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: 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

ANTARCTIC

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.