This Week in Ice: Nov. 19-25, 2017

This Week in Ice—Ice-pocalypse Edition!

At least, that’s I was going to call this week’s post. More about that in a moment.

But first, let’s dive under the ice…

This is the work of the Science Under the Ice team, taking pictures such as this:


Credit: Science Under the Ice

This Finnish research team has discovered that the ecosystem under the ice has changed rapidly, with far more species and greater numbers of individuals. Species that were once rare are now common and thriving under thinner ice that allows more light to pass through it, increasing the area’s productivity (growth of phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain). The last couple of years, the ice has also broken out earlier than usual, and it’s likely these changes are effects of climate change.

Which brings us to the ice-pocalypse.

This week, Grist published a powerful article titled Ice Apocalypse by Eric Holthaus about the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. Climate scientist Tamsin Edwards wrote this response, urging caution about predictions of the amount and speed of sea level rise. But there is no disagreement that sea level rise will happen—only how much and how soon.

I seem to be reading a lot of articles like this one about this report. It seems a hope-for-the-best-but-prepare-for-the-worst approach is needed when tackling the effects climate change and making policy. We also need to mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels and releasing so much carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) into our atmosphere.

Of course, phytoplankton—microscopic plants in our oceans—absorb carbon dioxide (just like other plants). But they are affected by ocean acidification… which is caused by burning of fossil fuels…

Sea Ice

NASA’s Operation Icebridge continues to yield mind-blowing shots of Antarctica. Here sea ice is “finger rafting“—which occurs when thin, flexible ice floes collide, blocks sliding above and below each other in the pattern you see here:


Finger rafting of sea ice, Weddell Sea, Antarctica             Credit: John Sonntag, Operation Icebridge

Current sea ice concentrations and extents in both the Arctic and Antarctic are well below median levels.


As temperatures warm and coastal sea ice melts, communities in places such as Western Alaska, which were previously protected from wave action at this time of year, are at greater risk of erosion and inundation.


Mark Brandon gives an update on the Weddell polynya, which is still going strong. Watch it shift and flow at 12 o-clock in this animation:

Glaciers and Ice Shelves

British researchers have mapped the sea bed beneath West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, which, like the Thwaites Glacier, is accelerating. The terrain below the glacier affects how the glacier flows. Imagery shows a rocky region with mountains and deep scour marks. This data will help scientists predict how the glacier might behave in the future.


Credit: British Antarctic Survey

Scientists are measuring the heat emanating from a mantle plume beneath Antarctica and how this might effect the slipperiness of the base of the ice sheet, thereby affecting its reaction to climate change. (It wasn’t a leap to think that news about the volcano beneath Antarctica might be misinterpreted… But no, it doesn’t refute climate science.

The West Antarctic ice sheet underwent a rapid collapse during a previous warming event. Scientists are eager to know more about it to better their understanding of what might happen if/when it collapses again. Could octopus DNA teach us something?

Other scientists still are looking at how the “wobble” in Earth’s orbit may have affected ice sheets.

Back in July, a massive iceberg calved from the Larsen C ice shelf (picture below). What happens to the ice shelf left in the aftermath?


Among NASA’s Operation Icebridge photos this year, this view of massive iceberg A-68A, which calved from the Larsen C ice shelf in July, is one of my favorites.


Iceberg A-68A                                                                            Credit: John Sonntag, Operation Icebridge


While I’m not intending Permafrost to be a regular feature of This Week in Ice, it is one of our planet’s ice features. As you may have heard, it is melting, too.

To finish off this not-named-the-ice-pocalypse edition, some delightful news. A small group of young Australians made history by becoming the first children to ever go to Antarctica. Lucky kids!


And in case you missed it, this week, I shared why I am in love with sea ice.

As always, I am not a scientist, just a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice. I welcome input and corrections by polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience. 



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