals of Glaciology in the issue "Earth's Disappearing Ice: Drivers, Responses and Impacts."

Background information from NSIDC: Quick Facts about Ice Shelves

Contact:

Anthony Lane
UMBC
(410) 455-5793
alane@umbc.edu

National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado
(303) 492-1497
press@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
24 June 2011

NSIDC scientist participates in climate webinar

On June 28 at 11:00 a.m. MDT, NSIDC researcher Walt Meier will participate in a webinar to discuss the highlights of the 2010 State of the Climate report, published by NOAA and the American Meteorological Society. The peer-reviewed report, with contributions from 368 scientists in 48 countries, updates many global climate indicators, and examines notable weather and climate events from 2010, which was one of the two warmest years on record and saw a number of weather and climate extremes driven in large part by El Niño-Southern Oscillation and other major climate patterns. Other presenters will include NOAA scientists Thomas R. Karl and Deke Arndt, as well as Peter Thorne from North Carolina State University.

Journalists may register for the webinar via the NOAA registration system.

For more information, contact NOAA Press Liaison John Leslie at +1 301.713.0214 or john.leslie@noaa.gov.

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Media Advisory
4 May 2011

NSIDC scientists contribute to Arctic assessment report

NSIDC scientists contributed to a new report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), an international scientific organization. The report, entitled "Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic," compiled scientific observations of the impact of climate change in the Arctic region. The assessment highlights observed changes in snow cover, sea ice, and permafrost, along with future projections for climate change in the Arctic.

The full report will be available on May 12, 2011. An executive summary of the report, and additional information for journalists, are currently available from the AMAP Web site at http://www.amap.no/events/2011.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
16 February 2011

Thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming in decades to come, says new study

researchers drill a permafrost core

Kevin Schaefer's research team drills permafrost cores on Alaska's North Slope. New findings by the researchers indicate permafrost in Earth's frozen regions is readying to release vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, increasing carbon dioxide levels.
—Credit: Kevin Schaefer, NSIDC/University of Colorado at Boulder

This is a press release 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 at Boulder.

One- to two-thirds of Earth's permafrost will disappear by 2200, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a study by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

"The amount of carbon released is equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age," said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer. "That is a lot of carbon."

The carbon from permanently frozen ground—known as permafrost—will make its impact, not only on the climate, but also on international strategies to reduce climate change Schaefer said. "If we want to hit a target carbon concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously calculated to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost," Schaefer said. "Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want."

The carbon comes from plant material frozen in soil during the ice age of the Pleistocene: the icy soil trapped and preserved the biomass for thousands of years. Schaefer equates the mechanism to storing broccoli in the home freezer: "As long as it stays frozen, it stays stable for many years," he said. "But you take it out of the freezer and it will thaw out and decay."

Now, permafrost is thawing in a warming climate and—just like the broccoli—the biomass will thaw and decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere like any other decomposing plant material, Schaefer said. To predict how much carbon will enter the atmosphere and when, Schaefer and coauthors modeled the thaw and decay of organic matter currently frozen in permafrost under potential future warming conditions as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They found that between 29 and 59 percent of the permafrost will disappear by 2200. That permafrost took tens of thousands of years to form, but will melt in less than 200, Schaefer said.

The scientists used a model to predict how much carbon the thawing will release. They estimate an extra 190 plus or minus 64 gigatons of carbon will enter the atmosphere by 2200—about one-fifth the total amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere today. Carbon emissions from thawing permafrost will require greater reductions in fossil fuel emissions, to limit the atmospheric carbon dioxide to some maximum value associated with a target climate, Schaefer said. "It means the problem is getting more and more difficult all the time," he said. "It is hard enough to reduce the emissions in any case, but now we saying that we have to reduce it even more."

The study is published online in February 16 in Tellus. Coauthors on the study include CIRES Fellow and senior research scientist Tingjun Zhang from NSIDC, Lori Bruhwiler of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Andrew Barrett from NSIDC. Funding from the project came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA and the National Science Foundation.

Contacts

Kevin Schaefer, CIRES/NSIDC, +1 303.492.8869, Kevin.Schaefer@nsidc.org
NSIDC Communication, +1 303.492.1497, press@nsidc.org

More information

The article is available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x/full

For more information about carbon and frozen ground, see the NSIDC All About Frozen Ground Web site.

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Media Advisory
10 December 2010

Antarctic scientist at AGU press briefing

ted in antarctica

Ted Scambos skis across Scar Inlet on the Antarctic Peninsula, during a 2009-2010 field expedition to study changing glaciers in the region.
—Credit: Ted Scambos

NSIDC Lead Scientist and Antarctic expert Ted Scambos will join a panel of scientists on December 15 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time for a press briefing on changes on the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Please see below for call-in information for reporters not attending the Fall American Geophysical Union (AGU) Conference. Please visit the AGU Web site for more information: https://www.agu.org/meetings/fm10/newsmedia/index.php.

Press briefing details

Unstable Antarctica: What's Driving Ice Loss?

Time: Wednesday, Dec. 15, 9 a.m. PST
Related Sessions: C22B, C13D, C11A, C44A

New results based on data from airborne and satellite missions show a clear picture of mechanisms driving ice loss in West Antarctica. Scientists have previously shown that West Antarctica is losing ice, but how that ice is lost remained unclear. Now, using data from a range of NASA's Earth observing satellites and from the ongoing Operation IceBridge airborne mission, scientists have pinpointed ice loss culprits above and below the ice. Continued monitoring of Antarctica's rapidly changing areas is expected to improve predictions of sea level rise.

For more information on the day of the briefing, visit the NASA Web site at https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/agu/nasa-agu-briefings.html.

Panelists

Ted Scambos, glaciologist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

Bob Bindschadler, glaciologist, Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Michael Studinger, project scientist, Operation IceBridge, Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Call-in instructions

Reporters who are not attending the meeting may access press conference presentations via the Web. For instructions, visit https://www.agu.org/meetings/fm10/newsmedia/pressconference/.

Additional NSIDC presentations at AGU

See NSIDC science at the AGU fall meeting for additional presentations of NSIDC research. Please contact the NSIDC Press Office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497 with questions.

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Media Advisory
2 December 2010

NSIDC at AGU 2010

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists will present new research at the 2010 American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, California, from December 13 to 17. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists. 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. For more information about the presentations highlighted below, contact Katherine Leitzell at +1 303.492.1497 or leitzell@nsidc.org.

We also invite you to visit NSIDC in the AGU Exhibit Hall at booth numbers 320 and 322, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Tuesday through Friday. We offer information on new and updated data sets and tools, data resources for cryospheric and Earth science researchers, and information for journalists, educators, and the general public.

Response of Colorado River runoff to dust radiative forcing in snow

Tom Painter (NSIDC Affiliate Scientist)
Oral presentation (Invited) PP11F-04

By reducing dust emissions from western deserts, snow cover in the Rocky Mountains could last longer and contribute more water to rivers in the western United States. Since the 1800s, soil disturbance in western deserts has led to dust storms that coat snow-covered mountains with dark dust. That dust makes the snow more absorbent to solar radiation, and causes it to melt earlier in the spring. Researchers from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NSIDC, and other institutions are working on an interdisciplinary study to identify the factors that lead to dusty snow, and the impacts of dust on snowmelt and rivers.

8:45 a.m. December 13
Moscone West 2007

Determining 1960s Sea Ice Extent from Early Nimbus Satellite Data

Dave Gallaher
Oral presentation C21D-07

Satellite sea ice records go back only to 1979, but early NASA satellites collected data over the Arctic that was never processed, because of the limitations of early computers. NSIDC researchers have now shown that they can derive sea ice extent data from an archive of data from the Nimbus satellites, launched in the 1960s and 1970s. The new research could extend the satellite record of sea ice data by 17 years.

9:30 a.m. December 14
Moscone West 3011

Tributary Glacier Elevation and Mass Loss in the Larsen A and B Ice Shelf Embayments, 2001-2009

Ted Scambos
Oral presentation C22B-04

New research using a combination of satellite sensors shows that the glaciers that used to flow into the Larsen A and B Ice Shelves have shrunk in size, retreating and falling in elevation by in some cases greater than 100 meters in less than 10 years. The Larsen A and B ice shelves broke up in 1995 and 2002, leaving open water where a thick sheet of ice once buttressed the glaciers that flowed into the ice shelves. Previous research showed that following the ice shelf loss, the glaciers sped up their flow of ice towards the ocean. Tracking elevation and volume loss of the glaciers helps scientists better estimate how much ice has moved into the ocean from the Larsen A and B system since the breakup.

11:05 a.m. December 14
Moscone West 3011

The Role of Glaciers in the Hydrology of Nepal

Richard Armstrong
Oral presentation (Invited) GC44B-02

How important are Himalayan glaciers to the water supplies in the region? Results of a new study suggesting that continued retreat of glaciers is not a major concern for water supply in Nepal. The hydrology of the Himalaya was not well understood, so scientists had been concerned that glacial loss could have a big impact on water supply in the region. However, the new study showed that glacial melt contributes only an average of 10 percent of annual water flow to streams in the Himalayas.

4:30 p.m. December 16
Moscone West 3001

Changing dynamics in the Arctic sea ice system.

Walt Meier
Oral presentation C53A-05

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic is leading to changes in the movement and dynamics of the ice. Arctic sea ice extent has declined by more than 11 percent per decade since 1979, and the ice has also become thinner and younger. Recent studies of ice age fields show that the less consolidated ice pack is becoming more responsive to winds. But it is not clear what the effect will be—changes in sea ice dynamics could lead to feedbacks that either accelerate or slow down ice loss.

2:40 p.m. December 17
Moscone West 3011

Strength and Timing of the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

Kevin Schaefer
Oral presentation GC52A-02

NSIDC scientists project that thawing permafrost could release as much as 190 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the year 2200, equivalent to an 87 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Kevin Schaefer and Tingjun Zhang used IPCC models of temperature to project the changing landscape of Arctic permafrost in the next two centuries. The study suggests that thawing permafrost could lead to a positive feedback loop, in which the increased release of carbon stores from frozen ground leads to further warming, which then accelerates permafrost thawing.

10:35 a.m. December 17
Moscone West 3001

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
20 September 2010

Desert dust reduces river flow, says new study

dusty ski slope

A layer of dark-colored dust causes snow to melt faster. Researchers have now shown that earlier melt decreases the amount of water available flowing into the Colorado River by about five percent. This photo was taken in Senator Beck Basin in southwest Colorado, one of the primary study areas for the PNAS paper
—Credit: Jeff Deems, NSIDC

Dark-colored dust that settles on snow in the Upper Colorado River Basin robs the Colorado River of about five percent of its water each year, according a new study coauthored by NSIDC researcher Jeffrey Deems.

Snow dusted with dark particles absorbs more of the sun's rays and melts faster than white snow, said coauthor Deems. Earlier snowmelt then lets vegetation that is normally snow-covered start growing earlier, so even more water is lost through evaporation and transpiration, he said. That leaves less water for the Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 25 million people in seven states and two countries. The quantity of lost water is nearly twice what the city of Las Vegas uses in a year, says study coauthor Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment (WWA)—a joint program of CIRES and NOAA.

Heavy dust coatings on the snowpack are a relatively recent phenomenon. Since the mid-1800s, human activities such as livestock grazing and road building have disturbed the desert soil and broken up the soil crust that curbs wind erosion. Winds then whip up the desert dust—from northwest New Mexico, northeast Arizona, and southern Utah—and drop it on mountains downwind that form the river's headwaters, Deems said.

"Dust can have an impact even when it's too sparse to notice," said study leader Thomas Painter, an atmospheric scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and NSIDC affiliate scientist. "But it can get to the point where it looks like cinnamon toast."

To evaluate how the dust impacts snowmelt, the team used a hydrology model to simulate snowmelt and river flows at Lees Ferry, Arizona for the "lower dust" conditions, prior to the disturbance of desert soils. They compared these data to dust levels and river flows observed between 2003 and 2008.

Snowmelt in the current dusty conditions occurred nearly three weeks earlier than in pre-settlement conditions, the results showed, and an average of 5 percent less water flowed into the river above Lees Ferry. "This is the first time anyone has attempted to quantify the impacts of dust on runoff," Deems said.

"This result suggests that if we can change our land management practices to reduce desert soil disturbance, then perhaps we can extend the snowmelt season," Deems said. "This might allow more runoff than is currently the norm." Such a runoff boost may help offset the river's projected runoff losses due to warming temperatures, and mitigate management tensions over the West's most over-committed resource, Udall said.

Dust has settled on snowy mountain ranges around the world. Although the impacts on annual runoff may differ, depending on the seasonal rainfall patterns in each region, the impacts of dust on snowmelt are indisputable. Painter said. "Clean your snow, it lasts longer—it is that simple."

The study is published in the September 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Coauthors on the PNAS study include Jayne Belnap of the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah, Alan Hamlet of the University of Washington and Christopher Landry of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Colorado. Funding from the project came from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Western Water Assessment.

More Information

CIRES press release: https://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2010/dustonsnow.html

Jeffrey Deems: https://nsidc.org/research/bios/deems.html

Media Contacts

Thomas H. Painter, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA:
Thomas.Painter@jpl.nasa.gov or +1 626.319.3111

NSIDC Press Office:
press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

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Media Advisory
15 September 2010

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for 2010

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

The Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year. It was the third-lowest extent recorded since satellites began measuring minimum sea ice extent in 1979. This year's minimum extent fell below the 2009 minimum extent and above the minimum extents in 2008 and 2007. However, it is still below the long-term average, and well outside the range of natural variability.

NSIDC will issue a formal announcement at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

Full NSIDC announcement: https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

NSIDC press office: press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

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Press Release
1 September 2010

Critical polar data flows briskly to researchers

This is a joint announcement with NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

elevation map of Crane Glacier in Antarctica

Figure 1. On October 31, 2009, researchers with NASA's Operation IceBridge mission used the Airborne Topographic Mapper instrument to compile data for this elevation map of Antarctica's Crane Glacier. Similar data have been archived at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and are available to researchers.
—Credit: Kyle Krabill and the NASA ATM team

Operation IceBridge—a NASA airborne mission to observe changes in Earth's rapidly changing polar land ice and sea ice—is soon to embark on its fourth field season in October. The mission is now paralleled by a campaign to bring data to researchers as quickly as possible and to accelerate the analysis of those changes and how they may affect people and climate systems.

"Anyone can access the wealth of IceBridge data online, and do so free of charge and without a formal request," said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "It's critical for data to be free and accessible so scientists can conduct timely studies of ice dynamics and a changing climate."

In 2009, mission scientists and crew flew 41 flights and collected data over about 143,000 miles—equivalent to 5.7 trips around the Earth. NASA and its designated archive for IceBridge data, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, have teamed to move that data from the aircraft and instruments to researchers' computers.

In the Arctic, they used laser altimeters to collect surface elevation information for ice sheets and sea ice previously observed by NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). Radar turned up measurements of snow depth on sea ice during a cross-Arctic flight.

In the Antarctic, researchers made a detailed survey of the Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, Kohler and Crane glaciers, while another instrument peeked at the detailed topography under Pine Island's floating ice tongue. They collected the first airborne data for sea ice in the Weddell and Bellingshausen Seas.

To date, NSIDC has published twelve data sets from the IceBridge Greenland and Antarctica campaigns in 2009. These data sets spanned ten instruments, including lidars, radars, sounders, gravimeters, mappers, and cameras, as well as atmospheric measurements and aircraft positioning data.

"It's exciting to have such a diversity of data, preserving it for the future and making it available in ways that will encourage new discoveries," said Marilyn Kaminski, NSIDC's project manager for IceBridge. "There's so much potential that can be tapped."

NASA flew its 2010 IceBridge Greenland campaign from March through May; data will be available at NSIDC in Fall 2010. NSIDC will publish data from subsequent campaigns within six to eight weeks of receipt from the data providers. This rapid turnaround will enable researchers to use these important data to monitor receding glaciers, the melting Greenland ice sheet, crumbling ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the thinning of old, thick Arctic sea ice that has been the mainstay of the sea ice cover.

Data from campaigns flown prior to the inception of IceBridge will also be archived at NSIDC. These include data from the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) instrument; mountain glacier data from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; and deep radar bedmap data from University of Kansas radar instruments. Combined with NSIDC's existing complete archive of data from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) instrument aboard ICESat, researchers will be able to access a rich repository of complementary measurements.

IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown. It will yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. These flights will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the rapidly changing features of the Greenland and Antarctic ice.

Data collected during IceBridge will help scientists bridge the gap in polar observations between NASA's ICESat—in orbit since 2003—and ICESat-2, planned for late 2015. ICESat stopped collecting science data in 2009, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations.

More information

IceBridge data at NSIDC: https://nsidc.org/data/icebridge/
ICEBridge mission: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge
NASA News: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/news/10-075.html

Media Contacts

Jane Beitler, NSIDC: jbeitler@nsidc.org; +1 303.492.1497

Sarah DeWitt / Kathryn Hansen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: sarah.l.dewitt@nasa.gov / kathryn.h.hansen@nasa.gov; +1 301-286-0535 / +1 301-614-5883

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Media Advisory
30 August 2010

ICESat mission comes to a finale

The NASA Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at approximately 5 a.m. EDT on August 30 over the Barents Sea. The mission reached the end of its productive seven-year life in June, when NASA began decommissioning the satellite due to instrument failure. But while the satellite has reached the end of its mission, scientists will be using the data it collected for years to come, managed at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

ICESat operated from 2003 to 2009, transmitting vital data on conditions of sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and ice shelves. Its ability to measure elevation helped scientists study changes to these features, in three dimensions. These data have been urgently needed as the Earth's polar regions show rapid change as a result of climate warming.

Data from ICESat's Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) instrument are archived at NSIDC. Although the mission is now over, NSIDC will continue to maintain the GLAS data archive and serve data and information to researchers. NSIDC is also the designated data archive for Operation IceBridge, a NASA airborne remote sensing mission that will fill the gap between the decommissioned ICESat mission and ICESat II, scheduled for launch in 2015.

University of Colorado at Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) professionals and students were instrumental in operating the NASA ICESat mission.

More information

ICESat data at NSIDC: /data/icesat
IceBridge data at NSIDC: /data/icebridge
Decommissioning of ICESat: https://icesat.gsfc.nasa.gov/icesat/index.php
NASA press release on ICESat re-entry: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icesat/icesat-end.html
LASP Mission Operations: http://lasp.colorado.edu/mission_ops/index.htm
Students at LASP: http://lasp.colorado.edu/students/index.html

Media Contacts

Stephanie Renfrow, LASP: Stephanie.Renfrow@lasp.colorado.edu; +1 303.735.5814

NSIDC: press@nsidc.org; +1 303.492.1497

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Media Advisory
13 July 2010

NSIDC goes green with a new grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded $525,000 to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to reduce the data center's carbon footprint. NSIDC will modify its computing center to become one of the most energy-efficient data centers in the United States.

The project includes a 25-kilowatt rooftop solar array and a more efficient physical layout. Indirect evaporative cooling will replace energy-intensive traditional air conditioning. Together, these changes will cut power needs for cooling by more than 90 percent. Cooling of computing facilities is essential to prevent equipment shutdown or damage.

NSIDC supports research into Earth's frozen regions, currently archiving and serving more than 91 terabytes of Earth science data to researchers around the world. The data center also provides related services such as data processing and scientific programming. Visit nsidc.org for more information. NSIDC is part of CU's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Contact

Dave Gallaher: +1 303.492.1827, david.gallaher@nsidc.org

Jane Beitler: +1 303.492.1160, jbeitler@nsidc.org

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Media Advisory
9 June 2010

Polar Information Commons Launched at IPY Oslo Conference

On June 8, 2010, NSIDC data scientists helped launch the Polar Information Commons (PIC), a resource for archiving and sharing data collected during the International Polar Year (IPY). The official launch took place at the IPY Oslo Science Conference. NSIDC developed and contributed tools and services to the launch.

During the 2007 to 2009 IPY, researchers around the world collected huge amounts of data on the Earth's polar environments. The PIC, and its related tools and services, aims to ensure the data collected during IPY continue to live on and be accessible for future generations. The launch included the release of a variety of tools for finding, retrieving, and contributing data. NSIDC developed and contributed a data-sharing tool for PIC data, which makes it simple to declare your data open for broad use, while asserting that such data should be used according to the Ethical Norms of Data Sharing developed by the polar science community.

For general information on the PIC, visit: http://www.polarcommons.org.
For details on the launch event, visit: http://www.polarcommons.org/pic-launch-oslo-june-8-2010.html.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
7 April 2010

Inuit knowledge helps science learn something new about Arctic weather

Two Inuit kneel on ice floe and look at the sky

Inuit forecasters equipped with generations of environmental knowledge are helping scientists understand changes in Arctic weather.
—Credit: Shari Gearheard, NSIDC

Inuit forecasters equipped with generations of environmental knowledge are helping scientists learn something new about Arctic weather. A study published this month in the journal Global Environmental Change brings together two worlds, combining indigenous environmental knowledge with the practice of statistical weather analysis. The study, a collaboration between researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and the University of Colorado at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), shows that including the observations and stories of the Inuit into climate research can not only provide valuable insights into asking the right scientific questions, but help researchers find new ways of answering them.

NSIDC researcher Shari Gearheard lives in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada, an Inuit community on eastern Baffin Island, and for the past ten years has been working with Inuit hunters and elders to document their knowledge of the environment and environmental change. She worked with lead author, environmental statistician Elizabeth Weatherhead, to examine changes in weather patterns that Inuit have noticed in recent years. More and more, Inuit noticed changes during the spring, a time of transition for many environmental processes. "In fact in a lot of places, the name of the season is named after a particular process," said Gearheard. "Inuit are not seeing that anymore, which was an indicator to them that something had changed."

What the researchers found was a scientific story more in line with what people were witnessing on the ground. Weather along the Arctic latitudes was behaving more unpredictably than in other parts of the world. "That's an incredibly important parameter to care about, incredibly important," said Weatherhead. "The way I try to describe it to some people, if we get an inch of rain out at my house in the month of July, I don't need to turn on the sprinklers. But if we get an inch of rain on July 1, and no rain after that, my lawn is dead."

NSIDC scientist Roger Barry, a CIRES fellow and director of the World Data Center for Glaciology at NSIDC was also an author on the paper.

Read the full announcement, find photographs, and listen to a podcast with the authors on the CIRES News Web site.

The article is available from Science Direct (may require a subscription).

Contact

Elizabeth Weatherhead, Betsy.Weatherhead@noaa.gov, +1 303.497.6653
CIRES communication, news@cires.colorado.edu, +1 303.492.6289
NSIDC communication, press@nsidc.org , +1 303.492.1497

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Media Advisory
6 April 2010

Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Maximum Extent

NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 31 at 15.25 million square kilometers (5.89 million square miles). This was the latest date for the maximum Arctic sea ice extent since the start of the satellite record in 1979.

To read the full analysis from NSIDC scientists, see https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/.

For more information, contact press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
4 April 2010

Arctic sea ice falls to third-lowest extent; downward trend persists

map with ice in white and land in gray

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2010 was 4.90 million square kilometers (1.89 million square miles), the third-lowest in the satellite record. The magenta line shows the median ice extent for September from 1979 to 2000. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

graphFigure 2. The updated time series plot puts this summer’s sea ice extent in context with other years. The solid light blue line indicates 2010; dark blue shows 2009, purple shows 2008; dashed green shows 2007; light green shows 2005; and solid gray indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

graphFigure 3. September ice extent from 1979 to 2009 shows a continued decline. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 has now increased to 11.2 percent per decade. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

This is a press release 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 at Boulder.
Media Relations Contact: press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

This September, Arctic sea ice extent was the third-lowest in the satellite record, falling below the extent reached last summer. The lowest- and second-lowest extents occurred in 2007 and 2008. Satellite data indicate that Arctic sea ice is continuing a long-term decline, and remains younger and thinner than it was in previous decades.

"All indications are that sea ice will continue to decline over the next several decades," said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. "We are still looking at a seasonally ice-free Arctic in twenty to thirty years."

Over the summer of 2010, weather and ocean conditions in the Arctic ranged from warm and calm to stormy and cool. Overall, weather conditions were not extremely favorable to melt, but ice loss proceeded at a rapid pace. NSIDC Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, "Sea surface temperatures were warmer than normal this summer, but not as warm as the last three years. Even so, the 2010 minimum rivaled that in 2008—this suggests that other factors played a more dominant role."

The amount of old, thick ice in the Arctic continues to decline, making the ice pack increasingly vulnerable to melt in future summers. While there was an increase this year in second and third year ice, which could potentially thicken over the next few years, the oldest and generally thickest ice (five years or older) has now disappeared almost entirely from the Arctic. This September, less than 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) of five-year-old or older ice remained in the Arctic Basin. In the 1980s an average of 2 million square kilometers (722,000 square miles) of old ice remained at the end of summer. "While the total coverage of multiyear ice is the third lowest on record, the amount of younger multiyear ice has rebounded somewhat over the last two years. A key question is whether this ice will continue to survive over the next couple of summers, perhaps slowing the overall decline in multiyear ice area," said James Maslanik, a research professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado, who provided the ice age data.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 19, the lowest point this year, was 4.60 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.90 million square kilometers (1.89 million square miles) (Figure 1). This places 2010 as the third lowest ice extent both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Ice extent fell below 2009 and was only slightly above 2008 (Figure 2).

After September 10, ice extent started to climb, apparently signaling the end of the melt season. However, uncharacteristically, it then declined again, until September 19. "The late-season turnaround indicates that the ice cover is thin and loosely packed—which makes the ice more vulnerable both to winds and to melting," said Walt Meier, NSIDC research scientist.

Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle of melting and refreezing, melting through the warm summer months and refreezing through autumn and winter. Sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate. While Arctic sea ice extent varies from year to year because of changeable atmospheric and ocean conditions, ice extent at the end of the melt season has shown a significant overall decline over the past thirty years. During this time, September ice extent has declined at a rate of 11.5 percent per decade during September (relative to the 1979 to 2000 average) (Figure 3), and about 3 percent per decade in the winter months.

For further analysis and images, please see the related October post on Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis Web site (https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/)

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Media Advisory
10 March 2010

NSIDC to manage data for NASA IceBridge mission

NASA has selected the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) to manage and distribute data for the IceBridge project, which will run from 2009 to 2015.

Operation IceBridge is a six-year NASA field campaign that will provide three-dimensional information about ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice in the Earth's polar regions. The mission was designed to collect data during a gap between two satellites, which measure land and ice surface elevations. The first ICESat satellite was launched in 2003 and is expected to conclude in 2010. A second ICESat mission is scheduled to go into orbit in 2015. The IceBridge mission will also take advantage of its airborne platforms to make additional geophysical measurements, including gravity mapping and radar sounding of ice and snow depth. These measurements will provide important information about the landforms hidden beneath ice sheets and glaciers, and changes in ice volume.

NSIDC will archive and distribute the data collected during the IceBridge mission. NSIDC will also coordinate the development of new synthesized products that combine single data sources to enable use by an expanding scientific community.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The center manages and distributes scientific data, creates tools for data access, supports data users, performs scientific research, and educates the public about the cryosphere.

More information

For more information about NSIDC, visit our Web site at https://nsidc.org.

To learn more about IceBridge mission planning, visit the Operation IceBridge Web site: https://www.espo.nasa.gov/oib/.

To learn about data management for IceBridge, see the NSIDC IceBridge Web site: https://nsidc.org/data/icebridge/index.html.

For more information, contact press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
14 December 2009

NSIDC Talks, Posters, and Presentations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Conference

Below, find a complete list of NSIDC talks, posters, and presentations, session chairs and town hall meetings, and demonstration schedule. Visit NSIDC staff at booth number 325. Presenters are identified in bold type.

For a list of highlights of potential interest to journalists, see the AGU announcement in the NSIDC press room.

Talks, Posters, and Presentations

  • Bauer, R., K. Leitzell, J. Bohlander, and T. Scambos. The Antarctic Glaciological Data Center: An Archive for NSF Antarctic Program Glaciological Research. C41A-0420
  • Billingsley, B., M. Brodzik, and J. Collins. Software reuse example and challenges at NSIDC. IN11C-1064.
  • Blazey, B., J. Maslanik, J. Stroeve, M. Holland, and J. Cassano. Arctic Sea Ice Sensitivity and Recovery Potential due to Atmospheric Conditions in the Community Climate System Model (CCSM). C51E-01
  • Bohlander, J., T. Scambos, and T. Haran. A New MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica: MOA-2009. C51B-0469
  • Booker, L., and A. Leon. NASA's AMSR-E Validation Data at NSIDC DAAC. H21A-0826
  • Brodzik, M., T. Painter, and R. Armstrong. A systematically-derived global glacier map derived from MODIS. C51B-0476
  • Choudhury, S., and R. Duerr. The Data Conservancy. IN44A-02
  • Collins, J., M. Brodzik, and B. Billingsley. Lineage management for on-demand data. IN31B-1006
  • Cook, R., W. Post, P. Thornton, D. Huntzinger, A. Jacobson, K. Schaefer, D. Ricciuto, and K. Davis. Integration of Observations and Modeling Results in the North American Carbon Program. B54A-01
  • De Bruin, T., R. Chen, M. Parsons, and D. Carlson. Freeing data through The Polar Information Commons. IN34B-02
  • Duerr, R., W. Meier, and J. Stroeve. Quality, Community and the Sea Ice Record. IN41B-05
  • Fetterer, F., L. Ballagh, K. Gergely, J. Kovarik, A. Wallace, and A. Windnagel. Operational Products Archived at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. C41A-0448
  • Gallaher, D., D. Wingo, W. Meier, and A. Epps. Can sea ice extent from the 1960s be determined from reprocessed Nimbus and other historic space based data? IN41A-1108
  • Gergely, K., D. Scott, and L. Booker. Looking to the Future: Communicating with an expanding cryospheric user community. ED11A-0559
  • Ghatak, D., A. Frei, G.Gong, J. Stroeve, and D. Robinson. Interaction between Northern Hemisphere snow and preceding summer Arctic sea ice. GC51A-0717
  • Glasser, N., and T. Scambos. Continued rapid glacier recession following the 1995 collapse of the Prince Gustav Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. C31F-01.
  • Kaminski, M., and R. Weaver. Cryospheric Data Management in the NASA Earth Science Decadal Mission Era. IN41A-1105
  • Khalsa, S., A. Racoviteanu, B. Raup, and R. Armstrong. How Key GEOSS Datasets Contribute to the Global Monitoring and Assessment of Glaciers. U43B-06
  • Lai, C., W. Riley, K. Schaefer, C. Still, and J. Ehleringer. Stable Carbon Isotope Ratios of Atmospheric CO2 and Ecosystem Respiration in NACP Site Synthesis Study. B51D-0329
  • Lawrence, D., K. Oleson, G. Niu, Z. Yang, M. Flanner, X. Zeng, P. Thornton, S. Swenson, and A. Slater. Advances in simulating hydrologic processes in the Community Land Model version 4.0. H14C-07
  • Lawrence, D., A. Slater, and S. Swenson. Modeling interactions between permafrost, snow, and wetland distribution in an Earth System model. B43F-05
  • Leitzell, K., and W. Meier. Uncloaking the Scientific Process. PA21A-1298
  • Leon, A., L. Booker. Aqua/AMSR-E Data and Services at the NSIDC DAAC. H21A-0825
  • Lewis, S., D. Gallaher, S. Khalsa, and R. Duerr. Services for the Analysis of the Greenland Environment (SAGE). IN41A-1103
  • Liu, L., T. Zhang, and J. Wahr. InSAR measurements of permafrost deformation on the North Slope of Alaska. C51C-0496
  • Lynnes, C., B. Beaumont, R. Duerr, and H. Hua. Federated Space-Time Query for Earth Science Data Using OpenSearch Conventions. IN33F-04
  • McCreight, J., B. Rajagopalan, A. Slater, and H. Marshall A comparison of methods for estimation and prediction of snow depth and its spatial non-stationarity at the first-order basin scale. C21E-06
  • Meier, W., J. Stroeve, R. Duerr, and F. Fetterer. Help, I don't know which sea ice algorithm to use?!: Developing an authoritative sea ice climate data record. C31A-0435
  • Muto, A., T. Scambos, and K. Steffen. Multi-decadal surface temperature trends in the East Antarctic using borehole firn temperature measurements and geophysical inverse method. C52A-04
  • Parsons, M., S. Gearheard, and C. McNeave. Ethics, Collaboration, and Presentation Methods for Local and Traditional Knowledge in Understanding Arctic Change. IN31B-1005.
  • Parsons, M. The Future of Polar Information Systems. C53B-01
  • Peters, W., M. Krol, J. Miller, P. Tans, N. Carvalhais, and K. Schaefer. Using CarbonTracker carbon flux estimates to improve a terrestrial carbon cycle model. B51D-0330
  • Porter, D., J. Cassano, and M. Serreze. Analysis of the Arctic heat and moisture budgets in WRF: a comparison with reanalyses and satellite observations. A31H-02
  • Rawlins, M., M. Steele, M. Holland, J. Adam, J. Cherry, J. Francis, P. Groisman, L. Hinzman, T. Huntington, D. Kane, J. Kimball, R. Kwok, R. Lammers, C. Lee, D. Lettenmaier, K. McDonald, E. Podest, J. Pundsack, B. Rudels, M. Serreze, A. Shiklomanov, O. Skagseth, T. Troy, C. Vorosmarty, M. Wensnahan, E. Wood, R. Woodgate, D. Yang, K. Zhang, and T. Zhang. Analysis of the Arctic System for Freshwater Cycle Intensification: Observations and Expectations. GC42A-05
  • Ricciuto, D., P. Thornton, K. Schaefer, R. Cook, K. Davis, and NACP Site Synthesis Team. How uncertainty in gap-filled meteorological input forcing at eddy covariance sites impacts modeled carbon and energy flux. B54A-03
  • Scambos,T. A., C. Shuman, E. Berthier, C. Hulbe, and E. Domack. Multi-sensor Assessment of Crane Glacier Drawdown 2002-2009, Larsen B Embayment, Antarctica. C34A-07
  • Schaefer, K. Comparing Simulated and Observed Gross Primary Productivity. B54A-06
  • Scheuchl, B., E. Rignot, J. Mouginot, T. Scambos, J. Bohlander, and J. Shimada. Ice Velocity Mapping of the Great Ice Sheets: Antarctica. IN42A-03
  • Schwalm, C., C. Williams, and K. Schaefer. Intercomparison of modeled and observed net ecosystem productivity during drought. B54A-07
  • Serreze, M., J. Stroeve, and A. Barrett. The Arctic’s Uncertain Figure. GC33B-01
  • Serreze, M. Communicating Arctic Change. ED41E-03
  • Skiles, S., T. Painter, and A. Barrett. A five-year record of radiative and hydrologic forcing by desert dust in the Colorado River Basin. C33B-0500
  • Slater, A., M. Clark, and J. McCreight. Inverting MODIS Snow Covered Area in a Hydrology Model. C33B-0496.
  • Stroeve, J., A. Frei, G. Gong, D. Ghatak, D. Robinson, and D. Kindig. Precipitation Impacts of a Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice Cover. C41A-0425
  • Tschudi, M., J. Maslanik, and J. Stroeve. Tracking the Evolution of Arctic Sea Ice Albedo. C51E-02
  • Weaver, R., and R. Duerr. Levels of Service and Data Accessioning at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. IN23A-1060
  • Zhang, T., K. Schaefer, and L. Bruhwiler. Fundamental Dynamics of the Permafrost Carbon Feedback. B41C-0333

Session Chairs and Town Hall Meetings

  • Duerr, R. Data Stewardship in the 21st Century I Posters and II. IN23A (Poster), IN44A (talk)
  • Parsons, M., and R. Duerr. Emerging Issues in e-Science: Collaboration, Provenance, and the Ethics of Data I Posters and II. IN31B, IN34B
  • Parsons, M., and R. Duerr. Peer-Reviewed Data Publication and Other Strategies to Sustain Verifiable Science
  • Schaefer, K. North American Carbon Program Interim Synthesis Results and Similar Model-Data Comparisons and I and II. B15D (poster), B54A (talk)

Demonstration Schedule

NSIDC staff will demonstrate various tools and data products at our booth in the AGU exhibit hall. For more information about the demonstrations listed below, contact NSIDC User Services at nsidc@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.6199.

The Antarctic Cryosphere Access Portal (A-CAP)
The Antarctic Cryosphere Access Portal (A-CAP) is a geo-visualization and data download tool developed by NSIDC researchers. A-CAP provides access to Antarctic Glaciological Data Center (AGDC) data and other Antarctic parameters including glaciology, ice core data, snow accumulation, satellite imagery, digital elevation models (DEMs), sea ice concentration, and many other cryosphere-related measurements.  During this demonstration, we will show users the basic functionalities of A-CAP, including locating data sets and viewing them in the map, saving maps, and downloading data.
Presented:
December 15th 2:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. by Jennifer Bohlander
December 17th 1:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. by Katherine Leitzell

GLIMS Glacier Viewer
The Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) initiative, through collaboration with glaciologists around the world, is building a global geospatial database of glacier information, including complete digital outlines, elevation information, and other such data. The database currently contains information on 83,000 glaciers covering 262,000 km2, and stores metadata for 227,000 ASTER images over glacierized terrain.  These glacier data are accessible on the Web via two interfaces: an interactive map, and a text-based search interface. Data are downloadable in a choice of formats, including GIS shapefiles, GMT ASCII, and KML formats. In addition, we provide a Google Earth interface to browse ASTER image scenes, as well as Open Geospatial Consortium Web services (e.g. Web Map Service). This demo will describe the contents of the database and these interfaces.  Presented by Siri Jodha Singh Khalsa on:
December 15th 12:00 p.m. - 12:30 p.m.
December 16th 12:30 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
December 17th 1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Introducing the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) SAGE Tool—for Data Discovery, Services and Analysis
Using the core architecture developed for NSIDC’s Searchlight product, NSIDC introduces SAGE (Services for the Analysis of the Greenland Environment). This new, on-line discovery and access interface retrieves data for Greenland providing end-users with real time analysis/plotting of that data. Built on top of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s newly-developed Searchlight engine, the SAGE interface will have access to all of NSIDC’s relevant Greenland data holdings, including raster, point and vector data. Web services will provide the ability for other clients to utilize the functionality that SAGE will provide, extending the options available to scientists for easily accessing data and tools that will enable them to devote more time to research and less time to locating and processing data.
Presented by Dave Gallaher and Scott Lewis on:
December 15th 10:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
December 16th 10:30 a.m. -11:00 a.m.
December 16th 5:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
December 17th 10:30 a.m. -11:00 a.m.
December 17th 5:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Overview of the Exchange for Local Observations of the Arctic (ELOKA)
The Exchange for Local Observations of the Arctic (ELOKA) provides data management services and user support to facilitate the collection, preservation, exchange, and use of local observations and knowledge of the Arctic. ELOKA seeks to help make local and traditional knowledge (LTK) discoverable and useful to the communities themselves and to research scientists. This demo provides an overview of the ELOKA project and demonstrates how we are organizing and presenting video, photos, and maps from Saniqiluaq, Nunavut. We also present ideas and seek feedback on how this sort of information could be used in conjunction with conventional scientific data.
Presented by Mark Parsons on:
December 15, 10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
December 17, 10:00 a.m. - 10:30p.m.

Learn about Earth's frozen regions: resources for educators, students, and everyone
Get a tour of National Snow and Ice Data Center education resources
for teachers, students, and the public: online, print, and multimedia. Bring the frozen world to your classroom. Learn about snow, ice, glaciers, frozen ground, sea ice, and more.
Presented by Jane Beitler on:
December 16th 10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
December 16th 4:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Introducing the NSIDC Advanced Data Search online tool for Discovery and
Access of Cryospheric Data
Come see a demo of the new, on-line discovery and access interface at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). NSIDC is changing our user access model from "Search and Order (and Wait and Download)" to "Discovery and Access." We are reducing the distance between our users and our data holdings, with our new infrastructure that supports users finding and browsing actual data holdings on-line.  No more waiting for FTP staging followed by lengthy research to open and view data, only to find that it's not what you wanted or expected.  Powered by the NSIDC Searchlight engine, our Beta release Advanced Data Search online tool delivers data downloads immediately, with the user in control of on-the-fly output reformatting, reprojection and subsetting. In this way, we are delivering only what the user wants, and how they want it.  The sooner our users can obtain what they want, in a format they can quickly understand and use, the more time they have to devote to their own scientific investigations.
Presented by Mary Jo Brodzik and Brendan Billingsley on:  
December 15th 11:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
December 15th 11:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m.
December 15th  3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
December 15th 3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
December 16th 3:00 p.m. -  3:30 p.m.
December 16th 3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
December 17th 11:00 a.m. -11:30 a.m.
December 17th 11:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
December 17th 3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
December 17th 3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Glacier Photograph Search & Order Interface Demo
NSIDC houses many photographic prints of glaciers, taken both from the air and from the ground. These photographs constitute an important historical record, as well as a data collection of interest to those studying the response of glaciers to climate change. NSIDC, in partnership with the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Programam (CDMP) and the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC), is digitizing selected photographs and making them available through a searchable interface. To date, more than 11,000 photographs have been digitized and comprise the Glacier Photograph Collection. During this demonstration, we will show users how to use the Search & Order Interface to obtain glacier photographs.
Presented by Ann Windnagel on:
December 16th  11:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Take a climate change tour of cold places in Google Earth
This narrated tour flies you to the polar regions in Google Earth where you can learn about changes that are occurring in these snowy and icy regions.  Scientists Ted Scambos and Julienne Stroeve answer questions from middle-school students about climate change and their responses are incorporated into the tour.  The focus is on sea ice, permafrost, glaciers and ice shelves.
Presented by Ann Windnagel on:
December 17th 2:00 p.m. -  2:30p.m.

Film Showing: International Geophysical Year, 1957 – 1958: Drifting Station Alpha
This film documents the activities that occurred on Drifting Station Alpha in the Arctic Ocean during the International Geophysical Year, 1957 to 1958. The film is narrated by project leader, Norbert Untersteiner, and chronicles the life of the team as they built their camp and set up experiments. Station Alpha was the first long-term scientific base on arctic pack ice operated by a Western country. At the time of its establishment, Russia had already operated six drifting ice camps of this kind. However, due to the strategic importance and sensitivity of the Arctic Basin, little information from these early stations had reached the West. The documentary was filmed and produced by Frans van der Hoeven (Senior Scientist at Station Alpha) and Norbert Untersteiner (Scientific Leader of Station Alpha). Station Alpha drifted in an area of the Arctic ocean located 500 km north of Barrow, Alaska USA from April 1957 to November 1958; the film covers this entire time period. Digitized copies of the film are available on DVD.
December 15th, 4:00 p.m.  Length is 33 minutes

Film Showing: Good Days on the Trail, 1938-1942: Film Footage of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado
This film documents student hiking trips conducted by the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA during the summers of 1938-1942. The hikes took place in various locations west of Boulder, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, and Roosevelt National Forest. The film contains rare historical footage of the Rocky Mountains, including Arapaho Glacier and Fair Glacier. The film provides a unique record of what those areas looked like at that time, and may provide visual information on the extent of the glaciers. The film was created by the University of Colorado Department of Mountain Recreation and originally consisted of four reels, in 16mm Kodachrome format. The film was restored and digitized with support from the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder, and the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program. Digitized copies of the film are available on DVD.;
December 16th, 2:00 p.m. Length is 45 minutes

Film Showing: Arctic Ice Dynamics Joint Experiment (AIDJEX) Second Pilot Study, March to May 1972
The project described in this documentary was a pilot study conducted in 1972 in preparation for the AIDJEX main experiment of 1975 to 1976.  The study included a main camp on drifting sea ice in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska along with two satellite camps forming a station triangle with a 100-kilometer side length.  The film was produced by Hannes Zell and Dieter Wittich of Vienna, Austria December 16th 11:30 a.m. Length is 52 minutes

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Media Advisory
8 December 2009

NSIDC researchers at COP15

NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard will speak at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) (December 7-18). Gearheard will speak at the Inuit Circumpolar Council official side event, "Using Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Decision Making", Saturday, December 12, at 8:00 p.m (Bella Center, Room 5). She will also participate in "Inuit and Arctic Indigenous Peoples Day" on Wednesday, December 16, 11 am- 3pm (North Atlantic House, Strandgade 91).

NSIDC scientist Richard Armstrong, though not attending the conference, participated in a six-person task force who produced "Melting Snow and Ice: A Call for Action (PDF, 12.2 MB)," a report on the status of Earth's glaciers and ice caps. Al Gore and Norway Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere will present the report at a COP15 side event on Monday, December 14 at 1:00 p.m. For more information on the conference, visit the COP15 Web site at http://en.cop15.dk/. The report is available from the Norwegian government Web site at https://www.regjeringen.no/callforaction.

For further details, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
1 December 2009

AGU 2009

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists will present new research at the 2009 American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, California, from December 14 to 18. Below, find highlights of potential interest to journalists. 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.

When you are not attending sessions, we hope you visit NSIDC at booth number 325. We offer information on new and updated data sets and tools, data resources for cryospheric and Earth science researchers, and information for journalists, educators, and the general public.

The Arctic's Uncertain Future

Mark Serreze, NSIDC Director
Oral presentation GC33B-01

Global climate models suggest that the Arctic Ocean could become ice free in summer between 2030 and 2100. The loss of ice cover will have significant impacts far beyond the Arctic, including changes in atmospheric circulation, release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost, and the opening of the Arctic to shipping and oil extraction. However, the nature and extent of these impacts are still far from certain. Serreze will discuss projections of Arctic conditions through the 21st century, and their potential consequences.

1:40 p.m. December 16
Moscone West 3001

Multi-sensor Assessment of Crane Glacier Drawdown 2002-2009, Larsen B Embayment, Antarctica

Ted Scambos, NSIDC Lead Scientist (Chris Schumann, NASA/GSFC presenting)
Oral presentation C34A-07

Before its dramatic collapse in March 2002, the Larsen B Ice Shelf served as a buttress for Crane Glacier, moderating its flow into the ocean. When the ice shelf collapsed, Crane Glacier sped up, more than doubling its speed in just a few months. With the speed-up came intense cracking and fracturing, and the glacier rapidly shrunk in size. NSIDC and NASA researchers are studying the elevation and flow changes that Crane Glacier is undergoing, using satellites and GPS. Understanding the effects of an ice shelf breakup on Crane Glacier could help researchers better predict how other glaciers will respond to similar events as temperatures warm in the region.

4:00 p.m. December 16
Moscone West 3014

Precipitation Impacts of a Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice Cover

Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC Research Scientist
Poster presentation C41A-0425

New research suggests that the decline of Arctic sea ice may be having impacts on weather and snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere. Stroeve and colleagues compared Arctic atmospheric conditions and precipitation patterns in years with low and high summer sea ice extent. Global climate models predict that Northern Hemisphere snow cover will decrease as climate warms, but this study suggests that larger expanses of open water in autumn may cause snow cover to increase in some areas.

8:00 a.m. to Noon December 17
Moscone South Poster Hall

Fundamental Dynamics of the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

Kevin Schaefer, NSIDC Research Scientist
Poster Presentation B41C-0333

As the Arctic grows warmer, thawing permafrost will release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane from organic matter frozen since the last ice age. At the same time, warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons will increase plant uptake of carbon dioxide from the air. Currently, carbon uptake by increased plant growth outweighs the release of carbon from permafrost, but at some point the balance will reverse and the Arctic will become a net source of carbon to the atmosphere. If we reach this “tipping point,” the release of carbon from thawing permafrost will amplify warming due to fossil fuel emissions, complicating global efforts to combat climate change. In this poster presentation, Schaefer discusses the dynamics of the carbon feedback cycle.

8:00 a.m. to Noon December 17
Moscone South Poster Hall

Townhall Meeting: Peer-Reviewed Data Publication and Other Strategies to Sustain Verifiable Science

Mark Parsons and Ruth Duerr, NSIDC Data Scientists
Townhall Meeting C53B-01

The peer-review process provides essential objectivity and verifiability to scientific publications. But while traditional experimental results have a clear process for publication, complex digital data sets lack a formal publication process. NSIDC data scientists Mark Parsons and Ruth Duerr co-convene a town hall meeting with Jean-Bernard Minster of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the AGU committee on data, and the ESIP Federation Cluster on Stewardship and Preservation to discuss the future of peer review in data publication.

7:30 p.m. December 17
Moscone West 2008

Multi-decadal surface temperature trends in the East Antarctic using borehole firn temperature measurements and geophysical inverse method

Atsuhiro Muto, NSIDC PhD Candidate
Oral presentation C52A-04

East Antarctica is one of the least explored areas on Earth, and little is known about its past climate. According to preliminary research by NSIDC graduate student Atsuhiro Muto, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has warmed 0.5 to 0.8 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last 100 years. Over two field seasons from 2007 to 2009, Muto and his co-advisor Ted Scambos set up thermal sensors at five locations on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, as part of the Norwegian-U.S. Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica. The sensors consist of a chain of thermometers lowered into a 90-meter (295-foot) deep borehole in the ice sheet, which transmit temperature data hourly via satellite. Muto and colleagues used a year of temperature measurements, along with information about the accumulation rate and other physical characteristics of the ice sheet to infer the temperature of the surface of the ice sheet in the past.

11:05 a.m. December 18
Moscone West 3003

The Future of Polar Information Systems

Mark Parsons, NSIDC Data Scientist
Oral presentation C53B-01

Scientists from around the world came together during the International Polar Year (IPY) in 2007 to 2009, in hopes that intense collaborative study of the poles would catapult our understanding of the poles and changes taking place there. They collected a huge volume of data in a variety of fields, but social and technical barriers stand in the way of archiving and preserving the data for public use. Mark Parsons, manager of the IPY Data and Information Service (IPYDIS), a global partnership of data centers, archives, and networks, will discuss the barriers and successes of polar data management around the world.

1:40 p.m. December 18
Moscone West 3003

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
19 November 2009

Antarctic ice shelf study

From December 2009 to March 2010, NSIDC Lead Scientist and Antarctic expert Ted Scambos will travel to the Larsen Ice Shelf region in Antarctica to study the effect of ice shelf collapse on Antarctic glaciers. The expedition is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Larsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica (LARISSA) Project, which aims to explore the causes and impacts of ice shelf collapse in a fast-warming region of Antarctica.

In 2002, a huge section of the Larsen Ice Shelf disintegrated in the largest such event ever recorded. This collapse had a major impact on the region, affecting ice flow, ocean circulation, and the marine ecosystem. In subsequent years, similar ice shelf disintegrations have occurred several times elsewhere along the Antarctic Peninsula. The LARISSA project researchers hope to gain insight into the factors that lead to ice shelf collapse, and better understand the environmental impact of such break-up events. As the region continues to warm, break ups are expected to become more frequent.

During the expedition, Scambos and NSIDC researchers Rob Bauer and Terry Haran will set up monitoring systems equipped with weather instruments, GPS units, and cameras at key points on glaciers that feed into the remaining Larsen Ice Shelf. The systems, known as automated meteorology-ice-geophysics systems (AMIGOS), were designed by electronics consultant Ronald Ross of Australia, who will be joining the team during the field season. They will continue to transmit data and photographs back to the scientists through satellite telephone uplink long after the fieldwork is over. The researchers hope these data will reveal how glaciers along the Antarctic Peninsula are responding to ice shelf collapse.

