A brand new scientific methodology might enable researchers to maintain higher tabs on the melting Arctic. For the primary time, scientists have devised a way to observe the thickness of Arctic sea ice year-round — even in the summertime, when it’s most troublesome to do.
The brand new methodology, outlined in a paper revealed Wednesday within the journal Nature, might assist to fill a longstanding hole within the satellite tv for pc report relating to sea ice thickness.
Since 1979, scientists have used satellites to maintain a steady eye on Arctic sea ice. Satellite tv for pc photographs, collected yr spherical, present how the overall sea ice protection space has steadily shrunk because the planet has warmed.
Particular radar devices on satellites can also measure the thickness of sea ice because it floats atop the ocean. These data recommend that sea ice is thinning over time as a lot of the Arctic’s oldest, thickest ice succumbs to the warming local weather.
However there’s one main problem with the thickness report. It largely excludes the summer time months.
Throughout the warmest time of the yr, the ocean ice begins to soften and liquid water begins to pool on its floor. These soften ponds confuse the radar programs, making it troublesome for them to distinguish ice from ocean and to precisely measure the thickness of ice floes.
There are different methods scientists can measure ice thickness through the summer time. They will fly specifically outfitted planes over the Arctic Ocean, or they’ll ship researchers into the sector on ships to take the measurements in particular person. There are even particular scientific buoys scattered all through the Arctic that may assist hold tabs on the altering ice.
However none of those strategies gives the form of full, steady image of the complete Arctic Ocean that satellites do. Meaning there’s at all times one thing of a niche within the thickness report through the summer time.
That’s an issue from a scientific standpoint. Full, nonstop data are the gold commonplace for understanding how the Arctic is responding to local weather change and for constructing local weather fashions that may make long-term predictions about its future.
It’s an issue that Jack Landy, lead writer of the brand new examine, has contemplated for a number of years now.
After wrapping up his doctorate in Canada, Landy was in search of new tasks to sort out. He’d simply moved again to the UK and was discovering that there have been fewer alternatives for the sorts of field-based analysis he’d carried out whereas he was abroad. He began interested by issues that may very well be solved from afar.
“This was one of many clear form of gaps within the information that we had,” mentioned Landy, at present a scientist at College of Tromsø — The Arctic College of Norway. “There’s been, for greater than 20 years, this hole in summer time thickness observations that we get from satellite tv for pc altimetry. So it simply appeared like a very fascinating and thrilling mission to attempt to goal.”
It additionally proved a serious problem.
“The rationale that it’s taken so lengthy has been that it’s a really difficult mission to get good outcomes on,” Landy mentioned.
Over the previous few years, extra collaborators bought concerned with the mission. The brand new paper, revealed this week, features a dozen authors from establishments throughout Europe and North America.
The crew turned to machine studying, a form of synthetic intelligence, for the answer. One of many basic challenges for measuring ice thickness in summer time is differentiating between soften swimming pools on the ice and the ocean itself. The researchers utilized a machine studying method to satellite tv for pc information to differentiate the ice floes.
Additionally they constructed a mannequin of the radar system’s response to the melting ice and in contrast it with precise satellite tv for pc information — a way that allowed them to make corrections to the radar system’s measurements as needed. This methodology finally helped them assemble an correct summertime report of sea ice thickness.
When trying on the full, year-round report, the scientists discovered that sea ice thickness is an effective predictor of sea ice extent, or the overall space it covers on the ocean floor. Thinner ice, unsurprisingly, melts and disappears quicker.
The examine means that information on sea ice thickness through the summer time might help predict the overall space of ice that’s left over in September, when the summer time ends. That’s helpful when making forecasts for delivery site visitors.
The brand new methodology may show helpful in different methods, too.
It might assist enhance the mannequin simulations that scientists use to make projections concerning the Arctic’s future. Shrinking sea ice impacts the Arctic’s delicate ecosystem and the human societies who rely on it. It additionally impacts the speed at which the Arctic warms. And the velocity of Arctic warming, research recommend, can have an effect on climate and local weather patterns elsewhere across the globe. That makes these projections essential not just for Arctic communities however for the complete world.
Bettering the fashions is “one of the crucial thrilling potential impacts” of the examine, in line with Landy. To this point, a lot of the ice thickness information that’s been used to assemble the fashions comes from wintertime observations. The brand new methodology opens up the potential for utilizing the very best information from all yr.
“All of the processes that management how the ice breaks up within the summers have had no thickness information to check towards,” Landy mentioned. “The speed of sea ice melting, how a lot it breaks up and shatters and thins — all this stuff have been lacking observations.”
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