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Category — Arctic Sea Ice

Speed of Arctic changes defies scientists

Alex Kirby

Speed of Arctic changes defies scientists

An iceberg caught in pack ice off Alaska: The Arctic is now in uncharted waters. Image: Rear Admiral Harley D Nygren, NOAA Corps (ret)

The Arctic climate is changing so quickly that science can barely keep track of what is happening and predict the global consequences, the UN says.

In an unusually stark warning a leading international scientific body says the Arctic climate is changing so fast that researchers are struggling to keep up. The changes happening there, it says, are affecting the weather worldwide.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says: Dramatic and unprecedented warming in the Arctic is driving sea level rise, affecting weather patterns around the world and may trigger even more changes in the climate system.

The rate of change is challenging the current scientific capacity to monitor and predict what is becoming a journey into uncharted territory. 

The WMO is the United Nations’ main agency responsible for weather, climate and water.    

Its president, David Grimes, said: The Arctic is a principal, global driver of the climate system and is undergoing an unprecedented rate of change with consequences far beyond its boundaries.

Arctic collaboration

The changes in the Arctic are serving as a global indicator – like a canary in the coal mine – and are happening at a much faster rate than we would have expected. [Read more →]

October 6, 2016   No Comments

Antarctic warming could accelerate sea level rise

Alex Kirby

Rising concern: warming would cause more Antarctic ice to break off and melt. Image: PIK (R.Winkelmann)

Rising concern: warming would cause more Antarctic ice to break off and melt. Image: PIK (R.Winkelmann)

An international study says warming is affecting not only the Arctic but also the Antarctic – and that could significantly raise global sea levels much faster than previously predicted.

The effect of climate change on the world’s two polar regions looks like a stark contrast: the Arctic is warming faster than most of the rest of the Earth, while most of Antarctica appears to remain reassuringly locked in a frigid embrace.

But an international scientific team says the reality is quite different. The Antarctic is warming too, it says, and the southern ice could become the main cause of global sea level rise during this century − far sooner than previously thought.

The study, led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, found that ice discharge from Antarctica could contribute up to 37 centimetres to global sea levels by 2100. [Read more →]

August 20, 2014   No Comments

Human factor speeds up glacial melting

Tim Radford

Glaciers such as Artesonraju in the Peruvian Andes are melting at record rates. Image: Edubucher via Wikimedia Commons

Glaciers such as Artesonraju in the Peruvian Andes are melting at record rates. Image: Edubucher via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists simulating changes in mountain glaciers over the last century and a half have established that rates of melting have increased greatly in recent years – and that humans are the main culprits.

The impact of human activity is melting the glaciers in the world’s mountain regions, and is doing so at an accelerating rate.

Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck’s Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, Austria, reports with colleagues in the journal Science that they used computer models to simulate changes in the world’s slow-flowing frozen rivers between the years 1851 and 2010. The study embraced all the world’s glaciers except those in Antarctica.

This kind of manipulation allows researchers to play with the possibilities and see, for instance, how much changes in the sunlight patterns, high-level atmospheric changes because of volcanic eruptions, or simply slow cycles of natural weather patterns might be at work in the ice record.

The answers were unequivocal about human impact on the environment. “In our data, we find unambiguous evidence of anthropogenic contribution to glacier mass loss,” Dr Marzeion says. [Read more →]

August 20, 2014   No Comments

Arctic warming blamed for dangerous heat waves

Paul Brown

Feeling the heat: a wildfire rages in New Mexico during the 2012 heat wave. Image: Kari Greer/USFS Gila National Forest via Wikimedia Commons

Feeling the heat: a wildfire rages in New Mexico during the 2012 heat wave. Image: Kari Greer/USFS Gila National Forest via Wikimedia Commons

Giant waves in the jet stream that often governs our weather are changing as the Arctic warms more rapidly − leading to long periods of soaring temperatures that pose major threats to economies and human health.

Few people have heard of Rossby waves and even less understand them, but if you are sweltering in an uncomfortably long heat wave, then they could be to blame.

New discoveries about what is going on in the atmosphere are helping to explain why heat waves are lasting longer and causing serious damage to humans and the natural world. These events have doubled in frequency this century, and the cause is believed to be the warming of the Arctic.

The weather at the Earth’s surface is often governed by high winds in the atmosphere, known as jet streams. In 1939, Carl-Gustaf Arvid Rossby, a Swedish-born America meteorologist, discovered waves in the northern jet stream that were associated with the high and low pressure systems at ground level that form daily weather patterns.