Scambos, Bauer, Haran, and Ross will post updates and photographs about the project at https://iceshelf.wordpress.com/.

More Information

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
6 October 2009

Arctic sea ice extent remains low; 2009 sees third-lowest mark

sea ice map

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2009 was 5.36 million square kilometers (2.07 million square miles), the third-lowest in the satellite record. The magenta line shows the median ice extent for September from 1979 to 2000. Sea Ice Index data. About the data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

graph

Figure 2. The updated time series plot puts this summer’s sea ice extent in context with other years. The solid light blue line indicates 2009; the dashed green line shows 2007; the dark blue line shows 2008, the light-green line shows 2005; the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000, and the gray area indicates the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

graph

Figure 3. September ice extent from 1979 to 2009 shows a continued decline. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 has now increased to 11.2 percent per decade. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

map series

Figure 4. A comparison of sea surface temperatures and anomalies shows that the Arctic Ocean was warmer this year than the 1982 to 2006 average, but cooler than the past two years. Cooler temperatures in 2009, compared to 2007 and 2008, helped prevent another year of record ice low.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy Mike Steele, University of Washington

ice age maps

Figure 5. These images compare ice age, a proxy for ice thickness, in 2007, 2008, 2009, and the 1981 to 2000 average. This year saw an increase in second-year ice (in blue) over 2008. At the end of summer 2009, 32 percent of the ice cover was second-year ice. Three-year and older ice were 19 percent of the total ice cover, the lowest in the satellite record.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy C. Fowler and J. Maslanik, University of Colorado at Boulder

animation thumbnail

Figure 6: A time series of images shows the decline in September sea ice extent over the thirty-year satellite record. Click on the image to open the animated time series in a new window. At left, an animated time series shows ice extent for each of the past thirty Septembers, 1979 to 2009; for comparison, the right-hand image shows September 2009. Ice extent this fall was the third-lowest in the satellite record.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA Earth Observatory

This is a press release 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 at Boulder.
Media Relations Contact: press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

At the end of the Arctic summer, more ice cover remained this year than during the previous record-setting low years of 2007 and 2008. However, sea ice has not recovered to previous levels. September sea ice extent was the third lowest since the start of satellite records in 1979, and the past five years have seen the five lowest ice extents in the satellite record.

NSIDC Director and Senior Scientist Mark Serreze said, “It’s nice to see a little recovery over the past couple years, but there’s no reason to think that we’re headed back to conditions seen back in the 1970s. We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades.”

The average ice extent over the month of September, a reference comparison for climate studies, was 5.36 million square kilometers (2.07 million square miles) (Figure 1). This was 1.06 million square kilometers (409,000 square miles) greater than the record low for the month in 2007, and 690,000 square kilometers (266,000 square miles) greater than the second-lowest extent in 2008. However, ice extent was still 1.68 million square kilometers (649,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 September average (Figure 2). Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade, relative to the 1979 to 2000 average (Figure 3).

Sea surface temperatures in the Arctic this season remained higher than normal, but slightly lower than the past two years, according to data from Mike Steele at the University of Washington in Seattle. The cooler conditions, which resulted largely from cloudy skies during late summer, slowed ice loss compared to the past two years (Figure 4). In addition, atmospheric patterns in August and September helped to spread out the ice pack, keeping extent higher. 

The ice cover remained thin, leaving the ice cover vulnerable to melt in coming summers. Scientists use satellites to measure ice age, a proxy for ice thickness. This year, younger (less than one year old), thinner ice, which is more vulnerable to melt, accounted for 49 percent of the ice cover at the end of summer. Second-year ice made up 32 percent, compared to 21 percent in 2007 and 9 percent in 2008 (Figure 5). Only 19 percent of the ice cover was over 2 years old, the least in the satellite record and far below the 1981-2000 average of 52 percent. Earlier this summer, NASA researcher Ron Kwok and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle published satellite data showing that ice thickness declined by 0.68 meters (2.2 feet) between 2004 and 2008.

NSIDC Scientist Walt Meier said, “We've preserved a fair amount of first-year ice and second-year ice after this summer compared to the past couple of years. If this ice remains in the Arctic through the winter, it will thicken, which gives some hope of stabilizing the ice cover over the next few years. However, the ice is still much younger and thinner than it was in the 1980s, leaving it vulnerable to melt during the summer.”

Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle of melting and refreezing, melting through the warm summer months and refreezing in the winter. Sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate. While Arctic sea ice extent varies from year to year because of changeable atmospheric conditions, ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years. During this time, ice extent has declined at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade during September (relative to the 1979 to 2000 average) (Figure 6), and about 3 percent per decade in the winter months.

NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos said, “A lot of people are going to look at that graph of ice extent and think that we've turned the corner on climate change. But the underlying conditions are still very worrisome.”

Reference:
Kwok, R., and D. A. Rothrock. 2009. Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958–2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L15501, doi:10.1029/2009GL039035.

For a full listing of press resources concerning Arctic sea ice, including previous press releases and quick facts about why and how scientists study sea ice, please see "Press Resources" on the NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis Web page (https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/).

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Media Advisory
17 September 2009

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for 2009

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

The Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the third-lowest extent recorded since satellites began measuring minimum sea ice extent in 1979. While this year's minimum extent was greater than the past two years, it is still below the long-term average, and well outside the range of natural variability.

NSIDC will issue a formal press release at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

Full NSIDC announcement: https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

NSIDC press office: press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

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Press Release
8 April 2009

Wilkins Ice Shelf News

In March 2008, the Wilkins Ice Sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula lost more than 400 square kilometers (160 square miles) to a sudden collapse. Following that event, the Wilkins continued to break up, even as the Southern Hemisphere winter brought frigid temperatures to the fragile ice shelf. Scientists at NSIDC and around the world are now monitoring the Wilkins to see if the remaining portion will break up.

This page provides updates and links to news about the Wilkins Ice Shelf. For more information about Antarctic ice shelves, see Quick Facts on Ice Shelves, State of the Cryosphere: Ice Shelves, and Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events.

8 April 2009

Ice Bridge Supporting Wilkins Ice Shelf Collapses

An ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula to Charcot Island has disintegrated, leaving the remainder of the ice shelf vulnerable to further collapse.

3 April 2009

New Rifts in Ice Bridge Supporting Wilkins Ice Shelf

The Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) on the Envisat satellite shows new rifts in the narrow strip of ice that connects the Wilkins Ice shelf to Charcot Island. For more information, visit the ESA report on the cracks at http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Space_for_our_climate/Collapse_of_the_ice_bridge_supporting_Wilkins_Ice_Shelf_appears_imminent.

26 January 2009

Daily Images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf

At the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, many people have been curious whether the small strip of ice connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to Charcot Island will collapse. The European Space Association (ESA) is now posting daily images acquired by Envisat’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). Visit the ESA 'Web cam' from Space Web page at http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Keeping_an_eye_on_Wilkins_Ice_Shelf.

When conditions are clear, NSIDC also posts images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf from the NASA MODIS satellite (see image on right). To access more images, see the NSIDC Images of Antarctic Ice Shelves: Wilkins Ice Shelf Web page.

1 December 2008

New Cracks Appear in Wilkins Ice Shelf

As the Antarctic summer approaches, new rifts have formed in the Wilkins Ice Shelf. Satellite images from the European Space Association (ESA) showed the new cracks forming during the last week of November. For more information, visit the ESA Web site at http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Understanding_Our_Planet/Wilkins_Ice_Shelf_under_threat.

10 July 2008

Wintertime Disintegration of Wilkins Ice Shelf

According to satellite imagery from the ESA, the Wilkins Ice Shelf continued to break up during the southern hemisphere winter. To learn more, visit the ESA Web site at
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Space_for_our_climate/Wilkins_Ice_Shelf_hanging_by_its_last_thread.

25 March 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Antarctic Ice Shelf Disintegration Underscores a Warming World

Satellite imagery revealed that the western front of the 13,680 square kilometer (5,282 square mile) Wilkins Ice Shelf began to collapse because of rapid climate change in a fast-warming region of Antarctica.

View a series of satellite images depicting the 2008 Wilkins breakup.

16 August 1998

Collapse on the Wilkins Ice Shelf, March 1998

In March 1998, satellite images recorded a large breakup along the northern front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf. Additional satellite data gathered in August 1998 revealed that this event was a major retreat of nearly 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles).

Media Advisory
30 June 2009

Dust alters alpine ecology

Earlier mountain snowmelt, caused by increased dust deposition, leads to changes in plant growth and flowering in alpine landscapes, according to a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Thomas Painter, who worked on the study, is director of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah, and an affiliate scientist of NSIDC.

For more information visit the following Web sites:

National Science Foundation News: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=115053&org=NSF&from=news.

Colorado State University News: http://www.newsinfo.colostate.edu/index.asp?url=news_item_display&news_item_id=182047639

University of Utah Snow Optics Laboratory Web site: http://www.snow.utah.edu/

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/06/26/0900758106.abstract

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Media Advisory
11 June 2009

NSIDC Data Scientist Wins Falkenberg Award

NSIDC program manager Mark Parsons has won the Charles S. Falkenberg Award for his leadership in Earth science research and data management. The award is presented jointly by AGU and the Earth Science Information Partnership (ESIP).

Since joining NSIDC in 1994, Parsons has worked to improve the flow of Earth science information and raise public awareness of the importance of the Earth's polar regions and cryosphere. Parsons leads multiple data management projects at NSIDC and is active in many national and international data committees. He has been a tireless and outspoken advocate of robust data stewardship as a vital component of Earth system science and as an important profession in its own right.

The Charles S. Falkenberg Award, established in 2002, is presented jointly by AGU and the Earth Science Information Partnership (ESIP). It honors a scientist under 45 years of age who has contributed to the quality of life, economic opportunities and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
9 June 2009

BBC films NSIDC researcher at work in Nunavut, Canada

David Iqaqrialu and Shari GearheardDavid Iqaqrialu (left), a hunter from Clyde River, Nunavut, and Shari Gearheard, an NSIDC scientist who lives in Clyde River, chat during a break filming with the BBC for the upcoming documentary Frozen Planet. Iqaqrialu and Gearheard work together on the Igliniit Project, which will be featured in the film. —Credit: Elizabeth White, BBC

BBC filmmakers visited NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard last week to film her research for the documentary, Frozen Planet. Gearheard, who lives and works in Nunavut, Canada, studies Inuit knowledge and climate change in the Arctic.

The BBC filmed Gearheard and Inuit hunters working with interactive Global Positioning System (GPS) units they developed with geomatics engineers as part of an International Polar Year Project. The Igliniit Project combines Inuit knowledge of the Arctic environment with technology and science, outfitting Inuit hunters with logging systems that record weather conditions and allow the hunters to track observations of animals and environmental conditions in their own language. The research team hopes that the new technology, once fully developed, could help Inuit and other northern communities with environmental research and monitoring programs, land use planning, hazards awareness, and search and rescue activities.

Frozen Planet is scheduled for release in 2011. For more information, visit the Igliniit Project Web site at https://gcrc.carleton.ca/index.html.

To learn more about Gearheard and her research, see Scientists at NSIDC.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
19 May 2009

Mark Serreze Named NSIDC Director

The University of Colorado at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences has named Dr. Mark Serreze as the new director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), a national information and referral center for data regarding the Earth’s frozen regions. Serreze begins as interim director immediately; his full appointment starts August 16, 2009. He replaces Dr. Roger Barry, who retired from the post in 2008 after 31 years of service.

Serreze, a senior research scientist at NSIDC since 2005, is also a research associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a Fellow of CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). He studies Arctic climate, and the causes and global implications of climate change in the Arctic. Serreze is well known for his research on the declining sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean.

Serreze has authored over 90 scientific publications, including an award-winning textbook, The Arctic Climate System, which he co-wrote with former NSIDC director Roger Barry. He has also served on numerous advisory boards and science steering committees. In 2004, he testified before the U.S. Congress on changes in Arctic sea ice cover.

As NSIDC director, Serreze plans to build on NSIDC’s current collaborations within CU, and with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and national funding agencies. He also plans to seek new opportunities to serve NSIDC’s scientific and public audiences. NSIDC receives most of its funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Serreze said, “NSIDC will become an indispensable national asset, providing the global research community, public, and decision makers with the data and information needed to understand and prepare for the consequences of the changing cryosphere.”

NSIDC supports research into the Earth’s frozen realms by managing and distributing scientific data, creating tools for data access, supporting data users, performing scientific research, and educating the public about the cryosphere. NSIDC also makes climate data and science accessible to the public and decision makers, through efforts such as Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis, an online scientific analysis of changing sea ice conditions.

Richard Armstrong served as interim director of NSIDC from 2008 to April 2009.

NSIDC is part of CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

For more information on Serreze and his research, see Scientists at NSIDC.

For more information, please contact the NSIDC Press Office at +1 303.492.1497 or press@nsidc.org.

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Media Advisory
29 April 2009

NSIDC Researchers Awarded Innovative Research Project

The CIRES Innovative Research Program has funded NSIDC researchers Walt Meier and Mary Jo Brodzik to re-examine satellite data from the 1960s that may hold promise for new research. Using new processing methods, the researchers hope to extract valuable information on sea ice extent, extending the historical record back more than a decade.

The NASA Nimbus I, II, and III satellites orbited the Earth in the 1960s and 1970s, collecting data twice daily for periods of several years. However, the data were never fully explored, and only one tape drive remains in the world that can still read the original files. The researchers will use new data processing techniques to convert the archaic data into a high-quality product, making the data available and accessible to scientists around the world.

Dennis Wingo of the NASA Ames Research Center and NSIDC Information Technology Manager David Gallaher initiated the project and will play an integral role.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
8 April 2009

Ice Bridge Supporting Wilkins Ice Shelf Collapses

This before and after image shows the collapse of the ice bridge connecting the remainder of Wilkins Ice Shelf to Charcot Island. NSIDC processed these images from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, which flies on NASA's Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites. —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

An ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula to Charcot Island has disintegrated. The event continues a series of breakups that began in March 2008 on the ice shelf, and highlights the effect that climate change is having on the region.

Images from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on the Terra and Aqua satellites showed the shattering of the ice bridge between March 31, 2009 and April 6, 2009. The loss of the ice bridge, which was bracing the remaining portions of the Wilkins ice shelf, will now allow a mass of broken ice and icebergs to drift into the Southern Ocean.

Scientists at NSIDC and around the world have been watching the ice bridge since last March, anticipating its collapse. Now that it has broken up, researchers are closely monitoring the remaining portion of the Wilkins Ice Shelf to see if the loss of the ice bridge allows the ice shelf to collapse further.

The Wilkins is following a pattern of instability and rapid collapse that many Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves have experienced in recent years. Scientists think that the dramatic loss of these ice shelves, which have existed for hundreds to thousands of years, is an important sign of climate change in the Southern Hemisphere. The loss of an ice shelf can also allow the glaciers that feed into it to start flowing ice into the ocean at an accelerated rate, contributing to a rise in global sea levels.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf first began to break up in the mid-1990s. Last March, the Wilkins lost another 400 square kilometers (160 square miles) in a rapid retreat, and the ice shelf continued to form new cracks over the winter.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is located on the southwestern Antarctic Peninsula, the fastest-warming region of the Earth. In the past 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit). In the early 1990s, the Wilkins Ice Shelf had a total area of 17,400 square kilometers (6,700 square miles). Events in 1998 and the early years of this decade reduced that to roughly 13,680 square kilometers (5,280 square miles). In 2008, a series of disintegrations (rapid repeated calvings in which the ice shelf pieces are small enough to topple over) and break-up events (rifting of large sections of the shelf, leading to large tabular iceberg calvings) shrunk the area of stable shelf to roughly 10,300 square kilometers (4,000 square miles), a net loss within a year of approximately 3,600 square kilometers (1,400 square miles).

For updates and links to other news on the Wilkins Ice Shelf, see the Wilkins Ice Shelf News Web page at https://nsidc.org/news/press/wilkins/.

For more images, visit the NASA Earth Observatory Web page, Wilkins Ice Bridge Collapse.

For more information, please contact the NSIDC Press Office at +1 303.492.1497 or press@nsidc.org.

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Media Advisory
6 April 2009

Update on Arctic Sea Ice Conditions

In conjunction with a NASA/NSIDC media teleconference today, NSIDC has issued an update to Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis describing winter sea ice conditions in the Arctic Ocean. To read the full analysis from NSIDC scientists, see /arcticseaicenews/2009/04/arctic-sea-ice-younger-thinner-as-melt-season-begins/

Supporting information for the media briefing is available on the NASA Web site at: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/seaice_status09.html. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the NASA Web site at https://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.

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Media Advisory
1 April 2009

Briefing to Provide Check-Up on Arctic Sea Ice Conditions

NASA and NSIDC will hold a media teleconference on Monday, April 6, at 9:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (MDT), to present the latest observations of sea ice conditions in the Arctic.

Sea ice cover over the Arctic Ocean typically reaches its maximum geographic extent and thickness just as spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the winter maximum extent has been lower during the last six winters than at any other time during thirty years of satellite records. Scientists have also observed that ice thickness and age are changing. They will present their analyses of Arctic ice cover for the 2008 to 2009 winter season at the briefing.

The teleconference participants are:

  • Ronald Kwok, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California
  • Walter Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
  • Thomas Wagner, Cryospheric Sciences Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact Steve Cole at +1 202.358.0918 or stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov for dial-in instructions by 3:00 p.m. MDT on Friday, April 3. On April 6, supporting information for the briefing will be available at 9:00 a.m. MDT on the NASA Web site at: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/seaice_status09.html. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the NASA Web site at https://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.

To read the NASA media advisory concerning the teleconference, visit https://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2009/apr/HQ_M09-053_Arctic_Ice_Briefing.html.

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Media Advisory
4 March 2009

New CODATA IPY Data Management Initiative to Ensure Data Stewardship: NSIDC Data Managers Play an Advisory Role

NSIDC is involved in several important data management efforts for the International Polar Year (IPY), including the IPY Data and Information Service (IPYDIS). The Committee on Data and Science and Technology (CODATA) has now announced its strategy for long-term management of the wealth of data collected during the International Polar Year (IPY), the Polar Information Commons.

CODATA PRESS RELEASE
23 February 2009

The Polar Information Commons (PIC): Establishing the Framework for Long-term Stewardship of Polar Data and Information

The International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY) has been a huge, scientific success, resulting in new insights in how the polar regions work. Now that the IPY officially draws to a close, it is critical to ensure that the data generated by IPY projects are accessible and preserved for future generations to benefit from.

CODATA, the Committee on Data for Science and Technology, is starting a new initiative to establish a Polar Information Commons (PIC), to further the process of ensuring long-term stewardship of and access to polar data and information coming out of the IPY.

This project: The Polar Information Commons (PIC): Establishing the Framework for Long-term Stewardship of Polar Data and Information, aims to establish a sustainable long-term framework for the preservation and access of polar data, building on recent "commons" approaches developed in other scientific fields and entraining new stakeholders and participants into polar data management.

Experiences in other scientific communities, such as the biodiversity/conservation and neuroscience communities, has shown that a "commons" approach will strengthen incentives for scientists, research institutions, nations, and other groups to contribute and document data, reduce barriers to data sharing, and provide a focal point for community efforts to fill in data gaps, improve data quality, and promote data access and usability.

CODATA looks forward to working with its supporting partners, the International Arctic Science Council (IASC); the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR); the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG); the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); the IPY International Program Office (IPY IPO); the World Data System Transition Team and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and many stakeholders in the development of this project and it thanks ICSU, the International Council for Science, for its support in the launch of the activity.

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Media Advisory
26 January 2009

NSIDC Scientist Contributes to Study on Penguin Decline

Three emperor penguins explore the sea ice off the coast of Antarctica. —Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC

NSIDC Scientist Julienne Stroeve contributed to a study of emperor penguins published today in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper suggests that global warming will lead to the decline of the emperor penguin population in Terre Adélie, Antarctica.

Stroeve contributed observations and data to model future Antarctic sea ice conditions, based on several global warming scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Emperor penguins depend on seasonal sea ice for reproduction and feeding.

Most current projections indicate that Antarctic sea ice will shrink in the future because of climate change. The study shows that a decrease in sea ice in the Terre Adélie region would likely contribute to a dramatic decline in emperor penguin population by the end of the century.

To access the article, visit the PNAS Web site at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/recent.

For further information on the study and authors, visit the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution news Web page at http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=7545.

For more information, please contact the NSIDC Press Office at +1 303.492.1497 or press@nsidc.org.

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Media Advisory
2 February 2009

NSIDC Data Included in New Version of Google Earth

NSIDC data is included in the newest version of Google Earth, launched today. The new “Ocean in Google Earth” feature contains NSIDC sea ice extent data and photographs showing glaciers shrinking through time. These and other NSIDC data products are also available to Google Earth users online via our Virtual Globes page at https://nsidc.org/data/virtual_globes/.

Visit the Ocean in Google Earth landing page at https://www.google.com/earth/explore/showcase/ocean.html. For more information about Google Earth, contact press@google.com

For more information about the NSIDC data included in Google Earth, please contact User Services at nsidc@nsidc.org; members of the press, please contact press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
9 January 2009

NSIDC Scientist Participates in Antarctic Expedition

Ted ScambosTed Scambos grins before boarding the LC-139 Hercules that will take Team 2 from McMurdo Station to the South Pole. —Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC


NSIDC Lead Scientist and Antarctic Ice Sheet expert Ted Scambos is one of a group of scientists conducting a traverse beginning at the South Pole.


The team of scientists from the United States and Norway began their journey in November of 2008 and will be traveling and conducting research until around March 2009. The team is the second of two teams traversing East Antarctica in an effort to expand scientific knowledge about climate on the continent.


The scientists on the expedition are taking turns posting frequent updates about their experience and their ongoing research. Read their entries in the Expedition Diary at http://traverse.npolar.no/expedition-diary/.


The traverse Web site also has details on the scientific goals of the expedition, which include efforts to:


  • Investigate climate variability in Dronning Maud Land of East Antarctica on time scales of years to a million years
  • Establish spatial and temporal variability in snow accumulation over this area of Antarctica to understand the area's potential impact on sea level changes
  • Investigate the impact of atmospheric and oceanic variability on the chemical composition of firn and ice in the region
  • Revisit areas and sites first explored by traverses in the 1960’s, for detection of possible changes and to establish benchmark data sets for future research efforts.

For more information, visit the Norwegian–U.S. Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica Web site at http://traverse.npolar.no.


To read about one of Scambos's previous Antarctic expeditions, see IceTrek: Exploring the Lifecycle of a Drifting Antarctic Iceberg.


For more information, please contact the NSIDC Press Office at +1 303.492.1497 or press@nsidc.org.


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Media Advisory
5 January 2009

NSIDC Scientist Receives Reviewer Award for Service to Journal

NSIDC Scientist Tingjun Zhang has received a Reviewers Certificate award from the Elsevier journal, Cold Regions Science & Technology. The certificate was awarded to five reviewers who had gone above and beyond the normal peer review process.

Zhang has been a member of the Cold Regions Science & Technology editorial board for more than five years. He also served as a guest editor of a recent special issue, entitled “The Qinghai-Tibet Railroad: A milestone project and its environmental impact.”

For more information about the journal, please visit the Cold Regions Science & Technology Web site at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0165232X.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
2 October 2008

Arctic Sea Ice Down to Second-Lowest Extent; Likely Record-Low Volume

sea ice map

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2008 was 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles), the second-lowest in the satellite record. The magenta line shows the median ice extent for September from 1979 to 2000. Sea Ice Index data. About the data.
—National Snow and Ice Data Center

graph

Figure 2. The updated time series plot puts this summer’s sea ice extent in context with other years. The solid light blue line indicates 2008; the dashed green line shows 2007; the dotted dark blue line shows 2005; and the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. Note the steep decline in August 2008, which depicts record ice losses for the month. Sea Ice Index data.
—National Snow and Ice Data Center

graph

Figure 3. September ice extent from 1979 to 2008 shows a thirty-year decline. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 has now increased to -11.7 percent per decade. Sea Ice Index data.
—National Snow and Ice Data Center

maps

Figure 4. A comparison of ice age in September 2007 (left) and September 2008 (right) shows the increase in thin first-year ice (red) and the decline in thick multi-year ice (orange and yellow). White indicates areas of ice below ~50 percent, for which ice age cannot be determined. AVHRR, SMMR SSM/I, and IABP buoy data.
—From National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy C. Fowler, J. Maslanik, and S. Drobot, University of Colorado at Boulder

air temperature anomalies map

Figure 5. A map of air-temperature anomalies at the 925 millibar level (about 914 meters or 3,000 feet above the surface) averaged over June, July, and August 2008 shows that temperatures in the Arctic were higher than average this summer. Yellow and red indicate areas with above-average temperature; blue indicates areas with below-average temperature.
—From National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division Climate Diagnostics Center

sea ice extent map

Figure 6. This animation of September sea ice concentration from 1979 to 2008 shows two aspects of sea ice change: First, it shows that sea ice has been declining over the thirty years of the satellite record. Second, it shows that September extent in 2008 was well below average, which is indicated by the magenta line. The satellite does not pass close enough to the North Pole for the sensor to collect data there; lack of data is indicated by a gray circle. SMMR SSM/I data.
—Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center using NASA GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio Blue Marble

animation thumbnail

Figure 7. This animation shows two aspects of sea ice change: First, as the thirty-year record unfolds, September sea ice is showing a negative trend. Second, it shows that 2008 came in just over the record low set in 2007, making it the second-lowest in the satellite record. On the right is the average extent in September 2008; on the left is an animation that shows September sea ice extent, beginning with 1979 and ending with 2008. —National Snow and Ice Data Center

Arctic sea ice extent during the 2008 melt season dropped to the second-lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979, reaching the lowest point in its annual cycle of melt and growth on September 14, 2008. Average sea ice extent over the month of September, a standard measure in the scientific study of Arctic sea ice, was 4.67 million square kilometers (1.80 million square miles) (Figure 1). The record monthly low, set in 2007, was 4.28 million square kilometers (1.65 million square miles); the now-third-lowest monthly value, set in 2005, was 5.57 million square kilometers (2.15 million square miles).

