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Predicting Arctic melt: Some Researchers say water on top of floes good indicator

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/17/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Year-to-year variation is unpredictable; Scientists think ponding more reliable

The melting of the Arctic ice caps has been one of concern - and ongoing debate within the scientific community. Previous measurements, year-to-year variation in water levels, have failed to be captured in computer models. Researchers in the United Kingdom now say that water collecting on top of the ice floes - "ponding," offer a far more reliable method to measure ice melt.

The ponds are darker than bare ice and therefore absorb more of the Sun's energy, promoting further melting.

The ponds are darker than bare ice and therefore absorb more of the Sun's energy, promoting further melting.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
6/17/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Green

Keywords: Ponding, Arctic melt, research, albedo


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Some Scientists say the amount of water ponding on top of the floes as they warm in the spring has proven to be an excellent indicator. Using their technique, the Reading University researchers reckon the minimum ice extent this September will be about 5.4 million square kilometers, the same as at the end of the melt season last year.

The floes in the far north, in particular are the subject of intense study due to their rapid summer decline.

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Their extent has diminished from about seven million square kilometers in the 1990s to less than five million square kilometers in five of the past seven years. A record minimum of 3.6 million square kilometers were set in 2012.

"The sort of three-month prediction we're making would be useful for people who need to do operations in the Arctic, such as shipping companies for navigation purposes," Professor Daniel Feltham explains. Feltham leads the NERC Center for Polar Observation and Modelling team at Reading.

"But the physics we're introducing will also, hopefully, help improve the climate models that look longer term," he told BBC News.

Feltham along with his colleagues have found a strong correlation between the fractions of the floes covered by pond water in May in contrast to the eventual sea-ice extent seen in September. The physical link is the change in reflectiveness, or albedo, brought about by the standing water.

The ponds are darker than bare ice and therefore absorb more of the Sun's energy, promoting further melting.

Feltham's team has developed a model to forecast the evolution of melt ponds in the Arctic. His team has incorporated this into more general climate sea-ice models.

Satellite records show that the year with smallest pond fraction in late spring, 11 percent in 1996. The biggest sea ice extent in September; and the year with the largest pond fraction, or 34 percent in 2012 featured the all-time low extent come the autumn.

The team has made its first open forecast for this September of 5.4 million square kilometers, give or take half a million.

"What could knock our prediction off course? Weather conditions, certainly. If we have anomalously cold conditions, we would expect the ice extent to be higher; or if we had very stormy conditions, like they did in August 2012 - that could diverge the ice and encourage more melting," he said.

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