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.
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.
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:
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!
Note: this post also appears on my Wordy Bird Studio site.
The Polar Ice Sketch Project
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 Week in Ice: Jan. 7-13, 2018
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.
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:
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
Arctic sea ice is at a record low for this time of year.
Arctic sea ice has been particularly low in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, which connect with the northern Pacific Ocean.
Antarctic Sea ice concentration is also far below the mean, though not quite as low as last year’s record low.
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.
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.)
- A ‘PERFECT STORM’: EXTREME WINTER WEATHER, BITTER COLD, AND CLIMATE CHANGE
- It’s Cold and My Car is Buried in Snow. Is Global Warming Really Happening?
- What Is This Polar Vortex That Is Freezing the U.S.?
- Ice Loss and the Polar Vortex: How a Warming Arctic Fuels Cold Snaps
- How a Melting Arctic Changes Everything (This one is more general and includes the geopolitics of a melting Arctic, which may make your misinformed uncle think.)
- How Quickly Climate Change is Accelerating, in 167 Maps
- Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather (study)
Turns out, loss of polar ice affects the jet stream.
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.
This includes the Arctic.
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).
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.
This image brings it home:
Antarctic December sea ice was the fourth lowest on record.
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.
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:
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:
- Climate Change is Causing the Sea Floor to Sink (Study here)
- Huge snowfall increases over Antarctica could counter sea level rise, scientists say (Study here.)
And lastly, during the holiday, I began a series of sea ice watercolor sketches:
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.
This Week in Ice: Dec. 10-16, 2017
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.
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.
Temperatures in the Arctic have been abnormally high, so high that computers disqualified temperature data, assuming it was an error.
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.”
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.
Glaciers & Ice Shelves
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.”
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.
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.
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.
This Week in Ice: Nov. 26-Dec.2
HAPPY ANTARCTICA DAY (for Friday, Dec. 1)!
On December 1st, 1959, the nations of the world came together to sign the Antarctic Treaty, which says that “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.” To me, Antarctica is ever a sign of hope—that humanity can work together for good.
But this year’s Antarctica Day was especially momentous. Yesterday, the world’s largest marine reserve came into effect. The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area covers 598,000 square miles and was created by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—the 24-nation body overseeing Antarctic waters. Cause for celebration indeed!
Endurance swimmer, marine lawyer, and ocean advocate Lewis Pugh engaged in multiple bone-chilling swims in Antarctic waters to gain global support for the protection of the Ross Sea.
“Over the past 30 years I’ve seen the devastating impacts of over-fishing and climate change on our oceans,” said Lewis. “If we allow the Ross Sea to go the same way, its unique riches may be lost forever. My hope is that these symbolic swims will bring the beauty and wonder of Antarctica into the hearts and homes of people around the world so they will urge their governments to protect this unique ecosystem, which is truly a polar Garden of Eden.”
Thank you for your tireless and extraordinary efforts, Lewis Pugh!
This week, I also met with filmmakers Stephen Smith and Diana Kushner to talk about their Enduring Ice project. With a very small team, they undertook an incredible adventure in the Arctic this past summer to draw attention to the importance of Arctic sea ice for balancing our climate.
Starting only 500 miles from the North Pole, in three kayaks, they paddled and portaged south between the Canadian and Greenland coasts to make their upcoming documentary. I will be sharing my full interview with Diana and Steve soon.
I salute and am inspired by Pugh, Smith, Kushner, and their support teams—remarkable people working tirelessly for our vital polar regions.
Meanwhile in the Arctic, a new international agreement closed the Central Arctic Ocean—1.1 million square miles—to fishing for 16 years so that adequate research may be carried out to determine if commercial fishing would be sustainable.
After 16 years, the pact will increase in 5-year increments, unless science-based limits on fishing and management are adopted or a country objects.
So, it’s been a great week for conservation of our polar regions!
Kevin Pluck has produced another excellent animation showing the decline in global sea ice extent (since first satellite records to present).
The freeze up in the Arctic is proceeding slowly:
And sea ice extent is low:
This week also saw abnormally warm weather in parts of the Arctic.
Due to fierce storms and warm Pacific waters, Arctic sea ice off Alaska has hit record lows and Alaska’s coast is vanishing as sea ice disappears.
Antarctic sea ice is also lower than normal:
The Weddell polynya (an area of open water within the sea ice) is still in existence.
Melting sea ice could mess up deep sea chemistry.
And why, in a warming world, does Antarctic sea appear to be increasing in places?
