Arctic ice gets a check up

Mar 31, 2011 by Kathryn Hansen

Scientists tracking the annual maximum extent of Arctic sea ice said that 2011 was among the lowest ice extents measured since satellites began collecting the data in 1979. Using satellites to track Arctic ice and comparing it with data from previous years is one way that scientists track change in the Arctic system.

"For the first 20 years of the satellite record, the average annual maximum was basically uniform," said Joey Comiso of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who studies the sea ice data collected by the AMSR-E microwave sensor on NASA's Aqua satellite. "Then, we see an abrupt decline."

For a closer look at polar ice, NASA scientists are in the field for the most recent leg of Operation IceBridge, an unprecedented airborne science mission to study the Earth's polar regions. On March 29, IceBridge took off for its ninth science flight since the campaign's first flight on March 16.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Arctic Sea Ice Animation: September 2010 to March 2011 Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

Over the next eight weeks, researchers will continue to fly over the Arctic aboard an airborne science laboratory, tracking changes to sea ice and land ice, and even collecting some measurements not yet possible from space.

Satellites and aircraft work together to document the state of the Arctic, and changes through time. For example, new research led by Nathan Kurtz, a polar scientist at Goddard, shows that large losses of sea ice in the Arctic were observed by NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) from 2003-2008.

The losses reduce the ability of the sea ice cover to insulate the atmosphere from the ocean, which increases the amount of heat transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere. That transfer, in turn, may be contributing to warming in the Arctic, according to the research, now in press with Journal of Geophysical Research, Oceans.

"With IceBridge, we will continue monitoring the loss of sea ice in the Arctic which will not only help us determine the health of the sea ice cover, but whether the impact of losses are further impacting warming in the Arctic region," Kurtz said.

Explore further: Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

More information: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Remarkable' Drop in Arctic Sea Ice Raises Questions

Sep 26, 2007

Melting Arctic sea ice has shrunk to a 29-year low, significantly below the minimum set in 2005, according to preliminary figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the University of Colorado ...

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

3 hours ago

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...