Far North Science

News, research and natural acts from Alaska

August 6th, 2009

Arctic Ice: The Shrink Goes On

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Source: NSIDC

The annual late-summer meltdown of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska has commenced in earnest. While the satellite jockeys at the National Snow & Ice Data Center aren’t logging alarming visions of an all-time record slush cup, it’s getting close.

“Arctic sea ice extent for the month of July was the third lowest for that month in the satellite record, after 2007 and 2006,” the NSIDC ice wizards reported this week. “The average rate of melt in July 2009 was nearly identical to that of July 2007.”

As the climate savvy might remember, September of 2007 produced a polar ice cap with the smallest overall extent ever recorded during the 30-year age of satellites.

That year, an area the size of Argentina disappeared from the summer ice habitat, leaving the largest expanse of open water north of Alaska ever recorded.

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September 16th, 2008

Arctic Ocean ice shrinks to second lowest on record

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The countdown to the annual Arctic slush cup has ended, and the realm of polar bear and ice seal has shrunk yet again. The meltback may not be as bad as last year, but it’s worse than any other season logged by the satellite record.

How bad was it?

The Arctic Ocean ice cap has basically lost an area three times larger than Texas.

The eye-in-the-sky scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center said today that the extent of Arctic sea ice hit its minimum coverage over the weekend and has begun to slowly refreeze for the winter.

The floes and pans that create the floating bedrock of the polar ocean’s ecosystem — providing the necessary hunting platforms for polar bears and the undersea nurseries for plankton and fish — covered only about 1.74 million square miles on Sept. 12.

That coverage is still about 150,000 square miles bigger than the all-time record minimum set last fall, the NSIDC pointed out in a release (complete with links and graphics.)

But given the Arctic’s remarkably cool 2008 summer, a season where ice melt ought to have slowed dramatically, it’s not good news.

While above the record minimum set on September 16, 2007, this year further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years. … The 2008 minimum is the second-lowest recorded since 1979, and is 2.24 million square kilometers (0.86 million square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average minimum.

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August 27th, 2008

Arctic sea ice extent plunges toward record

Sea ice extent on Aug. 26

Summer hiatus is over. Far North Science returns to discover the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean has shriveled like an ice cube in a pitcher of lukewarm lemonade.

The eye-in-the-sky scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center say the far north’s frozen cover — the Earth’s air conditioner — now covers the second smallest area ever recorded during the 30-year-long age of satellites.

“Will 2008 also break the standing record low, set in 2007?,” NSIDC asks in a news release.

“We will know in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.”

Sea ice typically shrinks in extent and volume during the late summer months, eaten by sun-warmed ocean water and flushed into the Atlantic by currents. But what used to be a slight peeling back of the thick, royal-blue, steel-hard continent of ice off Alaska’s north coast has transformed into a disappearing act.

The result? The coastal residents of Arctic Alaska regularly enter the stormy fall with a vast fetch of ocean at their backs.

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April 28th, 2008

Bad desert air and a glacier that licks a river

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Atmospheric scientist Cathy Cahill points to two
recent air samples from Baghdad, one showing
dust and the other fine trapped particles from
burned diesel fuel. Photo by Ned Rozell

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.

Cathy Cahill got a package in the mail last week from a desert on the other side of the world. She didn’t know what was inside, but she hoped it was air samples from Baghdad. When she opened the package, she didn’t believe her eyes.

“I’ve never seen that much dust (on a slide used for air sampling),” she said. “There’s so much that it’s flaking off.”

Cahill, who works at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, studies air quality in Alaska and all over the world. In November, Pam Clark of the U.S. Army Research Lab in Adelphi, Maryland, asked Cahill if she could deploy a few air samplers at Army camps in Iraq, as part of an Army program to study the air in places where military members are stationed.

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April 15th, 2008

The latest word on Alaska birds

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A barred owl in Juneau. Unknown in Alaska
before the late 1970s, barred owls are now
the second most-abundant owl in Southeast.
Photo by Paul Suchanek.

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.

The barred owl, once a rarity in Alaska, is now one of the most common owls in Southeast Alaska. The 20-inch owl with a call that sounds like “Who cooks for me? Who cooks for you all!” is a common forest resident east of the Great Plains, but has been on the move lately.

In the 20th century, the owls expanded westward and northward, with the first documented sighting near Juneau in 1978. Michelle Kissling of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Juneau reported that researchers found about 13 barred owls from 1978 to 1990, but from 2000 to the present, they found more than 100, making the barred owl the second most common owl in Southeast.

The most common owl in Southeast is the northern saw-whet owl, which sounds like the owl version of a large truck backing up.

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