Sea Ice Ticker
On 20 September 2019, the icebreaker Polarstern will set sail for the MOSAiC expedition, and a year-long drift in the Arctic sea ice. The 'Sea Ice Ticker' provides the latest information on the sea ice, presented in various forms so that you can track the ice conditions.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 27: 27 March 2020 Wintry snow and ice conditions on the MOSAiC floe
Once it reaches a certain age, sea ice is covered with snow. Measuring and assessing the snow’s thickness and structure is similarly difficult to measuring ice thickness. Yet the heterogeneous snow cover is a crucial parameter in various climate-relevant processes. One essential characteristic of the snow is its high albedo, i.e., the extent to which it backscatters short-frequency solar radiation. Accordingly, the snow on sea ice is an important factor in the Earth’s energy budget. In addition, when the snow melts in the summer, it represents an important source of fresh water, which affects the density and salinity of seawater in the ocean. Snow cover also poses problems for aircraft-based and satellite-based ice monitoring, as it determines the surface characteristics of sea ice and is a major source of uncertainty. Especially in winter, the thickness and features of the snow cover are decisive factors in the thermodynamic growth of sea ice: the thicker the snow cover is, the greater its insulating effect is, reducing the temperature contrast and thermal flow between the ocean and atmosphere. This flow of heat toward the atmosphere is critical for the growth of sea ice, and therefore, for its thickness.In today’s Sea Ice Ticker, Dr Stefanie Arndt (a sea-ice physicist at the AWI) reports from the MOSAiC camp on the snow-monitoring work she’s now doing in the Central Arctic. “The snow and ice conditions on our MOSAiC floe are fairly dynamic – in a number of different ways. The increasing formation of cracks and leads within the central observatory (CO), on the one hand, promoted the persistent (thermodynamic) growth of new thin ice. At the same time, ice was pressed together in other parts of the floe, resulting in an increased formation of ice ridges. The extensive lead system around the ship might produce further movements within the CO in the days and weeks to come.” “Also, the snow’s surface reflects these dynamic processes. Since the end of February, we have observed an increase in the formation of characteristic snow dunes and sastrugi, produced by high wind speeds in the area.” (Explanation: Wavelike grooves and ridges sculpted in snow are referred to as sastrugi. These steep, irregular and parallel ridges are formed on snow-covered surfaces by wind erosion and deposition. On mobile pack ice, the ridges are parallel to the direction of the prevailing winds at the time of their formation.) “Thus, the upper part of the snowpack is highly compacted and stable. In the lower part, we’ve found beautiful depth hoar crystals, which formed due to the substantial temperature gradient between the snow/ice and air/snow interfaces.” These observations can be clearly seen in this photo, taken by Michael Gutsche on 18 March 2020.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 26: 20 March 2020 Winter maximum sea-ice extent reached
The seasonal variability in sea-ice extent reflects the scope of the seasons’ influence on ice formation. To a considerable degree, the position of the sun and solar radiation dictate the energy input in the polar regions, which is a central driver for sea-ice growth and melting. On 4 March 2020 the Arctic sea-ice extent reached a total area of 14.98 million km²; that number includes all ice-covered regions with an ice concentration of at least 15%.
Sea-ice growth and melting primarily constitute the near-surface ocean’s response to changing seasonal conditions. The sea-ice cover controls the flows of heat, moisture and mass across the boundary layer between the atmosphere and ocean, but is also shaped by these flows. Since sea ice is comparatively thin, it can be affected by even minor disturbances in the ocean-atmosphere system; the consequences are significant changes in its area and thickness. Moreover, the yearly freezing and melting of the ocean surface in the polar regions are extremely important, especially for the energy and radiation budget on the Earth’s surface. Consequently, sea ice interacts with various components of the climate system, and many of the connections and processes involved still aren’t fully understood. Addressing these gaps is one of the ICE Team’s main goals. To do so, they will gather extensive data on the forces responsible for ice movement (drift and deformation), as well as its growth and melting processes (thermodynamics), throughout the MOSAiC expedition. This data will help improve future climate models, allowing them to more accurately reflect the complex interrelations between the ocean, sea ice and atmosphere.
