Why is Arctic ice melting so fast?

sea_ice_fraction_change_and_absorbed_solar_radiation_change

Right now, it's cold in the Arctic. Days are dark, and ice grows to cover the dark sea. Come summer, lengthening days and warming temperatures will reverse that process. This is the ebb and flow of the Arctic, a natural cycle.

However, over the past several decades we have seen summers melt more and more of the ice that forms during the cold winter months. As a result, more and more dark seawater is exposed to the light of day.

NASA researchers, using several instruments on three separate satellites, has been collecting data for 15 years to find out why the ice is melting, and to be able to predict trends in future ice formation and melting. They reported on this data at the 2014 American Geophysical Union annual meeting, saying that 15 years worth is the absolute minimum amount of information needed for them to begin making long-term predictions. Climate trends, as opposed to weather trends, are averaged over 30 years, so they are about halfway there at this point in time.

The project to observe the Arctic is part of NASA's Clouds and the Earths Radiant Energy Systems (CERES) mission. They measure the Earth's reflected solar radiation, emitted thermal infrared radiation, and all emitted and reflected radiation.

The results so far indicate that the Arctic is absorbing energy from the sun five percent faster now during the summer months than it was when they first began monitoring in 2000. This is important because the rest of the Earth is still absorbing energy at pretty much the same rate.

Put into energetic terms, this means each square meter of the Arctic Ocean is absorbing approximately 10 more watts of solar energy than everywhere else. Interestingly, this is not uniform, and is regionally specific. For instance, the Beaufort Sea has been measured at 50 watts per square meter.

All this extra energy has an impact on sea ice melt. The Beaufort Sea is one of the more dramatic ice melt examples. And, the rate of ice loss in September in the Arctic overall is 13 percent per decade. Let me spell that out... the Arctic is absorbing more energy, the air temperature is warming, and the rate of ice melting is being multiplied over ten times each decade.

So, why is this happening? It partially has to do with albedo, or reflectivity. Ice and snow reflect the sun's light and energy, while dark oceans absorb it. Less summer ice means that things are going to warm up faster, creating a feed-forward cycle that will potentially lead to even further warming and melting.

Walt Meier discussed differences in the ice itself that contribute to this process. He said that young ice melts more easily than old ice due to surface features and salinity. This results in much more rapid melting each year, which exposes more old, thicker ice to the suns rays. Each year more old ice is lost only to be replaced during the winter with easily melting young ice. The Arctic has lost 1.4 million square kilometers of ice over the past 15 years.

Young, thin ice makes the Arctic more vulnerable to further summer melting. Further Jennifer Kay, said that cloud cover is not related to the observed absorbed radiation.

 

MPAA and ICE admit they yanked an innocent man out of a movie for wearing Google Glass

Representatives of the MPAA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency confirmed that they worked together to yank a Google Glass wearer out of a movie theater, detain him in a small room against his will, confiscate and inspect his electronics (including his phone) and coerce an interview out of him with legal threats. They believed, incorrectly, that their victim had been recording the movie with his gadget. The Google Glass set he wore had been fitted with prescription lenses and he was watching the movie through them because they corrected his vision.

The MPAA's and ICE's statements are bland and anodyne (ICE says that the interview was "voluntary," though the man's account contradicts this). Neither of them explain how it is that a movie theater employee can call an MPAA hotline, and how the MPAA can then command ICE law-enforcement officials to drop everything and rush down to a multiplex to roust a potential camcorderer and treat him like a presumptive criminal.

The problem for the MPAA of camcordering is that they would like to stagger the release of their films -- first to the theatrical exhibition channel, then to airplanes and hotel rooms, then to pay-per-view and streaming services and DVD, etc. This makes them more profitable, but only if they can keep each channel discrete. Lots of businesses struggle with their profit-maximization strategies, but only the MPAA gets to command the forces of federal law-enforcement in the service of their business-model, putting the cost of that strategy onto the tax-payer.

Read the rest

When ice attacks

This incredible video shot at Izatys Resort at Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota shows an "ice shove," where currents, winds, or temperature differences push chunks of lake ice onto land like a drifting iceberg. (via karenstan, thanks Sean Ness!)

And here is a CNN story from last year about this phenomena destroying homes in the Minnesota region. (Thanks, Jason!)

What Antarctica looks like under the ice

The ice sheet that covers Antarctica is almost two miles thick in some places. But the British Antarctic Survey is able to peek beneath the frozen surface with the help of satellites, lasers, and radar.