Jet streams travel at up to 200 kilometres an hour, frequently wandering north and south − with cold Arctic air to the north, and warmer air to the south. [Read more →]

August 20, 2014   No Comments

Norway fails to tap new Arctic oil and gas

Alex Kirby

Melkoya

Melkøya gas plant, 110km south of Statoil’s latest Arctic drilling site. Image: Joakim Aleksander Mathisen via Wikimedia Commons

The Norwegian company conducting some of the most northerly drilling operations in the world admits that it has failed so far to find commercially exploitable hydrocarbon reserves in the high Arctic.

Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned company, has announced that it has failed to find commercial quantities of oil and gas in the Barents Sea this year.

The Arctic remains one of the oil industry’s most promising exploration areas. The US Geological Survey says a large part of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon resources − perhaps as much as a quarter of its reserves − is thought to lie in the high northern latitudes of Russia, Norway, Greenland, the US and Canada.

Statoil hoped to find oil in the three test wells it drilled this summer in the high northern Arctic, having made finds in the area in 2011 and 2012. [Read more →]

August 13, 2014   No Comments

Data adds to confusion over polar sea ice

Tim Radford

Antarctic_mountains_pack_ice_and_ice_floes-e1406301596313

The expansion of Antarctic sea ice may have been overestimated. Image: Jason Auch via Wikimedia Commons

Possible errors in the interpretation of satellite data may help to explain scientists’ puzzlement over indications that sea ice cover is apparently increasing in the Antarctic, but is shrinking visibly in the Arctic.

Scientists believe they may have found explanations for two inconsistencies in their understanding of global warming.

One cause for head scratching is in the Antarctic, where the sea ice seems to be getting bigger when it ought to be shrinking, and another has been the apparent slowdown overall in the rate of global warming for the last decade.

Climate scientists around the world have been picking away at both puzzles, and not just because climate sceptics and energy industry lobbyists use them as ammunition to argue that global warming is not a problem at all. Scientists are naturally unhappy when data doesn’t match their predictions − and they want to know the reason why.

The Antarctic problem is hard to miss. The Arctic Ocean sea ice is shrinking visibly, and the entire sea could be ice-free most summers in a few decades. But even though there is clear evidence from separate sources that West Antarctica is responding to climate change, the southern hemisphere ice cover, overall, has been increasing. [Read more →]

July 29, 2014   No Comments

Hi-tech quest for Arctic sea ice answers

Tim Radford

Pacific_walrus_surfacing_through_ice_on_the_Alaska_coast

Breakthrough: walrus surfacing in sea ice off the coast of Alaska. Image: Joel Garlich Miller/USFWS via Wikimedia Commons

A sophisticated array of automatic sensors will allow scientists to conduct the longest ever monitoring programme to determine the precise physics of summer sea ice melt in the Arctic.

An international team of scientists plan to spend months watching ice melt. But although it will take longer and cost a lot more than watching paint dry, it will be much more interesting and rewarding.

They plan to discover just how the Arctic ice retreats, the rate at which it melts, and the oceanographic processes at work.

The Arctic ice cap is a vital part of the climate machine, and the basis of an important ecosystem. But although the polar ice once stretched far further south, it has been both thinning and shrinking for more than three decades. This melting shows signs of accelerating, with consequences for nations far to the south, but researchers still don’t know much about the physics of the process. [Read more →]

July 20, 2014   No Comments

Whalers tale sheds new light on Arctic ice

Tim Radford

northern_whale_fishery-e1404479219312

Oil painting by John Wood (1798-1849) of British whalers circa 1840. Image: Lee and Juliet Fulger Fund via Wikimedia Commons

Vital data on the Arctic ice sheet before extensive fossil fuel use began to impact on climate has been gleaned from a new study analysing the log books of British whaling ships’ journeys more than 200 years ago.

British whaling ships from Tyneside in the north-east of England made 458 trips to the edge of the Arctic ice between 1750 and 1850. Their log books contained detailed records of perilous journeys, whales caught, and the tons of blubber and barrels of oil they brought home.

For Matthew Ayre, a PhD student at the University of Sunderland, UK, and Dennis Wheeler, the university’s Emeritus Professor of Climatology, these log books and other records by merchant ships and Arctic explorers such as Sir John Franklin − who tried in 1845 to navigate the icy North-West Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific − represent an extraordinary resource.

They give an account of the southern edge of the ice sheet, the prevailing weather, the spring and summer extremes, the storms, and the condition of the Arctic ice shelf. [Read more →]

July 5, 2014   No Comments