Rise in the Volume of Arctic Sea Ice Noted by UK Researchers

Posted July 22nd, 2015 at 10:37 pm (UTC-4)
12 comments

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

Previous research has suggested that both the thickness and extent of Arctic summer sea ice have dramatically declined over the past 30 years. The data includes measurements taken by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

But now, some British scientists have found the volume of Arctic sea ice has actually increased by a third after 2013’s unusually cool summer.  That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at University College London and the University of Leeds, and published in the journal Nature.

Rachel Tilling, the study’s lead author from the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University College London, said that the much cooler temperatures in the summer of 2013 were more like those recorded back in the late 1990s.

“This allowed thick sea ice to persist northwest of Greenland because there were fewer days when it could melt,” she said in a press release. “Although models have suggested that the volume of Arctic sea ice is in long-term decline, we know now that it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short.”

In an email to Science World, Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said she is “very cautious about these results (of the UK study)” because much of the processing used in the study was not well-described, which makes it difficult for others to fully reproduce their results.  However, Stroeve said she doesn’t doubt that the overall Arctic ice thickness was larger in 2013 and 2014 than in 2012, because not as much ice melted.

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

According to the Nature study, the sudden increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

Stroeve doesn’t quite agree. “I think the statement that sea ice is more resilient is a bit premature as it’s based on only 5 years of data, and it does not take into account variable precipitation as they assume climatological snow depth,” she said.

To make their findings, the British researchers used measurements taken by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite between 2010 and 2014, as well as maps of sea ice extent.

CryoSat’s primary instrument, according to ESA’s website, is the Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter. It was designed to meet the measurement requirements for ice-sheet elevation and the height of sea ice protruding from the water.

Stroeve says that one does not measure ice thickness directly with radar or a laser altimeter. “You need to also know snow depth and density, both of which are not known over the Arctic Ocean,” she says.

ESA's CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice.  ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

ESA’s CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice. ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

Professor Andrew Shepherd, Director of Center for Polar Observation and Modelling said that while it is doubtful the Arctic region will be ice-free this summer, due to the jump in sea ice volume, temperatures are expected to rise again in the future.  He likens the effects of the cool summer of 2013 as simply “winding the clock back a few years” on long-term Arctic sea ice decline.

“Understanding what controls the amount of Arctic sea ice takes us one step closer to making reliable predictions of how long it will last, which is important because it is a key component of Earth’s climate system,” he says.

The researchers said that they are planning to use CryoSat’s measurements of changing sea ice thickness not only to help improve models that are used to forecast future climate change, but also to help sailors steer their ships in the potentially dangerous Arctic region.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

12 responses to “Rise in the Volume of Arctic Sea Ice Noted by UK Researchers”

  1. Al Hopfer says:

    So some scientists believe computer models more than actual measurements?

    • OldWhatsHisName says:

      MOST of the “climate scientists” believe anything they are told. The IPCC said that all of their data came from peer reviewed studies. Now it turns out that many of these studies were thesis and fully a third were never reviewed at all let alone by their peers.

      When you catch someone consistently lying you can’t expect to ever get any truth from them.

  2. jack says:

    Seems like the ole clock on climate change seems to have to keep being readjusted. I mean we should be artic ice free by now. Right? Either way they will keep pushing and alarming.

  3. tru ghost says:

    Well, of course, Stroeve doesn’t quite agree. “it’s difficult to get a GloBULLster to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

  4. tom says:

    There will be a furious battle by the Zealots to disprove this heresy! NOTHING of the sort can, or will, be accepted!

  5. Steve says:

    No, that’s impossible! 97% consensus living off the government grant money dole, says the Arctic will be ice free by 2015. Oops!

  6. jabusse says:

    “Understanding what controls the amount of Arctic sea ice takes us one step closer to making reliable predictions of how long it will last, which is important because it is a key component of Earth’s climate system,” he says” We understand what controls ice. Cold or warm. When it is cold water freezes when it is warm it melts. And it does so at predictable rates that any high school physics student can solve for. Since we can not accurately predict cold or warm for any time in the future all this information does is build a data pile of historical data with very little if any predictive value whatsoever in the micro regions of the chart. Of course the earth has been warming for a long time and there is no reason to believe it will continue or that anything we do will accelerate or retard it perceptibly . That is why global warming is trash science.

    • OldWhatsHisName says:

      You should become Jewish since they believe in the old testament and there are something like 11 references to dying in a fiery pit, Or you can believe your own eyes and see that weather varies all the time.

      Unless we can see specific causes for the warm period of some 400 years around the time of Christ or the Medieval Warm Period as well as the Little Ice Age believing someone prophesying an end to the world is rather silly wouldn’t you think?

  7. Rmer says:

    With these findings, Dr. James “Hockey Stick” Hansen has revised his latest models and the earth will now be under 20 feet of water one year later that previous predictions.

  8. Earthling says:

    How can there be more ice at the Arctic when Al Gore told me it would all be gone by now?

  9. […] This is consistent with the National Snow & Ice Data Center’s sea ice extent showing ice levels are above this year from 2014 and is obviously the result of a cooler […]

  10. […] Four years later, NASA researchers observed that summer Arctic sea ice had shrunk to half of what it was only three decades earlier. Recent figures from the National Snow and Ice Data Center have shown record-low ice levels, but independent researchers have argued the ice’s volume has in fact grown substantially in recent years. […]