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Arctic Sea Ice May Be More Resilient Than Thought, Satellite Data Suggest

Reporting Climate Science

Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than previously thought, according to new research.

 Chart of Arctic sea ice volume as measured by CryoSat-2 and as estimated using the PIOMAS ice-ocean model over the period 2010 to 2015. Courtesy: CPOM/Planetary Visions/ESA

Satellite data reported in a new paper shows that sea ice volumes in the spring months have been stable over the four years from 2010 to 2014 and that Autumn sea ice volumes in 2013 and 2014 were significantly up on prior years.

Five years of sea ice measurements by radar carried out by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 spacecraft are analysed in the paper published today (20 July 2015) in Nature Geoscience.

Significant variability in the volume of autumn Arctic sea ice is described in the paper entitled Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013, and this appears to be linked to summer surface air temperatures over the ice.

“The key thing we’ve found is a relationship between summer temperatures in the Arctic and sea ice volumes at the end of the summer,” was told by lead researcher Rachel Tilling, from University College London. 

This suggests that the ice pack in the Northern hemisphere is more sensitive to changes in summer melting than it is to winter cooling, a finding which will help researchers to predict future changes in its volume.

CryoSat measurements show that autumn Arctic sea ice volumes declined from 2010 to 2012 before bouncing back in 2013. This increase implies that the amount of ice from the winter of 2012/2013 that was lost during the 2013 summer melt season was less than usual. This resulted in a year-on-year growth in multi-year ice (MYI) in the Arctic.

“There are a number of factors that may affect sea ice volumes but we found the highest correlation was with the number of melt days and this is related to surface air temperature above the ice,” Tilling explained. She said that October volumes showed the greatest interannual variability and these were strongly linked with melt days and surface air temperature.

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