July 22nd, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
'Ponds on the Ocean' photograph by Kathryn Hansen, via NASA Goddard on Flickr, under Creative Commons
This photo was created by Kathryn Hanson, currently on the ICESCAPE mission, gathering scientific data on the impacts of climate change.
From the caption by Mike Carlowicz -
If you have never been north of the Arctic Circle, it is easy to imagine that the “ice cap” at the top of the world is a uniform sheet of white. The reality, particularly during the spring and summer melt, is a mottled landscape of white, teal, slate gray, green, and navy.
The sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean can—as shown in this photograph from July 12, 2011—look more like swiss cheese or a bright coastal wetland. As ice melts, the liquid water collects in depressions on the surface and deepens them, forming melt ponds. These fresh water ponds are separated from the salty sea below and around it, until breaks in the ice merge the two.
Researchers on the NASA-funded ICESCAPE mission—Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment—have been examining melt ponds, the ice around them, and the waters below for three weeks, with three more to go. Carried by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a team of oceanographers, marine biologists, and glaciologists are investigating how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean’s chemical and biological makeup.
The science team collects water samples to examine water chemistry and to observe the colonies of plankton growing in the water and on the surfaces of the ice. Other instruments are used to assess how much and how far sunlight is penetrating into—and warming—the Arctic Ocean. Still others are measuring the current systems that move water from the depths to the surface, as well as horizontally across the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
Impacts of Climate change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) is a multi-year NASA shipborne project. The bulk of the research will take place in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea’s in the summers of 2010 and 2011.
From the project home page -
The Arctic sea ice cover is in decline. The retreat of the summer ice cover, a general thinning, and a transition to a younger, a more vulnerable ice pack have been well documented. Melt seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer. These changes can profoundly impact the physical, biological, and geochemical state of the Arctic Ocean region. Climate models project that changes in the ice cover may accelerate in the future, with a possible transition to ice free summers later this century. These changes are quite pronounced in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea and have consequences for the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, potentially affecting everything from sea ice algae to polar bears.
The central science question of this program is, “What is the impact of climate change (natural and anthropogenic) on the biogeochemistry and ecology of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas?” While both of these regions are experiencing significant changes in the ice cover, their biogeochemical response will likely be quite different due to their distinct physical, chemical, and biological differences.
May 22nd, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
We’ve talked here before about scientists working closely with indigenous people to gain a fuller understanding of how weather patterns are changing. Who better to notice even the smallest shift in weather events than people who’ve inhabited a place for many generations; carefully preserving such knowledge? Unfortunately, climate change is occurring, and it’s those same people who are at the forefront to be affected.
This story from The Globe and Mail highlights how the combination of local knowledge and scientific research can help solidify a theory. In September of 1999, Inuvialuit people living in the Mackenzie Delta of the Northwest Territories were astounded by an extremely violent Arctic Ocean storm which headed inland 20 kilometers, destroying crops and mingling salt water with fresh. The elders claimed that no such event had ever occurred before in their people’s history.
Events of these kinds can be considered possible ‘harbingers’ of what’s to come in the future, as sea levels rise, weather patterns change, and the ice melts.
May 13th, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
- Significant trends toward earlier phytoplankton blooms (blue) were detected in about 11 percent of the area of the Arctic Ocean closest to the North Pole, delayed blooms (red) were evident to the south. Graphic via. Scripps Website
Researchers at Scripps Oceanography are publishing their discovery that arctic plankton ‘blooms’ are occurring much earlier in the spring, theoretically due to climate change. This shift could cause shifts in the food-chain as well as in carbon cycles of the region. These plankton blooms create micro-organisms, which in turn photosynthesize, converting carbon dioxide to organic matter as part of a global cycle. The blooms also create microscopic zooplankton, a supply of food for fish.
The earlier Arctic blooms have roughly occurred in areas where ice concentrations have dwindled and created gaps that make early blooms possible, say the researchers, who publish their findings in the March 9 edition of the journal Global Change Biology.
During the one- to two-week spring bloom, which occurs in warm as well as cold regions, a major influx of new organic carbon enters the marine ecosystem through a massive peak in phytoplankton photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide into organic matter as part of the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton blooms stimulate production of zooplankton, microscopic marine animals, which become a food source for fish.
Mati Kahru, lead author of the study and a research oceanographer in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps, said it’s not clear if the consumers of phytoplankton are able to match the earlier blooms and avoid disruptions of their critical life-cycle stages such as egg hatching and larvae development.
“The trend towards earlier phytoplankton blooms can expand into other areas of the Arctic Ocean and impact the whole food chain,” say the authors, who used satellite data from 1997-2010 to create their bloom maps.
April 8th, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
Scientists are keeping a close eye on a large build up of fresh water in the Arctic area which may spill into the Atlantic Ocean and possibly change current ocean currents.
The Washington Examiner reports -
oceanographers said Tuesday the unusual accumulation has been caused by Siberian and Canadian rivers dumping more water into the Arctic and from melting sea ice. Both are consequences of global warming.
If it flushes into the Atlantic, the infusion of fresh water could, in the worst case, change the ocean current that brings warmth from the tropics to European shores, said Laura De Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
German researcher Benjamin Rabe, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the Arctic’s fresh water content had increased 20 percent since the 1990s — about 8,400 cubic kilometers. That is the equivalent of all the water in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron together or double the volume of water in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake.
Increased runoff from the great northern rivers “could potentially impact the large scale ocean circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. This is important for us in Western Europe because our climate is pretty much dictated by the Thermohaline ocean circulation,” said De Steur.