The 2008 season strongly reinforces the thirty-year downward trend in Arctic ice extent. The 2008 September low was 34% below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000 and only 9% greater than the 2007 record (Figure 2). Because the 2008 low was so far below the September average, the negative trend in September extent has been pulled downward, from –10.7 % per decade to –11.7 % per decade (Figure 3).

NSIDC Senior Scientist Mark Serreze said, “When you look at the sharp decline that we’ve seen over the past thirty years, a ‘recovery’ from lowest to second lowest is no recovery at all. Both within and beyond the Arctic, the implications of the decline are enormous.”

Conditions in spring, at the end of the growth season, played an important role in the outcome of this year’s melt. In March 2008, thin first-year ice covered a record high 73% of the Arctic Basin. While this might seem like a recovery of the ice, the large extent masked an important aspect of sea ice health; thin ice is more prone to melting out during summer. So, the widespread thin ice of spring 2008 set the stage for extensive ice loss over the melt season.

Through the 2008 melt season, a race developed between melting of the thin ice and gradually waning sunlight. Summer ice losses allowed a great deal of solar energy to enter the ocean and heat up the water, melting even more ice from the bottom and sides. Warm oceans store heat longer than the atmosphere does, contributing to melt long after sunlight has begun to wane. In August 2008, the Arctic Ocean lost more ice than any previous August in the satellite record.

NSIDC Research Scientist Walt Meier said, “Warm ocean waters helped contribute to ice losses this year, pushing the already thin ice pack over the edge. In fact, preliminary data indicates that 2008 probably represents the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice on record, partly because less multiyear ice is surviving now, and the remaining ice is so thin.” (See Figure 4.)

In the end, however, summer conditions worked together to save some first-year ice from melting and to cushion the thin pack from the effects of sunlight and warm ocean waters. This summer’s weather did not provide the “perfect storm” for ice loss seen in 2007: temperatures were lower than 2007, although still higher than average (Figure 5); cloudier skies protected the ice from some melt; a different wind pattern spread the ice pack out, leading to higher extent numbers. Simply put, the natural variability of short-term weather patterns provided enough of a brake to prevent a new record-low ice extent from occurring.

NSIDC Research Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, “I find it incredible that we came so close to beating the 2007 record—without the especially warm and clear conditions we saw last summer. I hate to think what 2008 might have looked like if weather patterns had set up in a more extreme way. ”

The melt season of 2008 reinforces the decline of Arctic sea ice documented over the past thirty years (Figure 6 and Figure 7). NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos said, “The trend of decline in the Arctic continues, despite this year's slightly greater extent of sea ice. The Arctic is more vulnerable than ever.”

References

Maslanik, J.A., C. Fowler, J. Stroeve, S. Drobot, J. Zwally, D. Yi, and W. Emery. 2007. A younger, thinner Arctic ice cover: Increased potential for rapid, extensive sea-ice loss, Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 34, L24501, doi:10.1029/2007GL032043.

Stroeve J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast, Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 34, L09501, doi:10.1029/2007GL029703.

Stroeve J., M. Serreze, S. Drobot, S. Gearheard, M. Holland, J. Maslanik, W. Meier, and T. Scambos. 2008. Arctic sea ice extent plummets in 2007, EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, vol. 89, pp. 13–14.

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Media Advisory
16 September 2008

Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent for 2008

This is a joint announcement with NASA and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. NSIDC scientists provide Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis content, with partial support from NASA.

The Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. While slightly above the record-low minimum set in 2007, this season further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime sea ice extent observed over the past thirty years.

NSIDC will issue a formal press release at the beginning of October with full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's low ice conditions, particularly interesting aspects of the melt season, the set up going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.

Full NSIDC announcement: https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/
NSIDC press office: press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497

NASA announcement: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/sea_ice_nsidc.html
NASA visualizations: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?3556 and https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?3547

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Media Advisory
26 August 2008

Arctic sea ice now second-lowest on record

sea ice extent mapFigure 1. Daily Arctic sea ice extent for August 26, 2008, fell below the 2005 minimum, which was 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data.

Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. We will know if the 2008 record will also fall in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.

On August 27, 2008, at approximately 9:15 am MT, we issued an update with finalized numbers.

For the full announcement, see https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2008/08/arctic-sea-ice-now-second-lowest-on-record/.

For current updates on Arctic sea ice, see https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/.

Contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

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Media Advisory
10 June 2008

Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, NCAR/NSIDC Study Finds

The rate of climate warming over northern Alaska, Canada, and Russia could more than triple during extended episodes of rapid sea ice loss, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The findings raise concerns about the thawing of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, and the potential consequences for sensitive ecosystems, human infrastructure, and the release of additional greenhouse gases.

“The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region,” said Andrew Slater, NSIDC research scientist and a co-author on the study, which was led by David Lawrence of NCAR. The findings will be published Friday in Geophysical Research Letters.

Last summer, Arctic sea ice extent shrank to a record low. From August to October last year, air temperatures over land in the western Arctic were also unusually warm, reaching more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the 1978-2006 average. This led the researchers to question whether the unusually low sea ice extent and warm land temperatures were related.

Lawrence, Slater, and colleagues used a climate model to explore the relationship between low sea ice extent, increased air temperatures, and permafrost thawing. Previous climate change simulations identified periods of rapid sea ice loss that last 5 to 10 years. The new study shows that during such episodes, Arctic land would warm 3.5 times faster than average rates of warming predicted by global climate models for the 21st century. 

The findings point to a link between rapid sea ice loss and enhanced rate of climate warming, which could penetrate as far as 900 miles inland. In areas where permafrost is already at risk, such as central Alaska, the study suggests that periods of abrupt sea ice loss can lead to rapid soil thaw.

Thawing permafrost may have a range of impacts, including buckled highways and destabilized houses, as well as changes to the delicate balance of life in the Arctic. In addition, scientists estimate that Arctic soils hold at least 30 percent of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide. While scientists are uncertain what will happen if this permafrost thaws, it has the potential to contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

To read the full NCAR press release, visit the NCAR News Center at https://www2.ucar.edu/news/933/permafrost-threatened-rapid-retreat-arctic-sea-ice-ncar-study-finds.

For more information on Arctic sea ice, including up-to-date information on this year’s conditions, visit Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis.

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Press Release
6 May 2008

NSIDC Scientist Awarded Innovative Research Project

The CIRES Innovative Research Program has funded NSIDC scientist Ted Scambos to explore the causes of ice shelf break-up in Antarctica. Scambos will investigate whether dwindling sea ice contributes to ice shelf collapse. The CIRES program provides modest funding to help researchers pursue novel or unconventional research projects that might otherwise be difficult to support.

In March 2008, a portion of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the West Antarctic Peninsula began to collapse, underscoring the warming that the region has been experiencing. The Wilkins Ice Shelf collapse was unique because scientists recorded extensive data during the event, including satellite images, meteorological measurements, and in situ observations.

Scambos, together with Robert Massom of the Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, will use data collected during the Wilkins collapse to explore the factors that contributed to the breakup. Understanding these factors is important because when ice shelves collapse, the glaciers behind them may accelerate, contributing to sea level rise.

To view the NSIDC press release on the Wilkins Ice Shelf collapse, see Antarctic Ice Shelf Disintegration Underscores a Warming World.

For further inquiries, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1.303.492.1497.

Press Release
16 April 2008

Museum Exhibit Highlights Arctic Climate Change

“Silavut: Inuit Voices in a Changing World” opened April 15 at the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder. A collaboration between NSIDC, the museum, and the community of Clyde River in Nunavut, Canada, the exhibit relates the story of climate change through Inuit eyes.

The exhibit explores the experience of one Arctic community, which is encountering changes in the environment that has sustained them for thousands of years. A small group of Inuit elders in Nunavut, Canada, partnered with the museum to review the content and facts, which draw from NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard's research.

Gearheard has lived and worked in Clyde River, a small community in Nunavut, Canada, for nine years. She works directly with the Inuit community there, documenting their observations, including melting sea ice and changing wind patterns. “Silavut” means “our climate” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language, and the exhibit is part of the International Polar Year (IPY).

The exhibit runs from April 15, 2008, through March 15, 2009, at the University of Colorado Museum on the Boulder campus. For details on the exhibit, visit the exhibit Web site at the University of Colorado Museum: http://cumuseum.colorado.edu/exhibits/traveling-exhibits/silavut. For information on NSIDC involvement in the exhibit, please contact the NSIDC press office at press@nsidc.org or +1.303.492.1497.

Press Release
25 March 2008

Antarctic Ice Shelf Disintegration Underscores a Warming World

image time series

Figure 1. This series of satellite images shows the Wilkins Ice Shelf as it began to break up. The large image is from March 6; the images at right, from top to bottom, are from February 28, February 29, and March 8. NSIDC processed these images from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, which flies on NASA's Earth Observing System Aqua and Terra satellites. —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA

shelf closeup

Figure 2. During the break-up, the Wilkins Ice Shelf broke into a sky-blue pattern of exposed deep glacial ice. This true-color image of the Wilkins Ice Shelf was taken by MODIS on March 6, 2008. —Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA

icebergs

Figure 3. This image shows a high-resolution, enhanced-color image of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica on March 8, 2008. Narrow iceberg blocks (150 meters wide, or 492 feet) crumbled into house-sized rubble. Taiwan's Formosat-2 satellite acquired this image. —Credit: Left, National Snow and Ice Data Center; right, National Snow and Ice Data Center/courtesy Cheng-Chien Liu, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Taiwan and Taiwan's National Space Organization (NSPO); processed at Earth Dynamic System Research Center at NCKU, Taiwan.

This is a joint press release 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 at Boulder; the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), based in the United Kingdom; and the Earth Dynamic System Research Center at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) inTaiwan.

Satellite imagery from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder reveals that a 13,680 square kilometer (5,282 square mile) ice shelf has begun to collapse because of rapid climate change in a fast-warming region of Antarctica.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf is a broad plate of permanent floating ice on the southwest Antarctic Peninsula, about 1,000 miles south of South America. In the past 50 years, the western Antarctic Peninsula has experienced the biggest temperature increase on Earth, rising by 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) per decade. NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos, who first spotted the disintegration in March, said, "We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up."

Satellite images indicate that the Wilkins began its collapse on February 28; data revealed that a large iceberg, 41 by 2.5 kilometers (25.5 by 1.5 miles), fell away from the ice shelf's southwestern front, triggering a runaway disintegration of 405 square kilometers (160 square miles) of the shelf interior (Figure 1). The edge of the shelf crumbled into the sky-blue pattern of exposed deep glacial ice that has become characteristic of climate-induced ice shelf break-ups such as the Larsen B in 2002. A narrow beam of intact ice, just 6 kilometers wide (3.7 miles) was protecting the remaining shelf from further break-up as of March 23 (Figure 2).

Scientists track ice shelves and study collapses carefully because some of them hold back glaciers, which if unleashed, can accelerate and raise sea level. Scambos said, "The Wilkins disintegration won't raise sea level because it already floats in the ocean, and few glaciers flow into it. However, the collapse underscores that the Wilkins region has experienced an intense melt season. Regional sea ice has all but vanished, leaving the ice shelf exposed to the action of waves."

With Antarctica's summer melt season drawing to a close, scientists do not expect the Wilkins to further disintegrate in the next several months. "This unusual show is over for this season," Scambos said. "But come January, we'll be watching to see if the Wilkins continues to fall apart."

Real-time collaboration

Images from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and data from ICESat showed that the ice shelf was in a state of collapse in March. Scambos then alerted colleagues around the world, seeking to ensure that every means of gathering information was focused on the break-up.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) mounted an overflight of the crumbling shelf, collecting video footage and other observations. BAS glaciologist David Vaughan said of the ice shelf, which is supported by a single strip of ice strung between two islands, "Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on West Antarctica yet to be threatened. This shelf is hanging by a thread."

Associate Professor Cheng-Chien Liu at Taiwan's National Cheng-Kung University (NCKU) also responded, requesting high-resolution color satellite images of the area from Taiwan's Formosat-2 satellite (Figure 3), operated by the National Space Organization. Cheng-Chien Liu said, "It looks as if something is slicing the ice shelf piece by piece on an incredible scale, kilometers long but only a few hundred meters in width."

South American scientists also got involved. Andrés Rivera and Gino Cassasa at the Laboratorio de Glaciología y Cambio Climático at the Centro de Estudios Científicos in Chile (CECS), acquired images of the Wilkins from the ASTER instrument, aboard NASA's Terra satellite.

The combined efforts of these international teams have begun to provide observational data that will improve scientific understanding of the mechanisms behind ice shelf collapse. Scambos said, "The Wilkins is an example of an event we don't see very often. But it's a key process in being able to predict how sea level will change in the future."

More information

The Wilkins is one of a string of ice shelves that have collapsed in the West Antarctic Peninsula in the past thirty years. The Larsen B became the most well-known of these, disappearing in just over thirty days in 2002. The Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Wordie, Muller, and the Jones Ice Shelf collapses also underscore the unprecedented warming in this region of Antarctica.

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Media Advisory
7 February 2008

New Research on the 2002 Collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf

A new study co-authored by NSIDC Research Scientist Ted Scambos and published in Volume 54 of the Journal of Glaciology sheds light on the 2002 collapse of a massive Antarctic ice shelf.

Lead Author Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom said, “Ice shelf collapse is not as simple as we first thought. Because large amounts of meltwater appeared on the ice shelf just before it collapsed, we had always assumed that air temperature increases were to blame." The study identified additional factors leading to the demise of the ice shelf.

Researchers found that rifts on the ice shelf had been growing for up to two decades before the sudden event of the summer of 2002. The indications are that the ice shelf was stressed as glacier flow began to increase over the 1990s.

Scambos said, “It's likely that melting from higher ocean temperatures, or even a gradual decline in the ice mass of the Peninsula over the centuries, was pushing the Larsen to the brink.”

Scambos pointed to studies that have measured warming of deep Southern Ocean currents, which increasingly brush against the Antarctic coastline. "This led to some thinning of the shelf, making it easier to break apart," he noted. "The unusually warm summer of 2002, part of a multi-decade trend of warming clearly tied to climate change, was the final straw," Scambos said.

Scambos added, "Knowing how these complex, large events work together helps us understand the potential for the collapse of another major ice shelf, such as the Larsen C."

To find the article online, visit the Journal of Glaciology at https://www.igsoc.org/journal/. Contact Professor Glasser at 01970 622785 or nfg@aber.ac.uk.

View an animation of the collapse as captured by satellite instruments.

Citation:
Glasser, N.F. and Scambos, T.A. 2008. A structural glaciological analysis of the 2002 Larsen B ice shelf collapse. Journal of Glaciology 54(184) 3–16.

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Media Advisory
16 October 2007

Nobel Peace Prize Honors Climate Change Experts: NSIDC Scientists Contribute to Winning Effort

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for informing the world about the important issue of human-caused climate change. NSIDC scientists were among the many experts who contributed to the IPCC's efforts.

The Nobel committee recognized the IPCC reports on climate change as significantly contributing to worldwide understanding of this issue. The IPCC reports represent a unique scientific collaboration on a globally important topic; thousands of experts in their scientific fields compiled the reports under the direction of the IPCC.

The reports, released earlier this year, discuss the physical science; impacts, adaptations, and vulnerability; and mitigation of climate change. NSIDC involvement was particularly strong concerning the science behind global warming—the causes, observations, and future projections at the foundation of the discussion.

NSIDC Director Roger Barry served as a Review Editor, and Senior Scientist Tingjun Zhang served as a Lead Author for Chapter 4: Observations: Changes in Snow, Ice and Frozen Ground. Barry is an Arctic climatologist and has led NSIDC since its founding in 1976. Zhang, a frozen ground and permafrost expert, has been with NSIDC for eleven years.

Contributing authors from NSIDC included scientists Oliver Frauenfeld, Bruce Raup, and Andrew Slater. Additional contributors were NSIDC scientists Richard Armstrong, James McCreight, Walt Meier, Ted Scambos, and Mark Serreze.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC and to Mr. Gore has given us all a renewed sense of the importance of our work in climate science. We offer our congratulations to the thousands of international experts to whom this honor belongs.

For more information, visit the Nobel Foundation's online summary at https://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007/speedread.html.

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Press Release
4 October 2007

U.S. Former Vice President Al Gore visits NSIDC

NSIDC hosted former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for a private science briefing, yesterday, at the request of Mr. Gore. CIRES Director and Greenland ice sheet expert Konrad Steffen and NSIDC Director and Arctic climatologist Roger Barry hosted the briefing at NSIDC on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus.

After brief presentations concerning the latest scientific research on Arctic sea ice, snow, glaciers, permafrost, and ice sheets, an extensive and lively discussion with NSIDC research scientists ensued.

Mr. Gore expressed interest in Arctic sea ice, permafrost, and climate interactions, as well as changes occurring in our planet’s cold regions. He also encouraged NSIDC scientists and the larger climate science community to be direct about their research results.

NSIDC was honored to host the former Vice President to discuss our research. For press inquiries, contact press@nsidc.org or +1 303.492.1497.

Press Release
1 October 2007

Arctic Sea Ice Shatters All Previous Record Lows

2005-2007 comparison

Figure 1: This image compares the average sea ice extent for September 2007 to September 2005; the magenta line indicates the long-term median from 1979 to 2000. September 2007 sea ice extent was 4.28 million square kilometers (1.65 million square miles), compared to 5.57 million square kilometers (2.14 million square miles) in September 2005. This image is from the NSIDC Sea Ice Index.

time series graph

Figure 2: The updated time series plot puts this summer’s sea ice extent in context with other years. 2007, shown in solid blue, is far below the previous record year of 2005, shown as a dashed line; September 2007 was 39% below where we would expect to be in an average year, shown in solid gray. Average September sea ice extent from 1979 to 2000 was 7.04 million square kilometers (2.70 million square miles). The climataological minimum from 1979 to 2000 was 6.74 million square kilometers (2.60 million square miles).

September ice extent 1979-2007

Figure 3: September ice extent from 1979 to 2007 shows an obvious decline. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now approximately 10 percent per decade, or 72,000 square kilometers (28,000 square miles) per year.

Arctic mosaic

Figure 4: Arctic sea ice reached its lowest annual extent—the absolute minimum—on September 15, 2007. This image is a composite image taken by the MODIS satellite on September 15 and 16, 2007, during a relatively clear-sky period. The Northwest Passage, through the channels of the Canadian Archipelago at bottom left, opened for the first time in human memory, this melt season. The Northern Sea Route, to the right around the coast of Siberia, remained blocked by a large mass of ice.

Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season plummeted to the lowest levels since satellite measurements began in 1979. The average sea ice extent for the month of September was 4.28 million square kilometers (1.65 million square miles), the lowest September on record, shattering the previous record for the month, set in 2005, by 23 percent (see Figure 1). At the end of the melt season, September 2007 sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000 (see Figure 2). If ship and aircraft records from before the satellite era are taken into account, sea ice may have fallen by as much as 50 percent from the 1950s. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now approximately 10 percent per decade, or 72,000 square kilometers (28,000 square miles) per year (see Figure 3).

Arctic sea ice has long been recognized as a sensitive climate indicator. NSIDC Senior Scientist Mark Serreze said, “Computer projections have consistently shown that as global temperatures rise, the sea ice cover will begin to shrink. While a number of natural factors have certainly contributed to the overall decline in sea ice, the effects of greenhouse warming are now coming through loud and clear.”

One factor that contributed to this fall’s extreme decline was that the ice was entering the melt season in an already weakened state. NSIDC Research Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, "The spring of 2007 started out with less ice than normal, as well as thinner ice. Thinner ice takes less energy to melt than thicker ice, so the stage was set for low levels of sea ice this summer.”

Another factor that conspired to accelerate the ice loss this summer was an unusual atmospheric pattern, with persistent high atmospheric pressures over the central Arctic Ocean and lower pressures over Siberia. The scientists noted that skies were fairly clear under the high-pressure cell, promoting strong melt. At the same time, the pattern of winds pumped warm air into the region. While the warm winds fostered further melt, they also helped push ice away from the Siberian shore. NSIDC Research Scientist Walt Meier said, "While the decline of the ice started out fairly slowly in spring and early summer, it accelerated rapidly in July. By mid-August, we had already shattered all previous records for ice extent."

Arctic sea ice receded so much that the fabled Northwest Passage completely opened for the first time in human memory (see Figure 4). Explorers and other seafarers had long recognized that this passage, through the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, represented a potential shortcut from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Roald Amundsen began the first successful navigation of the route starting in 1903. It took his group two-and-a-half years to leapfrog through narrow passages of open water, with their ship locked in the frozen ice through two cold, dark winters. More recently, icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships have on occasion traversed the normally ice-choked route. However, by the end of the 2007 melt season, a standard ocean-going vessel could have sailed smoothly through. On the other hand, the Northern Sea Route, a shortcut along the Eurasian coast that is often at least partially open, was completely blocked by a band of ice this year.

In addition to the record-breaking retreat of sea ice, NSIDC scientists also noted that the date of the lowest sea ice extent, or the absolute minimum, has shifted to later in the year. This year, the five-day running minimum occurred on September 16, 2007; from 1979 to 2000, the minimum usually occurred on September 12. NSIDC Senior Scientist Ted Scambos said, “What we’ve seen this year fits the profile of lengthening melt seasons, which is no surprise. As the system warms up, spring melt will tend to come earlier and autumn freezing will begin later.”

Changes in sea ice extent, timing, ice thickness, and seasonal fluctuations are already having an impact on the people, plants, and animals that live in the Arctic. NSIDC Research Scientist and Arctic resident Shari Gearheard said, “Local people who live in the region are noticing the changes in sea ice. The earlier break up and later freeze up affect when and where people can go hunting, as well as safety for travel.”

NSIDC scientists monitor and study Arctic sea ice year round, analyzing satellite data and seeking to understand the regional changes and complex feedbacks that we are seeing. Serreze said, “The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return. As the years go by, we are losing more and more ice in summer, and growing back less and less ice in winter. We may well see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer within our lifetimes.” The scientists agree that this could occur by 2030. Serreze concluded, “The implications for global climate, as well as Arctic animals and people, are disturbing."

Related Resource

NASA Images Release
'Remarkable' Drop in Arctic Sea Ice Raises Questions

References

Meier, W.N., J. Stroeve, and F. Fetterer, 2007. Whither Arctic sea ice? A clear signal of decline regionally, seasonally and extending beyond the satellite record, Ann. Glaciol., vol. 46, pp. 428-434.

Serreze, M.C., M.M. Holland, and J. Stroeve, 2007. Perspectives on the Arctic's shrinking sea-ice cover, Science, vol. 315, pp. 1533-1536, doi: 10.1126/science.1139426.

Stroeve J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast, Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 34, L09501, doi: 10.1029/2007GL029703.

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Press Release
30 April 2007

Models Underestimate Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

observations and model runs graphFigure 1. Actual observations of September Arctic sea ice, in red, show a more severe decline than any of the eighteen computer models, averaged in a dashed line, that the 2007 IPCC reports reference.

Arctic sea ice is melting at a significantly faster rate than projected by the most advanced computer models, a new study concludes (see Figure 1).

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that satellite and other observations show the Arctic ice cover is retreating more rapidly than estimated by any of the eighteen computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in preparing its 2007 assessments.

The study, "Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster Than Forecast?" will appear tomorrow in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters (GRL). Julienne Stroeve of NSIDC led the study, with funding from NASA. NCAR’s principal sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

The Arctic is highly sensitive to global warming.  However, the study shows that Arctic ice retreat is happening more quickly than any of the IPCC models have indicated.  "This suggests that current model projections may in fact provide a conservative estimate of future Arctic change, and that the summer Arctic sea ice may disappear considerably earlier than IPCC projections," said Stroeve.

The study compared model simulations of late twentieth-century climate with observations. "This technique gives some indication of the realism of the simulated sea ice sensitivity to climate changes," said NCAR scientist Marika Holland, a co-author of the study.

When the authors analyzed the IPCC computer model runs, they found that, on average, the models simulated a loss in September ice cover of 2.5 percent per decade from 1953 to 2006. The fastest rate of September retreat in any individual model simulation was 5.4 percent per decade. September marks the yearly minimum of sea ice in the Arctic. But newly available data sets, blending early aircraft and ship reports with more recent satellite measurements, show that the September ice actually declined at a rate of about 7.8 percent per decade during the 1953 to 2006 period.

"Because of this disparity, the shrinking of summertime ice is about thirty years ahead of the climate model projections," said NSIDC scientist and co-author Ted Scambos. This suggests that the Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice earlier than the IPCC projected range of 2050 to well beyond 2100.

The authors speculate that the computer models may fail to capture the full impact of increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Whereas the models indicate that about half of the ice loss from 1979 to 2006 was caused by increased greenhouse gases, and the other was half caused by natural variations in the climate system, the GRL study indicates that greenhouse gases may be playing a significantly higher role.

There are a number of factors that may lead to the low rates of simulated sea ice loss. Several models overestimate the thickness of the present day sea ice and the models may also fail to capture changes in atmosphere and ocean circulation that transport heat to polar regions.

Although the loss of ice for March is far less dramatic than the September loss, the models underestimate it by a wide margin, as well. "The actual rate of sea ice loss in March, about –1.8 percent per decade in the 1953 to 2006 period, was three times larger than the mean from the computer models," said Stroeve. March is typically the month when Arctic sea ice is at its most extensive.

