Icebergs Fertilize the Ocean–New SciArt

Originally published as Tuesday Night Mad Scramble on our Pixel Movers & Makers blog.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for us both. Kev has been keeping himself busy while I prepare for NESCBWI 18. Check out his latest illuminating animation — It’s a map, and your home is on it!

I’ve been readying my postcards and illustration portfolio for this Friday night’s Portfolio Showcase, in which art directors, editors, and agents, followed by conference attendees, will have a chance to peruse each illustrator’s portfolio.

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My big goal over the last two weeks has been to create a new Antarctica-inspired piece. As you may have realized by now, we at Pixel Movers & Makers are both enthralled by polar ice.

I’m particularly interested in the relationship between polar ice and the ecology of the surrounding environment (as well as how that ecology acts upon the ice itself), and primarily, how it affects the success of phytoplankton. Among other things, I’ve been wanting to make a piece that explores the role of icebergs in ocean fertilization.

I decided to make something showing a simplified food chain around the iceberg, with an informational shape poem about the “life” of an iceberg, from the formation of the glacier from which an iceberg calves to its eventual melting out at sea.

Last week, on Pixel Makers and Movers, I showed the early stages of that process.

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After a detailed pencil drawing of each element, which I scan, I am using digital oil paint.Since then, it’s been a race against the clock to complete the illustration in time for my printer to do their thing. (Shout-out to fantastic Iolabs who patiently put up with my last-minute rush every April; thanks Emma!)

And now for the reveal of the final piece:

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Text and image Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2018                   www.WordyBirdStudio.com

 

Now, it’s back to making penguins for Kev to swim and waddle–as we continue with our animation about Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier!

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Note: this post also appears on my Wordy Bird Studio site.

The Polar Ice Sketch Project

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It’s Sunday, the last day of Polar Week, after a late night of working on Pixel Movers & Makers, which my co-conspirator Kevin Pluck and I launched a week ago. In truth, while Kev toiled away with his numbers and his codes, I spent most of the evening dripping paint on paper. I really couldn’t have been happier. And I filmed it.

I’m about to show you my watercolor sketching process from start to finish. I’ve gotten a little bit brave, and I’m talking my way through the video, explaining what I’m doing at each stage. (This is about my fifth attempt to do so, and most times I have pushed the wrong button on my phone and waxed poetic, only to find I’ve recorded a lovely shot of the ceiling or nothing at all. Pity about the Mr. Squiggle anecdote, but you’ve missed out. Or have you?)

My point was (apart from Mr. Squiggle being one of my early heroes) that I often turn my paper while I’m painting. Gravity is a key player in each of these creations, as are the paper itself (Arches hot press) and the paint (Windsor & Newton, the professional grade stuff). Skimping on the paint and paper quality is entirely self-defeating when it comes to watercolor.

What I most want you to know, though, is that polar ice is beautiful.

It’s extraordinarily beautiful and, even more so, it’s incredibly important to our planet. I cannot even begin to do it justice.

So, what is the Polar Ice Sketch Project anyway? It’s an ongoing project in which I paint and tweet as I finish each one, often with information about our vital polar ice. I hope you’ll enjoy this window into my process and my playtime.

It’s quite long. It’s a bit silly. But it’s real.

 

 

 

 

 

This POLAR WEEK in Ice

pmnmThis is the final day of Polar Week, and what a week it has been! A week ago today, Kevin Pluck and I launched our joint venture, Pixel Movers & Makers.

Kev and I have been secretly toiling on this venture every night for months now, and we were thrilled to present a poster and a short sample animation at the APECS Workshop on Antarctic Hydrology & Ice Shelf Stability at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in February. The response and support we’re received so far from the polar community is very heartening.

We’re currently creating an animation about Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, a melting, accelerating glacier up to 3 km (~1.8 miles) tall and about 400 km (250 miles) long.

We’ve been sharing our process on Twitter and Facebook:

We’re also blogging about our process in more depth.

In personal news, I was pleased to co-present a workshop on effective online science communication at Boston University with Dr. Laura Schifman. We talked about scientists taking control of their science communication by writing effective blog posts for the public and how to harness the power of social media. Thanks to Claudia Mazur for inviting us. We’re now looking for opportunities to take our show on the road!