The Thermohaline current loops like a conveyer belt from the tropics to the North Atlantic, driven by the differences in salt content and wind patterns. Warm water from the south gains in salinity and grows heavier as it cools. At its northern end, the current is further chilled by cold air and sinks, warming again and rising as it travels south.
Important to note on this story that no findings are conclusive as of yet, but it’s an interesting situation and a direct result of global warming.
March 16th, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Arctic History, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY
The SnoMote Rob Felt/Georgia Institute of Technology
These little robots are useful – and cute! Called ‘SnoMotes’, these tiny, remote-controlled snowmobiles were developed to help scientists gather climate change data in areas too dangerous or fragile for human exploration.
Designed to work as a team, the robots can monitor specific target areas, and are fitted with sensors as well as cameras to help navigate terrain – while sending back important data to scientists at a home base.
Popsci.com reports -
The current version of the SnoMote, built by Georgia Tech engineer Ayanna Howard (who previously worked on NASA’s autonomous Mars rovers), was field tested last month on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. If you’re thinking the SnoMote looks suspiciously like a toy—well, it is. The three prototypes, each just two feet long, were engineered from off-the-shelf remote control snowmobile kits and souped up with advanced electronics and monitoring equipment. Despite their humble origins, they withstood the harsh Alaskan conditions just fine. The final version of the SnoMote is expected to be twice as large and include a heater to keep the circuits from icing up. The idea is to deploy a fleet of 30 or 40 SnoMotes in the Arctic or Antarctica to give researchers comprehensive real-time data concerning climate change. They’re designed to be cheap enough that an accident or two won’t bust the budget.
SnoMotes are currently being tested in the field, with one researcher starting a blog to report in on some of their results – Snowmote.blogspot.com.
Eurekalert shares more information on the development of the SnoMote -
Ayanna Howard, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, with a SnoMote. Photo by Rob Felt/Georgia Institute of Technology
“In order to say with certainty how climate change affects the world’s ice, scientists need accurate data points to validate their climate models,” said Ayanna Howard, lead on the project and an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. “Our goal was to create rovers that could gather more accurate data to help scientists create better climate models. It’s definitely science-driven robotics.”
Howard, who previously worked with rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is working with Magnus Egerstedt, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Derrick Lampkin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Penn State who studies ice sheets and how changes in climate contribute to changes in these large ice masses. Lampkin currently takes ice sheet measurements with satellite data and ground-based weather stations, but would prefer to use the more accurate data possible with the simultaneous ground measurements that efficient rovers can provide.
October 11th, 2010 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
Via Gizmodo, it’s rough being an arctic scientist. Research generally takes the form of deep sea exploration, crunching data from satellites, or drilling core samples deep into a glacier. This kind of work does have its plus side, Gizmodo links to this interview with scientist Dr. Paul Mayewski, Director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine as he discusses the logistics of core drilling, the science behind analyzing the samples, and of course, what the water tastes like.
I ran a program in Greenland that recovered what was probably the deepest core that will ever be recovered in the Northern Hemisphere, from the center of Greenland. It took us three summers of reconnaissance to find the site — just traversing across Greenland a few times, on the snow — and then it took five summers, each three to four months long, to actually drill down a little more than 10,000 ft. That was a major effort, but it had a big reward. We discovered what are called “Abrupt Climate Change Events” — the fact that the climate system can go through dramatic shifts in less than a year or two, and then stay in new states for several hundred years as a consequence.
While there’s no scientific value in drinking the water (once it’s been fully tested, of course), it’d be hard to resist the urge to take a sip. According to Mayewski -
It tastes about as clean as anything can taste. It doesn’t have a lot of anything in it. When you’ve pulled water out of a stream flowing from a glacier it would probably have a lot of nutrients and particles floating in it, because it comes from the base of the glacier. But if you’re sampling high up in the glacier, as we are, you’re only getting what the atmosphere has deposited over a very short period of time — maybe a couple of days or weeks. So it tastes very, very clean.
September 17th, 2010 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
Multiple sources chime in on the current state of Arctic ice, according to CNN, this is the third-lowest level reported, trailing 2007 and 2008. The National Ice and Snow Data Center reports -
On September 10, 2010 sea ice extent dropped to 4.76 million square kilometers (1.84 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year; sea ice has now begun its annual cycle of growth.
In direct comparison with years past, they have this to say,
At the 2010 seasonal minimum, ice remained fairly extensive in the East Siberian Sea, compared to 2007, when this area was ice free. 2010 ended up having less ice than 2007 in the Beaufort Sea and in the East Greenland Sea. Both the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route (along the shores of Eurasia) were open at the 2010 sea ice minimum, whereas in 2007, ice blocked part of the Northern Sea Route.
Between this, and the news earlier this week about Georgy Brusilov’s expedition, I was curious to see what exactly the Northwest Sea Route would look like right about now, before winter sets in and the ice re-forms.
Northern Sea Route (blue) and alternative route through Suez Canal (red)
September 16th, 2010 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, Global Warming, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
A Snapshot of Sea Ice, via NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 3, 2010
This image, credited to Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, shows a snapshot of the Arctic Ice as of Sept 3 of this year.
Check out their video of last year -
Researchers will undoubtedly reference data of this kind while continuing to broaden our understanding of climate change.
In fall 2009, Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent on about Sept. 12, and was the third lowest since satellite microwave measurements were first made in 1979. Researchers are interested in year-to-year changes, which can be highly variable, so that scientists need many years, even decades, of data to examine long-term trends. Notably, all of the major minimums have occurred in the last decade, consistent with other NASA research, which shows January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record.