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Russia to evacuate floating ice station

Melting ice off Svalbard, pictured 2011

Russia is preparing to evacuate a crew of 16 from a drifting Arctic research station because the ice floe it is sitting on has started to disintegrate. The news agency AFP said Natural Resources and Ecology Minister Sergei Donskoi had set a three-day deadline to draft an evacuation plan for the North Pole-40 floating station. That was yesterday afternoon. (See also Times Live for report and photo!)

“The destruction of the ice has put at risk the station’s further work and life of its staff,” the ministry said in a statement.       The station is currently home to 16 personnel including oceanologists, meteorologists, engineers and a doctor.  It conducts meteorological research, monitors environmental pollution and conducts a number of tests.  If the situation is not addressed, it may also result in the loss of equipment and contaminate the environment near Canada’s economic zone where the station is currently located, the ministry added. The floating station is to be relocated to Bolshevik Island in the Russian Arctic with the help of an ice breaker.

Vladimir Sokolov, who oversees the floating station at the Saint Petersburg-based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, said the ice was disintegrating due to climate change. Russia created its first floating research station in the Arctic, the North Pole 1 in 1937. The first floating station put up by post-Soviet Russia was put together in 2003. The crew had to be rescued when the ice floe beneath it broke up in 2004.

The experts in charge say the crew’s lives are not in danger, but working conditions have become impossible. They say the fast melt of the ice is making it more difficult for research to keep pace with developments.

Not surprising, but surely another spectacular illustration of what’s happening up in the High North? Has anybody seen this making a big splash (sorry!) in the  international headlines?




May 24, 2013 | 11:28 am




10 years French-German Arctic Station

The Awipev station in the “Blue House”, Ny Alesund

Congratulations to the team of the joint French-German Arctic research station in Ny Alesund, Svalbard. It is ten years since the German polar authority AWI (Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research) and its French counterpart IPEV (Institut Polaire Paul Emile Victor) joined forces at the world’s northernmost research base.

The station was my first Arctic destination in 2007, so it has a special significance for me. During the IPY, I was involved in an international radio cooperation to report on polar science, which was how the Ice Blog was born.

Photo gallery from Ny Alesund, “From Pole to Pole”.

AWIPEV is the biggest of the research stations in Ny Alesund, and takes up to 150 scientists from France and Germany in the course of a year.

Equipment to measure ocean acidification await loading to Greenpeace ship Esperanza at Ny Alesund, 2010

Esperanza docked at Ny Alesund to pick up the “mesocosms” to monitor ocean acidification

I visited again in 2010 with a team looking at ocean acidification. Their equipment was transported up by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, a “first” in terms of cooperation between scientists funded by the EU’s EPOCA programme and the environment group. Greenpeace offered the ship to help out when none of the scientific research vessels was available for the project.

The station has also just been the first to be officially approved by the climate data network GRUAN. Not a terribly attractive acronym, but definitely easier to say/write than the whole title: Global Climate Observing System Reference Upper Air Network. Basically, the idea is to standardize and the measurement of climate parameters around the world so that the figures are really comparable. It was initiated by the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO, UNEP and the International Council for Science.

Keep up the good work everyone up there at AWIPEV.





April 29, 2013 | 2:55 pm



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Antarctic Peninsula is thawing faster

BAS ship James Clark Ross  in the Antarctic
(Courtesy of BAS)

Ice in parts of the Antarctic Peninsula is now melting during the summer faster than at any time during the last thousand years, according to new research results. The scientists have reconstructed changes in the intensity of ice-melt, and the mean temperature on the northern Antarctic Peninsula since AD 1000, based on the analysis of ice cores.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the coolest conditions and lowest melt occurred from about AD 1410 to 1460, when mean temperature was 1.6 °C lower than that of 1981–2000. Since the late 1400s, there has been a nearly tenfold increase in melt intensity from 0.5 to 4.9%. The warming has occurred in progressive phases since about AD 1460, but the melting has intensified,  and has largely occurred since the mid-twentieth century. The study concludes that  “ice on the Antarctic Peninsula is now particularly susceptible to rapid increases in melting and loss in response to relatively small increases in mean temperature”.

Paul Brown of Climate News Network says the findings explain a series of sudden collapses of ice shelves in the last 20 years, which scientists studying them had not expected. He also quotes the researchers as saying the current melting could lead to “further dramatic events, making the loss of large quantities of ice on the Peninsula more likely, and adding to sea level rise”.

The study is also of interest against the background of the debate going on over the last 20 years on whether the Antarctic would gain mass through extra snow falling and so REDUCE sea level rise, or would lose ice because of higher sea and air temperature and so exacerbate the effect.

The scientists use a 364-metre ice core from James Ross Island to get in insight into both past temperatures and ice melt. Layers in the core show periods when summer snow on the ice cap thawed and then refroze. By measuring the thickness of the layers, they could tell how the history of the melting related to changes in temperature at the site over the last thousand years.