So, it’s been a rather busy year thus far. There’s still a lot happening in ice news, so I’m providing a list of links below that you may want to check out.

First, the state of our vital sea ice.

Sea Ice

The National Snow & Ice Data Center tells us:

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual maximum extent on March 17. This is the second lowest Arctic maximum in the 39-year satellite record. The four lowest maximum extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past four years.

...in the Southern Hemisphere, sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year on February 20 and 21, at 2.18 million square kilometers (842,000 square miles). This year’s minimum extent was the second lowest in the satellite record, 70,000 square kilometers (27,00 square miles) above the record low set on March 3, 2017. 

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Let’s zoom in a little…          global2

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Polar News & Links

And just for fun:

What does it sound like when you drop ice down a 90 m (295 feet) borehole in an Antarctic glacier? Prepare to be surprised!

 

 

 

 

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

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Credit: NSIDC

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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. 

Icy Interim

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Ross Sea ice and iceberg from the RVIB N.B.Palmer                          Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

While there was no This Week in Ice post this past week, plenty happened in ice news. Every day, I get up early and pore through headlines about sea ice, glaciers, ice shelves, the Arctic, Antarctica, and icebergs via Google and Twitter. I collect the links and tweets I think are interesting, read them, and eventually construct my blog posts each weekend. And last week was no exception, BUT…

…on Friday, I found out I’ve been accepted to attend a workshop on Antarctic Surface Hydrology and Future Ice Shelf Stability at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, sponsored by the NSF. Since I’m not a scientist, I’m very honored and excited for this wonderful opportunity.

What’s “Antarctic Surface Hydrology and Future Ice Shelf Stability,” you say?

To learn more, check this out.

It’s also my first science conference–so, I’m busy learning how to create a science poster.

The entire ice system and that of the surrounding ocean is fascinating. I want to know how it all works: sea ice, ocean currents, polynyas, ice shelves (and the forces that act on them from above, below, within, and around), plus the ecology—diatoms and other phytoplankton, the marine food chain, benthic (seafloor) communities, the carbon cycle, etc, etc., etc. It’s a complex, fascinating, and intricately woven system, and while we are so far away, our actions and fates are interlinked.

Yet little of this is in most people’s consciousness, or if it is, it may cause a sense of unease that makes them turn away and shut down. My goal is to provide a bridge between scientists and the wider community that’s factual, that isn’t sensationalist, and which shows how worthy these parts of our planet are in and of themselves—not just because the collapse of the system could have drastic consequences for civilization.

So, This Week in Ice will be back, but please expect a fortnightly edition for now. In the meantime, I wrote an article about our SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise for Envirobites this week. Here’s the link. 

Now, back to my poster…

 

 

 

This Week in Ice: Jan. 7-13, 2018

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Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

I took this photo on my local beach in southern Rhode Island early one morning at the start of the week. The whole shore was covered in thick ice, which I’ve never seen there, and the waves were sluggish in the 0 degree F/-18 degree C conditions. But this is nothing compared to just a little farther east around Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which has seen the rapid growth of sea ice during our recent Arctic blast.

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Credit: Terra Satellite, Jan 7, 2018

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Cape Cod Bay from Rock Harbor Beach                                          Credit: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Meanwhile, global sea ice concentration is experiencing a troubling start to the year.

Let’s zoom in a little, so you can better see the dipping of 2018’s bright red line:

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A new study has shown that melting sea ice is changing the flow of nutrients into the Arctic Ocean. With sea ice melting, sediment from the continental shelf containing nutrients, carbon, and trace metals is flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Along with increased light (also due to the melting of sea ice), this influx of nutrients could cause a phytoplankton bloom. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain, and it’s likely this increased productivity would affect the marine ecosystem.

Scientists are closely watching the Beaufort Gyre, a major wind-driven current in the Arctic Ocean, which has, historically, weakened every five to seven years and reversed direction. When this happens, it expels ice and freshwater into the eastern Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic.

