This Week in Ice: Oct. 29–Nov. 4, 2017

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Photo taken by me, Southern Ocean, February, 2017

 

This Week in Ice began with news that, due to the “Halloween crack,” there would be no winter over at the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research Station. The station has already been moved fourteen miles across the Brunt Ice Shelf, but the fracture, which formed on Halloween last year, has been steadily growing. Spooky, indeed.

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Credit: ESA

Sea Ice:

Kevin Pluck has produced yet another great visual showing the variability and overall decline of sea ice cover (since it has been observed by satellites).

Let’s hope the continuous data record of polar sea ice isn’t interrupted. Ageing satellites are putting this record at risk.

 

ARCTIC

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The extent and concentration of sea ice in the Arctic. Note the orange line representing the median ice from 1981-2010.  (NSIDC)

The National Snow and Ice Data Center is reporting “the second-lowest and second-latest seasonal maximum” (per the satellite record) for Arctic sea ice (in October). This GIF nicely demonstrates this long-term decline.

 

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Image credit: Kristin Laidre  

NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project is enlisting narwhals to help determine the relationship between warming water, melting ice, and Greenland’s coastal fjords. Sensors attached to the “unicorns of the sea” capture temperature, salinity, and depth data.

More news about Greenland in the Ice Shelves & Glaciers section below.

 

ANTARCTIC

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Ice extent and concentration.  (NSIDC)

The Weddell polynya, a massive area of open water within the ice of the Weddell Sea, is still going strong. (It’s the dark blue patch in the ice toward the top of the image above.)

The NSIDC says that sea ice in Antarctica experienced a Bactrian—or double humped, just like the camel—maximum extent on October 11th and 12th. The first was on September 15.

Spot the blue camel hump:

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Credit: NSIDC

This is the latest maximum on record (tied with 2002). It’s also the second lowest Antarctic maximum extent (per satellite records).

 

Ice Shelves & Glaciers

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New mapping data shows that far more of Greenland’s glaciers are at risk for accelerated melting than previously thought.

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Image credit: UCI

 

ANTARCTICA

Ice shelves—floating ice surrounding land—act as a “safety band”, holding back ice flowing to the sea in glaciers. But Antarctic ice shelves are thinning and collapsing, and the Antarctic ice safety band is at risk.

Intensifying winds are hastening the melting of the Totten Glacier in West Antarctica by driving warmer water under the glacier, causing melting from below.

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Credit: UT Austin/University of Texas Institute for Geophysics

A collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would have dire consequences for sea level rise.

Icebergs

In previous This Week in Ice posts, I’ve written about the B-44 iceberg, which calved in September but—a mere month later—broke into pieces too small to track.

Here it is on September 28th:

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NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

 

And on October 23rd…

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Marine Geologist Thomas Ronge gives a great account of the brief life and times of B-44.

And here are some incredible views of the Larsen C iceshelf and colossal iceberg A-68, which carved from it in July.

Spectacular!

And a 400-meter iceberg has drifted into Tasmanian waters, off the coast of Macquarie Island, the first iceberg to be seen off the island in almost a decade.

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Image credit: Tom Luttrell/Australian Antarctic Division

And then there’s this, which I thought was cool.

 

General News

Of course, the biggest news this week was the release of the Climate Science Special Report’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. Guess what? It’s us.

The World Meteorological Organization released its 2016 Greenhouse Gas report. This excellent short video explains the carbon cycle.

Carbon dioxide levels grew at a record pace last year.

 

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Image: World Meteorological Organization

 

Glaciologist and climate scientist Peter Neff shares that 800,000 years of ice core data shows an off-the-charts increase in greenhouse gases.

 

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I’m on a deadline to complete the illustrations for a book about the Yellowstone supervolcano, so This Week in Ice is not as deep a dive as usual. But I did come across this interesting climate-related news. Previous eruptions of the Yellowstone supervolcano triggered volcanic winters.

