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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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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

Is the Greenland glacier meltdown partly caused by natural climate variability?

A new study of the Greenland snowpack reached surprising conclusions about concentrations of carbon monoxide.

Warming temps around Greenland may be partly due to natural climate variability.

New study shows link between Pacific Ocean hotspot and North Atlantic weather patterns

Staff Report

FRISCO — Climate researchers and glaciologists have long been tracking the meltdown of Greenland’s glaciers. The region has been warming at the astounding rate of about 1 degree Celsius per decade — several times the global average — but part of that may be due to natural variability, according to a new study led by University of Washington scientists.

The research suggests up to half the recent warming in the area may be linked with climate patterns born in the tropical western Pacific rather than with the overall warming of the planet. Continue reading

Report: U.S. ill equipped to handle Arctic oil spill

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

A runaway oil drill rig hinted at the extreme challenges facing oil companies in the Arctic. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

More resources needed to FRISCO — A new report from the National Research Council suggests that there aren’t nearly enough resources in place to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic. The absence of adequate infrastructure is a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill, the study found, suggesting that an expanded U.S. Coast Guard presence and pre-positioning of key equipment would bolster an effective response.

The study comes as global warming makes the Arctic more accessible to commercial activities like shipping, oil and gas development, and tourism, raising concerns about the increase potential for oil spills. The Arctic poses several challenges to oil spill response, including extreme weather and environmental settings, limited operations and communications infrastructure, a vast geographic area, and vulnerable species, ecosystems, and cultures.  Continue reading

Study assesses likelihood of Arctic ozone hole

This year's ozone hole over Antarctica was the second-smallest in 20 years, according to NASA.

Last year’s ozone hole over Antarctica was the second-smallest in 20 years, according to NASA.

CFC ban showing signs of success

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists say it’s unlikely that the Arctic will see ozone depletion on the scale of the Antarctic ozone hole, thanks mainly to international efforts to limit ozone-killing chemicals.

“While there is certainly some depletion of Arctic ozone, the extremes of Antarctica so far are very different from what we find in the Arctic, even in the coldest years,” said MIT atmospheric scientists Susan Solomon.

“It’s really a success story of science and policy, where the right things were done just in time to avoid broader environmental damage,” said Solomon, who made some of the first measurements in Antarctica that pointed toward CFCs as the primary cause of the ozone hole. Continue reading

Environment: U.S. Coast Guard report rips Shell Oil for runaway drill rig

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

Investigators delve into potential legal violations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —A U.S. Coast Guard report says Shell Oil didn’t acknowledge or adequately prepare for Arctic Ocean conditions before the company’s Kulluk drilling rig broke away from its towing vessel and ultimately ran aground on an Alaskan Island on the last day of 2012.

“Inadequate assessment and management of risk” was the key factor in the accident,  Coast Guard investigators concluded, calling on Shell and its partners to change their company culture to avoid complacency.

Continue reading

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