The Arctic responds to climate change partly because regions of sea ice, which reflect sunlight back into space and provide a cooling impact, are disappearing. In contrast, areas of open water, which are expanding, absorb sunlight and increase temperatures. This feedback loop is playing a role in the increasingly rapid loss of ice in recent years, which accelerated to –9.1 percent per decade from 1979 to 2006, according to satellite observations.

"Our study indicates that the impacts of greenhouse gases on Arctic sea ice are strong and growing," said NSIDC scientist and co-author Mark Serreze.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under primary sponsorship by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Lead Author: Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC
Co-Authors: Marika Holland, NCAR; Walt Meier, NSIDC; Ted Scambos, NSIDC; Mark Serreze, NSIDC

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Press Release
4 April 2007

Arctic Sea Ice Narrowly Misses Wintertime Record Low

time series graph

Figure 1. Winter Arctic sea ice grows during the winter months, usually peaking in late March. March 2007, shown in a solid blue line, was the second-lowest in the satellite record.

sea ice map

Figure 2. The pink line indicates the 1979–2000 mean sea ice extent in winter; March 2007 ice extent is indicated by the solid off-white area. Land masses are in green; water is in dark blue. Source: NSIDC Sea Ice Index.

NSIDC scientists announced that the winter 2007 Arctic sea ice maximum was the second-lowest in the satellite record, narrowly missing the March 2006 record (see Figure 1).

Sea ice extent, or the area of ocean that is covered by at least 15 percent ice, was 14.7 million square kilometers (5.7 million square miles) for March 2007, compared to 14.5 million square kilometers (5.6 million square miles) for March 2006, the current record (see Figure 2). The long-term monthly mean for March sea ice extent from 1979 to 2000 is 15.7 million square kilometers (6.1 million square miles).

Scientists monitor the sea ice year-round, paying special attention to extent during March and September. March usually marks the end of winter in the Arctic, a period when sea ice grows, or recovers, from the summer minimum. Low winter recovery means that the ice is freezing up later in the fall and growing at a slower pace in the winter. September usually marks the end of the summer melting season; low summer extent means that ice is melting faster during the summer and leaving less ice to build on during winter recovery.

NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said, "This year's low wintertime extent is another milestone in a strong downward trend. We're still seeing near-record lows and higher-than-normal temperatures. We expect the downward trend to continue in future years."

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Press Release
3 October 2006

Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks as Temperatures Rise

sea ice extent map

Figure 1: September 2006 sea ice extent. This image shows the average sea ice extent for the month of September; the magenta line indicates the average September sea ice extent from 1979 to 2000. 2006 had the second-lowest average September sea ice extent on record. This image is from the NSIDC Sea Ice Index.

Figure 2: Time series plot. 2006, shown in solid blue, is below even the record year (2005), shown as a dashed line, until mid-July, when sea ice conditions improved because of cooler Arctic temperatures. However, 2006 was still well below the 1979 to 2000 average, shown in solid gray. If the sea ice continues its slow rate of recovery, it will again cross the 2005 line and set a new record low for October extent.

Arctic temperature anomaly map

Figure 3: Arctic temperature anomalies. Average temperatures over most of the Arctic Ocean from January through July 2006 were 1 to 4 degrees Celcius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. The scale goes from red for temperatures strongly above average to blue/purple for temperatures strongly below average. These anomalies show temperatures compared to the average for 1968 to 1996. Dark blue outlines indicate landmasses. Courtesy NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center.

Beaufort Sea polynya

Figure 4: Beaufort Sea Polynya. An unusual polynya, or area of persistent open water surrounded by ice, appeared during the melt season. The polynya is the dark area of open water; to the left is the coastline of Alaska, showing fall foliage color, and to the bottom right is the North Pole. This image is from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, which flies on the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites.

The year 2006 continues the pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice, raising further concern that the Arctic is responding to greenhouse warming. NSIDC Senior Research Scientist Mark Serreze said, “If fairly cool and stormy conditions hadn’t appeared in August, slowing the rate of summer ice loss, I feel certain that 2006 would have surpassed last year’s record low for September sea ice.”

On September 14, the melting season came to a close. On this day, known as the sea ice minimum, sea ice covered 5.7 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles) of the Arctic, the fourth lowest of the twenty-nine-year satellite record for a single day. The average sea ice extent for the entire month of September was 5.9 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles), the second lowest on record, missing the 2005 record by 340,000 square kilometers (131,000 square miles). Sea ice extent is the sum of all regions where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean surface.

Figure 1 shows average ice extent for September 2006; the magenta line indicates average September conditions over the long-term record. In nearly all areas, sea ice retreated well north of where it should have been in a typical September, continuing the pattern of dwindling September sea ice.

Including 2006, the September rate of sea ice decline is now approximately –8.59 percent per decade, or 60,421 square kilometers (23,328 square miles) per year. NSIDC Research Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean will have no ice in September by the year 2060." The loss of summer sea ice does not bode well for species like the polar bear, which depend on the ice for their livelihood, she said.

Ice extent from January through the middle of July 2006 was well below 2005 conditions, which, if it had continued, would have led to a new record low. Figure 2 shows a timeline of sea ice extent from June through October; the solid blue line that indicates 2006 trails beneath the dashed line of 2005 until mid-July.

The low sea ice through mid-July was consistent with the very warm air temperatures that scientists were also tracking in the Arctic (see Figure 3). Serreze said, “High temperatures over the winter helped limit ice growth so that less ice formed. Much of the ice that did grow was probably thinner than normal. Unusually high temperatures through most of July then fostered rapid melt—a bad combination, as far as the sea ice was concerned.”

However, air temperatures dipped a bit lower in August. "August broke the Arctic heat wave and slowed the melt, and storm conditions led to wind patterns that tend to spread the existing ice over a larger area," Serreze said. Then, in September, temperatures returned to the above-normal pattern. The warmer temperatures have meant a slow recovery from the September minimum; the slow recovery of the sea ice is seen in the flat line in Figure 2. At this rate, sea ice may set a new record, this time for lowest October sea ice extent, Serreze said.

Another notable feature of the 2006 melt season was the development of a large polynya, or area of persistent open water surrounded by sea ice, north of Alaska (see Figure 4). Research scientist Walt Meier said that near its largest, in early September, the polynya was the size of the state of Indiana. How the polynya formed is still not clear. Unusual wind patterns may have forced the ice cover to spread apart. Scientists also speculate that thin ice moved into the area over the winter, melting out over the summer and creating the polynya. Another possibility is that warm waters rose to the surface, helping melt the ice.

The team felt it would be irresponsible to attribute the polynya to greenhouse warming. “However, as the ice continues to thin with increasing climate warming, we may see features like this more often,” Meier said.

NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos added, “Arctic sea ice is an important climate indicator because it's so sensitive to this initial warming trend.” As sea ice melts in response to rising temperatures, it creates a positive feedback loop: melting ice means more of the dark ocean is exposed, allowing it to absorb more of the sun’s energy, further increasing air temperatures, ocean temperatures, and ice melt. The observed changes in the ice cover indicate that this feedback is now starting to take hold. Sea ice is only one indicator of Arctic change amongst many, such as warming of permafrost, changing patterns of vegetation from tundra to shrubs, a warming ocean, and accelerated melt of the Greenland ice sheet.

Given the especially steep decline of sea ice since 2002 and the record low in September 2005, scientists at NSIDC have been closely monitoring this year’s sea ice conditions, posting new images and commentary in online updates throughout the end of the melt season. NSIDC plans to continue to watch the sea ice and report on milestones in the coming year.

“I’m not terribly optimistic about the future of the ice,” Serreze said. “Although it would come as no surprise to see some recovery of the sea ice in the next few years—such fluctuations are part of natural variability—the long-term trend seems increasingly clear. As greenhouse gases continue to rise, the Arctic will continue to lose its ice. You can’t argue with the physics.”

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Press Release
7 July 2006

Does Al Gore get the science right in the movie "An Inconvenient Truth"?

We know that a lot of people wonder if the science presented in An Inconvenient Truth is correct. NSIDC scientists Walt Meier and Ted Scambos answered some Frequently Asked Questions about the snow and ice science presented in the movie.

As a scientist who studies the climate, what do you think of the movie?

TED: I think An Inconvenient Truth does an excellent job of outlining the science behind global warming and the challenges society faces in the coming century because of it.

WALT: I agree. I think Gore has the basic message right. But we thought we could clarify a few things about the information concerning snow, ice, and the poles.

The movie shows glaciers calving into the water as Gore discusses the effects of warming on the glaciers. But don't glaciers always calve into the water when they end there?

WALT: Yes, glaciers and ice streams that terminate over water are called tidewater glaciers. They are always calving ice into water; these chunks are one source of icebergs. If things are in equilibrium, there is no loss of ice because what is calved off is replaced by snowfall further up the glacier. However, in recent years, almost all glaciers are in retreat and losing mass. Some glaciers have retreated so far that they no longer reach the water and are no longer considered tidewater glaciers.

See an example of a glacier photograph pair.

TED: Just to clarify, Mr. Gore's characterization of recent dynamic events in Arctic glaciers does rest firmly on observational evidence from a variety of sources, not just on glacier pair photos like those mentioned above. It’s true that every glacierized region on Earth is experiencing retreat and thinning.

The movie discusses decreasing sea ice in the Arctic and how it will affect climate and wildlife. Is it really that important?

WALT: Arctic sea ice is something NSIDC watches carefully, especially because of its effect on global climate. Sea ice helps regulate climate because it acts like a mirror, deflecting incoming solar energy and helping to balance the Earth’s temperatures. As the sea ice disappears, dark ocean water is exposed to the sun’s energy, and the Arctic’s ability to cool our planet also disappears.

To learn more about the recent, record-breaking disappearance of sea ice, see NSIDC’s Sea Ice Decline Intensifies press release. To learn more about sea ice, its role in climate, and the animals and people that depend on it for survival, see All About Sea Ice.

Why doesn't the movie mention anything about the sea ice in Antarctica?

WALT: The Antarctic sea ice is not showing the dramatic downward trend that we are seeing in the Arctic. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans isolates the ice-covered ocean around Antarctica, keeping things colder. So, global warming effects have not yet been pronounced there. And, unlike the sea ice in the Arctic, much of which stays around the entire year, most of the sea ice in the Antarctic already melts away during the summer so any summer warming would not have as much of an impact.

However, sea ice around Antarctica plays a key role in ocean circulation by producing dense cold water that sinks to the ocean floor and helps drive the ocean’s "conveyor belt" circulation. Sea ice is also key to biology in the region, which is one of the most productive marine environments in the world. There already have been some changes noted in the timing of when the sea ice forms and melts around the Antarctic Peninsula, which has shown significant warming. This warming contributed to the collapse of the Larson B Ice Shelf in 2002.

To view the animation of the Larson B collapse and to read more about the breakup, see Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events.

TED: NSIDC studied the collapse of the Larson B Ice Shelf extensively.  As Gore mentions in the movie, ice shelves can act almost like a cork in a bottle, holding back the ice behind them. We recently set up a new study to learn how ice shelves melt and collapse. To learn more about the expedition to Antarctica, see the IceTrek Web pages.

The movie talks about the shrinking Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, but I heard somewhere that scientists have found that the ice is actually gaining mass. Which is correct?

WALT: It is true that both Greenland and Antarctica have gained mass, but only at the high elevations in their interior. This is because of increased snowfall, which even though it may seem counterintuitive, is actually expected under warmer conditions.  However, both have been losing ice at the coast at increasing rates in recent years. In Greenland, it is becoming apparent that there is a net loss of ice. In Antarctica, the data are inconclusive, although the most recent results point to a loss. Under continued warming conditions, a net loss of ice is assured and rising sea levels would follow.

TED: Walt is right. We know from looking at past records of climate changes during the ice ages that eventually warming leads to drastic losses of ice from both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, as well as several other ice sheets that don't exist, anymore. Konrad Steffen, a scientist here at the University of Colorado at Boulder, does a lot of work on Greenland’s ice sheet. For more information, see Greenland Melt Extent, 2005.

The movie shows coastal areas flooded because of the melting polar and Greenland ice caps. When will this happen?

WALT: Coastal flooding is not something that will happen right away. Initially, scientists estimated that it would take at least 1,000 years for the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to melt, with the East Antarctic ice sheet taking much longer. However, the melt has increased in recent years much more quickly than scientists initially expected. Now, a rough estimate might be 500 years for Greenland and West Antarctica to melt completely; it's much less likely that East Antarctica would melt. However, well before they melt completely, the ongoing melting of these massive ice sheets will slowly increase sea level. That, in turn, will lead to damaging tides and storm surges.  

It’s also important to note that even though the full impact of that gradual melting won’t be for 500 years or so, we are reaching a point where we can’t turn back. The system is slow to change, but the change is somewhat unstoppable once it gets going. Unless we quickly reduce the present rate of carbon dioxide increase and subsequent temperature rise, we will be committing ourselves and our planet to that melting, and to the rise in sea level that will follow.

When Gore rides the lift to the top of the carbon dioxide curve and suggests that the temperature might keep rising right along with it, is that correct?

TED: Records taken from ice cores do show the close relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature over the past 650,000 years. Gore basically says that the full relationship is very complicated, but that the main point is carbon dioxide and temperature have always moved together. This implies that, in the past, when carbon dioxide has increased it has led directly to a warmer Earth.

However, past changes in carbon dioxide levels are at least initially an effect of abrupt climate change, not a cause. What happens in an ice age is a sudden shift in ocean circulation, pushed by a cooling trend in the northern hemisphere because of periodic shifts in the Earth's tilt and orbit. The trigger that causes the ice age is in the Northern Hemisphere, and the huge Northern forests and ecosystems begin to slow down as tundra spreads across Asia and North America. But ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica tell us that both hemispheres go through ice ages and interglacial warm periods together.

You might wonder, why would Antarctica go into an ice age at all? The orbital and tilt-related changes that initiate ice ages have opposite effects on the two hemispheres. Trends that push the North to colder climes push the South towards warmer conditions. The opposite happens in a warming period: the North leads the way. However, the carbon dioxide eventually drags the South towards warm conditions, as well.

The globalizing agent responsible for bringing both hemispheres through the ice-age cycles together is carbon dioxide. This is the best observational proof that the changes we are seeing now are similar to past global effects of carbon dioxide on the climate. In fact, somewhat smaller changes than what we are seeing now can have a large effect on climate. As the northern ecosystems slow down, carbon dioxide in our atmosphere drops, causing further cooling—globally—despite the tendency towards warming in the other hemisphere.

Where can I read more scientific reaction to the movie, especially about aspects of the science that you don’t cover here?

WALT:  RealClimate.org, a non-profit, non-governmental site run by scientists, has a good entry on the movie.  See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=299.

I still want more information. Who can I contact?

Contact NSIDC User Services at +1 303 492.6199 or nsidc@nsidc.org.

Press Release
18 May 2006

NSIDC Scientist to Participate in Congressional Briefing

Mark Serreze will be one of three speakers at a May 23 Congressional Briefing, "Recent Scientific Findings of Arctic Environmental Change."

The briefing, sponsored by the non-profit Arctic Research Consortium of the United States, will explain the science behind the recent news coverage of ongoing environmental change in the Arctic. Legislators will learn about significant findings concerning temperature, sea ice, permafrost, tundra, and the freshwater cycle; this information will provide a foundation for policy discussions. Serreze will speak specifically to Arctic climate change and interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, and sea ice.

Media Advisory
5 April 2006

Winter Sea Ice Fails to Recover, Down to Record Low

time series graph

Figure 1. March 2006 mean sea ice extent, indicated by the red dot, is 300,000 square kilometers (115,860 square miles) less than the 2005 record, and 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) below the 1979-2000 mean.

sea ice textent map

Figure 2. The pink line indicates the 1979-2000 mean sea ice extent in winter; current ice extent is indicated by the solid off-white area inside the pink line. Land masses are in green; water is in dark blue. Source: NSIDC Sea Ice Index.

Scientists at NSIDC announced that March 2006 shows the lowest Arctic winter sea ice extent since the beginning of the satellite record in 1979 (see Figures 1 and 2). Sea ice extent, or the area of ocean that is covered by at least 15 percent ice, was 14.5 million square kilometers (5.60 million square miles) for this March, as compared to 14.8 million square kilometers (5.72 million square miles) for March 2005, the previous record.

The Arctic sea ice shrinks during the summer and grows, or recovers, during the winter. The ice reaches its maximum extent during March, with a long-term (1979-2000) monthly mean extent of 15.7 million square kilometers (6.06 million square miles). Winter sea ice extent has begun to show a significant downward trend over the past four years.

However, the winter recovery trend is not as striking as the sea ice minimum trend. Changes in the sea ice minimum extent are especially important because more of the sun's energy reaches Earth's surface during the Arctic summer than during the Arctic winter. Sea ice reflects much of the sun's radiation back into space, whereas dark ice-free ocean water absorbs more of the sun's energy. So, reduced sea ice during the sunnier summer months has more of an impact on the Arctic's overall energy balance than reduced ice in the winter.

The lower winter extents are still important, however, because they reflect the pattern of reduced sea ice that scientists have already seen. Low winter recovery means that the ice is freezing up later in the fall and growing at a slower pace in the winter.

Additional Information

All About Sea Ice
NSIDC Sea Ice Index: Images, animations, and trends

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Press Release
1 February 2006

NSIDC Scientists Win Award for Textbook

Textbook coverTextbook cover

Mark Serreze and Roger Barry received the award for Best Book of 2005 from the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) for their book The Arctic Climate System. ASLI presented the award at the February 1 American Meteorological Society meeting.

Some of the award's criteria are uniqueness, usefulness, quality, authoritativeness, and illustrations/diagrams.

The Arctic Climate System provides a comprehensive and accessible overview of Arctic exploration, research, physical characteristics, and climatic features. The text details: atmospheric heat budget and circulation; surface energy budget; hydrologic cycle; interactions among the ocean, atmosphere, and sea ice cover; Arctic paleoclimates; and recent climate variability and climate projections.

Published by Cambridge University Press, the title is in the Atmospheric and Space Science Series.

Press Release
20 December 2005

NCAR and NSIDC Scientists Show Extreme Thaw of Near-Surface Permafrost by 2100

Recent analysis of model results by NCAR and NSIDC scientists suggests that global warming may decimate the top 10 feet (3 meters) or more of perennially frozen ground across the Northern Hemisphere, potentially altering ecosystems as well as damaging buildings and roads across Canada, Alaska, and Russia.

Climate model simulations from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) show that more than half of this topmost layer of permafrost could thaw by 2050 and as much as 90 percent by 2100. The model predicts the thawing to increase runoff to the Arctic Ocean, but of equal or more importance, such thawing could release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

The study, using the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (CCSM), is authored by David Lawrence, of NCAR, and coauthored by Andrew Slater, of NSIDC.

The study is the first to examine the state of permafrost in a global model that includes interactions among the atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea-ice as well as a soil model that depicts freezing and thawing. Results appear online in the December 17 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

To read the full NCAR press release, visit the NCAR News Center.

Press Release
30 November 2005

New Map of Antarctica Released

NSIDC has just released a new, high-resolution image mosaic of the Antarctic continent and surrounding islands. The map, called the MODIS Mosaic of Antarctica (MOA), is the best representation to date of the Antarctic continent surface.

"This map will help scientists locate interesting areas of study and plan field research projects in Antarctica," said Ted Scambos, one of the creators of MOA at NSIDC. "The surface detail on this map is unprecedented."

NSIDC manually cleared clouds, sensor noise, and striping from 260 images. The resulting mosaic has very few artifacts. All land and ice areas (and islands greater than a few hundred meters across) south of 60 degrees south are included in the mosaic.

The image map is a composite of 260 Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) band-1 images (red visible light), gridded at 125 meter resolution. A second image was created from a combination of band-1 and band-2 (near infrared light) that is sensitive to the grain size of the surface snow and blue ice areas. The image data were acquired between 20 November 2003 and 29 February 2004.

MOA is available through FTP distribution upon request, and geolocated subscenes are available from an interactive Web site (https://nsidc.org/data/moa/).

Terry Haran and Jennifer Bohlander compiled and processed the data set using image processing methods developed by Ted Scambos and Terry Haran of NSIDC and Mark Fahnestock of the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Press Release
28 September 2005

Sea Ice Decline Intensifies

time series graph

Figure 1: September extent trend, 1978-2005. This graph depicts the decline in sea ice extent from 1978-2005. The September trend from 1979 to 2005, now showing a decline of more than 8 percent per decade, is shown with a straight blue line.

time series graph

Figure 2: Five-day running mean. This graph shows the daily ice extent in the summers of 2002-2005. The lines dip to a show a minimum extent each September; the lines bend upward as melting slows and fall begins.

map

Figure 3: This maps shows the difference between “normal” sea ice extent (long-term mean), and the current year. The long-term average minimum extent contour (1979-2000) is in magenta.

map

Figure 4: Melt onset anomaly maps, 2002-2005. This map shows the difference between “normal” timing of spring melting (the long-term mean) and when melting started in the year indicated. Red is sooner and blue is later.

map

Figure 5: Surface temperature anomaly. This image shows the difference between 2005 surface air temperatures in degrees Celsius (averaged for January through August) and the fifty-year mean (1955-2004) for the same months. The preponderance of positive values indicates an unusually warm Arctic in 2005. Credit: NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis; NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center

For the fourth consecutive year, NSIDC and NASA scientists using satellite data have tracked a stunning reduction in arctic sea ice at the end of the northern summer. The persistence of near-record low extents leads the group to conclude that Arctic sea ice is likely on an accelerating, long-term decline.

“Considering the record low amounts of sea ice this year leading up to the month of September, 2005 will almost certainly surpass 2002 as the lowest amount of ice cover in more than a century,” said Julienne Stroeve of NSIDC. If current rates of decline in sea ice continue, the summertime Arctic could be completely ice-free well before the end of this century. (Figure 1: September extent trend, 1978-2005).

Arctic sea ice extent, or the area of ocean that is covered by at least 15 percent ice, typically reaches its minimum in September, at the end of the summer melt season. On September 21, 2005, the five-day running mean sea ice extent dropped to 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles), the lowest extent ever observed during the satellite record (Figures 2 and 3: Five-day running mean).

This record covers the period 1978 to the present. A recent assessment of trends throughout the past century indicates that the current decline also exceeds past low ice periods in the 1930s and 1940s (for figures, see Additional Information, below).

For the period 1979 through 2001, before the recent series of low extents, the rate of September decline was slightly more than 6.5 percent per decade. After the September 2002 minimum, which was the record before this year, the trend steepened to 7.3 percent.

Incorporating the 2005 minimum, with a projection for ice growth in the last few days of September, the estimated decline in end-of-summer Arctic sea ice is now approximately 8 percent per decade. All four years have ice extents approximately 20 percent less than the 1978 through 2000 average. This decline in sea ice amounts to approximately 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles). This is an area roughly equivalent to twice the size of Texas.

With four consecutive years of low summer ice extent, confidence is strengthening that a long-term decline is underway. Walt Meier of NSIDC said, “Having four years in a row with such low ice extents has never been seen before in the satellite record. It clearly indicates a downward trend, not just a short-term anomaly.”

In addition, however, this year brings with it some new anomalies.

The winter recovery of sea ice extent in the 2004-2005 season was the smallest in the satellite record. Cooler winter temperatures allow the sea ice to “rebound” after summer melting. But with the exception of May 2005, every month since December 2004 has set a new record low ice extent for that month.

Florence Fetterer, of NSIDC, explained how the situation has changed. “Even if sea ice retreated a lot one summer, it would make a comeback the following winter, when temperatures fall well below freezing,” she said. “But in the winter of 2004-2005, sea ice didn't approach the previous wintertime level.” This lack of recovery means that the sea ice is not building back up after a summer of melting—leaving it even more susceptible to warmer summer temperatures.

In mid-September, NSIDC Director Roger Barry spent time in the Laptev Sea on an arctic icebreaker. The ship entered only one area of continuous ice to the east of Severniya Zemvya, one of the most northern island chains of Russia. "That whole area was covered in thick multiyear ice last year, in September of 2004." The Northeast Passage, north of the Siberian coast, was completely ice-free from August 15 through September 28.

Barry mused about the possible effects of the sea ice decline, including the impact on Arctic animals. “We saw several polar bears quite close to the ship,” he said. “Polar bears must wait out the summer melt season on land, using their stored fat until they can return to the ice. But if winter recovery and sea ice extent continue to decline, how will these beasts survive?”

Since 2002, satellite records have also revealed that springtime melting is beginning unusually early in the areas north of Alaska and Siberia. The 2005 melt season arrived even earlier, beating the mean melt onset date by approximately 17 days, this time throughout the Arctic (Figure 4: Melt onset anomaly maps, 2002-2005).

In addition, arctic temperatures have increased in recent decades. Compared to the past 50 years, average surface air temperatures from January through August, 2005, were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than average across most of the Arctic Ocean (Figure 5: Surface temperature anomaly).

“The year 2005 puts an exclamation point on the pattern of Arctic warming we’ve seen in recent years,” said Mark Serreze of NSIDC.

“The sea ice cover seems to be rapidly changing and the best explanation for this is rising temperatures,” Serreze said.

The trend in sea ice decline, lack of winter recovery, early onset of spring melting, and warmer-than-average temperatures suggest a system that is trapped in a loop of positive feedbacks, in which responses to inputs into the system cause it to shift even further away from normal.

One of these positive feedbacks centers on increasingly warm temperatures. Serreze explained that as sea ice declines because of warmer temperatures, the loss of ice is likely to lead to still-further ice losses. Sea ice reflects much of the sun's radiation back into space, whereas dark ice-free ocean absorbs more of the sun's energy. As sea ice melts, Earth's overall albedo, the fraction of energy reflected away from the planet, decreases. The increased absorption of energy further warms the planet.

“Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold,” argues NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos. Moreover, these feedbacks could change our estimate of the rate of decline of sea ice. “Right now, our projections for the future use a steady linear decline, but when feedbacks are involved the decline is not necessarily steady—it could pick up speed.”

The arctic system is large and complex, and there are many factors driving change in the region. For example, scientists believe that the Arctic Oscillation, a major atmospheric circulation pattern that can push sea ice out of the Arctic, may have contributed to the sea-ice reduction in the mid-1990s. However, the pattern has become less of an influence in the region since the late 1990s, and yet sea ice has continued to decline.

On his arctic cruise, Barry saw another example of a factor that contributes to changes in the Arctic. "Warm water flowing from the Atlantic is persisting in the Siberian arctic in a layer 100 to 400 meters, or 109 to 437 yards, below the surface," Barry said. Heat is probably transferring upward from this layer, helping to maintain open water conditions.

Scientists point out that a longer record of data will continue to help them better examine, piece apart, and understand both the influences and the remarkable changes that they are now seeing.

Scientists who collaborated on this study work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; NSIDC at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado; and the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

Studies of arctic sea ice extent are funded by NASA and NOAA. In assessing present-day Arctic sea ice extent, researchers used data from NASA, NOAA, U.S. Department of Defense, and Canadian satellites and weather observing stations.

Additional Information

All About Sea Ice
General information, global climate, trends, wildlife, ice development, ice growth, melt, and cycle, remote sensing and modeling

NSIDC Sea Ice Index
Images, animations, and trends (September numbers updated first week of October).

State of the Cryosphere
Overview of sea ice extent and its importance; content last updated March 2005.

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA)
Visit the ACIA site to view graphics and explanations about sea ice in Impacts of a Warming Arctic report.

Changes in other areas: Greenland Melt Extent, 2005

Further Reading
Meier, W., J. Stroeve, F. Fetterer, and K. Knowles. 2005. Reductions in Arctic sea ice cover no longer limited to summer. EOS 86:326-327.

Overpeck, J., M. Sturm, J. Francis, D. Perovich, et al. 2005. Arctic system on trajectory to new, seasonally ice-free state. EOS 86:309-313.

Serreze, M.C., and J.A. Francis. 2005. The Arctic amplification debate. Climatic Change, in press.

Lindsay, R.W., and J. Zhang. 2005. The thinning of Arctic sea ice, 1988-2003: Have we passed a tipping point? Journal of Climate, in press.

Stroeve, J., M.C. Serreze, F. Fetterer, T. Arbetter, W. Meier, J. Maslanik, K. Knowles. 2005. Tracking the Arctic's shrinking ice cover; another extreme September sea ice minimum in 2004. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, L04501, doi:10.1029/2004GL021810.

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Media Advisory
1 August 2005

Melting of Floating Ice Will Raise Sea Level

water with ice cube

 

Figure 1: A freshwater ice cube floats in a beaker of concentrated saltwater. Note that the ice cube floats much higher in the saltwater than it would in a glass of freshwater because saltwater has a greater density.

 

water after ice cube has melted

 

Figure 2: When the freshwater ice melts, it raises the water level. Freshwater is not as dense as saltwater; so the floating ice cube displaced less volume than it contributed once it melted.

 

When ice on land slides into the ocean, it displaces ocean water and causes sea level to rise. People believe that when this floating ice melts, water level doesn’t rise an additional amount because the freshwater ice displaces the same volume of water as it would contribute once it melts. Similarly, people also think that when ocean water freezes to form sea ice and then melts, the water is merely going through a change of state, so it won’t affect sea level. However, in a visit to NSIDC in May, Dr. Peter Noerdlinger, a professor at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, Canada, suggested otherwise.

In a paper titled "The Melting of Floating Ice will Raise the Ocean Level" submitted to Geophysical Journal International, Noerdlinger demonstrates that melt water from sea ice and floating ice shelves could add 2.6% more water to the ocean than the water displaced by the ice, or the equivalent of approximately 4 centimeters (1.57 inches) of sea-level rise.

The common misconception that floating ice won’t increase sea level when it melts occurs because the difference in density between fresh water and salt water is not taken into consideration. Archimedes’ Principle states that an object immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces. However, Noerdlinger notes that because freshwater is not as dense as saltwater, freshwater actually has greater volume than an equivalent weight of saltwater. Thus, when freshwater ice melts in the ocean, it contributes a greater volume of melt water than it originally displaced.

Noerdlinger's collaborator, Professor Kay R. Brower, of the New Mexico Institute of Technology, Socorro, validated the effect experimentally as seen in Figures 1 and 2.

For more information, contact:
Peter D. Noerdlinger
St. Mary’s University
Department of Astronomy and Physics
Halifax, N.S., B3H 3C3
Canada
pnoerdlinger@ap.stmarys.ca

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Press Release
18 March 2005

Arctic Ice Decline in Summer and Winter

Arctic ice extent time series graphTime-series of northern hemisphere ice extent for October 2004 through February 2005. The ice extent reached new record lows in December, January and February. Because of the last few low ice years, the winter ice trend is now the same as the often-quoted annual trend of negative 3 percent per decade.

By Julienne Stroeve, Florence Fetterer, and Walt Meier

The past three years have witnessed a strong decline in summer ice extent in the Arctic, but ice concentration has rebounded in the winters of 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. The winter of 2004-2005 has been different. Besides a strong summer decline in ice concentration, the Arctic now shows a winter decline as well.

The minimum in Arctic ice extent occurs in September, and since the late 1970s, September sea ice extent has decreased by approximately 20 percent, at a rate of nearly 8 percent per decade. The annual trend has been reported as a decline of approximately 3 percent per decade (Bjørgo et al. 1997, Cavalieri et al. 1997, Parkinson et al. 1999). Now, the wintertime decline alone is approaching 3 percent per decade.

Some studies point to a substantial decrease in the amount of multiyear ice over large areas of the Arctic Ocean, particularly in the western Arctic (Stone et al., in press). Passive microwave records for 1988-2001 indicate a decline of 1.4 percent per year in multiyear ice over the entire Arctic, but a much more pronounced decline of 3.3 percent per year in the southern Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, though with significant interannual variability (Belchansky et al. 2004). Multiyear ice is thicker ice that has survived at least one summer melt season. In order for the volume of Arctic ice to stay about the same from year to year, the multiyear ice that leaves the Arctic — pushed by wind and current circulation patterns through Fram Strait, or succumbing to summer melt — must be replenished by first-year ice that grows in winter and survives the summer. The record minimum sea ice extent of summer of 2002 resulted in the lowest area of surviving first-year ice in recent years (Kwok, 2004). The continued decline in Arctic ice cover has led to speculation that the Arctic Ocean may become completely ice-free in summertime within the current century.

While sea ice extent during September 2002 and 2003 was substantially below the long-term mean, ice extent recovered to near its median position during the following winters. This was not the case following the 2004 September minima: ice extent remained low throughout the 2004-2005 winter, with record low extent observed in December, January and February.

Concentration anomaly mapsSea ice concentration anomalies for December 2004 through February 2005. The median ice edge is shown by the pink line. The anomalies and median are derived relative to the 1979-2000 mean.

Does the current decline in Arctic sea ice indicate a long-term trend, or is the decline is merely part of a cycle? Both dynamic and thermodynamic processes have contributed to the continued decline in Arctic ice cover. These mechanisms may be partly fueled by rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gas loading. Lindsay and Zhang (2005) suggest that we may have already reached a new equilibrium state where vast areas of the Arctic will be ice-free during summer. Regardless of whether or not we are now experiencing a new equilibrium state, we can expect further declines in multiyear ice volume if warm temperatures in winter prevent first-year ice from growing sufficiently in extent and thickness to survive the subsequent melt season and thereby replenish multiyear ice lost to export through Fram Strait and to melting. Given the current anomalously low winter sea ice extent, it's reasonable to assume this coming summer will mark another extremely low sea ice extent year.

References

Belchansky, G.I., D.C. Douglas, I.V. Alpatsky, and N.G. Platonov. 2004. Spatial and temporal multiyear sea ice distributions in the Arctic: A neural network analysis of SSM/I data, 1988-2001. J. Geophys. Res 109, C10017, doi: 10.1029/2004JC002388.

Bjørgo, E., O.M. Johannessen, and M.W. Miles. 1997. Analysis of merged SMMR-SSMI time series of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24: 413-416.

Cavalieri, D.J., P. Gloersen, C.L. Parkinson, J.C. Comiso, and H.J. Zwally. 1997. Observed hemispheric asymmetry in global sea ice changes. Science 278, 1104-1106.

Kwok, R. 2004. Annual cycles of multiyear sea ice coverage of the Arctic Ocean: 1999-2003. J. Geophys. Res. 109, C11004, doi:10.1029/2003JC002238.

Lindsay, R.W., and J. Zhang. 2005. The thinning of Arctic sea ice, 1988-2003: Have we passed a tipping point? JP2.19, Proc. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 8th Conf. on Polar Oceanogr. and Meteorol., San Diego, CA, 9-13 January 2005.

Parkinson C.L., D.J. Cavalieri, P. Gloersen, H.J. Zwally, and J.C. Comiso. 1999. Arctic sea ice extents, areas and trends, 1978-1996. J. Geophys. Res. 104(C9): 20837-20856.

Stone, R., D.C. Douglas, G.I. Belchansky, and S.D. Drobot. In press. Correlated declines in western Arctic snow and sea ice cover. Submitted to BAMS.

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16 November 2004

Senate Committee Testimony: Observed Changes in Arctic Sea Ice Cover and Projections for the Future

On 16 November, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing about Global Climate Change to hear testimony on the assessment recently released by the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Sciences Committee. NSIDC's Mark Serreze participated in the first of two panels, presenting information about findings in the Arctic. Serreze highlighted changes in sea ice concentration, and the acceleration in sea ice losses, noting in particular the record or near-record lows of the last three years. The text of his testimony appears below.

BACKGROUND

The dominant feature of the Arctic Ocean is its floating sea ice cover. This thin, variable layer strongly controls the heat balance of the planet, and changes in size with the seasons and year by year. On average, the ice covers about 14 million square kilometers in winter and about half this area in summer. The ice typically ranges from 1-5 m in thickness, depending on the region, season and year. Records for the past several decades document significant shrinking of the ice cover, with extreme retreat in the past three years. There is some evidence of attendant thinning of the sea ice. The observed decline in Arctic sea ice is fundamentally in accord with climate model projections of continued ice losses through the 21 st century.

MAJOR POINTS

1) Over the past 30 years, the annual average extent of Arctic sea has decreased by about 8%. Losses for this period are much larger in late summer to early autumn (15- 20%).

The most accurate assessments of Arctic sea ice extent are for late 1978 onwards. These are based on NASA satellite data (so-called “passive microwave” imagery). Other forms of satellite data (back to the early 1970s), ship reports and aircraft reconnaissance can extend the record back to the beginning of the 20th century. It appears the decline in sea ice began around 1960, with the late summer and early autumn losses again standing out. The last three years (2002, 2003, and 2004) have seen extreme sea ice reductions.

2) There is evidence that the sea ice cover has also become thinner.

There are no reliable methods to monitor sea ice thickness from satellites. The best information comes from upward-looking sonar carried by submarines operating under the ice. Comparisons between sonar records collected during 1958-1976 with more recent data (1993-1997) indicate that between the two periods, mean ice thickness at the end of summer decreased by over a meter for much of the central Arctic Ocean. Subsequent analyses, based on both observations and state-of-the art sea ice models, give further evidence for thinning from the late 1980s through 1997, but with some recent recovery.

3) The observed changes in Arctic sea ice extent and thickness are best explained from a combination of climate warming and changes in the circulation of the sea ice.

Changes in temperature over the Arctic Ocean have been assessed using data from Russian manned ice camps (1950-1991), arrays of drifting buoys (1979 onwards) and satellite remote sensing (1981 onwards). While each analysis yields somewhat different results due to differences in data type and record length, they convincingly point to spring/summer warming and a longer summer melt season. Starting around 1970, the so-called North Atlantic (or Arctic) Oscillation (NAO), a large-scale pattern of variability in the atmospheric circulation, began to shift towards its “positive mode.” While this is known to have contributed to recent Arctic warming, the primary impact on the sea ice is through changes in the surface winds, which alter the circulation of the ice cover. There is ample evidence that through various mechanisms, these altered wind patterns have helped to reduce the extent and thickness of the ice. The NAO has regressed to a more neutral state in the past five years, yet the ice cover has continued to decline, as seen in the extreme losses of 2002, 2003 and 2004.

4) The sea ice reductions are in fundamental agreement with model projections.

Global climate models used in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and other investigations point to continued sea ice losses through the 21 st century in response to greenhouse gas warming. There are disparities between different models in the projected rates and spatial patterns of change. Ice loss is nevertheless a universal feature of the projections.

5) Attribution of the observed Arctic sea ice decline to greenhouse gas warming is complicated by variability in the atmospheric circulation.

Building on Point #3, the decline in Arctic sea ice extent has been “boosted” by changes in the atmospheric circulation associated with the NAO. The NAO has and will always contribute to “natural” variability of the Arctic climate system, which complicates detection of a greenhouse signal. However, while the past five years have seen this atmospheric pattern return to a more normal state, the sea ice cover is still declining. There is also growing evidence that through various mechanisms, the effects of greenhouse warming may favor the positive mode of the North Atlantic Oscillation that fosters sea ice losses.

SUMMARY STATEMENT

The most reasonable assessment is that the Arctic sea ice cover is beginning to respond to the effects of greenhouse gas warming. This assessment is based on: (a) observational evidence, (b) increasing confidence in projections from state-of-the-art global climate models, (c) ice core records indicating that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now the highest of the past 400,000 years, (d) other “proxy” records (such as from tree ring analyses) indicating that recent climate warming is moving outside of the bounds of natural variability over the past 1000 years. The particularly strong natural variability in the Arctic climate system lends some uncertainty to this assessment. Another source of uncertainty is the extent to which greenhouse gas loading and stratospheric ozone losses in the Arctic alter major patterns of atmospheric variability such as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Mark C. Serreze, PhD
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado , Boulder

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Press Release
4 October 2004

Arctic Sea Ice Decline Continues

Sea ice extent maps for 2002, 2003, and 2004Sea ice conditions for September 2002, 2003 and 2004, derived from the Sea Ice Index. Ice concentration anomaly images (the difference in estimated concentration from the mean) and the 1979-2000 median September ice edge (indicated by the pink line) are combined in each panel. For each year, the ice edge is well north of its median position off the coasts of Alaska and Siberia. There is a striking lack of sea ice off the east coast of Greenland, a feature noted for the first time in 2002. Anomalies are not calculated north of the circle centered over the pole (shown as light green) where satellites prior to 1988 provided no coverage.

The extent of Arctic sea ice in September — the end of the summer melt period — is the most valuable indicator of the health of the ice cover. On average, sea ice in September covers an area of 7.04 million square kilometers, a little smaller than the continent of Australia. In 2002, September ice extent was 15 percent below average conditions. This represents an area roughly twice the size of Texas (or Iraq). From comparisons with records prior to the satellite era, this was probably the least amount of sea ice that had covered the Arctic over the past 50 years. Quite often, a "low" ice year is followed by recovery the next year. However, September of 2003 was also very extreme, with 12 percent less ice than average. Calculations performed on September 30, 2004 show a sea ice loss very nearly matching that of 2002, especially north of Alaska and eastern Siberia.

Why has Arctic sea ice declined so sharply over the past few years? One argument is that greenhouse warming — increases in the earth's temperature due to the burning of fossil fuels that increase the atmosphere's content of "heat trapping" carbon dioxide — is more apparent. With progressively more summer melt and less ice growth in winter, sea ice may reach a threshold beyond which it can no longer rebound. Climate models are in general agreement that one of the strongest signals of greenhouse warming will be a loss of Arctic sea ice. Some indicate complete disappearance of the summer sea ice cover by the year 2070. Interestingly, as averaged from October 2003 through August 2004, temperatures in the lower troposphere (about 1,000 m above the surface) were 1-2°C (1.8 to 3.6°F) above normal over much of the Arctic Ocean, but much greater in some months, bringing about less ice growth in autumn and winter, and more summer melt.

But the problem is not so simple. Work at the University of Washington, led by Dr. Ignatius Rigor, suggests a strong role of variability in the atmospheric circulation, which can be described by positive and negative phases of the so-called Arctic Oscillation (AO). From the 1950s through the 1980s, the AO index fluctuated between negative and positive phases. However, over the period 1989-1995, the AO entered strongly positive mode. This led to a persistent pattern of winds that tended to "flush" much of the older, thicker ice southward out of the Arctic and into the North Atlantic Ocean, leaving the Arctic with younger, thinner ice that is more prone to melt away during summer. While over the past five years or so, the AO has retreated from this strong previous positive state, they argue that the sea ice is suffering a "hangover" from the period of thinning from which it has yet to recover.

The general downward trend in sea ice, and the extreme losses of the past three years, might therefore be part of a natural cycle. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that the positive mode of the AO that favors ice losses may itself be favored by greenhouse warming, implying that the recent negative mode of the AO might itself be temporary.

The most reasonable view is that the sea ice decline represents a combination of natural variability and the greenhouse effect, with the latter becoming increasingly evident in coming decades.

For more information, see Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis at https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/.

Contacts

  • Press contact: +1 303.492.1497 or press@nsidc.org
  • General public contact: +1 303.492.6199 or nsidc@nsidc.org

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Press Release
21 September 2004

Antarctic Glaciers Accelerate in Wake of Ice Shelf Breakup

Crane GlacierCrane Glacier photographed on 24 February 2004 (Photo courtesy of Pedro Skvarca, Glaciology Division, Instituto Antártico Argentino)

Antarctic glaciers respond rapidly to climate change, according to new evidence found by NSIDC, NASA, and IAA scientists. In the wake of the Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegration in 2002, glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula have both accelerated and thinned en route to the Weddell Sea. The findings indicate that ice shelf breakup may rapidly lead to sea level rise.

In a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, Ted Scambos and Jennifer Bohlander of NSIDC, Chris Shuman of the Oceans and Ice Branch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and Pedro Skvarca of the Instituto Antártico Argentino describe two- to six-fold increases in centerline speed of four glaciers feeding the now-collapsed section of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. They also describe elevation losses in three glaciers in the collapse area. The researchers used both Landsat 7 and ICESat satellite imagery in this study.

In the same issue of GRL, Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and collaborators describe the same acceleration using Interferometric SAR from RADARSAT. Using their map of the flowspeed, they estimate that the glaciers ought to be thinning by tens of meters. ICESat elevation measurements by the Scambos team corroborate their prediction.

Ice shelves are thick platforms of ice that are fed by glaciers and float on the ocean. Ice shelf disintegration has no direct effect on sea level because the ice shelf has already displaced its own volume in seawater. In the wake of an ice shelf collapse, however, the resulting glacier acceleration can raise sea level by introducing a new ice mass into the ocean. Although glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are too small to significantly raise sea level, this research provides a glimpse of what could happen on a larger scale if other large ice shelves in Antarctica — for example, the Ross Ice Shelf — experienced similar warming. "This gives us a chance to watch an experiment before the consequences get serious," said Scambos. "Even though we don't see immediate evidence of ice shelf breakup on the Ross Ice Shelf, everything we've seen up to this point has occurred faster than we expected. The larger ice shelves in other parts of Antarctica could have real effects on the rate of sea level rise."

Glacier acceleration diagramDiagram by Ted Scambos and Michon Scott, NSIDC.

Hektoria GlacierStress on the high ice cliff enhances fracturing of the Hektoria Glacier near the grounding line in this March 2002 aerial photo. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Skvarca, Glaciology Division, Instituto Antártico Argentino)

In Antarctica, glaciers flowing to the coast form ice shelves — thick platforms of ice that float on the ocean. Together, the glacier and ice shelf form a stable system, but this system can lose its stability in response to warmer temperatures.

Warmer summer temperatures sometimes result in glacier acceleration as melt water percolates through the glacier to its base. Here the water lowers the friction between the glacier and the underlying rock. This effect is seasonal, and with the ice shelf in place, the glacier returns to a lower flow speed once summer (and surface melting) ends.

Warmer summer temperatures can also lead to rapid ice shelf disintegration. As temperature rises, melt water accumulates on the shelf surface. Although only a tiny fraction of the ice shelf melts, the water infiltrates the shelf through small cracks in the ice. Over time, the weight of the melt water in the cracks shatters the shelf. This happened in the Antarctic Peninsula in 1995 and again in 2002. To read more about these events, see Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events.

Removal of the ice shelf causes much more dramatic glacier acceleration by reducing two forces that counteract glacier flow. One counteracting force is "backstress" produced by islands or coastline underlying the original shelf. Another is the buoyant (hydrostatic) force of the seawater against the front of the shelf or glacier. A full explanation will require numerical modeling of glacier flow, but observations to date suggest that ice shelves act as "braking" systems on the glaciers behind them.

Map of study areaThis satellite image from NASA's MODIS sensor aboard the Terra spacecraft shows the Larsen B Ice Shelf region on 1 November 2003. Red dots indicate sites where ice flow speed was measured using more detailed Landsat 7 images. The colored lines track the retreat of the Larsen B Ice Shelf during the past 6 years, and the black line shows the coastline, or "grounding line," where the thick ice begins to float off the sea floor. Blue lines on the glaciers show the location of laser elevation profiles from ICESat. A weather station location marked in the upper right of the image map ("Matienzo AWS") has tracked atmospheric warming in summers over the past 30+ years in the region. (Image derived from Scambos et al.: Larsen B Glacier Acceleration, 2004)

Time series imagesIn all images, the black contour line indicates the grounding line for the Larsen B Ice Shelf and the red arrow indicates the flow of the Hektoria Glacier system. (Images supplied by Ted Scambos and Jennifer Bohlander, NSIDC)

27 January 2000: The Hektoria Glacier system is stable, but increased summer melting from climate warming in the 1980s and 1990s affected the glacier system in two ways: (1) a seasonal speedup from summer melt water percolating through the glacier ice to its base, and (2) initial retreat of the Larsen Ice Shelf due to the effects of melt ponds (downstream from this image).

6 April 2002: Record-high temperatures and melting in the austral summer earlier this year caused significant glacier acceleration. While the March 2002 Larsen Ice Shelf disintegration likely resulted from rapid local climate warming, sea level is not affected by the breakup of ice that is already afloat.

18 December 2002: As ice shelf retreat continues past the grounding line, the lower portion of the glacier accelerates rapidly. Thousands of new crevasses form in the glacier trunk due to major changes in the forces ("backstresses") acting on the glacier. These changes occur during the Antarctic winter, so they are not related to melt percolation.

20 February 2003: As the glacier acceleration continues and propagates upstream, the lower portion of the glacier loses tens of meters in elevation. The mass of ice delivered to the ocean increases, contributing to a rise in sea level. Larsen B glaciers are too small to significantly affect sea level, but the processes that acted on this area could play out on other, bigger ice shelves.

Hektoria Glacier graphHektoria: The initial speedup between 2000 and 2002 is probably due to the very warm summer during which the Larsen B disintegrated. Immediately after breakup, glacier speed rapidly increased. Because the downstream part of the glacier accelerated more than the upper glacier, the ice was "stretched." New crevasses formed throughout the lower glacier as a result, and the stretching caused the glaciers to drastically thin.

Green Glacier graphGreen: As with the Hektoria Glaicer, the initial speedup between 2000 and 2002 is probably due to the very warm summer during which the Larsen B disintegrated. Immediately after breakup, glacier speed rapidly increased. Because the downstream part of the glacier accelerated more than the upper glacier, the ice was "stretched." New crevasses formed throughout the lower glacier as a result, and the stretching caused the glaciers to drastically thin.

Crane and Jorum Glaciers graphCrane and Jorum: Retreat of the ice shelf near these glaciers was prolonged; after the main collapse occurred, some shelf ice remained. Even a small amount of remaining shelf ice appears to reduce the amount of stretching and acceleration — particularly for Jorum Glacier, which slowed during the first winter period after the breakup.

Flask and Leppard Glaciers graphFlask and Leppard: Because the shelf collapse did not extend to these glaciers, a substantial area of shelf ice remained in front of these areas for the entire period, so only the seasonal changes in flow speed appear. This indicates that ice shelf loss, not some other process, led to speedup and potential increases to Earth's sea level.

Reference

Scambos, T. A., J. A. Bohlander, C. A. Shuman, and P. Skvarca. 2004. Glacier acceleration and thinning after ice shelf collapse in the Larsen B embayment, Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1029/2004GL020670.
Visit AGU Publications for online access.

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Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events

In 2002, a 3,250-square-kilometer (1,255-square-mile) section of the Larsen Ice Shelf rapidly collapsed. While Antarctic ice shelves calve large icebergs on a regular basis, such collapses are disconcerting events that have only been documented in the last 30 years. Since 1995, the Larsen Ice Shelf has lost more than 75 percent of its former area in a series of rapid disintegrations. Use the links below to learn more about events on the Larsen Ice Shelf.

To learn more about other Antarctic ice shelves, see Quick Facts on Ice Shelves, State of the Cryosphere: Ice Shelves, and Wilkins Ice Shelf Breakup Events.

21 September 2004

larsen b image showing extent in different yearsColored lines mark the Larsen B Ice Shelf edge in 1947, 1961, 1993, and 2002. —NASA MODIS image courtesy of Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.

PRESS RELEASE: Antarctic Glaciers Accelerate in Wake of Ice Shelf Breakup

Antarctic glaciers respond rapidly to climate change, according to new evidence found by NSIDC scientists. In the wake of the Larsen B Ice Shelf disintegration in 2002, glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula have both accelerated and thinned en route to the Weddell Sea.

19 March 2002

Larsen B Ice Shelf Collapses in Antarctica

Satellite imagery analyzed at NSIDC revealed that the northern section of the Larsen B ice shelf shattered and separated from the continent.

