National Snow and Ice Data Center
National Snow and Ice Data Center
News Article | May 11, 2017
Glaciers around the world are disappearing before our eyes, and the implications for people are wide-ranging and troubling, Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, concludes in a Perspectives piece in the journal Science today. The melting of glacial ice contributes to sea-level rise, which threatens to "displace millions of people within the lifetime of many of today's children," Moon writes. Glaciers also serve up fresh water to communities around the world, are integral to the planet's weather and climate systems, and they are "unique landscapes for contemplation or exploration." And they're shrinking, fast, writes Moon, who returned to the National Snow and Ice Data Center this month after two years away. Her analysis, "Saying goodbye to glaciers," is published in the May 12 issue of Science. Moon admits she was pretty giddy when an editor at Science reached out to her to write a perspective piece on the state of the world's glaciers, because of her research knowledge and extensive publication record. "There was some serious jumping up and down," Moon says. "I thought, 'I've made it!' Their invitation was an exciting recognition of my hard work and expertise." But the topic, itself, is far from a happy one. Moon describes the many ways researchers study glacier dynamics, from in-place measurements on the ice to satellite-based monitoring campaigns to models. And she describes sobering trends: The projection that Switzerland will lose more than half of its small glaciers in the next 25 years; the substantial retreat of glaciers from the Antarctic, Patagonia, the Himalayas, Greenland and the Arctic; the disappearance of iconic glaciers in Glacier National Park, Montana, or reduction to chunks of ice that no longer move (by definition, a glacier must be massive enough to move). In her piece, Moon calls for continued diligence by the scientific community, where ice research is already becoming a priority. Moon says she got hooked on glaciers as an undergraduate in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, when she spent a semester abroad in Nepal. "For the first time I saw a big valley glacier, flowing through the Himalaya," she said, "and I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. After studying geology, the movement and sound of the ice, right now, made it feel almost alive.'" That experience kicked off a research career that has taken Moon to Greenland, Alaska, Norway, and to conferences around the world. She began her work "merely" as a geologist and glaciologist, interested in ice itself, Moon said. Only later did the influence of climate change come to play in her work. "I think I'm about as young as you can get for being a person who started in glaciology at a time when climate change was not a primary part of the conversation," says Moon, who is 35. She is consistently sought out by journalists hoping to understand Earth's ice, and she's sought out in the scientific community as well, recognized as someone who likes to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries. She recently worked with a biologist in Washington, for example, on a paper about how narwhals use glacial fronts in summertime--the tusked marine mammals appear to be attracted to glaciers with thick ice fronts and freshwater melt that's low in silt, though it's not yet clear why. After a couple of post-doctoral research years, at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and then the University of Oregon, Moon and her husband headed to Bristol, England, where she took a faculty position at the University of Bristol's School of Geographical Sciences. When it became clear that her husband's work wouldn't transfer, the two determined to head back to the Rocky Mountains. Moon started back as a researcher at CU Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of CIRES, May 1. Twila Moon, CIRES scientist in the National Snow and Ice Data Center, 406-579-3088
News Article | April 19, 2017
Steve Desch is a professor of astrophysics at the School of Earth & Space Exploration at Arizona State University who's come up with a novel plan to rescue the rapidly melting Arctic. He and a team of university colleagues want to replenish the region's shrinking sea ice by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice, where it would freeze, thickening the cap. According to Desch, this is an urgent climate-change issue facing the planet. In a research article in the journal Earth's Future called "Arctic Ice Management," he described it in alarming terms. "As the Earth's climate has changed, Arctic sea ice extent has decreased drastically," he wrote. "It is likely that the late-summer Arctic will be ice-free as soon as the 2030s." Already, the region's warming trend is breaking records. Last November, when sea ice should have begun thickening and spreading over the Arctic as winter set in, the region warmed up. Temperatures should have plummeted to -25 degrees C but reached several degrees above freezing instead. This warming is unprecedented, according to researchers. Even in January the Arctic sea ice was the lowest in 38 years since satellites began surveying the region, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. More from CNBC Disruptor 50: A huge marijuana cash handout headed to IRS on Tax Day Tech tools that can help you land the perfect job Why Google is partnering with these start-ups to close America's skills gap This is a situation that threatens the planet's sustainable future. The loss of the Arctic's summer sea ice cover disrupts life in the region, endangering many of its species. It would also trigger further warming of the planet by removing ice that reflects solar radiation back into space, disrupt weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere and melt permafrost, thus releasing more carbon gases into the atmosphere. He said that it's likely already too late to reverse the situation by decreasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, and simply telling people not to use fossil fuels isn't enough. This being the case, his article proposes restoring the region's sea ice artificially, by using wind power to pump water to the surface during the winter, where it will freeze more rapidly. Right now it's only a proposal. But the research article was featured in such news outlets as The Guardian and CNN no doubt thanks in part to its eye-popping estimated price tag of $500 billion. That may sound like a lot, but Desch said the time has come to start thinking big.