Since early March, winter has begun drawing to a close at the MOSAiC camp, too. The sun is now just six degrees below the horizon, producing the first hints of twilight. These conditions are technically referred to as “civil twilight” and offer sufficient light to e.g. read a book outside. For the researchers working at the camp, it means they can now see their monitoring stations and their immediate surroundings without artificial light, and can much more clearly identify the snow and ice conditions. Update: Since 12 March, the sun has finally climbed above the horizon: an exhilarating feeling after nearly six months of total darkness!
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 25: 13 March 2020 Second transfer of research personnel and crew successfully completed
It was a long and bitter struggle with the winter ice in the Arctic, but the transfer of research personnel and crewmembers was ultimately a success. From the outset, the transition from the second to the third leg of the MOSAiC expedition, scheduled for mid-February, was likely to involve difficult ice conditions, since it would take place at the end of the polar winter. The Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn had left the port of Tromsø on 28 January, departing on her second resupply mission, with 83 researchers and crewmembers on board, plus 43 metric tons of cargo. Not long after setting out, rough weather in the Barents Sea forced the ship to drop anchor and wait five days in a fjord north of Tromsø – and the remainder of the journey was no easier, with challenging ice conditions including several-metre-tall pack ice hummocks. Time and time again, the ship had to turn back and seek new routes through newly opened channels in the ice. This situation aptly demonstrated the importance of good cooperation at the international level: thanks to the provision, analysis and interpretation of various satellite imaging products and high-resolution infrared satellite images of new channels, kilometre by kilometre, Kapitan Dranitsyn neared her goal. Though alternative options for the transfer involving air support were carefully considered, the ship finally managed to break through, and the new team reached the MOSAiC drift camp on 27 February 2020. Images from RV Polarstern’s on-board radar show how the resupply icebreaker approached on 28 February and moored ca. 800 m from camp. They also show the formation of a large channel in the sea ice on 4 March, which disappeared again two days later. You can find regularly updated animations of the on-board radar here.
Since Kapitan Dranitsyn consumed more fuel than planned on the journey through the fast ice, another Russian icebreaker, Admiral Makarov, is now underway from Murmansk to refuel the ship on her return journey, amidst the Arctic sea ice. The successful completion of the mission represents a logistical masterstroke and shows once again the unique challenges involved in the MOSAiC expedition.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 24: 6 March 2020 A history of the MOSAiC ice floe
The results of the initial analysis were sobering: the ice in the starting region was less than a year old, had a mean thickness of only 30 centimetres, and had undergone substantial melting during the summer, as a result of which it showed heavy weathering and was littered with meltwater pools. The ice’s life story read like a string of negative records. The summer of 2019 was the warmest in the Russian Arctic since the beginning of weather observations on Kotelny Island, back in 1935. Air temperatures over the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea beat the previous record high by two to four degrees Celsius. Since the previous winter had been one to three degrees Celsius warmer than the average in the reference period 1981 to 2010, the ice that formed in the ‘nursery’ for Arctic sea ice – the Laptev Sea and adjacent East Siberian Sea – was far thinner than in the past. Strong offshore winds then rapidly blew it out to open sea. When the air temperature quickly rose in the spring of 2019, this extremely thin ice melted so rapidly and extensively that we not only saw the earliest break-up of the ice cover since 1992, but also the rapid and unexpected northward retreat of the ice edge.
Once these initial conditions had been established the work began to trace the course of the pack ice in the starting region back to its point of origin. To do so, a time series of high-resolution satellite data was used, which allowed to identify the MOSAiC floes and therefore reconstruct their journey from the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean to the Central Arctic – down to the exact day. The ice floes that was set up the MOSAiC monitoring network on were formed off the northern coast of the New Siberian Islands on 5 December 2018, and in a shallow region with a depth of less than ten metres. When RV Polarstern dropped anchor at one of the floes, on 4 October 2019, the ice was exactly 318 days old and had travelled a total distance of 2240 kilometres, on a zigzagging course determined by the wind. The whole story can be read in the new DriftStories of seaiceportal.de.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 23: 28 February 2020 MOSAiC now just a stone’s throw away from the North Pole
Many people following the drift of the MOSAiC expedition are on the edge of their seats; they can’t wait to see just how far north the drift will continue! Careful planning prior to the expedition helped predict how the drift would progress, and which course the MOSAiC camp would follow. This was only possible thanks to numerous drift-route calculations, based on satellite observations, meteorological and climate data from the past 20 years. Yet even with the advanced climate models and supercomputers available today, there’s no 100% guarantee. MOSAiC’s projected drift corridor included potential routes that could take the camp either to the west or east of the North Pole, or ideally right across it.