View a series of satellite images of the 2002 Larsen B breakup.

6 January 2001

 

Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse Triggered by Warmer Summers

Research indicates that ice shelves are particularly sensitive to climate change.

22 March 2001

 

Monitoring of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica, Reveals Wide New Crack

Pine Island Glacier has undergone a steady loss of elevation, with retreat of the grounding line in recent decades. Satellite imagery revealed a wide crack that some scientists think will result in a calving event.

7 April 1999

 

Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf: 15 February 1998 to 18 March 1999

Two ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula known as the Larsen B and Wilkins have lost nearly 3,000 square kilometers of their total area from February 1998 to March 1999. Browse images showing the evolution of the Larsen B ice shelf from February 15, 1988 to March 18, 1999.

View a series of satellite images of the 1998 to 1999 Larsen B breakup.

24 March 1998

Breakup of Larsen B Ice Shelf Underway

The Larsen B Ice Shelf began breaking up, receding past its historical minimum extent, and past the point where modeling suggested it could maintain a stable ice front. The breakup appeared closely associated with the areas over which melt ponding was observed during warmer summer seasons.

January 1995

Events in the Northern Larsen Ice Shelf and Their Importance

In late January of 1995, a large area of about 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) disintegrated into small icebergs during a storm. At the same time, farther south, a large iceberg broke off the ice shelf front. While large iceberg calving events are routine for ice shelves, disintegration is not.

Media Advisory
15 July 2004

Another Record Minimum for Sea Ice Cover in the Arctic Ocean?

Monthly average graph

Figure 1: Monthly average total sea ice extent anomaly for the month of June 2004, which is ~5% lower than the 1988-2000 mean. Sea ice extent is defined here as all pixels with a >15% sea ice concentration.

Extent map

Figure 2: Sea ice extent field for June 2004. The magenta contour is the 1988-2000 mean extent.

Concentration anomaly map

Figure 3: Sea ice concentration anomaly field for June 2004. Near the ice edge, many of the dark blue negative anomalies correspond to regions without any ice in June 2004.

Correlation graph

Figure 4: Correlation of May through August monthly mean sea ice extent anomalies with September sea ice extent anomaly.

By Walt Meier, Florence Fetterer, and Nancy Geiger-Wooten

Is the Arctic in for another record low sea ice year? It is starting to look like it. The recently released June 2004 ice extent and concentration are much lower than normal (Fig. 1-3), indicating that annual minimum ice extent, which occurs in September, is likely to be well below normal. If so, this would be the third year in a row with substantial below-normal ice conditions in the Arctic, an unprecedented event in the 30+ year record of satellite observations of Arctic sea ice.

After a record minimum sea ice extent in September 2002, followed by a September 2003 extreme that was nearly as low, early indications are that 2004 will be a very low ice year. May 2004 extent was poleward of the mean extent in virtually all regions of the Arctic (see NSIDC's Sea Ice Index for images). This indicates that ice began melting faster than normal; however, May conditions are not necessarily indicative of conditions at the end of the melt season in September. The correlation between concentration anomalies (Fig. 4) in May and September is low (0.34); however, correlation with June anomalies is much more significant (0.71). Thus, the below normal June extent (Fig. 1, 2) and large negative concentration anomalies (Fig. 3) are suggestive that the Arctic may be in for a third low ice year in a row.

Such low concentrations may be indicative of climate change. While there is substantial interannual variability in the summer minimum ice extent, the satellite record has revealed a significant downward trend of ~9% per decade (e.g., Comiso, 2002) in the summer minimum extent, which corresponds to ~300,000 km 2 per decade (e.g., Cavalieri et al., 2003). This trend could have substantial ramifications for the Arctic region in terms of commerce, wildlife, and the indigenous human population and may be a harbinger of large-scale global changes. If current trends continue, the Arctic may be completely free of ice during at least some of the summer by 2050 (e.g., Flato and Boer, 2001; Johannessen et al., 1999).

Caution should be used in interpreting a three-year sequence of much-below average ice extents; however, if September 2004 ice extent does approach that of 2002 and 2003, it would be an unprecedented event and perhaps an indication that “possibility” may soon be turning into “reality.”

Data Sources

The monthly images are produced as part of NSIDC's Sea Ice Index.

Monthly mean sea ice concentrations are produced at NSIDC from DMSP Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) data.

The 1979-2002 time series used to determine correlations were calculated from Nimbus-7 Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) and DMSP SSM/I data.

References

Cavalieri, D.J., C.L. Parkinson, K.Y. Vinnikov, 30-year satellite record reveals contrasting Arctic and Antarctic decadal sea ice variability, Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(18), 1970, doi: 10.1029/2003GL018031, 2003.

Comiso, J.C., A rapidly declining perennial sea ice cover in the Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters, 29(20), 1956, doi: 10.1029/2002GL015650, 2002.

Flato, G.M., and G.J. Boer, Warming asymmetry in climate change simulations, Geophysical Research Letters, 28(1), 195-198, 2001.

Johannessen, O.L., E.V. Shalina, and M.W. Miles, Satellite evidence for an Arctic sea ice cover in transformation, Science, 286, 1937-1939, 1999.

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Press Release
9 December 2003

Antarctic Glaciers Speed Up

Area map

Area map of the glaciers surrounding the Larsen B Ice Shelf. (MODIS image courtesy of NASA, supplied by Ted Scambos, NSIDC.)

Hektoria Glacier map

Early ICESat/GLAS data shows substantial drawdown of Hektoria Glacier in 2003.

Cross section comparison

Laser altimeter tracks from the 8-day repeat cycles of ICESat/GLAS show a 5-to-40 meter lowering of the Hektoria glacier surface between March 27 and September 27 of 2003. The image map of the lower portion of the Hektoria Glacier shows the location of elevation data for the three selected 8-day passes (red: valid surface elevation data). Shot pairs along slope (=flow) were selected on the basis of streaklines and ice flow vectors. Two 8-day tracks from Laser 1 were compared to a single Laser 2 track. Waveforms for the shots were reviewed and appear valid. The magnitude of the observed drawdown greatly exceeds any uncertainty in the measurements.

Scientists at NSIDC have found that glaciers around the area of the Larsen B Ice Shelf accelerated immediately after it collapsed early in 2002, and are still speeding up.

The findings, presented at the AGU Fall 2003 Meeting in San Francisco, support earlier hypotheses that the ice shelf acted as a barrier, slowing the glaciers as they pushed up against the ice shelf, and that removing the barrier would cause the glaciers to speed up. This finding is significant, because it provides a smaller scale preview of what could occur if larger ice shelves –such as the Ross Ice Shelf– were to collapse.

The results refine earlier hints that removal of the Larsen A shelf and climate warming may be speeding up glaciers to the north (e.g., Drygalski Glacier). The earlier work was published by H. Rott of University of Innsbruck and P. Skvarka of Instituto Antarctica Argentina. Data for the Larsen B refine the timing of speed-up, and quantify the lowering of the ice shelf. The rapid speed-up at the glacier fronts begins within months of shelf removal, and progresses upstream.

Satellite images spanning the period before, during and after the break-up of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in March 2002 show this acceleration in several glaciers feeding into the now-disintegrated area of the shelf. According to velocity data from Landsat images from January of 2000 through February of 2003, Crane Glacier and the Hektoria-Green-Evans glacier system have all sped up. The speeds on the Crane Glacier increased from 1.7 meters/day to 3.1 meters/day in April through December of 2002, and then to 4.1 meters/day between December 2002 and February of 2003. This represents nearly a 250% increase in speed.

The results imply that ice shelf removal has a significant, rapid effect on feeder glacier flow, that the removal of the ice shelf directly affects glacier force balance, and, most importantly, that climate-related shelf removal for other large shelves fed by major ice streams are likely to result in a rapid speed-up of those glaciers and a change in the mass balance of the adjacent ice sheet, with a consequent impact on global sea level.

For more information, or to speak to a research scientist about this story, please contact NSIDC User Services at nsidc@nsidc.org or 303.492.1497.

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Press Release
8 December 2003

Arctic Sea Ice Low, Second Year in a Row

Last year's sea ice extent and concentration set a new record low in the Arctic. 2003 was a close second, according to remote sensing data from September, when sea ice in the northern latitudes is typically at its lowest, after the summer melt season.The near-record low in 2003, accompanied by sea ice trends showing a steady decline over the last decade, is significant to scientists researching global warming. Not only is sea ice an indicator of possible climate change, but the loss of sea ice itself may further compound the problem. Because ice reflects the sun's energy, less ice means that more of the sun's energy is absorbed, rather than reflected, causing temperatures to rise even further. While sea ice floats, and therefore does not directly contribute to sea-level rise, increasing temperatures around the Arctic may cause areas of the Greenland ice sheet to melt, which could contribute to a rise in sea level.

Press Release
7 December 2002

Arctic Sea Ice Shrinking, Greenland Ice Sheet Melting, According to Study

The total area of surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet for 2002 broke all known records for the island and the extent of Arctic sea ice reached the lowest level in the satellite record, according to scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Researchers from the CU-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, say the accelerated melting appears to be linked to shifts in Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation patterns.

The 2002 sea-ice record is the most recent evidence of a downward trend in Arctic sea ice in the decades since satellite monitoring began, said Research Associate Mark Serreze, lead author on a 2002 paper on sea ice extent and area in the Arctic. Serreze is a researcher at CIRES' National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC.

The study also found temperatures during the summer of 2002 were unusually warm over much of the Arctic Ocean. "Since the season also was characterized by very stormy conditions, we believe these two factors contributed to extensive melt and break-up of the icepack," said Serreze.

It is likely that the 2002 minimum sea-ice record in the Arctic is the lowest since the early 1950s and possibly the lowest in several centuries, according to researcher James Maslanik, a co-author of the study and a professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Satellite monitoring by NSIDC led to the discovery of the record sea-ice retreat, said Research Associate Julienne Stroeve. "We saw an unusually pronounced loss of ice in the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian and Laptev Seas," she said, noting the ice extent in September 2002 was roughly 2 million square miles compared to the long-term average of about 2.4 million square miles.

"We had a hunch it was setting up to be a record year in August," said Ted Scambos of NSIDC, who has been working in Earth's polar regions. "What we saw really surprised us. Not only was sea ice retreating in nearly every sector, but the interior ice was unusually thin and spread out."

Preliminary measurements from the Greenland Ice Sheet show the melt extent of 265,000 square miles, a new record, underscoring the unusual warming there and surpassing the maximum melt extent from the past 24 years by more than 9 percent, said CIRES climatologist Konrad Steffen, a professor in geography and in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado.

Steffen's analyses with graduate student Russel Huff show a dramatically higher melting trend since 1979 that appears only to have been interrupted once -- in 1991 -- when the Philippines' Mt. Pinatubo erupted.

Steffen and Huff said the northern and northeastern portion experienced extreme melting reaching as high as 6,560 feet in elevation, where temperatures normally are too cold for melting to occur. The highest point in Greenland rises to nearly 11,000 feet.

Both sea ice and glacier ice cool Earth, reflecting about 80 percent of springtime solar radiation and 40 percent to 50 percent during summer snowmelt. In winter, ice cover slows heat loss from relatively warm ocean water to the cold atmosphere. Without large sea-ice masses at the poles to moderate the global energy balance, warming escalates, said Scambos.

The CU-Boulder findings were reported in a press briefing at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held Dec. 6 to Dec. 10 in San Francisco.

CU scientists estimate that a change in the Greenland climate toward warmer conditions would lead to an increase in the rate of sea-level rise mainly due to the dynamic response of the large ice sheet and not so much to the surface melting.

"For every degree (F) increase in the mean annual temperature near Greenland, the rate of sea level rise increases by about 10 percent," Steffen said. Currently the oceans are rising by a little more than half an inch per decade. In addition, melt water has been shown to directly affect the rate of ice flow off Greenland, penetrating the ice sheet and causing the glaciers to accelerate in speed as they slide over a thin film of melt water.

Excessive melting of sea ice, along with runoff from the Greenland Ice Sheet, also has the potential to "cap" deep water convection in the North Atlantic. This could profoundly impact global ocean circulation and climate, Serreze said. "In other studies, changes in the North Atlantic circulation have been implicated in starting and stopping Northern Hemisphere ice ages."

"The unusual conditions seen in 2002 are part of a larger pattern of recent Arctic change," said Serreze. This includes pronounced warming over sub-Arctic land areas. These changes are associated at least in part with a positive trend in the "Arctic Oscillation," characterized by reductions in atmospheric pressure over the Arctic and higher pressures in the mid-latitudes that are associated with more storms and warmer temperatures in the high Arctic.

"It is likely that sea ice extent will continue to decline over the 21st century as the climate warms," said Serreze. "With these trends, we may see an approximate 20 percent reduction in the annual mean sea ice by 2050, and by then we might be approaching no ice at all during the summer months."

CIRES is a joint institute of CU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Additional information is available via https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/ and https://nsidc.org/greenland-today/.

Larsen B Ice Shelf Collapses in Antarctica

Back to Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events

Images & Movies

new ice front towards cape foyn
Mapping the new ice front line towards Cape Foyn. Photo courtesy of S. Tojeiro, Fuerza Aerea Argentina, 13 March 2002. High resolution

broken ice shelf view
The broken ice shelf south of the Seal Nunataks. Photo courtesy of Pedro Skvarca, Instituto Antártico Argentino, 13 March 2002. High resolution

view of larsen B from ship
View of ice shelf from research vessel. Photo courtesy of Keith Nicholls, British Antarctic Survey, 8 March 2002.
High resolution


larsen B ice shelf Satellite image series of Larsen B breakup, 31 January to 7 March 2002

Press Releases

University of Colorado (http://www.colorado.edu/today/releases/2001/14.html)

British Antarctic Survey (https://www.bas.ac.uk/News_and_Information/Press_Releases/2002/20020319.html)

Posted: 18 March 2002
Updated: 21 March 2002 14:40 MST

Recent NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite imagery analyzed at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed that the northern section of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, a large floating ice mass on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, has shattered and separated from the continent. The shattered ice formed a plume of thousands of icebergs adrift in the Weddell Sea. A total of about 3,250 square kilometers (1,255 square miles) of shelf area disintegrated in a 35-day period beginning on January 31, 2002. Over the last five years, the shelf has lost a total of 5,700 square kilometers (2,200 square miles), and is now about 40 percent the size of its previous minimum stable extent.

Ice shelves are thick plates of ice, fed by glaciers, that float on the ocean around much of Antarctica. The Larsen B Ice Shelf was about 220 meters (720 feet) thick. Based on studies of ice flow and sediment thickness beneath the ice shelf, scientists believe that it existed for at least 400 years prior to this event, and has likely existed since the end of the last major glaciation 12,000 years ago (For more information on this research, see Seafloor Evidence of Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup.

For reference, the area lost in this most recent event, 2,717 square kilometers (1,049 square miles), dwarfs Rhode Island. In terms of volume, the amount of ice released in this short time was 720 billion tons, enough ice to fill about 12 trillion 20-pound bags.

This is the largest single event in a series of retreats by ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula over the last 30 years. The retreats are attributed to a strong climate warming in the region. The rate of warming is approximately 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, and the trend has been present since at least the late 1940s. Overall in the Antarctic Peninsula, extent of seven ice shelves has declined by a total of about 13,500 square kilometers (43,800 square miles) since 1974. This value excludes areas that would be expected to calve under stable conditions.

Ted Scambos, a researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at University of Colorado, and a team of collaborating investigators have developed a theory of how the ice disintegrates. The theory is based on the presence of ponded melt water on the ice shelf surface in late summer as the climate has warmed in the area. Meltwater acts to enhance fracturing of the shelf by filling smaller cracks and forcing them through the thickness of the ice due to the weight of the water. The idea was suggested in model form by other researchers in the past (Weertman, 1973; Hughes, 1983); satellite images have provided substantial observational proof that it is in fact the main process responsible for the Peninsula shelf disintegrations. Christina Hulbe of Portland State University and Mark Fahnestock of University of Maryland collaborated with Scambos on the research.

A number of international scientists have also cooperated in the general study of the demise of the shelves and the climatic trend in the Antarctic Peninsula. As early as November of last year, Pedro Skvarca, Head of the Glaciological Division of the Instituto Antártico Argentino, warned of a possible impending breakup, due to very warm spring temperatures and a dramatic 20 percent increase in the rate of flow of the ice shelf. He and his team were the last people to set foot on the northern portion of the shelf. Later in the summer, the Argentine group returned to their base at Marambio, near the shelf, to await what they anticipated would be the final disintegration event. They flew over the shelf repeatedly, measuring its extent with GPS during the course of the breakup event. (See Dr. Skvarca's photos of the ice front line towards Cape Foyn and the broken ice shelf south of the Seal Nunataks, above right.)

A British research vessel, the RRS James Clark Ross, was in the area just as the event was occurring and provided images from the ocean surface (above, right) in the region of the event. Keith Nicholls of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) provided the images.

In prior studies, Dr. David Vaughan and Chris Doake of BAS have reported extensively on the climate warming in the area, and have modeled shelf stresses and possible causes of breakup. They collaborated with Skvarca and with Austrian and German scientists, Dr. Helmut Rott and Dr. Wolfgang Rack, who conducted detailed satellite radar image studies and field studies in the area. The radar study also showed ice flow increase in the years leading to breakup and an increased velocity of the glaciers as the shelves disappeared. Radar images have provided very detailed views of the events of past ice shelf collapses. Dr. Rott is a professor at the Department of Meteorology and Geophysics at Innsbruck University; Dr. Rack is now at Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany.

The melt water fracturing theory fared well in this last event (See Christina Hulbe's Larsen Ice Shelf site). Sequential images from the MODIS sensor, a new satellite imager flying on NASA's Terra platform, showed extensive melt ponding over the Larsen B in late January, consistent with an unusually warm summer and extended melt season. In a series of images taken in February, several of the melt ponds disappeared, presumably as they drained through opening fractures in the ice. By February 23, 790 square kilometers (305 square miles) had shattered from the front. The next image from March 5 showed another 1,960 square kilometers (757 square miles) of ice gone. The event continued to March 7 with an additional loss of 525 square kilometers (203 square miles). The area lost by the shelf was was almost solely the region covered by melt ponds in late January. The timing of the event, at the end of a particularly warm summer, is consistent with the theory.

MODIS images from NASA's Terra satellite

modis satellite image showing larsen B 31 Jan. 2002
31 January 2002
High resolution (49 Kb)

17 Feb modis image of larsen B ice shelf
17 February 2002
High resolution (46 Kb)

23 Feb modis image
23 February 2002
High resolution (45 Kb)

05 March, 2002, modis thumb
05 March 2002
High resolution (49 Kb)

Scambos and other scientists continue to look for additional mechanisms that may contribute to the breakups. One idea is that meltwater seeping between ice crystals and warming of the shelf as a whole reduces the fracture toughness of the ice so that the shelf shatters under the same stresses imposed by local geography and the flow it used to tolerate. Another idea is that meltwater seeps into shallow cracks and expands the cracks as it refreezes during the winter. Ocean warming and sub-ice currents dragging on the underside of the ice have also been cited as possible contributors.

While the breakup of the ice shelves in the Peninsula has little consequence for sea level rise, the breakup of other shelves in the Antarctic could have a major effect on the rate of ice flow off the continent. Ice shelves act as a buttress, or braking system, for glaciers. Further, the shelves keep warmer marine air at a distance from the glaciers; therefore, they moderate the amount of melting that occurs on the glaciers' surfaces. Once their ice shelves are removed, the glaciers increase in speed due to meltwater percolation and/or a reduction of braking forces, and they may begin to dump more ice into the ocean than they gather as snow in their catchments. Glacier ice speed increases are already observed in Peninsula areas where ice shelves disintegrated in prior years.

With the Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf breakups as a guide, we can now reassess the stability of ice shelves around the rest of the Antarctic continent. Past assessments of stability were based primarily on mean annual temperature; with this guideline, most shelves outside the Peninsula were considered well within their climate limit. Given the success of the melt pond theory, we use the climate conditions and physical parameters of ice shelves at the point of ponding as a guide in this assessment. In particular, the next shelf to the south, the Larsen C, is very near the stability limit, and may start to recede in the coming decade if the warming trend continues. Melt ponds are occasionally observed in limited regions of the Larsen C shelf. More importantly, the warmest part of the giant Ross Ice Shelf is in fact only a few degrees too cool in summer presently to undergo the same kind of retreat process. The Ross Ice Shelf is the main outlet for several major glaciers draining the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains the equivalent of 5 meters (16 feet) of sea level rise in its above-sea-level ice.

Although several recent large iceberg calving events have been observed on the Ross and elsewhere in Antarctica, none of these are thought to be related to ice shelf instability.

Larsen B Breakup Events: 1995-2002

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Satellite photo series of Larsen B breakup, 31 January to 7 March 2002

Larsen B animation

MODIS images from NASA's Terra satellite —National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder. (For high resolution animation and images, contact the NSIDC press office at +1 303 492.1497)

This movie shows the events of January, February, and March 2002 as recorded by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) satellite sensor. The images show the Larsen B Ice Shelf and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula (on left).

The first scene, from January 31, 2002, shows the shelf in late austral summer with dark bluish melt ponds dotting its surface. In the next two scenes minor retreat takes place, amounting to about 800 square kilometers (300 square miles), during which time several of the melt ponds well away from the ice front drain through new cracks within the shelf.

The main collapse is seen in the last two scenes, on March 5 and 7, with thousands of sliver icebergs and a large area of very finely divided bergy bits where the shelf formerly lay. Brownish streaks within the floating chunks mark areas where rocks and morainal debris are exposed from the former underside and interior of the shelf. The last phases of the retreat totalled about 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles). Resolution of the original images is 500 meters (1,640 feet).

Seafloor Evidence of Larsen Ice Sheet Breakup

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March 2002

During this field season the National Science Foundation-supported research icebreaker, Nathanial B. Palmer, conducted sea floor studies and water column work in front of the Larsen B ice shelf just prior to its recent breakup. Dr. Eugene Domack (Professor of Geology, Hamilton College), Dr. Glenn Berger (Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada), and Dr. Robert Gilbert (Professor at Queen's University, Canada) coordinated the research.

Seafloor photograph near Larsen B front, January 2002Sea floor photograph near Larsen B ice shelf, January 2002 —High Resolution (124 Kb)

Sea floor photographs illustrate a seascape littered with a pavement of drop stones most likely released by icebergs from the previous breakups of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2000 and 1999. The following image is a bottom photograph of the sea floor collected January 2002 in front of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. This spot lay beneath a much larger Larsen B shelf as recently as two years ago. The bottom shows a sea floor paved with cobbles and pebbles that were probably released from icebergs as the ice shelf disintegrated during a smaller break up event in 1999. Water depth is about 500 meters (1,640 feet).

Preliminary studies of sediment cores from the front of the Larsen B suggest that this breakup event is unprecedented in the time since an ice sheet last occupied the entire continental shelf roughly 12,000 years ago.

Press Release
18 March 2002

Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapses in Largest Event of Last 30 Years

This animation shows true color images of the Larsen B break-up from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on the NASA Terra satellite. The images show the Larsen B ice shelf and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula (on left). The first scene from 31 January 2002 shows the shelf in late austral summer with dark bluish melt ponds dotting its surface. In the next two scenes minor retreat takes place, amounting to about 800 km2, during which time several of the melt ponds well away from the ice front drain through new cracks within the shelf. The main collapse is seen in the last two scenes, on 5 March and 7 March, with thousands of sliver icebergs and a large area of very finely divided 'bergy bits' where the shelf formerly lay. Brownish streaks within the floating chunks mark areas where rocks and morainal debris are exposed from the former underside and interior of the shelf. Credit—Ted Scambos/National Snow and Ice Data Center, NASA MODIS. High Resolution Version

Recent satellite imagery analyzed at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has revealed that the northern section of the Larsen B ice shelf, a large floating ice mass on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, has shattered and separated from the continent in the largest single event in a 30-year series of ice shelf retreats in the peninsula.

"This breakup gave us the information we need to reassess the stability of ice shelves around the rest of the Antarctic continent," said glaciologist Ted Scambos. "They are closer to the limit than we thought."

The shattered ice has formed a plume of thousands of icebergs adrift in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. A total of about 3,250 square kilometers or 1,250 square miles, of shelf area has disintegrated in a 35-day period beginning on Jan. 31 of this year.

Over the last five years, the Larsen B shelf has lost a total of 5,700 square kilometers -- 2,200 square miles -- and is now about 40 percent the size of its previous minimum stable extent.

Scientists worldwide have monitored the Larsen B shelf since November 2001, when a researcher at the Instituto Antártico Argentino warned the community of an impending breakup in the wake of warm spring temperatures and a dramatic 20 percent increase in the ice shelf's flow rate.

International cooperation between Argentinian, American, British, Austrian and German scientists has resulted in detailed information on the breakup from field observations, shipboard studies and a variety of satellite sensors.

Scientists attribute the retreats to strong regional climate warming. Antarctic temperatures have increased about 2.5 degrees Celsius since the late 1940s. Since 1974 ice shelf extent in the Antarctic Peninsula has declined by about 13,500 square kilometers, or 5,200 square miles.

Scambos and colleagues Mark Fahnestock at the University of Maryland and Christine Hulbe of Portland State University have theorized that once melt water appears on the surface, the rate of ice disintegration increases. They say melt water ponding on the surface in late summer magnifies fracturing by filling smaller cracks. From there, Scambos said, the weight of the water drives the cracks through the ice, making it shatter.

"The next shelf to the south, the Larsen C, is very near its stability limit, and may start to recede in coming decades if the warming trend continues," he said. "More importantly, regions of the giant Ross Ice Shelf are just a few degrees Celsius away from being overtaken by the same processes that have destroyed the Larsen."