News Article | May 5, 2017
The Arctic sea ice death spiral continues at pace, with April 2017 tying April 2016 for lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever (for an April). To be more specific, every day of April 2017 either set a new record low for Arctic sea ice extent or came within 36,000 square miles of doing so. In other words, it’s looking increasingly likely that 2017 will see a new record-low sea ice extent set in the Arctic later this summer. Temperatures in the region are also up considerably. “Temperatures averaged up to 14° Fahrenheit above normal in part of the Arctic last month, fueling the melt season. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said the rate of ice loss was about average,” Climate Central notes. “But after hitting a record low maximum in March, there’s simply less sea ice to melt. That means even in an average month, records are more likely to be set. One of the biggest issues for sea ice is its increasingly youthful appearance. Young ice is more susceptible to the vagaries of weather, whether it be warm air or water or storms that knock it around and break it up. “Ice older than 5 years in age now only comprises 5% of the Arctic’s ice pack. It accounted for 30% of all Arctic sea ice in 1984, but relentless warmth driven by rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has slowly squeezed it out of existence. Young ice has sprung up in its place and now accounts for nearly 70% of all Arctic ice, up from just 35% just 3 decades ago.” In the press announcement from the NSIDC that revealed the state of Arctic sea ice extent was this line (that’s particularly worth reposting): “The group noted that the ice was unusually broken up and reduced to rubble, with few large multi-year floes, forcing the pilots to land on refrozen leads that at times were only 70 centimeters (28 inches) thick. Pilots remarked that they had never seen the ice look like this.” We’ll keep you posted as the Arctic melt season gets further underway. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter. James Ayre 's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.
News Article | March 23, 2017
Signaling the intensity of global warming, the Arctic sea ice levels have come down to a record low of 5.57 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. That is less than 35,000 square miles compared with the level in 2015. In 2016, the situation was a tad better than 2015 as the ice levels were locked in a tie. The sea ice expanse for years 2015 and 2016 was 14.5 million square kilometers with the average ice level standing at 15.6 million square km in the almost three-decade data from 1981 to 2010. According to NSIDC, on March 7, the Arctic sea ice level reached the optimum area, recording the lowest ever sea ice level in the 38-year history of satellite record-keeping. Concerns are high that the diminished sea ice will put the Arctic into a "deep hole" as the region may go ice-free when spring and summer melt season starts. "It's a key part of the Earth's climate system and we're losing it," said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC. He recalled his experience of tracking Arctic weather for 35 years and said there has been no such precedent as in the last two winters. Unusually warmer temperatures have been gracing the Arctic in the winters, causing a drastic melting of ice. The temperature at the North Pole in the Christmas week was abnormally high, with a 50 degrees Fahrenheit record in an unusual trend. The sea ice levels in the Arctic are strategically linked to the ecosystem and the life of creatures like planktons and polar bears. There are studies which have attributed the sea ice decline to natural changes but predominantly, the ice erosion is linked to climate change and the sharp buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also declared that winter temperatures in 2017 have been the highest since 1900. The data suggests a spurt of 2 degrees of temperature compared with the 1981 to 2010 average and by 3.5 degrees more than 1900. The same has been the case with the ocean off Greenland that recorded temperatures 5 degrees more than the average of 30 years. Institutions like the European Space Agency and the Washington University have also observed the sporadic thinning of ice and shrinking of sea ice levels. "Such thin ice going into the melt season sets us up for the possibility of record low sea ice conditions this September," noted Julienne Stroeve, a professor at London's University College. In September, as the melting season ends, sea ice will become the lowest. The fall in sea ice level started breaking records in 2005 with the lowest data recurring in 2007 and five years later in 2012. In Antarctica, the sea ice depletion also reached its lowest point of the year in March. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | March 18, 2017