During their drift 125 years ago, Fridtjof Nansen and his crew crossed the northernmost parallel at 85° 57’ North on 17th November 1895, roughly 450 km from the North Pole. On 24 February 2020, RV Polarstern reached her northernmost point to date (88° 35’ North), putting her only ca. 150 km from the Pole and significantly closer to Nansen’s goal. However, the latest forecasts indicate that the westward drift will now increasingly be influenced by a southward component, as a result of which the Transpolar Drift will slowly begin taking the MOSAiC camp further from the North Pole and toward Fram Strait. Drifting across the North Pole was never the expedition’s declared goal; rather, it was to improve our understanding of the Arctic climate system and arrive at more accurate reflections of it in global climate models.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 22: 20 February 2020 Microwave radar measurements from satellite of seaice during the MOSAiC-Expedition
Satellite data offers valuable insights into the Arctic sea ice. Thanks to the more than 40-year-long time series on the sea-ice extent, based on microwave data from satellites, researchers have been able to clearly show the dramatic reduction in Arctic sea ice that has taken place over the past few decades, and to prove the existence of climate change in the Arctic. Today, with the aid of new satellites and monitoring methods we can use satellite data to determine not only the sea-ice extent, but also e.g. the ice thickness, type of ice, and amount of snow cover. In order to refine and improve these methods, remote sensing readings are being taken throughout the MOSAiC drift experiment. Instruments that are comparable to the sensors used in satellites were installed directly on the surface of the ice. Taken on a windy day, the image above shows several microwave radiometers (in the background), some of which are aimed at the snow and ice, while others are pointed toward space. An infrared camera and video camera, which are used to monitor the surface temperature, are in the foreground. At the same time, a host of physical snow and ice parameters like snow grain size, salinity and temperature are monitored. Combining all of these readings helps us to understand the signals received by the satellites, and to produce better satellite maps of e.g. the sea-ice thickness or snow thickness. These maps can then be used on their own, or together with models, to arrive at a better grasp of the Arctic climate system – which is MOSAiC’s primary objective.
Sea Ice Ticker Nr. 21: 14 February 2020 Using ice charts to assess the ice situation near the MOSAiC camp
In order to support navigation in the ice and help plan research activities on RV Polarstern during the MOSAiC expedition, not only satellite data, but also the ice charts provided by national sea-ice information services are used. These charts summarise the results of comprehensive analyses of satellite and model-based data. The chart from 10 February 2020 reflects the current ice situation in the vicinity of the MOSAiC expedition. It also shows the positions of both RV Polarstern and Kapitan Dranitsyn, a Russian resupply icebreaker that is en route to Polarstern to exchange personnel. For the past few days, the Russian ship has been operating to the north of Franz Josef Land; here patches of multiyear ice, which the ship had to overcome on her way to Polarstern, can be recognised. These charts were prepared by the Arctic & Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg (AARI) for use on the MOSAiC expedition, in keeping with the established international standard. Yellow represents ‘open ice’ with an ice concentration of 4/10 – 6/10; orange stands for ‘close ice’ (7/10 – 8/10); and red stands for ‘very close ice’ (9/10 – 10/10). In the oval grids, the ice concentrations are described in greater detail: the second line shows the respective concentrations of the thickest, second-thickest and third-thickest ice. The line below it (middle line) provides information on the ice’s developmental stage, i.e., how thick it is. The bottommost line indicates the ice’s form, e.g. whether it is pancake ice (0), a large (500 m - 2 km; 5) or a massive ice floe (> 10 km; 7). These charts are provided on a regular basis at meereisportal.de.
Sea Ice Ticker 20: 7 February 2020 Autonomous Monitoring of Sea-ice Characteristics-Buoys
Buoys, or in more general terms, ‘ice-based observation platforms’ – which autonomously and continually monitor the physical characteristics of the sea ice, snow and the uppermost layers of the ocean, as well as atmospheric parameters like the air temperature and barometric pressure – are essential sea-ice physics tools, used to prepare important time series on the sea ice and its development throughout the MOSAiC expedition.