But the gyre seems to be stuck and has been spinning clockwise for twelve years, collecting cold freshwater from melting sea ice, runoff from Russian and North American rivers, and from the Bering Sea. When the gyre does eventually slow and reverse direction, scientists are concerned that it will expel this icy freshwater into the Northern Atlantic, causing severe winters and a disruption to the fishing industry in northern Europe.

Sea Ice — Current Conditions

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Arctic sea ice is at a record low for this time of year.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

Arctic sea ice has been particularly low in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, which connect with the northern Pacific Ocean.

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Antarctic Sea ice concentration is also far below the mean, though not quite as low as last year’s record low.

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Ice Shelves & Icebergs

Strong El Niño events cause large changes in Antarctic ice shelves, a new study has found. While more snow falls on the surface during such events, changes in ocean circulation cause increased melting from below, resulting in a net loss of ice mass:

Iceberg A-86a is still bumping around near the Larsen C ice shelf from which it calved back in July.

Michael Wolovick, a glaciologist from Princeton has been studying whether building massive underwater walls of sand and stone at the mouths of unstable glaciers could slow or reverse their collapse.

I will be continuing the Sea Ice Sketch Project this weekend, and posting on Twitter as I complete each piece and continue my exploration of sea ice—as well as ice shelves and icebergs.

I’m ending this week’s post with some stunning imagery of sea ice, like spectacular abstract artworks, from NASA Earth Observatory.

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Newly formed sea ice (gray) in the Weddell Sea.                                        Credit: NASA/Nathan Kurtz.

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Pieces of sea ice, thick and thin, mingle in the Weddell Sea. Credit: NASA/Digital Mapping System.

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Sea ice near the Larsen C Ice Shelf.                                           Credit: NASA/Digital Mapping System.

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. 

This Week in Ice: Dec. 24, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018

Ok, so this is not a week in ice, it’s This Fortnight in Ice. A combination of the holidays and, quite frankly, distress over what is clearly a wide-spread, vigorous, and alarming effort to misinform the public about Climate Change required me to take a breather.

Yes, it has been cold. No, it doesn’t disprove that Global Warming is real.

Here are some links to share with your misinformed uncle that explain why the extreme weather we’re experiencing in the US only supports that we are in the grip of anthropogenic Climate Change. (I’ve included some more general links, too.)

Turns out, loss of polar ice affects the jet stream.

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The polar vortex is an area of low pressure and cold air over the polar regions. When winds that keep colder air over the Arctic become less stable, cold air can dip farther south. Credit: NOAA

Of course, while we have been shivering in the eastern US, most of the planet has been experiencing warmer than average temperatures. Here’s today’s global map showing the temperature anomaly. Most parts of the world are warmer than average.

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Credit: ClimateReanalyzer.Org, University of Maine, Climate Change Institute

This includes the Arctic.

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This plot shows the departure from average air temperatures (at the 925 hPa level) in degrees Celsius for December 2017. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures.
Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division

 

Sea Ice

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The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that Arctic sea ice extent for December was the second lowest on record (satellite data 1979 to present).

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Monthly December ice extent for 1979 to 2017 shows a decline of 3.7 percent per decade.
Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Kevin Pluck has incorporated December’s data into another great visualization:

While the satellite data only extends back to 1979, using maps, ship reports, and other records, NOAA has published monthly estimates of sea ice extent from 1850 to 2013.

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This figure shows departures from 1850 to 2013 calendar-month averages of Arctic sea ice extent as a function of year (x-axis) and calendar month (y-axis). The color bar at the right shows magnitudes of departures from the average.
Credit: J. E. Walsh, F. Fetterer, J. S. Stewart, W. L. Chapman. 2016. Geographical Review; after a figure by J. Stroeve, National Snow and Ice Data Center

This image brings it home:

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These sea ice concentration maps compare the lowest September minimum Arctic sea ice extents for the periods 1850 to 1900, 1901 to 1950, 1951 to 2000, and 2000 to 2013.
Credit: F. Fetterer/National Snow and Ice Data Center, NOAA

Current conditions:

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

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Antarctic December sea ice was the fourth lowest on record.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

And here’s another animation by Kevin Pluck showing the global sea ice anomaly and comparing it to countries of similar size.