I look forward to being back with more ice news in two weeks’ time.

 

 

 

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–Oct. 22-28

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Antarctic Krill Under Ice                   Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2017

Earlier this week, I thought this might be a quieter week in ice news. In fact, it has been anything but. Some of this news is very cool, and some may make you uncomfortable. Hopefully, it will inspire you to fight for our planet’s vital ice, for our oceans, and for our global climate.

Sea Ice

ARCTIC

arctSea ice in the Arctic may be declining faster than previously thought. This GIF posted by Zack Labe will shock you:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center is reporting lower than average ice extent for this time of year. N_iqr_timeseries

The Norway Ice Service, too, is consistently reporting lower than average ice extent.

Scientists who drilled through sea ice were surprised to find an adult jellyfish (Chrysaora melanaster) drifting by. Scientists had previously assumed that only polyps (which release tiny baby jellyfish in the spring) survived the winter. Check it out! Amazing!

ANTARCTIC

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The sea ice at McMurdo Station has broken out earlier than usual.

Mark Brandon notes that a new polynya (an area of open water within the sea ice) has formed by the Rydberg Peninsula. Check out his cool GIF demonstrating this. He says this is fairly normal for this time of year and that it is a latent-heat polynya. A latent heat polynya is a coastal polynya, and it’s formed as winds push sea ice away from land. He tells me a much larger polynya has formed by the Dotson Ice Shelf, just as it did last year.

Brandon also suggests that the massive Weddell polynya, which has made the news the world over, will only be visible for about two more weeks, after which the sea ice will have retreated. This is a sensible-heat (or open-ocean) polynya, formed by the upwelling of warm water toward the surface, and after the ice has retreated, the processes that formed it will still be operating. (The Weddell polynya is the yellow patch within the dark red ice cover in the image above.)

Simon Gascoin produced this great GIF that shows the drifing of the Weddell polynya and surrounding sea ice.

The Weddell polynya could help us understand changing circulation currents in the Southern Ocean caused by Climate Change.

Glaciers

Land ice is formed by layers upon layers of snow, which become compacted over time.  A new study discussed in this Scientific American article suggests that a combination of greater katabatic winds (downward and often very strong winds) and warmer air over Antarctica could reduce the amount of snow falling.

Like giant rivers of ice, glaciers flow toward the sea. The Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers are accelerating rapidly. The speed of the Pine Island ice shelf (the floating ice where the glacier meets the sea) increased by 75% (between 1973 and 2010) due to warmer waters in front of it and increased calving of icebergs. (More on those in a moment.)

See GIFs of these glaciers by Simon Gascoin (which I’ve been unable to embed here, alas).

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via GIPHY

And then there was this, which had the ice scientists on Twitter abuzz this week.

Icebergs

Earlier in the week, we got this great image of huge iceberg B-44, which calved from the Pine Island Glacier back in September.

Just when I thought there’d be no other significant news about icebergs this week, the US National Ice Center NOAA reported that this same iceberg has broken up into pieces too small to be tracked.

WOW! This blows my mind. When B-44 calved a few short weeks ago, it was three times the size of Manhattan. Is it normal for such a massive iceberg to beak up so quickly? I asked Stef Lhermitte.

Note: PIG = Pine Island glacier

A-86A on the other hand is still  largely intact.

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And I was excited to come across this list of tabular icebergs. Icebergs are either tabular or non-tabular. Tabular icebergs have steep sides and a flat top and can be very large—or downright enormous. They’re formed by ice breaking off an ice shelf. The largest tabular iceberg on record is B-15 (which calved in 2000). It was a whopping 11,000 sq. kilometers (4,200 sq. miles) or almost as big as Connecticut.

What happens to a huge iceberg like B-15 over time? NASA’s Earth Observatory shared that with us this week, plus this fab image of four huge icebergs near the Weddell Sea.

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Effects on Marine Life

Warmer and more acidic waters are evicting their inhabitants.