Ice shelves are thick plates of ice, fed by glaciers, that float on the ocean around much of Antarctica. The Larsen B was about 220 meters thick. Based on studies of shelf ice flow and sediment thickness beneath the ice shelf, the Larsen B is thought to have existed for at least 400 years prior to current events.

The breakup of peninsular ice shelves has little direct consequence for sea-level rise. However the shelves act as buttresses, or braking systems, for glaciers on the continent.

"Loss of ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic continent could have a major effect on the rate of ice flow off the continent," Scambos said. "The Ross ice shelf for instance, is the main outlet for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which encompasses several large glaciers and contains the equivalent of 5 meters of sea level in its perched ice."

To learn more about Antarctic ice shelves, see State of the Cryosphere: Ice Shelves.

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Press Release
17 February 2002

Scientists Say Polar Warming Continues with Ice Mass Losses

Despite regional differences, continued study of a broad spectrum of evidence lends credence to climate warming theories, say climatologist Mark Serreze and glaciologist Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, based at CU-Boulder. Serreze and Scambos presented the finding at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston Feb. 16th.

In summer 2000, an international team of scientists led by Serreze released results of a study documenting widespread environmental changes over the Arctic. As part of their study, they noted late 20th century Arctic temperatures were the warmest in 400 years.

"Recent data show more of the same," Serreze said. "We're seeing significant surface air temperature increases over the Arctic Ocean, accompanied not only by an 18-year downturn in ice cover over the Atlantic Ocean but by a record reduction in ice cover over the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in late summer 1998." Arctic sea ice cover also is thinning significantly.

Results for 2000 showed that global mean temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, while parts of northern North America and northern Eurasia warmed much more in the winter months over the past 30 years.

Funded by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, the climate study made a sweeping examination of existing evidence for recent environmental change in the northern high latitudes. It compared findings to climate model predictions of human-induced greenhouse warming.

The researchers assessed a wide body of long-term data including temperatures, sea ice and ocean structure, snow and glacier cover, and atmospheric circulation.

The picture in Antarctica parallels northern ice reductions. "Ice shelves that have been stable for centuries are being lost over a spectacularly short period of time," said scientist Ted Scambos. "After hundreds of years in the making, it took only one decade of high summer temperatures to see the destruction of both the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves."

Scambos said that this process may indicate that other, larger ice shelves are more vulnerable than previously believed.

"After several years of gradual reductions in extent, Larsen A was lost in about a week at the end of January 1995," he said. "Over 1,700 square kilometers of ice shelf disintegrated in a single storm event. For weeks afterward, a plume of smaller icebergs was visible in satellite images, drifting away from the Antarctic Peninsula."

According to Scambos, starting in early 1998 and accelerating in 1999 and 2000, the Larsen B ice shelf also began to retreat, losing more than 2,400 square kilometers.

"The retreats and melting are due to a very strong climatic warming trend," Scambos said. "Mean temperatures in the peninsula have increased 2.5 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years."

After a study funded by NASA's Office of Earth Sciences, Scambos and colleagues Christina Hulbe of Portland State University and Mark Fahnestock of the University of Maryland, have proposed that Antarctic ice shelves are at risk when summer melting reaches the point at which melt-ponds form on the ice surface.

When ice shelves are not compressed between adjoining land masses, they are susceptible to surface cracking. Cracks admit water that wedges in and shatters the ice, rapidly making it weak.

To initiate the extensive melting needed to form ponds, a mean summer temperature of about minus 1 C is needed -- typical in January in the Southern Hemisphere.

This model of warming, ponding and disintegration means that several ice shelves are more at risk than previously believed, Scambos said. In particular, the giant Ross Ice Shelf, a region of floating ice about the size of Texas, has areas with mean January temperatures only a few degrees below the ponding threshold.

If a warming trend similar to that experienced in the Antarctic Peninsula were to occur for the Ross, the ponding and disintegration process could begin there. Closer to the threshold are the Wilkins and George VI ice shelves, where some ponding and retreat have already begun.

For more information on Antarctic ice shelves, see the National Snow and Ice Data Center Web site at Larsen Ice Shelf Breakup Events.

Media Advisory
10 December 2001

New Study Shows Early Signals of Climate Change in Earth's Cold Regions

Global mean temperatures have risen one degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, with more than half of the increase occurring in the last 25 years, according to University of Colorado at Boulder Senior Researcher Richard Armstrong.

"As slight as that may seem, it's enough to make a difference," said Armstrong, who is affiliated with the National Snow and Ice Data Center headquartered at CU-Boulder. "Now, long-term monitoring of a series of cold region, or cryospheric, parameters shows that for several decades the amounts of snow and ice around the world have been decreasing."

To assemble the big picture, NSIDC, commemorating 25 years of service, has organized a special session at the 2001 Fall Meeting of AGU, "Monitoring an Evolving Cryosphere." The session begins Tuesday, Dec. 11, and extends through Thursday afternoon, with 75 contributions from all areas of cryospheric study.

Papers and posters include examinations of lake and river ice, glacier dynamics and mass ice balance studies in polar and continental glaciers, regional and polar snow cover trends and variations of Canadian ice cap elevation changes.

In the world of climate change, trends are most readily observed in the Earth's cold regions, where the sensitivity of ice and snow to temperature changes serves as an early indicator of even relatively small differences, he said. Today's receding and thinning sea ice, mountain glacier mass losses, decreasing snow extent, melting permafrost and rising sea level are all consistent with warming.

Although Arctic sea ice extent is decreasing by about 3 percent per decade, the trends are not uniform. While recent studies have indicated that the ice thickness also had decreased over several decades, new information shows that the ice may have thinned rapidly, Armstrong said.

Examination of springtime ice thickness in the Arctic Ocean indicates that the mean ice thickness decreased 1.5 meters between the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

"We attribute at least some of the thinning to changes in Arctic atmosphere and ice circulation patterns. While no similar trend was evident in ice thickness near the North Pole, the data unquestionably indicate a decrease in total ice volume in the western Arctic Ocean," said Walter B. Tucker, of the Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H.

"At low latitudes, glacial changes are pronounced, uncontested and solid evidence of climate warming," said Eric Rignot, a researcher at the Radar Science and Engineering Section of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But what is happening in the polar ice sheets is less clear."

"My study shows that a number of areas previously believed to be gaining mass in the Antarctic are in fact close to being balanced or even losing mass. The only area which stands out as clearly out of balance is the Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica drained by the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers."

There are other lines of evidence - besides the mass budget calculations - that the region is undergoing rapid changes. These include where the ice leaves the continent and begins to float, as well as ice thinning and flow acceleration. In the remainder of Antarctica, it is too soon to say, said Rignot.

"We now know that the retreat of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith glaciers was due to a widespread thinning of ice that extended from their termini to over 200 kilometers inland," said Andrew Shepherd of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling at University College London. These glaciers are the principal ice drainage channels for the Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

According to Shepherd, between 1991 and 2001 the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith glaciers thinned by more than 15, 25 and 45 meters respectively where they leave the continent and begin to float, losing a total of 157 cubic kilometers of ice to the ocean. At that rate, Shepherd projects that the glaciers could begin to float within 150 years.

Besides these observations, changes within other cryospheric areas will be reported on at the meeting. They include papers on mountain glacier monitoring, Canadian snow cover, results of river ice monitoring, changes in onset of Arctic snow melt dates, and variations in snow accumulation over northern Eurasia and their connections to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

NSIDC welcomes members of the press to its 25th Anniversary Icebreaker Reception, Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 220 on the east side of the Mezzanine Level. The evening is hosted by the Arctic Institute of North America, the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States and NSIDC and Permafrost Section of AGU.

For more information, see State of the Cryosphere on the Web at: https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/sotc/. NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Monitoring of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica, Reveals Wide New Crack

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22 March 2001

Pine Island Glacier has undergone a steady loss of elevation with retreat of the grounding line in recent decades. Now, space imagery has revealed a wide new crack that some scientists think will soon result in a calving event.

Glaciologist Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center predicts this crack will result in the calving of a major iceberg, probably in less than 18 months.

Discovery of the crack was possible due to multi-year image archives and high resolution imagery. "This multi-year archive of Landsat 7 images is an invaluable investment in research on Antarctica," says Bindschadler.

ASTER and MODIS images can also shed light features of the Antarctic surface, including the recently discovered crack. NASA's Earth Observing System, for which NSIDC is a distributed active archive center, distributes both MODIS and ASTER data in addition to Landsat data.

Sample Images

aster image of pine island glacier with crack, 12 December

 

image taken 17 december 2000

Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse Triggered by Warmer Summers

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16 January 2001

Warmer summer surface temperatures are melting Antarctic ice shelves. Standing water ponds leak into cracks and increase the odds of collapse, according to a new study published by American scientists, including Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The team focused on the Larsen Ice Shelf, which experienced major retreats in 1995 and 1998.

The team used satellite images of meltwater on the ice surface and a sophisticated computer simulation of the motions and forces within ice shelves. The results indicated that added pressure from surface water filling up the cracks and crevasses can completely crack ice shelves, causing portions to float away and eventually melt.

"The result implies that other ice shelves are closer to the breaking point than we previously thought," said Scambos. "The shelf retreats that have occurred so far have had few consequences for sea level rise, but breakups in some other areas like the Ross Ice Shelf could lead to increases in ice flow off the Antarctic Ice Sheet and cause sea level to rise."

Floating ice shelves, which account for about 2 percent of Antarctic ice, typically undergo cycles of advance and retreat over many decades. While scientists knew that meltwater fills crevasses and enlarges the cracks, this is the first study to explain the physics linking ice shelf viability and meltwater ponds.

"The findings provide a solid link between climate warming and the recent extensive disintegration of some Antarctic ice shelves," said Scambos. "The process can be expected to be more widespread if Antarctic summer temperatures continue to increase." Regarding the Ross Ice Shelf, Scambos says, "If we begin to get significant water ponding there, and the shelf is eventually destroyed, we would likely have ice pouring off the Antarctic at a much faster rate, from the land ice held back by the ice shelves. That would increase sea level significantly."

Landsat 7 image of Larsen B ice shelf, February 21, 2000

Press Release
16 January 2001

Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse Triggered by Warmer Summers

Warmer surface temperatures during summers can cause more ice on Antarctica ice shelves to melt into standing water ponds, then leak into cracks and increase the odds of collapse, according to a new study published by an American team of scientists.

Led by Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the team focused on the Larsen Ice Sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Sheet experienced major retreats in 1995 and 1998, including more than 775 square miles that disintegrated during a January 1995 storm.

The team used satellite images of meltwater on the ice surface and a sophisticated computer simulation of the motions and forces within ice shelves. The results indicated that added pressure from surface water filling up the cracks and crevasses can completely crack ice shelves, causing portions to float away and eventually melt.

A paper on the subject by Scambos and Jennifer Bohlander of the University of Colorado-headquartered National Snow and Ice Data Center, Mark Fahnestock of the University of Maryland and Christine Hulbe of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., appeared in the January issue of the Journal of Glaciology.

"The result implies that other ice shelves are closer to the breaking point than we previously thought," said Scambos. "The shelf retreats that have occurred so far have had few consequences for sea-level rise, but breakups in some other areas like the Ross Ice Shelf could lead to increases in ice flow off the Antarctic and cause sea level to rise."

Floating ice shelves, which account for about 2 percent of Antarctic ice, typically undergo cycles of advance and retreat over many decades. While scientists have known that meltwater fills crevasses and enlarges the cracks, this is the first study to explain the physics linking ice-shelf viability and meltwater ponds.

The extra outward pressure of the water counteracts the internal pressure holding the ice together, according to the scientists' conclusions. Crevasses routinely form on the landward side of the shelf.

Satellite observations of melted water on the ice surfaces provide important clues to the water pressure theory, said Fannestock. After analyzing images of the Larsen Ice Shelf over the past two decades, he deduced the years with the longest duration of surface meltwater corresponded to the years of major shelf breakup events. The melt season during the 1995 Larsen Ice Sheet retreat was more than 80 days long - about 20 days longer than average.

NASA's Hulbe used a computer model to simulate the thermodynamics of part of the Larsen Ice sheet before and after the 1990 retreat events to assess if meltwater "wedges" could split a crevasse to the bottom of the ice sheet. She found that depending on the internal strength of the ice, water-filled crevasses as shallow as 15 feet could fracture through a 660-foot-thick ice shelf.

The researchers believe the splintered remains are likely held together by bridges between crevasses until a combination of winds, tides and another season of melting lead to a breakup. "The findings provide a solid link between climate warming and the recent extensive disintegration of some Antarctic ice shelves," said Scambos. "The process can be expected to be more widespread if Antarctic summer temperatures continue to increase."

In the past, researchers thought Antarctica was very cold and stable, said Scambos. But the recent research shows the summertime temperatures on the Larsen Ice Sheet are just a few degrees below what the researchers believe is the threshold for surface "ponding" and subsequent ice-cracking events.

Warmer summer temperatures on the much larger Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica could have severe repercussions because that ice shelf is part of the "braking system" for some very large glaciers, Scambos said. "If we begin to get significant water ponding there, and the shelf is eventually destroyed, we would likely have ice pouring off the Antarctic at a much faster rate. That would increase sea level significantly."

"We need to monitor the summertime temperatures to see what the future holds for these ice sheets," said Hulbe. While some areas of the Antarctic have warmed by as much as 4.5 Fahrenheit in the past 50 years, few records have been kept of seasonal temperatures over ice shelves, she said.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration located on the CU-Boulder campus.

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Media Advisory
7 April 1999

Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf: 15 February 1998 to 18 March 1999

thumbnail image of larsen B, links to animation of 1998-99 breakup

Satellite image series of Larsen B Ice Shelf, 1998-1999. View image series

7 April 1999

Below are four images showing the evolution of the Larsen B Ice Shelf from winter 1998 through spring 1999. Images are in either the thermal band (dark areas are warmer) or the visible band. Note the presence of melt ponds in the February 15 and possibly in the November 20 images.

Total shelf area lost over the four scenes is approximately 1,839 square kilometers (710square miles); between March 23, 1998 and November 20, 1998 about 1037.5 square kilometers (400 square miles); between November 20, 1998 and March 18, 1999 approximately 676 square kilometers (261 square miles).

Note the differences between the northern and southern half of the calving front. The northern half of the front is curved, with myriad tabular bergs in front of it. This is very similar to what was seen across the entire front of the Larsen A during breakup. The southern half is also retreating, but is not "embayed," or curved inward. In the earlier images from February and March, the northern half again led the way in terms of breakup. Note also that the ice front on the November 20 image appears to have followed a crack barely visible on the February 15 image.

Larsen B 980323Larsen B 980323Larsen B 981120Larsen B 990318

Summertime images of this area consistently show melt ponding present in the northern half of the shelf, and absent in the southern half, implying a link between extensive surface melting and breakup.

Recent models by Christina Hulbe indicate that the shelf ice stiffness suggests a low internal temperature. This implies that most of the shelf ice comes from cold glacial catchment areas in the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. Cold ice is stiff ice. This stiffness is a key factor in determining its stability. For the southern Larsen B, the glacial catchments are considerably further south, and presumably cooler. Downslope winds, following the glacier troughs, are probably also cooler on average and therefore would cause less surface melt. Thus, the southern section might be more stable than the north.

Surface flowstripes on both the Larsen A and Larsen B cross the entire former extent of those shelves, at least in the vicinity of Robertson Island (visible in SAR, but not the above AVHRR scenes). These features are inferred to form at the grounding line and above as part of glacier flow. Using this assumption and the ice flow speed provides an estimate of the minimum age of the shelves: about 400 years (if the flow speed observed at present has not changed much over time). In other words, it appears that the shelves were stable for centuries prior to the present events.

  • NSIDC maintains an extensive archive of polar satellite images with contributions from Scripps Arctic and Antarctic Research Center, Eros Data Center, and NOAA's Satellite Active Archive.
Media Advisory
24 March 1998

Breakup of Larsen B Ice Shelf May Be Underway

The Larsen B appears to have begun breaking up, receding past its historical minimum extent, and past the point where recent modeling suggests it can maintain a stable ice front. The breakup appears closely associated with the areas over which melt ponding is observed during warmer summer seasons.

Below are two AVHRR thermal-channel images of the Larsen B area acquired from the National Snow and Ice Data Center's AVHRR Polar 1 km Level 1b Data Set. The first image is from February 15 of this year, showing melt ponding typical of warm summers. The ice front in this image represents the approximate appearance of the ice shelf since early 1995, when a large iceberg calved off the face of the ice shelf, and when the Larsen A Ice Shelf, formerly to the north of Robertson Island, disintegrated. Up until February 15, only minor modifications to the ice front had been observed.

NSIDC AVHRR Polar 1 km Level 1b Data Set: 15 February 1998 image

An image from February 26 (not shown) revealed that the ocean in the vicinity of the Larsen B was free of sea ice, exposing the front to the ocean swell. Further, this image showed a new embayment in the ice front, and the presence of several 1 to 5 kilometer (0.6 to 3.2 mile) icebergs immediately in front of the shelf (presumably derived from the breakup).

The second image, from March 23, clearly shows the new embayment, and indicates a loss of roughly 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) of ice shelf. The front has retreated by about 5 kilometers (3 miles) along the northern 40 kilometers (25 miles) of ice front.

NSIDC AVHRR Polar 1 km Level 1b Data Set, 23 March 1998 image

The new embayment is occurring along the seaward edge of the part of the ice shelf where melt ponding is most commonly observed. Monitoring of the Larsen ice shelves over the last few years has shown that melt ponding regularly occurs north of Cape Disappointment, but is seen much less frequently south of there. Melt ponds were also observed over the entire Larsen A Ice Shelf prior to its breakup, and are observed on the Wilkins and George VI Ice Shelves, both of which may be currently undergoing slower irreversible retreats.

A recent Nature paper by Chris Doake and others (Nature:391, 778- 780) indicates the importance of this event: in their model, the ice shelf position of roughly a year ago (very similar to that shown in the February 15 image) was close to the minimum limit that maintained an adequate back pressure due to compressive strain between the Jason Peninsula and Robertson Island. With this breakup, (I suspect) the shelf has retreated past this limit. If the scenario of Doake et al. is correct, the retreat will continue in the next season, perhaps rapidly if storms and sea ice conditions are appropriate. At present, the onset of the winter season, with sea ice extent increasing, probably precludes much additional evolution. Sea ice shields the shelf from wave action, which may be important for facilitating breakup.

NSIDC regularly monitors the ice shelves of the Peninsula and West Antarctica, using data from EROS Data Center's Global Land 1km AVHRR Data Set, and from the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research's DOMSAT receiver. The archive of AVHRR scenes of the ice shelves is collected and maintained by Jennifer Bohlander.

5 January 1995

Events in the Northern Larsen Ice Shelf and Their Importance

Dr. Ted Scambos
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado, Boulder CO
Christina Hulbe
Department of Geophysical Sciences
University of Chicago, Chicago IL

Introduction

The northernmost Larsen Ice Shelf, located near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, has been in retreat for the last few decades, and much of it is now gone. In late January of 1995, a large area, about 2000 square kilometers (770 square miles) disintegrated into small icebergs during a storm. At the same time, farther south, a large iceberg broke off the ice shelf front. While large iceberg calving events are routine for ice shelves, disintegration is not. It is hypothesized that the unusual breakup may be a consequence of weakening caused by extreme surface melting during several consecutive warm summer seasons in the 1990's, and by a regional warming over the last few decades. It is unclear whether the observed warming in the Antarctic Peninsula climate, about 2.5 degrees Celsius since the 1940's, is part of a global warming trend or is simply a normal fluctuation in regional climate. The events in the Antarctic Peninsula are unlikely to have an effect on sea level or climate themselves; however, monitoring the area provides insight into ongoing climate change.

before/after image of 1995 larsen b ice shelf breakup

Before and after image of the 1995 Larsen B breakup. The left side shows the Larsen B Ice Shelf on December 26, 1993. The right side shows the ice shelf after the 1995 breakup event on February 13, 2005. High resolution

Discussion

Two dramatic events occurred in the Larsen Ice Shelf in late January of 1995. A large iceberg 70 kilometers by 25 kilometers (43 miles by 16 miles) calved from the shelf between Jason Peninsula and Robertson Island (see map), and the northernmost part of the shelf, north of Seal Nunataks, disintegrated. The large iceberg calving event received the most notice in popular media coverage but such events are part of the normal mass balance cycle for ice shelves. The northern disintegration, on the other hand, occurred in an unprecedented manner, by the sudden break-up of a region approximately 2000 square kilometers (770 square miles) into many small icebergs (typically 2 kilometers or smaller). It is the more likely of the two events to be related to climate change.

Ice shelves are thick (usually hundreds of meters) floating platforms of ice. They are connected to land at coastal grounding lines and where they flow around islands, and they are exposed to the ocean at seaward calving fronts. Ice shelves gain mass by flow from grounded ice sheets and glaciers and new snow accumulation on their surfaces. They lose mass primarily by iceberg calving and secondarily by melting. Ice shelves balance between gravity-driven horizontal spreading and stresses at grounding lines and the calving front. Changing the volume of an ice shelf (for example, by losing ice to calving) does not change sea level because the floating ice already displaces a volume of water equal to the volume of water it contains. However, if ice currently resting on the continental surface were to flow into the ocean more rapidly as a result of the removal of the fringing ice shelves, then sea level would rise.

The small, thin ice shelves that fringe the Antarctic Peninsula are sustained primarily by new snow accumulation (unlike the larger Ross and Ronne-Filchner ice shelves, which are fed mainly by flow from inland ice sheets). Thickness of these ice shelves is approximately 200 meters (656 feet). Changes in winter accumulation or summer melting are of fundamental importance to the health of fringing ice shelves. While little accumulation or temperature data exist for the Larsen Ice Shelf, anecdotal evidence indicates substantial recent summer melting. Field expeditions conducted in the 1990's have routinely found extensive surface melting (1), summer melt ponds were observed in satellite images for several years prior to the breakup (see figure), and retreat of the far northern shelf front is well-documented in satellite images (2). It is probable that thinning and weakening due to extreme summer surface melting led to the disintegration of the far northern part of the shelf.

Other Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves are also retreating, or have disappeared, over the last decade. For example, the Miller Ice Shelf has been receding since about 1974 (3) and the Wordie Ice Shelf broke apart in the 1980's (4). Both ice shelves are on the western side of the Peninsula, where local warming has been documented at British Antarctic Survey bases (4). Temperatures have increased an average of 2.5 C (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1940's. In all likelihood, these events are linked. In the late 1970's, Mercer (5) noted the correspondence between the distribution of ice shelves and mean annual air temperature isotherms around Antarctica. He suggested that the -4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit) isotherm provides an upper limit for ice shelf survival. Both the Northern Larsen and Wordie ice shelves were near this limit.

Ice shelves respond to climate change more rapidly than grounded ice sheets or glaciers. The ice shelves in question were particularly susceptible, being small fringing shelves at the limit of ice shelf stability for the recent global climate (the Northern Larsen Ice Shelf is the northernmost ice shelf on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula; the Wordie Ice Shelf was the northernmost on the west side). Peninsula shelves have experienced cycles of growth and decay throughout the Holocene (the last 10,000 years) (3). The question remains whether or not the observed warming and the ice shelf breakups are manifestations of global climate warming. Beyond that question still further, lies the question of whether current changes in regional climates are anthropogenic or part of a cycle that would have occurred at this time in a non-industrial world.

What does the future hold? Numerical models designed to investigate the influence of the calving events on flow of the remaining Northern Larsen Ice Shelf suggest that the current configuration is stable (6). The key to stability is support provided by the Seal Nunataks and Robertson Island, along its new northern front. If the shelf becomes detached from those islands, rapid retreat of the front is likely. Unless there is a change in the observed warming trend, further retreats of fringing ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula are the most likely scenario in the near future. The current consensus of the ice mechanics community is that the loss of an ice shelf will not cause a drastic speed-up in the glaciers feeding it. However, a study of the velocity of ice motion over the disintegrated area(7) showed a slight (10 to 15%) increase in ice speed, interpreted as possibly the result of reduced back pressure on the source glaciers from the receding shelf. This has important implications for sea level change due to the loss of these ice shelves, should the observed speed increase continue.

It is important to monitor changes in the extent of ice shelves, along the Antarctic Peninsula and throughout Antarctica, to better understand the nature and extent of the climate signal they provide. Some such monitoring programs are already underway within the British Antarctic Survey and among US researchers under NASA and NSF OPP grants.

References

Pedro Skvarca, Instituto Antartico Argentino, personal communication.

Skvarca, P. 1993. Fast recession of the Northern Larsen Ice Shelf monitored by space images. Annals of Glaciology 17:317-321.

Domack, E. W, Ishman, S. E., Stein, A. B., McClennen, C. E., and Jull, A. J. T. 1995. Late Holocene Miller ice shelf, Antarctic Peninsula, sedimentological, geochemical, and palaeontological evidence. Antarctic Science 7 (2):159-170.

Doake, C. S. M., and Vaughn, D. G. 1991. Rapid disintegration of the Wordie ice shelf in response to atmospheric warming. Nature 350:328-330.

Mercer, J. H. 1978. West Antarctic Ice Sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: A threat of disaster. Nature 271:321-325.

A finite-element numerical model constructed by one of the authors (CLH). The Northern Larsen Ice Shelf is modeled as a slab of uniform thickness flowing in an embayment with no-slip boundaries and an ice front that experiences the stress of sea water pressure only. The model uses a well-established flow law and stress-equilibrium equations. A series of experiments are conducted with pre-calving/pre-disintegration and present (both with and without Seal Nunataks and Robertson Island) ice shelf geometries.

Bindschadler, R. A., Fahnestock, M. A., Skvarka, P., and Scambos, T. A. 1994. Surface-velocity field of the northern Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology 20:319-326.