NASA satellite sees ghostly remains of vanishing Arctic Sea ice

October 29, 2012 by Jason Major, Universe Today
Sea ice swirls in ocean currents off the coast of Greenland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA/GSFC

Spooky spectral swirls of last season's sea ice drift in currents off the coast of eastern Greenland in this image from NASA's Aqua satellite, acquired on October 17. Although sea ice in the Arctic will start forming again after September's record low measurements, these ghostly wisps are likely made up of already-existing ice that has migrated south.

As rise—both over land and in the ocean—thinner sea ice builds up during the Arctic winter and thus more of it melts during the summer, a pattern that will eventually lead to an ice-free Arctic if trends continue. The past several years saw sea ice in the Arctic below the 1979-2000 average, with this past September displaying the lowest volumes yet recorded.

The graph below, made from data modeled by the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington, show the chilling—or, perhaps, not-so-chilling—results of this century's recent observations.

Along Greenland's east coast, the Fram Strait serves as an expressway for sea ice moving out of the Arctic Ocean. The movement of ice through the strait used to be offset by the growth of ice in the Beaufort Gyre.

Until the late 1990s, ice would persist in the gyre for years, growing thicker and more resistant to melt. Since the start of the twenty-first century, however, ice has been less likely to survive its trip through the southern part of the Beaufort Gyre. As a result, less has been able to pile up and form multi-year ice.

Thin, free-drifting ice—as seen above—moves very easily with winds and currents.

Aqua is a NASA Earth mission named for the large amount of information that the mission is collecting about the Earth's , including evaporation from the oceans, water vapor in the atmosphere, clouds, precipitation, , sea ice, land ice, and snow cover on the land and ice. Aqua was launched on May 4, 2002, and carries six Earth-observing instruments in a near-polar low-Earth orbit. MODIS, which acquired the image above, is a 36-band spectroradiometer that measures physical properties of the atmosphere, oceans and land.

Explore further: Declining sea ice to lead to cloudier Arctic: study

Related Stories

Declining sea ice to lead to cloudier Arctic: study

March 31, 2012

Arctic sea ice has been declining over the past several decades as global climate has warmed. In fact, sea ice has declined more quickly than many models predicted, indicating that climate models may not be correctly representing ...

Arctic ice gets a check up

March 31, 2011

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 ...

Arctic sea ice may be at 'tipping point'

September 16, 2005

Arctic ice melting may have accelerated to a "tipping point" that will produce a vicious cycle of melting and heating, U.S. scientists say.

Winter Sea Ice Fails to Recover, Down to Record Low

April 6, 2006

Scientists at NSIDC announced that March 2006 shows the lowest Arctic winter sea ice extent since the beginning of the satellite record in 1979 (see Figures 1 and 2). Sea ice extent, or the area of ocean that is covered by ...

NASA Sees Rapid Changes in Arctic Sea Ice

September 13, 2006

NASA data shows that Arctic perennial sea ice, which normally survives the summer melt season and remains year-round, shrunk abruptly by 14 percent between 2004 and 2005. According to researchers, the loss of perennial ice ...

Manhattan-sized ice island heads out to sea

September 18, 2012

Remember that enormous slab of ice that broke off Greenland's Petermann Glacier back in July? It's now on its way out to sea, a little bit smaller than it was a couple of months ago—but not much. At around 10 miles long ...

Recommended for you

Activating tooth regeneration in mice

February 20, 2019

Most reptiles and fish have multiple sets of teeth during their lifetime. However, most mammals, such as humans, have only one set of replacement teeth and some mammals, like mice, have only a single set with no replacement. ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 29, 2012
The graph of "Sea Ice Volume" must necessarily incorporate estimates of ice thickness - an empirical variable which cannot yet be reliably measured across the span of the Arctic Ocean. The human intervention involved invalidates the impartiality of the data. For purely empirical (impartial) data determined directly from satellite measurements, I commend the IARC page: http://www.ijis.i...nt_L.png
not rated yet Nov 01, 2012
The human intervention involved invalidates the impartiality of the data.
Eh? What "human intervention" are you talking about, exactly, and how would it "invalidate" the data's "impartiality"?

AFAIK, currently available sea ice thickness data comes mainly from submarines (dating back to the 1950's) and satellite altimetry and microwave-sensing instruments. The bulk of the data comes from those sources, though there are episodic spot-measurements via ice coring, aircraft-flown instruments, etc. The available data may not be as high-resolution and precise as some would like, but it's plenty good enough to compute average trends over multi-month time scales.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.