Lead author Dr. Nerilie Abram of the Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said:  “Summer melting at the ice core site today is now at a level that is higher than at any other time over the last 1,000 years. And whilst temperatures at this site increased gradually in phases over many hundreds of years, most of the intensification of melting has happened since the mid-20th centrtury.

Dr. Robert Mulvaney from the BAS, who led the drilling expedition and co-authored the paper said:  “Having a record of previous melt intensity for the Peninsula is particularly important because of the glacier retreat and ice shelf loss we are now seeing in the area. Summer ice melt is a key process that is thought to have weakened ice shelves along the Antarctic Pensinsula leading to a succession of dramatic collapses, as well as speeding up glacier ice loss across the region over the last 50 years”.

The changes on the Antarctic Peninsula do not necessarily apply to other parts of Antarctica, such as the West Antarctic ice Sheet. Melting is also occurring there and could have an even greater risk of large-scale sea level rise.

Paul Brown from Climate News Network notes “it is not clear that the levels of recent ice melt and glacier loss in West Antarctica are exceptional or are caused by human-driven climate changes.”

Lead author Abram says: “This new ice core record shows that even small changes in temperature can result in large increases in the amount of melting in places where summer tempearatures are near to 0°C, such as along the Antarctic Peninsula, and this has important implications for ice instability and sea level rise in a warming climate”.

I interviewed Andrew Shepherd, Professor of Earth Observation at the British University of leeds, on a major satellite sutdy of the polar ice melt towards the end of last year. It makes interesting listening to complement this latest development:

Interview with Andrew Shepherd

See also:

Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever

Are warming seas changing the Antarctic ice?

Photo gallery: High season for Antarctic researchers




April 16, 2013 | 12:43 pm



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Greener Arctic will speed up warming

Trees and shrubs are creeping farther north (Pic shows Alaska)

New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening” or increase in plant cover in the Arctic. In a paper published in Nature Climate Change on March 31st, scientists present new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. They also show that this will accelerate climate warming at a faster rate than previously expected.

In the Ice Blog post of March 11th, A Greener Arctic in a Warmer Climate, I wrote about a study of satellite data showing there have already been considerable changes, with plants growing further north and reaching higher heights than previously in their present locations. The new work, funded by the National Science Foundation, models how the “greening” of the Arctic could continue and what effects it could have.

Richard Pearson, the lead author on the paper and a scientist at the American Museum of natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation says “such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem”. Once again, we have a piece of research demonstrating the worldwide significance of what is happening in the far north of the planet.

The models suggest there could be trees growing hundreds of miles north of the present tree line in Siberia. As well as changing living conditions for flora and fauna, the researchers draw particular attention to the feedback effects which would be produced by having a green rather than a white Arctic. The albedo effect would have the greatest impact, they say. The white snow reflects most of the radiation back to space. “Dark” areas, on the other hand, in this case trees or shrubs, would absorb more sunlight, leading to a further increase in temperature. For the Arctic, that would mean “the more vegetation there is, the more warming will occur”, according to the study. It is the same phenomenon observed when the increased melting of the sea ice gives way to darker water, which absorbs more heat.

You might wonder if  the plant growth could offset this warming effect by absorbing atmospheric carbon. But this process happens too slowly for that, says co-author of the study Michael Loranty, from Colgate Unversity.:

“By incorporating observed relationships between plants and albedo, we show that vegetation distribution shifts will result in an overall positive feedback to climate that is likely to cause greater warming than has previously been predicted”, according to Wood Hole Research Center Senior Scientist Scott Goetz, another co-author.

The temperature in the Arctic is already rising at about twice the global rate.



April 2, 2013 | 1:53 pm



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Climate change causes extreme weather

Potsdam is home to one of the world’s leading climate research institutes, the PIK.

Human-triggered climate change has been the cause of a lot of the recent extreme weather across the globe, according to a new scientific study. A team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says it has found a physical cause common to events such as the 2011 heat waves in the USA, the 2010 Russian heat wave or the floods in Pakistan in the same year. The scientists, whose study is published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, say climate change is affecting the movement of air around the northern hemisphere, resulting in extreme conditions. Lead author Vladimir Petoukov says: “An important part of the global air movement in the mid-latitudes of the earth normally takes the form of waves travelling around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. When they travel upwards, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the USA; when they dip downwards, they do the same with cold air from the Arctic. We found that during several recent extreme weather events, these waves virtually froze and remained unchanged for weeks. Instead of bringing in cool air after warm air, the heat just stays. ”

The mechanism is a complex one and the report is not easy reading. I can recommend a summary produced by Alex Kirby for the “Climate News Network“.

PIK’s director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study, describes it as a breakthrough, but stresses there are other factors involved in extreme weather events as well as climate change. However, he and his colleagues say the physical process they have identified helps to explain the increasing number of weather extremes and provides a mechanism to explain a link between climate change and extreme weather.


February 26, 2013 | 9:59 am



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