Data collected by buoys deployed on the ice can be used to determine e.g. the thickness and temperature of the sea ice or the snow cover atop it, as well as sea-ice movement. Some types of buoy also monitor the surface layer of the ocean in order to measure the water temperature and currents. The sample map below shows the current positions of all active buoys involved in the MOSAiC expedition. The majority of them were deployed by the RV Polarstern upon her arrival, or near the starting position of the MOSAiC floe by the resupply icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn. You can find further information on the buoys and how they work here. To date, 126 buoys have been deployed for MOSAiC. Data and time series from 87 buoys are now available at meereisportal.de, including 14 thermistor buoys, 6 snow buoys, 2 radiation stations, 59 surface velocity profilers, 5 ocean CTD buoys, and 1 mass balance buoy. All buoy data is also supplied to the International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP).
Sea Ice Ticker 19: 31 January 2020 Temperature development on the MOSAiC floe – and what Fridtjof Nansen encountered 126 years ago
The temperature development in the Central Arctic is to a great extent shaped by the prevailing wind systems and the advection of warm air from the middle latitudes. In the winter months a powerful polar vortex, i.e., an upper-level low-pressure area over the polar ice caps, is formed. The result of a negative radiation balance, the vortex is characterised by a pronounced mass of cold air. This process also intensifies the polar jet (high-altitude wind), which separates the air masses of the middle and northern latitudes. When this air current weakens, it begins meandering, which makes it easier for warm air masses to penetrate the Central Arctic, while also opening the door for cold air intrusions into e.g. Europe or the USA. Current temperatures at the MOSAiC base camp are ca. -25° to -30° C, i.e., normal conditions for this time of year. With the exception of a phase in mid-November, during which temperatures rose above -10° C, this winter the temperatures have generally ranged from -20° to -30° C (blue curve in the figure).
The red curve in the figure shows the temperatures that Fridtjof Nansen and his 12-man crew encountered on their expedition, 126 years ago. At this time of year, they had to endure temperatures roughly 10° C colder (-30° to -40° C) during their drift.
In the current era of global warming, particularly the Arctic winters have generally grown milder, as can be clearly seen in the continuous readings gathered over the past 25 years at our AWIPEV station on Spitsbergen. Temperature data from the MOSAiC drift experiment is updated on a daily basis here.
Sea Ice Ticker No 18: 24 January 2020 Snow-related Activities during MOSAiC
Snow is important for sea ice in a number of ways: the insulating layer of white makes the surface of the ice brighter. By increasing the ice’s albedo (reflectivity), it ensures that the majority of incoming sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere. But it also insulates the sea ice from the frigid atmosphere. As a result, the temperature gradient between the ice / snow interface and ice / ocean interface is weakened, reducing the ice’s thermodynamic growth. In contrast, if the snow cover becomes too thick, its weight can push the ice / snow interface below the surface, allowing water to cover the ice. When this water refreezes, ‘snow-ice’ is formed, and the ice floe grows in thickness from above. In addition, there are a number of seasonal processes that take place within the snow cover: the snow can be compacted, e.g. by blowing winds or heavy snowfall; or brief warm-air intrusions in the Arctic can cause it to briefly melt – but then rapidly freeze again, producing e.g. ice lenses in the snow. Understanding all of these internal structures and qualities is not only necessary in connection with their influence on the energy and mass budget of Arctic sea ice, but can also support the accurate interpretation of remote sensing data.
For MOSAiC researchers, these aspects are extremely important. Accordingly, they are intensively engaged in measuring a broad range of snow characteristics. In addition to snow distribution on the floe, this includes precisely analysing physical traits like snow density, temperature, and snow grain size and types. Moreover, they’re collecting a wealth of snow samples for subsequent physical, chemical and biological laboratory analyses.
Sea Ice Ticker No 17: 17 January 2020 Winter sea-ice growth
In the course of the winter, the extent and thickness of sea ice steadily increase throughout the Arctic, until they reach their winter maximum, normally in late February / early March. By this time, the sea ice cover extends to the coastline at nearly all latitudes, at which point it can’t expand any farther. The only regions in which the extent continues to grow – i.e., where expansion is not precluded by land – are the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, eastern Greenland Sea and Barents Sea.
The ice of the MOSAiC floe has now grown to more than one metre thick, which has made it possible to prepare a 500-metre-long landing strip so that, in the event of an emergency, help can be flown in (search and rescue). RV Polarstern’s current position is 87° 33’ N and 100° 47’ E, or ca. 300 kilometres from the North Pole. The mean ice thickness for the expedition area as a whole is currently ca. one metre. Making more precise descriptions is difficult, since the ice frequently breaks up, new ice and ice hummocks are formed, and the ice is in constant motion.