Icebergs & Ice Shelves

NASA has provided a stunning new shot of the iceberg formerly known as B-44, which has now broken into numerous smaller bergs. B-44 calved from the accelerating Pine Island Glacier back in September and quickly broke up.

NASA glaciologist Chris Shuman says that warm water in the polynya (open water in an area of sea ice) likely caused the speedy breakup of the iceberg.

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Dec. 15, 2017                                                                     Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Landsat 8

Schuman estimates the iceberg is about 315 meters (1005 feet) thick, with approximately 49 meters (about 160 feet) above the water’s surface.

Here’s the breakup in action:

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Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, from 5 Landsat 8 images over the last 4 months.

Iceberg A-68A nudged up against the Larsen C ice shelf, from which it (A-68, a slightly larger berg) calved back in July. A-68A is about the size of Delaware.

Watch a short video about the Larsen C ice shelf http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/content/view/embedjw/493291” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>here.

I am very excited about the British Antarctic Survey’s upcoming expedition to the Larsen C ice shelf to explore the benthic diversity (the variety of fauna on the sea floor) in an area that, up until the calving of A-68, was covered by the thick ice shelf. I cannot wait to see what they find! If you’re interested, you can follow using hashtag #LarsenCBenthos on Twitter.

Two other polar news stories worth your time:

And lastly, during the holiday, I began a series of sea ice watercolor sketches:

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I am tweeting as I finish each one, with info about sea ice. Here’s the link if you’d like to follow my ongoing Sea Ice Sketch project:

I would like to wish all of you a safe, peaceful, and Happy New Year! Thank you for reading POLAR BIRD.

This is truly a labor of love, but if you’d like to support my work, please visit my Patreon page.

As always, I am not a scientist but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice. 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. 

An Extraordinary Year

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At McMurdo. Our ship, the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, in the background.

Earlier this year, I had the life-changing experience of being the science communicator and outreach ambassador for the SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, through the wild Southern Ocean.

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Marine technicians steady the megacorer, which has returned from the sea floor filled with mud.

I constructed and maintained our website and social media, raised public awareness, blogged about our science, was the photographer, mentored and edited graduate students writing guest blog posts, created illustrations, and got my hands wet and dirty whenever an extra hand was needed.

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I’m now writing a book about our high-seas adventure and our fascinating science, which explored the roles of nitrogen and silicon in the success of diatoms, and included growing diatoms, filtering marine snow, and retrieving deep-sea mud cores. (I also have another polar science book underway.)

Mid-year, I traveled to Yellowstone National Park to do research for the illustrations for VOLCANO DREAMS, a non-fiction book for children about the Yellowstone supervolcano by award-winning author Janet Fox.

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I’ve spent the rest of the year completing the illustrations. Volcano Dreams will be published by Web of Life Children’s Books in September, 2018. This is the first time I’ve illustrated a published children’s picture book, something I’ve worked for for years.

In September, I started POLAR BIRD, the next step on my journey as a science communicator, non-fiction writer, and sci-art illustrator.

pbPOLAR BIRD is a labor of love, and I’m grateful to everyone who has liked, shared, retweeted, subscribed, and—most especially—read.

2017 has been truly transformative, and I’ve never felt more like I’m on the right path. More than anything, I dream that my work will lead me back to the ice.

As we head into 2018, I’m actively seeking opportunities to be an embedded team member and offer my experience and diverse skill set on future research cruises, taking the considerable and important work required of Outreach—both before, during, and after an expedition—off scientists’ hands.

While I’d be thrilled to join any research cruise, I’m particularly interested in sea ice dynamics and ecology, polynyas, phtyoplankton, krill, the biological pump and carbon cycle, paleoclimatology, ice shelves and glaciers, sea bird and marine mammal ecology, and more… (I could easily spend the rest of my life writing and illustrating about science in polar regions.)

Thank you for reading! I look forward to bringing you new science adventures, more about our planet’s vital sea and land ice, and new art.

I wish you all a very healthy, peaceful, and happy New Year!