More acidic oceans will affect all marine life.

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As sea ice melts, walruses are forced to spend more time on land. This effect of Climate Change has had terrible consequences in Siberia with the death of hundreds of walruses, which were driven off a cliff by polar bears.

And in a devastating blow, there will be no new marine sanctuary in the Antarctic. Tragic.

General News

An Australian research team has determined that coal use will have to be “pretty much” eliminated by 2050 to have any chance of stopping sea level rise.

New York could see bad flooding more often.

And while this is not ice news, I felt it important to bring attention to a local story with far-reaching implications. This week in Rhode Island, three EPA scientists, who were slated to speak at a conference about (among other things) the effects of Climate Change on Narragansett Bay and its watershed and this report, were prohibited from speaking by the EPA. This news made The New York Times and The Washington Post among others. The Executive Director of Save the Bay made this statement. Happily, this story even caught Stephen Colbert’s attention, bringing this travesty to a much wider audience:

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: Oct 15–21

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This week, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Patricia Yager from the University of Georgia speak at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Afterward, I was invited to a delightful dinner with Dr. Yager and other Antarctic researchers including Dr. Tatiana Rynearson, Dr. Bethany Jenkins, and Dr. Brice Loose. Dr. Yager spoke about climate change in Antarctica and specifically about the Amundsen Sea polynya.

A polynya (pol-IN-ya) is an open area of water within sea ice. The Amundsen Sea polynya is an annually reoccurring polynya, which has glacial ice (ice flowing off the continent) on one side and pack ice (sea ice) on the other. In winter, it is kept open by the fierce katabatic winds blowing off the continent of Antarctica, and during warmer months, the polynya increases in size as the pack ice melts.

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Satellite imagery of katabatic winds in the Bellingshausen Sea forming streams of sea ice. (Taken on 10/15/17 by Sentinel-2)

Since a polynya is an open area of water, it is an area of high productivity—meaning it has high levels of phytoplankton growth. Phytoplankton are tiny plants and the base of the marine food chain. During the summer months, when the sun never sets, phytoplankton growth is exponential—resulting in a phytoplankton bloom. The Amundsen Sea polynya is the most productive area around Antarctica, and Dr. Yager said she has never seen such green, thick, soupy water than there.

Among other things, Dr. Yager studies the relationships between iron, nitrates, and phytoplankton growth in environments with increasing ice melt, which has implications for carbon sequestration (storing of carbon, which helps reduce global warming and climate change). Like other plants, phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide–a major greenhouse gas—during photosynthesis, and phytoplankton blooms act as carbon sinks, pulling massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Dr. Yager noted that this area is losing ice—and fast. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its glaciers are melting rapidly. This rapid melting and greater than usual influx of fresh water is causing changes to the ecosystem. Sea ice surrounding the polynya is also decreasing.

You can learn more here.

In ice news:

Waters surrounding Greenland are losing salinity (saltiness) due to the melting of freshwater glaciers diluting the sea water around. In turn, this may affect marine life in these environments (just as is occurring in the Amundsen Sea).

Sea ice in the Arctic is now about 2 million square km below the 1981-2010 median.

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Antarctic sea ice is around 200,000 square km below the 1981-2010 median.

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Upwelling (the flow of warm water toward the surface) is thought to have caused recent ice shelf collapses and glacial thinning.

Environmental groups and officials met in Australia this week to discuss the formation of a new marine sanctuary in Antarctic waters.

New imagery captured on Thursday shows the cracks in the massive B-44 iceberg, which calved from the Pine Island glacier back in September.

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Here’s a cool gif of that breakup in action.

Sea ice moves and flows. Check out this drifting of the massive Weddell polynya.

New Zealand glaciers have lost more than 25% of their ice since 1977.

Check out the Daily Glacier Bot and watch glaciers melting over time.

Our beautiful and essential ice is melting. Meanwhile, NOAA reported this week that so far, 2017 is the second warmest year on record.

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.