Current temperatures at the MOSAiC camp are now as low as -35°C, which, combined with wind speeds of several metres per second, can produce wind chill temperatures down to -48°C: challenging conditions for the researchers and their equipment alike.
Sea Ice Ticker No 16: 10 January 2020 Changeover of teams at the MOSAiC camp: Christian Hass is the expedition leader for the second leg (Leg 2)
On 13 December 2019, day 85 of the MOSAiC expedition, the Russian supply icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn reached the MOSAiC station’s ice floe, located at 86° 35’ North and 119° 17’ East. Roughly 100 people traded places between the RV Polarstern and the Kapitan Dranitsyn, which embarked on its return journey to Tromsø on 18 December. This changeover also brought a change in expedition leaders; Prof Markus Rex, who had been responsible for selecting the ice floe, determining the drift experiment’s starting position, and setting up the MOSAiC camp since the start of the expedition in Tromsø, handed over the reins to Prof Christian Haas, head of the Sea Ice Physics section at the Alfred Wegener Institute and a sea ice physicist with extensive expedition experience. Haas, who has spent more than three year participating in various expeditions on board ship and at research camps, describes his expectations as follows: “From a research standpoint, I hope we’ll get to see some of the Arctic winter’s unique processes. For example, the warm air intrusions that are becoming more frequent in the Central Arctic, and can lead to rain at the North Pole even in mid-winter. This would give us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to investigate how such events affect the snow on the ice floe or even thaw it, causing dramatic changes in the snow’s microwave characteristics, which are important when it comes to interpreting satellite data.” A particular challenge for Christian Haas and the new team is the fact that they arrived in the polar winter, in an environment that they have never seen in daylight, which makes orientation difficult. “We have to learn to see using technology rather than our eyes. Laser scanners and infrared cameras, satellite images and ship-based radar systems will help us to do so and get our bearings on the ice floe in the middle of the Polar Night. This second leg could be the most gruelling stage of MOSAiC, with the darkest, coldest and windiest conditions. It may also take us to the northernmost point in the drift.”
Current temperatures at the MOSAiC camp are now as low as -35°C, which, combined with wind speeds of several metres per second, can produce wind chill temperatures down to -48°C: challenging conditions for the researchers and their equipment alike.
Sea Ice Ticker No 15: 18.10.2019 MOSAiC Reaches its First Goal!
With the mooring of the ship to an ice floe on 4 October 2019, nothing stood in the way of setting up the research camp around the RV Polarstern. Since then, a great deal of the initial work has been completed, and the ‘distributed network’ has been successfully installed.
With the aid of the ship’s seasoned crew and skilled helicopter pilots, the international team of researchers on board the Russian icebreaker Akademik Fedorov deployed a complex system of buoys and monitoring equipment in a radius of up to 50 km around the RV Polarstern, which will now serve as the central observatory, field laboratory, and home for a total of 600 researchers. In the course of an entire year, these experts will conduct their ongoing tests and take measurements at various sites (coloured areas in the figure below) on the ice floe.
And that marks the end of our coverage from the sea ice ticker, which accompanied the first phase of the MOSAiC expedition. For the remaining legs of the journey, meereisportal.de will continue to provide exclusive coverage of the sea-ice-related measurements taken, and of course also report on other important findings and stages of the drift experiment. In addition, you can use the MOSAiC app or the MOSAiC website to follow the expedition’s progress on a daily basis. Thank you for using the sea ice ticker!
Sea Ice Ticker No 14: 8.10.2019 The Search for the Ideal Ice Floe is a Success Story!
Since last week, RV Polarstern has been carefully making her way through the Arctic sea ice, all the while searching for the ideal ice floe to set up camp on. To aid her in this task, helicopters regularly took off from and landed on the accompanying Russian icebreaker Akademik Fedorov, taking aerial measurements with a sensor dubbed the EM-Bird. The device, which measures ice thickness in the direction of flight, makes it possible to initially survey potential ice floes, after which the ships can take a closer look at the most promising candidates. Once the floe had been found, additional tests and measurements were taken directly on its surface, using a variety of methods. In this regard, its thickness and stability were the most crucial parameters; after all, the floe will serve as the basis for an extensive ice research camp for more than a year.