Glaciers & Ice Shelves
NASA’s Operation IceBridge continues to provide spectacular images from Antarctica. One of my favorites this week over the Ross Ice Shelf:
The largest glacier in East Antarctica, the Totten glacier, is melting:
The iceberg formerly known as B-44, which calved from Pine Island Glacier—Antarctica’s fastest melting glacier—back in September and then quickly broke up, has further disintegrated.
Scientists are concerned because they’re seeing a change in the calving pattern and in the glacier’s advance and retreat. An ice shelf is a platform of floating ice that forms where a glacier or ice sheet floats to the coastline and onto the sea’s surface. Dr. Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey says,
“If the ice shelf continues to thin and the ice front continues to retreat, its buttressing effect on PIG will diminish, which is likely to lead to further dynamic thinning and retreat of the glacier. PIG already makes the largest contribution to sea-level rise of any single Antarctic glacier and the fact that its bed increases in depth upstream for more than 200 km means there is the possibility of runway retreat that would result in an even bigger contribution to sea level.”
A very large iceberg also broke off Chile’s Grey Glacier.
A study led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and co-authored by an international team of researchers analyzed 90 blogs that cover climate change. 50% were science-based and 50% were climate change denier blogs, and these two groups had very different opinions on polar bears and Arctic sea ice extent.
First author Jeff Harvey from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology said,
“We found a major gap between the facts from scientific literature and the science-based blogs on one hand, versus the opinions ventilated in climate-change denying blogs on the other.”
They found that about 80% of the denier blogs relied on a single denier blog as their source. This source blog was written by a single author who had not conducted any original research or published articles in peer-reviewed literature. They found a lack of evidence and expertise, as well as personal attacks against researchers, are common among such climate change denial blogs. Jeff Harvey said,
“This is a very dangerous gap, as these blogs are read by millions.”
This week, to celebrate Antarctica Day and the Ross Sea Marine Protection Act, I ran a competition. I asked people to tell me why Antarctica is important. I got some excellent responses, which I will post in the next few days. Thank you to everyone who participated! You will all be receiving a large postcard print of my Gentoo penguin piece at the top of this post.
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 by polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience.
In the Belly of the Southern Ocean
“Below 40 degrees south there is no law; below 50 degrees south there is no God.”
—An old sailors’ saying
Driven by strong westerly winds and unhindered by land to slow its flow, the frigid Southern Ocean races around the coldest, windiest, driest, and most remote landmass on Earth—the vast polar continent of Antarctica.
Between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees south is the realm of the “Roaring Forties. ” These powerful winds, first named by sailors who used them for fast passage around the globe, have long been known for their ferocious storms and treacherous seas.
South of 50 and 60 degrees respectively are the “Furious Fifties” and “Screaming Sixties,” where these conditions are even stronger.
Here, a ship’s crew must not only battle waves that can be as high as multi-story buildings but watch vigilantly for icebergs and find safe routes through thick, ever-shifting sea ice that freezes and recedes with the seasons.
Here, even a well-quipped icebreaker—a ship especially designed to navigate ice-covered waters—can be incapacitated far from land or help. And it is here between 67 degrees and 54 degrees south—in the belly of the Screaming Sixties and Furious Fifties—that I spent six weeks aboard an icebreaker and research vessel.
To be continued…
My journey aboard the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, with researchers from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, the Marine Science Institute of UCSB, and the University of Otago, who studied aspects of diatom production, is the subject of the book I’m currently writing. This journey was funded by the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program. Special thanks to Dr. Rebecca Robinson for this extraordinary opportunity.
This Week in Ice: Nov. 12–18
This week, NASA’s Operation Icebridge offered us more spectacular views of Antarctica. Operation Icebridge uses research aircraft to capture images of Earth’s polar ice “to better understand connections between polar regions and the global climate system. IceBridge studies annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets.”
This is one of my favorites:
Sea ice extent and concentration in both the Arctic and Antarctic remain well below average. You can read a full summary of October’s Arctic and Antarctic sea ice conditions here.
Arctic sea ice grows rapidly at this time of year. October’s Arctic sea ice concentration was the fifth lowest on record for that month (satellite data from 1979 to present).
Unlike Antarctic sea ice, which is usually only one to two years old due to seasonal melting, Arctic sea ice can last for multiple years. This animation shows how older Arctic sea ice is now thinning and melting.
As days lengthen and temperatures increase in Antarctica, with the approach of the Austral summer, sea ice melts. October was tied with 2002 for the latest maximum sea ice extent and the second lowest Antarctic maximum extent (satellite data, 1979 to present).
This one by Zach Labe shows more data:
Wind has a large role in sea ice formation, comparable to or even more important than temperature and rain says researcher Massimo Frezzotti. This research explores the processes that have affected sea ice variability, as well as the abundance of seals and penguins in the Ross Sea, over the last ten thousand years.
Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans and a vital link in marine food chains. Antarctic krill, depicted in my painting, feed sea birds, penguins, seals, and whales.
A study in the Weddell Sea has shown that sea ice is a critical habitat for krill larvae during winter, and they find refuge from predators under the ice. But while it may be safer, it is not a food-rich environment. Krill do graze under the ice during the day, then at night drift down and away to more favorable feeding zones.
Glaciers & Ice Shelves
This graphic shows how land ice has decreased in Antarctica and Greenland from 2002 until the present.
One of the numerous reasons we should care about ice loss is that melting ice sheets not only raise sea levels but will have an effect on tides the world over. New research shows that, as ice sheets melt, sea levels don’t rise evenly across the world, and it matters which glaciers melt. In some places tide ranges will be increased, and in others reduced, thereby impacting coastal communities. These changes could also have an effect on larger scale ocean currents. Ocean currents affect our global climate, among other things. (Sea ice also has an effect on ocean currents, a subject I’ll be exploring in weeks to come.)
NASA has provided a new tool to show how sea level rise may affect 293 coastal cities around the world.
The Pine Island Glacier, which flows into West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea, makes the biggest contribution to sea level rise. This is the same glacier that carved a massive iceberg, four times the size of Manhattan back in September (and a mere month later, it broke into pieces too small to track). Here, warmer waters interact with floating ice, weakening the ice shelf from below.
Watch an Alaskan glacier retreat over time:
Thanks to Operation Icebridge, we have our first closeup views of massive iceberg A-68A, previously only seen via satellite imagery.
Scientist Stef Lhermitte notes further cracks in the Larsen C ice shelf, from which A-68 (the initial even larger iceberg) calved back in July.
In the absence of any other significant iceberg news, I offer this picture of a wind-and-sea-tossed iceberg I took during a gale in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Note the blue ice to its left. Blue ice looks that way because, over thousands of years, it has become very compressed, pushing out the air bubbles that give ice and snow its white appearance. Blue icebergs consist of very old ice, which has calved from glaciers and ice shelves into the sea.
And to finish, I hope you’ll enjoy this excellent series of short videos, showing how satellites have been monitoring life on Earth for over 20 years.
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.
This Week in Ice: Nov. 5-Nov. 11
This Week in Ice—Volcanoes!
The most sensational polar news this week was this study by NASA scientists, who say a mantle plume almost as hot as the Yellowstone supervolcano is beneath Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica. A mantle plume is a domed upwelling of magma beneath the earth’s surface. It’s what creates Yellowstone’s geothermal features—such as geysers like the iconic Old Faithful, steam vents, mud pots, and hot springs. The mantle plume beneath Marie Byrd Land is causing some melting of the ice from below, creating lakes and rivers beneath the ice.
This mantle plume isn’t new. In fact, it formed 50 to 110 million years ago. And it isn’t an increasing threat, according to NASA. But it may help explain why the ice sheet collapsed so rapidly during warming of the climate at the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago. Now we are in a new era of rapid warming, ice sheets are increasingly thinned and weakened, the forces of human and geothermal activity working in concert against vulnerable ice shelves, it appears.
Prepare to be mesmerized by another stunning sea ice visual by Kevin Pluck (who was featured on Vox this week—check it out).
Earlier in the week, Kevin warned me that this month’s data was looking troubling, with a sudden sharp decline in global sea ice concentration:
Let’s zoom in a little. That red line at the bottom represents this year.
Kevin also created this look at the changes in carbon dioxide—a major greenhouse gas—over time.
It’s no wonder our planet’s ice is melting, is it?
If you’re interested in comparing sea ice extent on certain dates, there’s this handy tool.
Ice Shelves & Glaciers
Last week, I talked about the fact that Antarctica’s Totten glacier is melting from below. The same thing is happening to Greenland ice sheets.
I can’t stop watching these fascinating GIFS of Antarctic ice provided by CNRS Research scientist Simon Gascoin.
Thwaites Glacier ice shelf:
Larsen C ice shelf:
Pine Island Glacier:
Alas, this week’s This Week in Ice is much abbreviated due to an impending book deadline. And it’s all about a supervolcano!
Volcano Dreams—a story of the Yellowstone supervolcano and the area’s fauna, by award-winning author Janet Fox and illustrated by me—is set for release on September 25th, 2018, from Web of Life Children’s Books! Huzzah!
I’m looking forward to soon sharing my process for creating the images for this book, which included a week-long visit to Yellowstone in early June for research.
And I look forward to being back very soon!