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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

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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

Climate: Slow growth for Arctic sea ice in February

This year’s winter extent likely to be one of the lowest on record

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Arctic sea ice extent this winter has been hovering near a record low. Graphic courtesy NSIDC.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With just a few more days to go before Arctic sea ice starts its annual retreat, it looks like this year’s maximum extent will be one the lowest on record. Sea ice extent has been tracking below average nearly all winter and dropped below previous record low levels in early February, staying there ever since.

The extent generally peaks in mid-March before it starts to give way to warmer air temperatures and longer days with more hours of sunlight. This year, temperatures in the Arctic have been distinctly higher than average, resulting in a slower than average expansion of the winter ice cover. Overall, sea ice grew at a rate about 26 percent slower than the 1981 to 2010 average. Continue reading

Online Arctic sea ice atlas unveiled

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Tracking Arctic ice. Image courtesy NASA’s Blue Marble website.

New tool to help coastal and ocean planners in the region

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With Arctic sea ice at an all-time record low for late January and the melt season about to begin, researchers have created a new online tool that helps put ice conditions in historical perspective. Continue reading

Will global warming drive more extreme Arctic storms?

Study links warming climate and Arctic cyclone frequency

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/Goddard/MODIS Rapid Response Team. Visit this NASA website for more information.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A changing air pressure regime over the Arctic resulting from warmer temperatures may be driving an increase in extreme storms in the region. The hurricane-like cyclones that traverse the northern waters from Iceland to Alaska may foreshadow even more intense weather ahead, according to Dr. Stephen Vavrus, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This research shows that the Arctic appears to be expressing symptoms expected from ongoing climate change,” Vavrus said, explaining the findings of the study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“The long-term decline in atmospheric pressure over most of the Arctic is consistent with the response typically simulated by climate models to greenhouse warming, and this study finds a general corresponding increase in the frequency of extreme Arctic cyclones since the middle 19th century,” he said. Continue reading

Global warming: Report warns of ‘Arctic squeeze’

An entire bio-climatic zone, the high Arctic, may disappear

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Rapid climate change in the Arctic is putting enormous pressure on ecosystems, threatening biodiversity and the fundamental way of life of indigenous Arctic peoples, scientists said in a major new report.

“An entire bio-climatic zone, the high Arctic, may disappear. Polar bears and the other highly adapted organisms cannot move further north, so they may go extinct. We risk losing several species forever,” said Hans Meltofte of Aarhus University, chief scientist of the report.

According to the findings, unique and irreplaceable Arctic wildlife and landscapes are crucially at risk due to global warming caused by human activities according to the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. The report was prepared by 253 scientists from 15 countries under the auspices of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council. Continue reading

Climate: Arctic lake ice melting fast

Scientists ‘shocked’ at rapid pace of change found in recent study

Canada subarctic lakes

Some of Canada’s subarctic lakes, seen here from a passenger jet, are drying up in yet another sign of abrupt climate change. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO —Sea ice isn’t the only thing that’s disappearing quickly in the Arctic. Lake ice is also dwindling — it’s getting thinner and the overall length of the ice season is now three weeks shorter than in 1950, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. Another recent study showed that some of Canada’s Arctic lakes are actually drying up.

“We’ve found that the thickness of the ice has decreased tremendously in response to climate warming in the region,” said lead author Cristina Surdu, a PhD student of Professor Claude Duguay in Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. “When we saw the actual numbers we were shocked at how dramatic the change has been. It’s basically more than a foot of ice by the end of winter.”

The study of more than 400 lakes of the North Slope of Alaska, is the first time researchers have been able to document the magnitude of lake-ice changes in the region over such a long period of time. Continue reading

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