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Climate: Rethinking the Arctic carbon cycle

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Permafrost processes will play a big role in Earth’s climate for decades to comes.

New findings critical to climate calculations

Staff Report

FRISCO — Sunlight is the key factor in the process of converting Arctic permafrost carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, scientists concluded in a new study that could dramatically change the scientific understanding of the planet’s carbon cycle and the consequences of a permafrost meltdown.

The finding is particularly important because climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science. Continue reading

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Climate: What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic

The Fram Strait is a key link in the global ocean circulation system, as the passage for most of the Arctic sea ice exiting the region.

The Fram Strait is a key link in the global ocean circulation system, as the passage for most of the Arctic sea ice exiting the region.

Detailed ocean sediment layers paint clear picture of link between Arctic sea ice movement and ocean currents

Staff Report

FRISCO — An extraordinarily clear deposit of layered seafloor sediments has helped researchers explain the connection between Arctic sea ice movement and the movement of key ocean currents that redistribute warm water across the northern hemisphere.

Specifically, the new study by scientists with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany looked at the movement of sea ice through the Fram Strait, between Greenland Svalbard, finding that, when massive quantities of Arctic ice melt and move south through the strait, the Gulf Stream slows, cooling the climate in Europe. Continue reading

Study tracks rapid ice age climate shifts

A cyclonic storm spins over the center of the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

A cyclonic storm spins over the center of the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Findings show delicate balance of ice sheets, winds and ocean currents

Staff Report

FRISCO — The superstorm depicted in “The Day After Tomorrow” may be completely implausible, but that doesn’t mean the Earth’s climate system is always as stable as it seems now.

New research by a team of scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute shows how there may have been significant shifts in ocean circulation and wind patterns that happened in the span of just a few decades — not even the blink of an eye by geological time standards. Continue reading

Global warming: Arctic snow cover shrinking steadily

Snow up to 50 percent thinner in some parts of Arctic

Ignatius Rigor

A detailed study shows dramatic thinning of the Arctic snow cover in recent decades, especially on the sea ice west of Alaska, Photo courtesy Ignatius Rigor.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Arctic snow cover has thinned significantly in recent decades, especially on sea ice off the west coast of Alaska, with some as-yet unknown consequences for the environment, researchers said this week in a new study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

In the study, led by scientists with NASA and the University of Washington, the scientists compared and analyzed data from  NASA airborne surveys, collected between 2009 and 2013, with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers buoys frozen into the sea ice, and earlier data from Soviet drifting ice stations in 1937 and from 1954 through 1991.

Results showed that snowpack has thinned from 14 inches to 9 inches (35 cm to 22 cm) in the western Arctic, and from 13 inches to 6 inches (33 cm to 14.5 cm) in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, west and north of Alaska. Continue reading

Arctic: Satellite images help track polar bears

Data will help assess global warming impacts to Arctic wildlife

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Polar bears near a U.S. Navy submarine.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The latest generation of high-resolution satellite images may help scientists gain a better understanding of Arctic polar bear populations. Dwindling Arctic sea ice is seen a huge threat to the predators, but difficult field conditions make it challenging to get a clear picture of polar bear population dynamics.

Satellite images have also been used recently to track emperor penguins in Antarctica, and researchers are starting to rely on satellite images more and more. In a new study, U.S. Geological Survey biologists matched satellite surveys with ground-truthed counts. Continue reading

Climate: Arctic sea ice third-lowest on record for May

Antarctic sea ice at record high; northern hemisphere snow cover shows rapid spring decline

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Low spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Arctic sea ice extent in May was about a quarter of a million square miles below the 1981-2010 average, ending up as the third-lowest on record for the month, according to the latest update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

By contrast, sea ice extent around Antarctica is at a record high, almost half a million square miles above the 1981-2010 baseline, marking the highest May Antarctic sea ice extent on record. Read the full NSIDC report here. Continue reading

Environment: Invasive species concern rise in the Arctic

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Commercial shipping in the Arctic likely to boost invasive species threats.

Commercial shipping likely to bring unwanted visitors to region

Staff Report

FRISCO — The opening of transarctic shipping routes will increase the risk of invasive species spreading between the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans, scientists warned this week, calling on stakeholders to develop preventive strategies early in the game.

As Arctic sea ice melts away in a warming world, the two oceans will be directly connected for the first time in about 2 million years. Cargo ships often carry invasive species, biologists with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center wrote in a commentary published May 28 in Nature Climate Change. Continue reading

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