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This Week in Ice: Dec. 17-23

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I am travelling for Christmas, so this week’s post won’t be as extensive as usual. So, this week in ice, Polar Bird and Wordy Bird Studio are wishing you all a very Merry Everything. May your iceberg be festooned with penguins—except if it’s in the Arctic… because penguins and Santa? Well, come on now…

And speaking of Christmas, see how concentrations of greenhouse gases have changed since that very first Christmas:

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about albedo. Albedo is a measure of reflectivity. Sea ice has high albedo, meaning it has high reflectivity, and most of the solar radiation (sunlight) that hits it is reflected away from the planet.

Just as you get warmer when you wear darker clothes, when ice is covered in something darker, such as algae or dust, it has lower albedo—it absorbs more solar radiation. Lower albedo = faster melting.

But a new study found that algal growth on the Greenland ice sheet reduces its albedo and influences melting more than dust and black carbon, which has implications for how scientists may project future sea level rise. And as temperatures warm, algae thrives. Algae accounts for 5-10% of ice sheet loss (in Greenland) each year.

Current Sea Ice Conditions

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

And this is interesting:

Arctic sea ice is low, and temperatures are high.

More than 20°C above average.

The Arctic has changed, and the latest Arctic Report Card says it will likely never return to being the Arctic we have known.

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Sea ice in the Antarctic is also well below the mean.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

I will be back next week with my usual full-length ice news. In the New Year, I’ll also be sharing my recent interview with filmmakers Stephen Smith and Diana Kushner of Enduring Ice, who kayaked 500 miles from the North Pole while making their upcoming documentary about the plight of Arctic sea ice.

Until next time, I will leave you with this fabulous footage from above Antarctica. Have a safe, peaceful, and happy holiday!

 

 

This Week in Ice: Dec. 10-16, 2017

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Antarctic krill under sea ice                                                                Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

This week in ice begins with krill—or more specifically krill poop.

Krill are tiny shrimp-like creatures that live in schools called swarms, which can be thick (10,000 to 30,00 individuals per square meter) and vast (one swarm was 170 square miles to a depth of 660 feet). Found in oceans worldwide, krill are—in terms of biomass (the mass of living organisms)—one of the most significant species on our planet.

Krill feed in the upper reaches of the water column, eating phytoplankton (tiny plants) especially diatoms, and zooplankton (tiny animals such as copepods and amphipods). Zooplankton also feed on phytoplankton. Like other plants, phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. So, when krill eat phtyoplankton or zooplankton, they’re consuming this carbon.

A constant stream of organic matter such as fecal material and parts of dead organisms, as well as inorganic material such as dust, is constantly sinking through the water column. This material is called marine snow, and it can take weeks to reach the ocean floor, where it accumulates as a thick oozy mud (which we studied on our SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise). When krill defecate, their fecal material sinks as marine snow through the water column, and any carbon in it is sequestered.

A study by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey found that the behavior of Antarctic krill could assist the sequestration of carbon dioxide. Scientists found that krill move up and down within their swarms. This behavior is called satiation sinking—and in simple terms, it means that once you’ve eaten your fill at the buffet, you move away from the buffet table, allowing others to feed. If you’re a krill, you sink to the lower reaches of the swarm, giving your carbon-rich poop a greater chance of making it to the sea floor.

British Antarctic Survey ecologist and lead author Professor Geraint Tarling says:

“This new finding could equate to krill sequestering 23 million tonnes of carbon to the deep sea each year, equivalent to annual UK residential greenhouse gas emissions.”

Something to keep in mind when regulating the fishing of krill. Krill are also a vital food source for fish, whales, penguins, and other marine species.

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Credit: NOAA

The big polar news this week was the release of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card.

“Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades. Despite relatively cool summer temperatures, observations in 2017 continue to indicate that the Arctic environmental system has reached a ‘new normal’, characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of the sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures.”

Highlights (Credit: NOAA Arctic Report; links embedded by me)

  • The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.
  • The sea ice cover continues to be relatively young and thin with older, thicker ice comprising only 21% of the ice cover in 2017 compared to 45% in 1985.
  • In August 2017, sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas were up to 4° C warmer than average, contributing to a delay in the autumn freeze-up in these regions.
  • Pronounced increases in ocean primary productivity, at the base of the marine food web, were observed in the Barents and Eurasian Arctic seas from 2003 to 2017.
  • Arctic tundra is experiencing increased greenness and record permafrost warming.
  • Pervasive changes in the environment are influencing resource management protocols, including those established for fisheries and wildfires.
  • The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities, further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.