The world's temperature sweltered last month. It was the second warmest February of all Februaries in almost 140 years, according to data released this week. Data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies revealed that the global temperature in February was 1.1 degrees Celsius above average. Last year's February recorded a temperature of 1.32 degrees Celsius, which was a breakaway from the average records in 137 years. The Japan Meteorological Agency has also recorded that last month was the second warmest since 1891. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also disclosed that February 2017 ranked second to last year's February trailing behind by a couple tenths of a degree in its set of data. The temperature anomaly was not so significant locally, but it has a tremendous impact in global scale where measurements were calibrated in terms of hundredths and tenths of degrees. The measurement of Earth's average temperature was done over land and sea. The latest data, however, is not surprising after the last three years had recorded warmer global temperatures. The years 2014, 2015, and 2016 had seen warm global temperature records, NASA said. The dataset from NASA covering the period of 1,629 months which dates back to 1880 showed that no single month before October 2015 had a temperature irregularity of 1 degree Celsius. There were eight months since October 2015 where an irregularity of warm temperatures was recorded. Seven of these eight months happened in succession from October 2015 to April 2016. The unusually warm February was experienced in central and eastern parts of Asia, Canada's central and southern regions, and in 16 states of the central and eastern parts of the United States. The central and eastern part of Russia had also its warmest temperature last month. It was also felt in Mexico and the polar region in the north. Sea ice in the Arctic had melted to around 455,600 square miles, which was lesser by 15,400 square miles compared to last year's record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The cooler than average temperatures were also recorded in some places, the NASA/GISS records revealed. These are the regions near the Pacific Ocean at the equator, Canada's southwest, the Baffin Island and the Baffin Bay, the Middle East, northeast Africa, and the western part of Australia. While it was the second warmest February worldwide, in these areas, February 2017 marked 379 months of colder-than-average month since July 1985. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 14, 2017
Sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to the smallest annual extent on record after years of resisting a trend of manmade global warming, preliminary US satellite data has shown. Ice floating around the frozen continent usually melts to its smallest for the year towards the end of February, the southern hemisphere summer, before expanding again as the autumn chill sets in. This year, sea ice extent contracted to 883,015 sq miles (2.28m sq km) on 13 February, according to daily data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). That extent is a fraction smaller than a previous low of 884,173 sq miles recorded on 27 February 1997 in satellite records dating back to 1979. Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC, said he would wait for a few days’ more measurements to confirm the record low. “But, unless something funny happens, we’re looking at a record minimum in Antarctica,” he told Reuters. “Some people say it’s already happened. We tend to be conservative by looking at five-day running averages.” In many recent years, the average extent of sea ice around Antarctica has tended to expand despite the overall trend of global warming, blamed on a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuels. People sceptical of mainstream findings by climate scientists have often pointed to Antarctic sea ice as evidence against global warming. Some climate scientists have linked the paradoxical expansion to shifts in winds and ocean currents. “We’ve always thought of the Antarctic as the sleeping elephant starting to stir,” Serreze said. “Well, maybe it’s starting to stir now.” World average temperatures climbed to a record high in 2016 for the third year in a row. Climate scientists say warming is causing more extreme days of heat, downpours and is nudging up global sea levels. At the other end of the planet, ice covering the Arctic Ocean has been at repeated lows in recent years. In the northern winter, sea ice expands and is at its smallest extent for mid-February, at 5.38m sq miles.
