Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arctic Sea Ice: researchers prepare to monitor 2010 summer levels

We're in June now, so it's time to dig out the sun tan lotion and down parkas, right? What, no? Well, as described by ScienceNews, "While most folks are breaking out their shorts and swimsuits for a summer of play, some researchers are packing warm-weather gear for a much colder trip — to Arctic ice."

This is the time of year when Arctic researchers prepare to monitor and measure the summer sea ice, which has been in steady decline for several decades. Scientists generally agree that
climate change, in the form of increasing temperatures in both the air and water, is slowly depleting the Arctic region of its year-round sheet of sea ice. The sea ice is an undulating mass that grows in the winter and shrinks in the summer, but overall, the sea ice is shrinking. The white ice normally reflects sunlight but with an increase in overall temperatures, the ice melts and exposes more dark sea water, which absorbs heat. This "feedback loop" aggravates and accelerates the problem.

In 2007, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center recorded the lowest level of summer sea ice in recorded history. But on a year-by-year basis trends can sometimes be difficult to detect. In the subsequent 2 years, late summer weather changes produced more sea ice than the record low of 2007. But each year has still been below the mean average and the trend is still moving downward.

According to SEARCH (Study of Environmental Arctic Change), "In fall of 2009, the area of second-year sea ice [ice that has remained from one season to the next] has increased relative to 2007 and 2008. However, the arctic ice pack remains substantially younger, thinner, and more mobile than prior to 2005. The long-term trend in summer sea ice extent is still downward. Furthermore, the rate of refreezing at the end of October is less than in 2007."

As of right now, the sea ice level for May was close to the lowest ever recorded for that time of year. But scientists will be monitoring it closely and if any months experience an extended cold snap, the summer sea ice could put up a fight to stay around.

But the big picture still remains unchanged - a steady decline that is a "canary in the coalmine" indication that climate change is real and has been unusually rapid - more so than can be attributed to a natural cyclical pattern.

Read ScienceNews article.

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