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The Changing Arctic Climate as Observed from Space. Josefino C. Comiso NASA Goddard Space Flight Center IPY Presentation for Informal Educators GSFC Web, 16 October 2008. Scientific Motivations.

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the changing arctic climate as observed from space

The Changing Arctic Climate as Observed from Space

Josefino C. Comiso

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

IPY Presentation for Informal Educators

GSFC Web, 16 October 2008

scientific motivations
Scientific Motivations
  • The Earth is warming and impacts of anthropogenic activities is becoming more apparent
  • Satellite data is needed to get a global perspective of the problem
  • Early signals of a Climate change may come from the polar regions because of feedback effects. The Arctic is already showing such signals.
  • Impacts on the quality of human lives, on the economy and the infracstructure are huge.
  • It may not be too late. Mitigation strategies must be considered seriously.
anthropogenic co2
Anthropogenic CO2

AES Drax in Yorkshire pumps smoke out of the tallest chimneys in the country. The coal-fired power plant emits more CO2 – 22.8 million tonnes annually – than the 100 least-industrialised nations combined. Drax provides 7% of Britain’s electrical power. Burning fossil fuels to turn steam turbines and create electricity accounts for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and coal has the highest carbon content of all fuels


Antarctic Core Record for the Last 400,000 Years of Green- house Gases and Temperature + In Situ Data Since 1880

Natural climate variability is associated with Earth’s orbital parameters and solar effects. CO2, CH4 and estimated global temperature

0 = 1880-1899 mean


Surface temperature

  • trends from
  • meteorological
  • stations around
  • the world
  • Rapid rise from 1910 to 1942
  • Moderate cooling from 1942
  • to 1975
  • Rapid rise from 1975 to the
  • present (satellite era)
  • Global cooling during volcanic
  • erruptions



trends in the arctic surface temperature 1981 to 2007
Trends in the Arctic Surface Temperature (1981 to 2007)

Trends in Ts >66.5°N = 0.64°C/dec

Trends over Sea ice = 0.35°C/dec

Trends over Greenland = 0.76°C/dec

Trends over Eurasia = 0.23°C/dec

Trends over North Am = 0.69°C/dec

>60°N for both Eurasia and North Am





polar amplification feedbacks
Polar Amplification- Feedbacks
  • Ice-Albedo Feedback –relevant to retreating perennial ice cover and also over land
  • Cloud feedback – positive or negative, depending on the height of clouds
  • Other feedbacks are mainly positive
yearly arctic ice cover during maximum extents 1979 2007
Yearly Arctic Ice Cover during Maximum Extents1979-2007

Extent trend: -2.2%/decade

Areas trend: -2.5%/decade

yearly arctic ice cover during minimum extents 1979 2003
Yearly Arctic Ice Cover during Minimum Extents1979-2003

Extent trend: -10.1%/decade

Area trend: -11.4%/decade


the big sea ice anomaly in 2007
The Big Sea Ice Anomaly in 2007

2007 ice minimum area was 27% less than 2005 and 38% less than climatological average.

Ref: Comiso, J.C., C. Parkinson, R. Gersten and L. Stock, Accelerated decline in the Arctic sea ice cover,

Geophysical Research Letter (in press).

temporal variations in the ice cover wind and surface temperature march to may
Temporal Variations in the ice cover, wind and surface temperature (March to May)

Data indicates significant

temperature and wind

effects. In August, there

was a cyclone in the region

that may have facilitated


Aug 07 Anom


Cold Weather Conditions in the Arctic in Winter

Surface temperature anomalies show cooling primarily in North America. Sea ice concentration anomalies indicate positive ice cover anomalies in the Bering Sea

and Davis Strait and the effect is illustrated

in the ice cover in mid winter (1 March 2008).

Ice Concentration

1 March 2008








total ice cover monthly anomalies
Total Ice Cover/Monthly Anomalies

From 1978 to 1996,

the trend in the ice

extent was -2.2% per

decade. Since 1996,

the trend has changed

to -10.1% per decade

suggesting a large acceleration in the


Acceleration in the

decline makes it

difficult for ice to

recover because

of ice albedo feedback.




Cluster Map

Multiyear ice Map

sub sonar


enhanced water temperatures in 2007
Enhanced water temperatures in 2007

Anomaly maps based on AVHRR

data from 1981 to 2007 show significant

warming of Arctic SSTs in 2007

ipy measurements
IPY measurements

Perovich and



summer ice melt

Summer ice melt

2007 Beaufort – huge increase in bottom melt

Horn and Waxeggkees Glaciers in the Austrian Tyrol30 % of area and 50 % of volume was lost from1921 to 1994

Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska – observed to be

Thinning by 0.5 to 1 m per year

area of melt increased dramatically in greenland during the last four years
Area of melt increased dramatically in Greenland during the last four years

Spring melt in Greenland in 2002

estimates sea level equivalence
Estimates: Sea level equivalence
  • Greenland ice sheet = 7 m
  • East Antarctic ice sheet = 65 m
  • West Antarctic ice sheet = 8 m
  • Antarctic Peninsula = 0.46 m
  • All other ice forms + glaciers = 0.45 m
  • Thermal expansion: the sea level goes up by 2 to 6 cm of every 1 K increase in Global Surface Temperature
  • Saline sea Ice = 0 m; Perennial sea ice = .02 m
  • Global warming is real. Met stations and satellite data show enhanced surface temperatures that are amplified in the polar regions.
  • Impacts of warming are now evident, the strongest being in the Arctic. Reductions in snow cover, glaciers, and increased melt in the permafrost and ice sheets are evident.
  • The perennial ice now declining at 11.4 % per decade shows the most remarkable change. The 2007 ice minimum area was 38% less than climatological average and 27% less than previous lowest area in 2005. The 2008 perennial ice area was almost as low as that of 2007.
  • The multiyear ice cover in winter is showing even more drastic declines at 14% per decade. Ice is thinning in part because of warmer ocean caused by ice albedo feedback.
  • Mitigation strategies are needed and needs to be implemented before it gets too late.
some mitigation strategies
Some Mitigation Strategies
  • Use of alternative energy sources: wind turbines, solar/photovoltaic cells, nuclear, geothermal, ocean, hybrid/hydrogen cars, gasohol/fuel crops, etc.
  • Truly international efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels
  • Construction of energy efficient buildings and public transportation systems
  • Conservation and greater public awareness of the consequences of global warming
the ozone hole success story a good model for solving global problems
The Ozone Hole Success Story: A good model for solving global Problems
  • Scientists provided clear warning
  • Special interest groups denied story for years but developed ozone-friendly technology
  • Media transmitted the message very well
  • Public was responsive and willing to help
  • US/European leadership was very effective
  • CFC-producing infrastructure quickly phased out
stronger hurricanes
Stronger Hurricanes


More than $100B damage. 320 Million trees , corresponding to a biomass of 0.09 to 0.11 petagrams

of carbon were transferred form live to dead pools.(7% of US fossil fuel emission each year)


Stresses on Coral Reefs

Coral Reef off Fiji (Photo: Kevin Roland)

2007 is the second warmest year observed from meteorological stations
2007 is the second warmest year observed from meteorological stations

Ttrends in the Northern Hemisphere was considerably higher than that of the Southern Hemisphere.

larson ice shelf rapid decline
Larson Ice Shelf Rapid Decline

March 17, 2002

January 31, 2002