Most troubling is that melting of sea ice is unprecedented in at least 1,500 years.

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Credit: NOAA

Temperatures in the Arctic have been abnormally high, so high that computers disqualified temperature data, assuming it was an error. 

Sea Ice

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Arctic sea ice extent and concentration remain well below the mean. Sea ice cover in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is at a record low extent. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says:

“November 2017 will be remembered not for total Arctic ice extent, which was the third lowest recorded over the period of satellite observations, but for the record low extent in the Chukchi Sea. This is a key area for Arctic Ocean access, and is an indicator of oceanographic influences on sea ice extent.”

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit NSIDC

ANTARCTIC

Antarctic sea ice remains below the mean. After the third-lowest November average monthly extent in the satellite record, sea ice extent is near-average in all regions except the Weddell Sea, where it’s at a record low. Sea ice around the Weddell polynya (aka Maud Rise polynya, depicted by the shape toward the top) has melted, leaving open ocean.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

Glaciers & Ice Shelves

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Part of the East Antarctica ice sheet                              Credit: Michael Hambrey/Glaciers Online

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet may not be as stable as previously thought says this study. In the past, it has undergone dramatic retreats, and scientists now feel that, as the planet warms, it may provide a significant contribution to sea level rise.

Another study showed that even small losses of ice at the edges of ice sheets can accelerate the movement of glaciers grounded on rocks. Lead-author Ronja Reese (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) says:

“Destabilizing the floating ice in some areas sends a signal as far as 900 kilometers across the largest ice shelf in Antarctica… It does so with an amazing speed, similar to the speed with which shocks from an earthquake travel.”

Icebergs

On Thursday, the US Coast Guard International Ice Patrol said around 1,008 icebergs drifted into shipping lanes in the North Atlantic, up from 687 in 2016. This is the fourth consecutive “extreme” ice season. Retreat of the Greenland ice sheet/calving of icebergs, plus increased storminess that broke up sea ice, setting icebergs free to drift, is responsible, according to Ice Patrol Commander Kristen Serumgard.

We have a great new graphic showing the drift of massive iceberg A-68, which calved from the Larsen C ice shelf (Antarctica) back in July.

Credit: Dave Mosher

Scientists are on their way to study the effects on lifeforms that dwelled in darkness under the ice sheet now they’ve been exposed to the light by this dramatic calving event.

Starving Polar Bears, Giant Penguins, & the GOT Ice Wall

Back to that viral “starving polar bear” video that everyone may have gotten wrong. As I discussed last week, some experts, such as polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher and Arctic wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon, believe that bear may have not been starving and may in fact have been injured or diseased. Nunavut bear monitor Leo Ikakhik agrees the bear was likely sick or injured.

(In following Derocher and Higdon and this polar bear story, I’ve discovered that polar bear Twitter is not an entirely pleasant place for polar bear scientists—it’s somewhat of a hangout for a certain breed of climate change deniers, who frequently cite dubious sources.)

While that polar bear may have died due to other causes, the fact remains that polar bears—alongside other sea ice-dependent species—will face increasing challenges as sea ice continues to decline.

This study by Deorcher et al states:

“Anthropogenic global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere, and has already caused significant negative effects on sea ice-dependent species such as polar bears. Although observed effects have thus far been gradual, the large amount of annual variation in the climate system may cause habitat changes in individual years that exceed the long-term trend. Such years may be below critical thresholds necessary for feeding and result in unprecedented reductions in survival, reproduction, and abundance in some populations.”

Why the media keeps getting Arctic news wrong.

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Credit: Gerald Mayr—AP

On a New Zealand beach, scientists have found fossil evidence of a 5’8″ penguin that lived 60 million years ago.

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And that ice wall in Game of Thrones? Impossible without magic, says glaciologist Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks).

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.