Our multi-sensor sea ice maps show the sector for the starting region and route, as well as RV Polarstern’s current position (see figure). From the ‘zigzag’ route to date (red line), we can see that Polarstern neared a number of individual floes to assess their suitability. With the beginning of the winter season, the majority of the target sector is now home to sea ice, though in some cases it is only a few centimetres thick.
At 9:30 pm ship’s time on 4 October 2019, the time had come: the target floe had been identified and moored to, the ship’s engines were shut down, and Polarstern’s immediate vicinity could now be explored on foot! At the coordinates 85° 04.582’ north and 134° 25.769’ east, the researchers and crew can now begin with the actual heart of the expedition: the drift experiment! On the latest map, the area around Polarstern is also shown at magnification (green box). Since the icebreaker is a strong reflector for radar signals, it can also be recognised as a small white dot on the map.
Sea Ice Ticker No 13: 1.10.2019 Ice Maps from the Russian Research Institute AARI
In order to support navigation in the ice and help plan research activities, not only satellite data, but also the ice charts provided by national sea-ice information services are essential. These charts summarise the results of comprehensive analyses of satellite and model-based data, which are visually conducted by ice analysts. Throughout the MOSAiC expedition, ice charts will be provided by the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg (AARI). The ice information is presented in keeping with the established international standard: yellow indicates ‘open pack ice’ with an ice concentration of between 4/10 and 6/10, orange is ‘close pack ice’ (7/10 – 8/10), and red represents ‘very close pack ice’ (9/10 – 10/10). In the ovals, the ice concentration is described in more detail. The second column shows the respective concentrations of the thickest, second-thickest and third-thickest ice. Information on the ice’s developmental stage, i.e., how thick the ice is, can be found below the column. The last column offers data on the form of the ice, e.g. whether it is pancake ice (0), a large floe (500 m - 2 km; 5), or a massive floe (> 10 km; 7). These charts are provided at meereisportal.de on a regular basis.
Sea Ice Ticker No 12: 27.09.2019 Ice Concentration in MOSAiC’s Starting Region
After the successful launch of the MOSAiC expedition from the port of Tromsø at 8:30 pm on 20 September 2019, RV Polarstern is now on a direct course to the planned starting region in the Russian Sector of the Central Arctic. On 15 September 2019 the sea-ice extent in the Arctic reached its lowest total area this year; in the next few weeks, the freezing season will begin again. This is the time when the first layer of ice, referred to as frazil ice, is formed; in turn, nilas appears in the pancake ice, and eventually accumulates to form floes and first-year sea ice. Accordingly, it’s very important that the expedition reach the target region as early as possible, and begin looking for a suitable floe to erect the ice camp on.
Although the route to the target region is currently ice-free, the region itself is characterised by compact ice with a concentration of over 90%. Once there, the research icebreaker RV Polarstern will only be able to reach the final starting position by ramming her way through the ice. By 8 October 2019, roughly two weeks from now, the sun will no longer rise in the starting region, and the Polar Night will begin. When it does, the residual light from the sunset, reflected by the white snow, will be the only natural light source. By then, the camp should have been set up, and all preparations for the drift experiment completed.
Sea Ice Ticker No 11: 24.09.2019 Comparison Map of the Sea Ice Edge Position
In order to make meaningful statements on changes in the sea-ice concentration in different regions for different days, months and years, the differences are portrayed on a comparison map. In this regard, data on the sea-ice concentration from meereisportal.de can be used to calculate the daily position of the ice edge (15% sea-ice concentration). The differences to e.g. the long-term average (from 2003 to 2014) or to the monthly mean for the same month in any year can be displayed. Regions that gained sea ice (blue) and those that lost it (red) can be clearly recognised.
The map shows the differences in the sea ice edge position from 23 September 2019 in comparison to the monthly mean position for September in 2012, the year with the lowest summertime sea-ice extent since the beginning of satellite observation in 1979. Generally speaking, we can see a larger extent in all regions of the Arctic, although September 2019 was characterised by the second-lowest sea-ice extent ever observed. However, we can also see that there is now substantially less ice in the northern Laptev Sea, the planned starting region for the MOSAiC expedition (outlined in black on the map); there is also much less ice in the southern Greenland Sea this year. In the expanded data section created especially for MOSAiC on meerreisportal.de, new comparison maps will be provided on a daily basis, and in two versions (one in comparison to the year 2012, and one in comparison to the long-term average), helping us put the current sea-ice situation in perspective.