You can go wading in the lake at the North Pole

Last week, Dean told you about the lake at the North Pole, a pool of melted ice captured on camera by the North Pole Environmental Observatory webcams.

At Climate Central, Andrew Freedman provides some really fascinating context that illustrates the changing nature of, well, nature ... and draws a big, heavy underline on how difficult it can be to make assumptions about what is and what isn't an effect of climate change. Arctic sea ice is melting in concert with rising global average temperatures, but (contrary to the knee-jerk assumption I made about this story) the lake at the North Pole may or may not have anything to do with that. In fact, little pools have been forming at the North Pole in summer for as long as we've been paying attention. They don't actually represent the total melting of ice, but rather a layer of slushy water that forms on top of solidly frozen ice — usually, you could wade out through them and never get more than waist-deep.

What's more, the picture above wasn't taken at the North Pole. That's because the North Pole Elemental Observatory — which sits on mobile ice — has moved far from the actual North Pole since its launch. So, there probably is a lake (more of a pond, really) at the North Pole, but it might not be caused by climate change. While this lake, which isn't at the North Pole, could well be part of the melting sea ice that climate change does cause. But it also might not, because what happens as a result of climate change is always layered on top of stuff that just happens. In order to be able to tell the difference, you have to do a lot of scientific analysis — much more than you can get from one picture.

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Snowflake electron microscope photos


Twisted Sifter has a great gallery of snowflake and ice crystal electron microscope photos. At this level of magnification, the ice looks like metal that has been machined by space aliens.

25 Microscopic Images of Snow Crystals

Skull ice cube maker

For $12, Gama Go will sell you a mould that makes skull-shaped ice cubes. Not technically cubes, though, are they?

P.S. This reminded me that we require pyramid-shaped ice cubes (i.e. pyramids) for our illuminati parties. Unfortunately, all the molds available online seem to be floppy silicone ones with the tops flattened to be stable in the freezer or oven. This is clearly unacceptable -- does anyone make a nice hard plastic one with pointy tops? If not, we may have to kickstart this.

De-frosting a building-sized refrigerator

The Fulton Market Cold Storage Company building in Chicago has been, well, storing cold things since the 1920s. But last July, the company sold the building and moved to a more modern facility outside town, leaving the old cold storage warehouse to be turned into offices.

But first, the new owners had to defrost it.

The Fulton Market Cold Storage building has ice-covered walls for the same reason a freezer can get covered in hard, packed ice. When you put something into a freezer — say, a giant slab of beef fresh from a slaughterhouse — that thing contains moisture. There's liquid trapped inside it. Over time, especially if it's not sealed very well, that moisture will turn into water vapor in the air. When temperature changes cause that vapor to condense back into liquid, it instantly freezes — turning to ice anywhere it touches.

In your fridge at home, that's just an annoyance. At the Fulton Market Cold Storage building, it was epic.

Besides the video above, you should really check out the amazing photos taken for the ice, pre-melt, by photographer Gary Jensen.

Via This Is Colossal

How snowflakes get their shapes

Not all snowflakes are unique in their shape. There's one fact for you.

And here's another: The shape of snowflakes — whether individually distinct or mass-production common — is determined by chemistry. Specifically, the shape is a function of the temperatures and meteorological conditions the snowflakes are exposed to as they form and the way those factors affect the growth of ice crystals.

This short video from Bytesize Science will give you a nice overview of snowflake production and will help you understand why some snowflakes are unique, and why others aren't.

Halloween greetings from Antarctica

Henry Kaiser is kind of our man on the inside in Antarctica. He works there every year as a film maker, turning science into movies. He sent this awesome Halloween greeting from underneath the sea ice.

Bonus: He also sent us a video taken at the same spot — only this has 100% fewer wacky masks and 100% more sea anemones.

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Watch an Icelandic glacier disintegrate

"The sound of running water is not something you used to hear on an ice cap." Arctic explorer Will Steger said this last weekend, during a presentation at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Steger was showing video clips from some of his travels, and he had to speak rather loudly. Otherwise, we couldn't have heard him over the sound of running water, flowing over, under, and through an ice cap.

Steger started traveling to the Arctic 18 years ago, and he's seen the region change dramatically over time. Today, he says, it's impossible to dogsled to the North Pole without bringing some kind of floatation device. You just can't rely any longer on the ice being solid all the way up.

