Tag Archives: polynya

The polynya I saw forming in early February is still clear, and very large in the Southern Weddell Sea. At the moment it is more than than 80,000 km2, although there is clearly a lot of young sea ice covering a large part of the polynya.

The Weddell Sea 5 March 2017 in the Terra MODIS true colour image.
The Weddell Sea 5 March 2017 in the Terra MODIS true colour image.

In my original post I said this was likely formed by winds from the Ronne Ice Shelf.

Well Dr Stef Lhermitte (Delft) has put together the most amazing movie showing the development of the polynya over January and February. It shows satellite sea ice data with winds from the ECMWF overlain.

You can clearly see the winds pushing the sea ice away from the ice shelf as time progresses.

It is just as @StefLhermitte said in his tweet yesterday:

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I noticed yesterday that a polynya had formed in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf over the last 2 weeks.

Screengrab from NASA Worldview 17 February 2017
Screengrab from NASA Worldview 17 February 2017

In that image it is about 27,000 kmin area.

I mapped the opening of the polynya from MODIS imagery over the last two weeks. There is cloud in the images but the opening of the polynya is fairly clear.

Formation of the Ronne Polynya 30 January to 14 February 2017.
Formation of the Ronne Polynya 30 January to 14 February 2017.

On 31 January 2017 there is no open water, but then over the 16 day period it opens to the ~27,000 kmin area. If you're eagle eyed you can see that there is thin frazil ice forming in the open water in front of the ice shelf at the end of the sequence.

So what caused it?

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My previous posts on Amundsen Sea Polynya and their development showed ~37,600 km2 of open water in front of the ice shelves. It is very early spring in Antarctica at this time of the year and it’s still cold.

That means sea ice can still grow.

This is the Dotson Getz polynya on 9 October 2016. It has a perimeter of ~800 km and an area of ~25,500 km2.

The Dotson Getz polynya on 9 October 2016. Open water is black and streaks of sea ice growth are clear. The location of the Bear Peninsula Automatic Weather Station is marked.
The Dotson Getz polynya on 9 October 2016. Open water is black and streaks of sea ice growth are clear. The location of the Bear Peninsula Automatic Weather Station is marked.

I put together the satellite data from 9-12 October 2016 and it shows extremely rapid sea ice growth.

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I was interested in how long the polynya I blogged about yesterday had existed.

I made a gif of the previous months sea ice data.

The sea ice extent in Pine Island Bay 11 September to 10 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI. The development of the polynya can be seen in the development of the dark regions.
The sea ice extent in Pine Island Bay 11 September to 10 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI. The development of the polynya can be seen in the growth of the dark regions.

You can see that the polynya in the centre of the picture can be seen from the very beginning. This is forming in front of the Dotson Ice Shelf  - and from the scale bar you can see it is big. This polynya really starts to develop as open water around 5 October 2016.

The coastal polynya on the northern land boundary appear in mid September - and develop throughout the record.

The image below was in my previous post and it shows the three polynya from a MODIS image on 9 October 2016.

The MODIS imagery 9 October 2016 from the TERRA satellite overlain in Google Earth
The MODIS imagery 9 October 2016 from the TERRA satellite overlain in Google Earth

Next diversion will be a area of open water / time plot.

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The Amundsen Sea currently has some very large polynya. In front of the Dotson, Getz and Pine Island ice shelves they are clear in the satellite data.

The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 2 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI
The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 9 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI.

polynya is an area of open water in the winter pack ice.

These are likely latent heat polynya, and strong winds are pushing the sea ice away from the coasts to make the open water.  In the open water there will be a lot of sea ice generation. I wouldn't be surprised if the weather that is keeping the sea ice compressed against the Antarctic Peninsula is also responsible for opening them.

Taking the MODIS data from the TERRA satellite and importing that into google earth, the open water shows up as black. At the top of the image in front of Pine Island Glacier the polynya are partially obscured by cloud.

In Google Earth you can measure the area quite easily.

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I noticed in a blog post last week that there was a finger of open water extending down the Western Weddell Sea. I've carried on watching this open water in the MODIS satellite data. Whilst it's been opening and closing, there is a lot of open water. It's clearly a major sea ice generating factory at the moment.

MODIS image of the Western Weddell Sea 30 September 2016. The Open Water is clear.
MODIS image of the Western Weddell Sea 30 September 2016. The Open Water is clear.

The open water is clear in the lower resolution passive microwave sea ice data too.

The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 2 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI
The sea ice extent along the Antarctic Peninsula 2 October 2016. Data from DMSP SSMI

If you look at some model output there are air temperatures above this open water of between -10° to about -25°C.

Surface temperature at 2m from NCEP output. 3 October 2016.
Surface temperature at 2m from NCEP output. 3 October 2016. From Climate Reanalyzer.org

What is really good is if you look at the temperature anomaly (i.e. the departure from the average with a 1979-2000 baseline), it is very warm over the Weddell Sea.

The temperature departure from average for NCEP output 3 October 2016. Image from climateReanalyzer.org.
The temperature departure from average for NCEP output 3 October 2016. Image from climateReanalyzer.org.

I think the reason it is warmer is because the Weddell Sea pack ice is looser this year. So (as you can see in the picture above) there is lots of open water. The atmosphere is being warmed by the ocean as the sea ice is being generated.

Another pointer to the pack being looser this year is that in August 2016 in the Eastern Weddell Sea there was a rare sighting of the Weddell Polynya.

The Weddell Polynya as observed on 14 August 2016 in passive satellite data.
The Weddell Polynya as observed on 14 August 2016 in passive satellite data. It is a polynya with its own wikipedia page.

I think the Weddell Sea pack ice is more mobile this winter. This is also telling us something about the difference between sea ice extent and sea ice thickness. The sea ice extent is large and easy to measure in the Antarctic - but we don't know how thick it is.

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Mark Brandon, The Open University

You never forget the first time you see an iceberg. The horizon of a ship at sea is a two dimensional space and to see a three dimensional piece of ice appear in the ocean is quite something. But, in truth, the first iceberg you see is likely to be small. Most icebergs that make it far enough north from Antarctica to where they are danger to shipping are sometimes many years old and at the end of their lives. They are small fragments of what once left the continent.

Once in a while, however, a monster breaks free from the edge of Antarctica and drifts away. Tens of kilometres long these bergs can tower perhaps 100 metres above the sea and reach several hundred more below the surface. These are called tabular icebergs – and while it is rare for humans to see something on such a scale they are part of the normal cycle of glacial ice in Antarctica.

A tabular iceberg gets stuck in thin, seasonal sea ice.
Mark Brandon, CC BY-NC-SA

Everyone knows Antarctica is an ice-covered continent, but the ice is not static. To a scientist it is a dynamic environment – it’s just a question of the timescale you are looking at. Snow falls on the continent and over time it has built up layers of ice which flow in glaciers towards the coast.

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