Sea Ice Ticker No 10: 20.09.2019 Kick-off for the MOSAiC Expedition in Tromsø
Today MOSAiC, the greatest Arctic expedition of all time, will begin, and the RV Polarstern will depart for her one-year-long overwintering experiment in the drifting polar ice. Over the course of an entire year, more than 600 experts from 60 research institutes and 19 nations will investigate the exchange processes between the ocean, ice and atmosphere. Though the Arctic regions have a tremendous influence on our climate, that influence remains only poorly understood. New data gathered during the expedition will allow us to better grasp how the Arctic climate is evolving; moreover, together with the new insights gained, it will enhance our current climate models, helping us make more accurate forecasts regarding our weather and future climate developments.
The official launch will be tonight at 8:00 pm Central European Summer Time, when many years of careful preparation will finally pay off, and the adventure will begin!
meereisportal.de will here intensively accompany the expedition with a focus on sea ice aspects, and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone participating the best of luck, great new findings, and safe travels!
Sea Ice Ticker No 9: 17.09.2019 Sea-ice Buoys
Buoys are independent measuring platforms, which are used to autonomously gather climate-relevant data in the world’s oceans and send it via satellite directly to a base station. They are particularly used in the ice-covered oceans in the polar regions to obtain valuable measurements in the winter months. Braving the extreme (Ant)Arctic weather conditions during this time is a major challenge for marine expeditions or other manned missions. There are numerous types of buoys that can measure the physical and biological properties of the atmosphere and the sea ice as well as the underlying ocean.
This technology will play a crucial role in the unique MOSAiC expedition. While most of the participating researchers will focus on taking measurements on the main ice floe, up to 160 measuring buoys will be installed on other ice floes over a radius of several dozen kilometres around this ‘central observatory’. To install this network of buoys, the RV Polarstern will initially be escorted by a second icebreaker and several helicopters, which will be used to allow the international research team to erect their instruments on the ice. The experts hope that this data will enable them to extend the insights from the measurements on the ‘main floe’ to a larger area. Furthermore, the unprecedented number of buoys working in parallel will provide new insights into the movements of the ice floes in relative to each other, which will then be used, among other things, to improve climate models.
The measurements from the buoys can be followed live on meereisportal.de (here). From October, we will also provide an easy-to-use, interactive map to present the buoy date on meereisportal.de more quickly and simply.
Sea Ice Ticker No 8: 13.09.2019
The summer sea-ice minimum in the Arctic is an indicator of the global effects of progressing climate change. The September ice extent has been decreasing since 1979. This is the month that marks the end of the melt season, when the lowest absolute ice extent, as well as the lowest monthly mean, is reached. There has been a reduction in this of circa 12 % per decade, and in all probability this year will see the second-lowest level ever. Despite variations in the ice melt from year to year, this year, since the beginning of the melt season in March, the average monthly ice extent has been low (in parts, the lowest ever). Looking at the average ice concentration and extent for the first third of the month (here), we can expect the monthly mean ice extent in September to be 3.9 ± 0.1 million km², assuming similarly progressing weather conditions. This extensive melting is also linked to a reduction in the mean ice thickness, which means that RV Polarstern’s search for a suitable ice floe (a thickness > 1.2 m, to provide a safe base to set up camp on) to serve as a “home port” won’t be easy.
Sea Ice Ticker No 7: 10.09.2019
We’re gradually approaching this summer’s sea ice minimum. This map shows us the sea ice concentration on 9 September, and it can clearly be seen that large parts of the Northwest Passage are free of ice. Although the surface melt is almost over, the ice continues to melt since there is still sufficient warmth in the ocean. Winds can also reduce the sea ice by pushing it together. For comparison the ice edges in 2007 (red) and 2012 (yellow) are shown. In both years the sea ice concentration reached record lows. If the ice isn’t further compacted by strong winds, the sea ice extent in 2019 will near the second-lowest value since the beginning of continuous satellite observation in 1979.
