This Week in Ice: Feb 18 – 24, 2018

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This week, I was thrilled to attend an APECS workshop, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, on Antarctic Surface Hydrology & Ice-Shelf Stability at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Thank you to organizers Luke Trusel and Jonathan Kingslake and everyone else who made this possible!

Ice shelves melt from from both below (due to warm ocean water) and from above (due to atmospheric conditions). But Antarctic ice shelves are not all the same, and the processes that affect them are surprisingly complex and not yet fully understood.

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Meltponds near Black Island, Antarctica Credit: NASA Operation IceBridge

How do various inputs such as temperature, humidity, snowfall, cloud cover, winds, (creating micro-climates and impacting snow-cover to uncover darker ice with lower albedo), the topography of the land, the presence (or not) of algae (which reduces albedo on Greenland ice shelves), the profile of the calving edge of ice shelves, ocean and atmospheric currents, and more all affect melting? How will future warming affect all of the above?

How does knowledge of processes in Greenland apply to Antarctic ice shelves? How can knowledge of past events inform our theories about what will happen in the future? Which are the most effective models for scientists to use, and how can they best be used in concert? How well do we know the processes that drive surface melt, and can we, therefore, accurately model them? How do we put recent melting into a proper long-term climatological context?

These are some of the topics and questions raised during presentations and discussions. It was very clear an interdisciplinary approach is needed. Indeed, one goal of the workshop was to determine priorities for future research and how scientists from various disciplines might collaborate.

Stef Lhermitte delivered the sobering statement, “We are currently underestimating melt,” and said much melt is happening below the surface. It’s unclear where this water goes or, at this stage, even how to study that. (Check out this excellent site to learn more .)

On a personal note, it was truly wonderful to meet and spend time with people who love our polar ice just as much as I do and have dedicated their lives to studying it. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to present a poster, with my co-author Kevin Pluck, on effective science communication for polar scientists. Among other things, I emphasized how important it is for scientists to take charge of their science communication and leverage the power of social media by following these pointers:

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This week, Kevin Pluck also illustrated the enormous size of the Pine Island Glacier, which– like the Thwaites Glacier–is an accelerating and weakening glacier of concern to scientists.

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A rift in the PIG, 2016            Credit: NASA Operation IceBridge/Nathan Kurtz

Sea Ice

Sea Ice has reached record lows in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

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Temperatures in the Arctic are FAR above average.

And the Bering Sea has lost half its ice in just two weeks.

Current conditions:

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Credit: NSIDC

Arci

Credit: NSIDC

ANTARCTIC

Sea ice in the Antarctic is also at a record low.

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Credit: NSIDC

Thank you for reading. It’s good to be back! Now preparation for the APECS workshop is over, I expect to be updating This Week in Ice… well, weekly.

As always, I am not a scientist but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice, ice shelves, and polar ice in general. I welcome input and corrections from and connections with 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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