The MODIS sensor satellite imagery is showing a beautiful and evolving large plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea at the moment.
The plankton are the lighter green bands I've labelled and the full image is available at an astonishing 250m resolution.
I was enjoying my polar books the other night and came across a quote attributed to everyone's favourite humanitarian polar explorer and scientist, Fridtjof Nansen.
If I were not a Norwegian, I would be an Englishman rather than belong to any other nation
Nansen is quoted in Fridtjof Nansen, his life and explorations, by James Arthur Bain, 1897.
Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45
It's hard not to be in awe of Nansen.
This is a storified version of Gavin Schmidt's talk on composition & CH4 feedbacks from Arctic sea ice loss with background information.
It was formed from the twitter stream #RSarctic14 from a Royal Society discussion meeting I co-organised
This plot shows the Antarctic sea ice extent, the Arctic sea ice extent, and the total sea ice extent plotted against time.
|Antarctic:||Minimum Antarctic sea ice extent||3.11 x 106 km2|
|Maximum Antarctic sea ice extent||19.48 x 106 km2|
|Range of the Antarctic sea ice extent||16.37 x 106 km2|
|Arctic:||Minimum Arctic sea ice extent||3.37 x 106 km2|
|Maximum Arctic sea ice extent||15.25 x 106 km2|
|Range of the Arctic sea ice extent||11.88 x 106 km2|
The Antarctic and the Arctic do not "balance" in sea ice extent - the Antarctic variations are much larger.
Look at the shape of the annual cycle. I said previously that in the Antarctic the seasonal cycle of sea ice extent is not symmetrical. Sea ice grows slowly and steadily before decaying relatively rapidly: the melt period is shorter than the growth period.
In the Arctic the time sea ice grows is roughly similar to the time sea ice melts.
So they do not "balance". The seasonal cycles, ranges, minimums and maximums are different,
The annual cycle of the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent is very different.
We know that the extent and thickness of the Arctic sea ice is decreasing. See for example what Tamino wrote in Feb 2014.
But what about the Antarctic? The extent of the sea ice has broken records for the satellite era. (This is a very funny article making some claims about what that means - if you want a clue what is the difference between glacial ice and frozen sea water?).
Some believe the observed reduction in the Arctic sea ice volume is balanced by the increase in the Antarctic sea ice extent. So we should look at the black line in the plot above.
I will get onto why I don't think that is a good idea in a coming post.
Here is the plot animated with 1 second = 10 days
This is the 2012 sea ice extent for both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The day of year and the calendar day are at the bottom.
I chose 2012 only because it is the most recent complete year in this data set.
My reason for making this video is because there have been a couple of huge news stories recently about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet:
Then on 19 May 2014 we were told that Cryosat observations had shown that the loss of ice from Antarctica had increased quite a lot (here is the primary research).
But whenever there is a big story about the decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - which remember is land based glacial ice, some instantly point to this being not important because sea ice in Antarctica has been at record levels.
People who suggest that the observed decrease in glacial ice is somehow balanced by the observed increase in Antarctic sea ice extent are wrong. The sea ice is generally only a couple of metres thick and it is telling us quite a different climate story.
Over the next few posts I will try and explain why the decrease of Arctic sea ice is not balanced by an increase in Antarctic sea ice extent, and why there is no contradiction in glacial ice at the edge of the Antarctic continent decaying whilst simultaneously the sea ice is at record extent.
[If anyone want the clip, also the Arctic and Antarctic as separate files in various large sizes and formats just send me an email at my work address - you will find a link on the "About me" page. And I will send you a dropbox link. I am a big fan of Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources. ]
In the words of the US NAS
"Climate Change makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies."
But I will talk about the cover. Here is a screen grab.
I think it's beautiful. I love the way the golden light reflects on the young sea ice. In fact I think it is so beautiful that we used it on the cover of a book I partially wrote and edited for my employer in 2011.
The original is an iStock image called "Polar bear on ice close to golden glittering water". Now that is not what I would call it - but then I wasn't fortunate enough to be in a helicopter at that time of the year, and so I don't get to choose.
The Royal Society / NAS had cropped the bear from the image so they used the segment in the yellow rectangle below...
They actually rotated and stretched it slightly to completely miss the bear - although there are still clearly bear footprints in the version they use.
I am sure they did that because they did not want to get into the whole "poor polar bear looking over the melting ice" conversation. All the way back in 2012 Carbon Brief included "sad polar bear on melting ice" as one of their Nine climate change pictures I really don't need to see again.
So why did I use it? To me the polar bear is in its natural habitat. The bear is wandering over decaying sea ice and refrozen melt water. Our book is filled with the science of how and why the ice grows and melts, and what adaptations and strategies the animals use to survive, plus lots of other science. The polar bear's Latin name is ursus maritimus - which in English is "sea bear": open water and ice are part of their habitat.
That nuance is not possible in a short but excellent PDF report on climate change, so
I imagine they chose the beautiful light.
In hindsight I think I would have used another image. But only because if you go to the trouble of writing a book, then you would want to keep it special.
The problem I had at the time was that I was not very good at choosing any of my own images.
I don't usually work on this sort of thing, but very recently I have been writing about hazards caused by the cryosphere. A major hazard is of course the avalanche - whether ice, snow, or a mixture.
This video was posted on You tube (with the tag line "Courtesy Vertical Solutions"), and it shows the impact of a snow and ice avalanche on the Alaskan road network on the 26 January 2014.
I tweeted it yesterday and the glaciologist Mauri Pelto replied
I'll try to remember to keep an eye online to see the outcome.
This is a storify of the twitter noise around one talk at a Royal Society discussion meeting.
This is a storify of a discussion meeting at the Royal Society.
This post is quite long but stay with it. It shows how large some of the heat exchanges going on in the polar oceans can be.
The picture above shows an iceberg through mist rising from the sea.
It is pretty, but it is also showing is a vast heat flux of hundreds of watts per m2 from the ocean to the atmosphere...
I have talked before on this blog about how the sea ice moves, and how the International Arctic Buoy Programme provide some lovely movies of the buoy tracks which show this. I also pointed to Eric Larsen's video of the ice moving too.
But what does this ice movement mean for the climate?
As the ice moves it fractures, and the cracks extend over wide areas. These cracks are responsible for the "water sky" I talked about previously.
From the scale bar on the bottom left you can see that the open water is ~18 km wide, and the lead is more than 100 km long. More than enough to get a ship through!