Sea Ice Ticker No 6: 06.09.2019
Comparing the current sea ice extent in the Arctic with reference time points in the past allows us to better estimate the current sea ice situation. In order to compare the changes in the sea ice concentration in various regions and for different months and years, the differences in the ice edge are represented on a map. To do this, data on the sea ice concentration is used to determine the position of the ice edge (15 % sea ice concentration) and the difference between this and the long-term average (from 2003 to 2014) for the same month. This makes regions with an increase in sea ice (blue) and a reduction in sea ice (red) clearly visible. In August 2019, there was significantly less ice in the entire Siberian and Canadian continental shelf region than the average for the period 2003 – 2014. Only in small areas of the Greenland Sea (Fram Strait) and in the northern Barents was there slightly more ice. In particular, the ice in the planned starting position for the MOSAiC expedition has declined sharply, making it a favourable point for the RV Polarstern to set off from on its way to the target region.
Sea Ice Ticker No 5: 03.09.2019
Satellite remote sensing is an effective tool for recording sea ice parameters. In order to assess the sea ice situation in the MOSAiC starting region, multiple types of information from satellite observations are used to obtain a better estimate of the sea ice situation in the area. The most important parameters include ice concentration, ice movement and the general condition of the ice surface. In the AWI’s newly developed multi-satellite product for MOSAiC, radar satellite images of the sea ice surface with a resolution of 50 m are combined with ice concentration data with a spatial resolution of 3 km and drift information on the ice movement. This allows us to gain an accurate picture of the ice characteristics in the potential starting region, which makes the preparatory investigations and route planning easier and also depicts the ice conditions during the MOSAiC drift.
The region is currently marked by a fragmented sea ice surface with a sea ice concentration of 20 -100 %. Everything from compact ice to open water can be found here. However, recent weeks have shown how quickly the situation can change, depending on the weather. In the last 48 hours, the ice drift was mainly in a westerly direction. From today, this and other sea ice maps and derived products for MOSAiC will be available in a new section on meereisportal.de, click here.
Sea Ice Ticker No 4: 30.08.2019
Climatalogical maps help us gain a better understanding of the current Arctic sea ice situation. This map shows the temperature anomalies at an altitude of 925 hPa (roughly 760 m) over the Arctic, depicted as deviations from the long-term average from 1971 to 2000. Red indicates a positive deviation and blue a negative deviation. We can clearly see that in the period from 1 to 26 August, wide areas of the Arctic were far too warm. Particularly along the Siberian coast, the temperatures were up to 6 degrees higher than the long-term average, and the situation was similar over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Warmth from the atmosphere, together with the wind field and the ocean temperature, is an important factor in the development of the sea ice situation up to the summer minimum in the coming month. You can read more about the effect of these factors on the current sea ice situation here.
Sea Ice Ticker No 3: 27.08.2019
This 'fever chart' allows us to follow the daily changes in the total sea ice concentration in the Arctic. The red line shows us the values for 2019, while the grey line shows the mean value for the years 1981 – 2010, bordered by an area depicting the span of two standard deviations for all the observed values in the same period (grey band). If we look at the trend for this year, we can see that after a record low in July, it has gradually settled above the line for 2012 – the year with the lowest sea ice extent since the beginning of continuous satellite observations in 1979. The weather in the coming weeks will be crucial to how this curve develops. You can follow these daily maps here. The distribution of high and low-pressure areas and the effect of warm air masses from the lower latitudes will determine the distribution of the sea ice and the total ice cover. We’re following the situation in the planned MOSAiC starting region with bated breath.
Sea Ice Ticker No 2: 23.08.2019
Today’s map shows the likely area in the Arctic from which the research icebreaker RV Polarstern’s MOSAiC expedition will start its drift (section outlined in black). The RV Polarstern will sail from Tromsø/Norway on 20 September, cross the Barents and Kara Seas and then set course for Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya in order to reach the starting area in the Laptev Sea. The sea ice in this region has retreated significantly this year, and the ice concentration is between 50 % and 80 %. You can find a more detailed description of the current ice situation here. It will only be possible to select an ice floe with the necessary size and thickness for the drift station to anchor at once the starting region has been reached. You can find detailed maps of the sea ice concentration on the DataPortal of seaiceportal.de. RV Polarstern is currently on another mission – Expedition PS121.
Sea Ice Ticker No 1: 20.08.2019
Today’s map of the sea ice concentration and extent in the Arctic marks the launch of the “AWI Sea Ice Ticker”. In preparation for the start of the major MOSAiC expedition in Tromsø/Norway on 20 September 2019, twice a week we will present new maps of the sea ice situation in the Arctic, showing the current sea ice development, and so follow the preparations in the lead-up to the expedition. We’re all eagerly awaiting the start of MOSAiC – why not join us?