News Article | February 15, 2017
"Sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to the smallest annual extent on record after years of resisting a trend of man-made global warming, preliminary U.S. satellite data showed on Tuesday. Ice floating around the frozen continent usually melts to its smallest for the year around the end of February, the southern hemisphere summer, before expanding again as the autumn chill sets in. This year, sea ice extent contracted to 2.287 million square kilometers (883,015 square miles) on Feb. 13, according to daily data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)."
News Article | February 24, 2017
Obstacles to determine how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snow have yet to be conquered. No single instrument, even the space-based, had ever come close to hurdle it. Against this backdrop, NASA's SnowEx has joined the fray with a goal — to find the best snow-measuring techniques. "This is the most comprehensive campaign we have ever done on snow," declared Edward Kim, a remote sensing scientist at NASA Goddard and the SnowEx project scientist. Seventy percent of the world's surface is covered by water of which only 2.5 percent of this is fresh water. Of the available fresh water, more than two-thirds are locked in glaciers. In addition, about 20 percent of the Earth's land surface is covered by snow land, which also has water locked in it. This has far-reaching consequences on a society where more than a billion people depend largely on snow for their fresh water, Kim said. The water locked in the world's mountain snow has other consequences for people, such as devastating floods, drought, and instability when its supply is scarce. It is said some 663 million people worldwide have no access to drinking water. Snow packs that melt, for instance, provided a major supply to the annual streamflow in the western United States when spring and summer arrive. Yet there is no information available, at present, how much water will pour out from melting snow owing to inadequate ground measurement sites. This situation has led to the birth of SnowEx. Scientists and resource managers wanted to have a comprehensive view from space the amount of water contained in the snow-covered land that will eventually melt into streams, rivers, and reservoirs. The snow-covered mountains of Colorado were combed by aircraft with sensors as researchers have completed the first flights of the SnowEx campaign this month. The NASA-led experiment uses five aircraft with 10 sensors with a goal to find the right combination to develop instruments and techniques which could be used in a snow-observing space mission in the future. "We will also figure out a better way to optimize the use of existing satellites to make measurements," Jared Entin of the Terrestrial Hydrology Program at NASA said. Multiple sensors are needed to address the difficulty in measuring water content in snow including those under the canopies. "We will work closely with our ground team to try new techniques to see if we can figure out how to do that accurately," said Charles Gatebe from NASA Goddard, SnowEx deputy project scientist and senior scientist with Universities Space Research Association. The Terrestrial Hydrology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. sponsored SnowEx while NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland managed the multi-year campaign. Storage of data generated from the campaign will be at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado and will be accessible to all. The campaign is expected to "generate the best ideas from the global community of snow experts," Kim said. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | January 19, 2017
Scientists have reported that 2016 is the hottest year on Earth since record keeping started in 1880 — and it is the third year in a row to set a new record for average global temperatures. The average temperatures last year were the highest recorded since over 130 years ago: 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average according to NASA, and 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the same period’s average according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These recorded temperatures “continue a long-term warming trend,” scientists from NASA said in a statement. Across Earth too, there was not a single land area that enjoyed lower-than-average temperatures last year, warned NOAA. The year 2016, in fact, marked the third consecutive warmest year on record globally, with the months from January to August emerging as the warmest on record. "This was the third year in a row in our analysis to set a new record. That happened only once before in our record, and that was in the years 1939 through 1941, which now don't even fit in the top 30 [warmest years] of the record,” explained Deke Arndt, global monitoring chief at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, at a press briefing. The poles felt the brunt of this warming trend, with the estimated average yearly sea-ice extent last year in the Arctic appearing to be the lowest annual average on data. It was 3.92 million square miles, the National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed. The Arctic was nearly 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter last year than in preindustrial period, a “very large change” according to Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt. The El Niño phenomenon, a climate cycle marked by abnormally warm temperatures in the Pacific, raged through 2015 and 2016 and contributed to the record temperatures. Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and result in corresponding global wind and weather pattern variations. However, 90 percent of the warming was because of human activity, primarily via greenhouse gas emissions, Schmidt said further. The scientists used global climate models to probe how various factors such as solar changes, volcanic impacts, changes in Earth’s orbit, and man-made effects such as greenhouse gases played a part in climate change. They analyzed not just surface air temperatures but also the data from the upper atmosphere, stratosphere, and deep ocean. What they discovered: the natural factors’ contribution to the record heat is so close to zero, with the long-term trend being seen today surfacing as the consequence of human activity. It’s dominantly the climb in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, Schmidt added. Tech Times previously reported that in the United States, 2016 ranked second warmest in records dating back 1895, with every single state and city in the Lower 48 states getting warmer than usual last year. Average temperature in the country last year was 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which was nearly 3 degrees higher than long-term average. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 16, 2017
Amidst soaring concerns over the rising temperatures at unheard levels in the range of 20°C plus (36°F) at the North Pole, the Arctic area is hogging greater scientific attention with many plans floating on how to stem the erosion of sea ice. The latest contingency plan seeks to 'refreeze' the Arctic by installing 10 million wind-powered pumps that will spray sea water to the surface of the sea ice for replenishing and reinforcing thickness during winter. "Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly," said Steven Desch who is the lead researcher and Arizona State University physicist. Calling for proactive action to restore ice than preaching restraint to stop emission, the scientist noted that by merely telling people not to burn fossil fuels will not work. "Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels," added Desch. The project has been published in Earth's Future. The cost of adding 10 million pumps has been worked out to be $500 billion. The scientists argue that the current loss of ice is twice the rate predicted a few years ago and the 2015 Paris climate agreement is inadequate in checking the region's sea ice from total vanishing by 2030. According to environmentalists, if Arctic sea ice cover is lost completely, then the consequences would be far-reaching and may affect many species — including Arctic cod and polar bears — and finish its rare habitat. The removal of ice will also take away the buffer that deflects solar radiation and hasten the melting of permafrost and push many greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Other projects to stem sea-ice loss include whitening of Arctic by spraying light-colored aerosol particles to reflect solar radiation and pumping of seawater into the atmosphere to make clouds reflect sunlight away from the surface. Despite the costly nature of these imaginative projects, the fact that they are being considered shows the level of anxiety prevailing among scientists on the Arctic's ice loss. "The situation is causing grave concern," said Professor Julienne Stroeve from the University College London. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, the coverage of Arctic's sea ice in January at 13.38 million square km has been the lowest ever in four decades after the satellite tracking of the polar region started. Scientists are expecting the complete loss of sea ice in Arctic by 2030 if the current rate of emission persists. Meanwhile, Arctic pollution is also hogging the limelight. A team of researchers from Germany wrote in Deep Sea Research about the scale of polar pollution. In the paper, Mine K. Tekman of the Alfred Wegener Institute expressed surprise at the bulging garbage washed up in the Arctic despite its far-flung location. Their study tracked garbage growth from 2002 to 2014, especially the menace of growth in small plastic waste. The team watched litter at two stations between Greenland and Svalbard under the AWI deep-sea observatory network and noticed how receding Arctic sea has been augmenting the influx of tourism and shipping into the area. After imaging 2,500 meters of depth, the team observed that 3,485 pieces of litter per square kilometer had grown to 6,333 by 2014. The report noted the "current waste management frameworks are inadequate" in handling the problem of marine litter pollution. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.