But one of the most disturbing things Steger showed us was how global warming disintegrates glaciers. This isn't just about the melting that happens on top of the ice. It's really about what's happening below. Glaciers aren't a solid mass. Because they move, they're riddled with cracks and crevasses. When snow and ice on top of the glacier turns into water, there are plenty of ways for that water to seep down to the bottom of the glacier. Once there, the water acts as a lubricant. It makes it easier for the front of the glacier to break off and melt away into nothing.

You can watch that process happen in real time, as meltwater helps to break apart a glacier in a time-lapse video filmed between March 27, 2007 and March 4, 2012. About halfway though, the video reverses. As the glacier "rebuilds" itself, you really get the full impact of what's happened, and what is still happening, to our Arctic ice sheets.

Video Link

See more videos of melting ice filmed by the Extreme Ice Survey.

Learn more about the global outlook for ice and snow.

Learn more about how climate change is affecting the Arctic at the Will Steger Foundation website.

Imploding iceberg in Antarctica

I love this video of an iceberg collapsing in on itself in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. (Word of warning, the people filming this loved the experience even more than I loved watching it, so much so that you may want to turn your speakers down.)

There are two kinds of icebergs, tabular and non-tabular. The tabular ones are what they sound like, big flat sheets of ice. Non-tabular are different—irregular shapes that become even more irregular as bits and pieces of them melt. Judging by the arched shape this iceberg had taken on, it probably falls into the non-tabular category. Implosion happens when melting weakens key structural support within that shape and bits of the iceberg begin to crash in on itself, accelerating the breakup. Both tabular and non-tabular icebergs and catastrophically fail like this, though.

Another fun iceberg fact: There are six size categories we sort icebergs by. Four of them have pretty predictable names: "Small", "Medium", "Large", and "Very Large". But below "small" are two size categories with a little more whimsy.

Icebergs with a hight of less than 3.3 feet and a length less than 16 feet are called "Growlers".

If the height shorter than 16 feet and the length shorter than 49 feet, then the iceberg is called, adorably, "a Bergy Bit". Yes, that is a technical term.

Via Pourmecoffee

Video Link

Eyewitness to climate change

Numbers can be powerful things, but they don't necessarily help the average person grasp what's actually going on in science. Instead, personal stories tend to make a bigger impact. And that's understandable. Things you can see—or things that someone can show you—are going to stick in your head a bit more than a barrage of data.

This is especially a problem, I think, with climate change. Some of the largest impact of climate change, so far, have happened in places far removed from the experiences of the people who create the most anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So it's often hard to take the idea "the Earth is getting warmer" and really grok what that actually means.

That's why people like Will Steger are important. Steger is an explorer and science communicator who has won the National Geographic Society's John Oliver La Gorce Medal—an award that's also been given to Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Jacques Cousteau.

He does most of his work in the Arctic and Antarctic, places where he has clearly seen the results of climate change. In a video of a presentation at the University of Minnesota, Steger shows you his experiences—and what they mean. How has climate change altered the landscape of the poles? What does that mean for the future of the Earth? Steger does a good job of making the data feel like something real.

I wish I could figure out how to embed this, but you should go watch it, nonetheless. It's a long video, but worth the time.

Image: Ice berg melting., a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from dkeats's photostream

Britain's threatening and clueless domain takedown message

Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) seizes domains in similar fashion to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But whereas American authorities' placeholders are all businesslike neoclassicism, Britain's look like something a phisher would email to scare you into giving up your PayPal password. The daftest part? Showing you your browser environment data, then threatening the operator of your Tor exit node with prosecution.

It's almost as if the only point of surveillance was to intimidate people!

Yet it proceeds from crude threats to the strangest abstraction. Imagine this messaging applied to actual counterfeit goods: "As a result of imported medications, young, emerging scientists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally bought medications online you will have damaged the future of the international pharmaceutical industry."

Users warned as RnBXclusive.com shut down by police [BBC]

Watch starfish flee an icy finger of death

This clip from the BBC's Frozen Planet is one of the most amazing things you will ever see.

"Brinicle" is a clever portmanteau for an icy finger of death that forms naturally in the very cold seawater one finds around Earth's poles. A crust of sea ice can form on top of this water, and that's the first step to making a brinicle. Here's how polar oceanographer Mark Brandon explained the process in an article on the BBC website:

In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.

The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.

Check out that BBC website link for more information on how the Frozen Planet videographers captured this footage. That's also where you should go to watch the video when this YouTube version is inevitably taken down.

Thank you, Brittany. Truly freaking amazing.

Video Link