Arctic Sea Ice Studied by NASA Scientists

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Prime Minister Stephen Harper

NASA Studies Arctic Sea Ice – Canadian Science Silenced?

OTTAWA – Canadian scientists were recently denied hosting a press conference on facts on climate change. That has brought sharp critical commentary from some in the scientific community. “It’s suppression through bureaucracy,” said Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy (E4D), an Ottawa-based non-profit pushing for open communication of government science.

“Why is it that we need nine levels of approval for this sort of thing, what’s the justification,” said biologist Scott Findlay, a co-founder of E4D and member of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

Findlay says that, “The government’s Byzantine message control is not only wasting time, money and resources, but having a corrosive effect on the public service.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the launch of the National Research Council (NRC) Arctic Program.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the launch of the National Research Council (NRC) Arctic Program.

What might not be understood in Ottawa is that science isn’t limited to geography. Prime Minister Harper is on his annual trek to the Arctic.

Prime Minister Announces Arctic Program

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced the launch of the National Research Council (NRC) Arctic Program. As part of the Arctic Program, the NRC will enter into research partnerships, which focus on technology aimed at improving the lives of Northerners and advancing Northern economic development. The announcement took place at the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre, within the Yukon Research Centre of Excellence at YukonCollege, where the Prime Minister highlighted NRC-supported practical research into high efficiency home insulation suited for Northern climates. The announcement was made during the Prime Minister’s ninth annual Northern Tour, taking place from August 21 to 26, 2014. He was joined by Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), James Moore, Minister of Industry, Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council, and Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament for Yukon.

The NRC Arctic Program will focus on four main priority areas: resource development; northern transportation and shipping; marine safety technologies; and community infrastructure.

The research and development performed through the Arctic Program will have several benefits including:

  • Increasing the safety of resource development in ice-covered waters by reducing the uncertainty in ice loads, and increasing the reliability of ice management, as well as enabling the effective detection and remediation of oil under ice;
  • Developing and implementing technologies that will reduce the number of incidents and vessel structural damage;
  • Increasing the number of days of operational use of ice roads;
  • Increasing the survivability rates in lifeboats;
  • Increasing the performance of immersion suits in a cold and harsh ocean environment; and,
  • Reducing catastrophic failures in urban infrastructure, and increasing energy efficiency and durability of northern housing, thereby decreasing the cost of maintenance and repairs.

NASA Exposes Arctic Sea Ice Reality

As we near the final month of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, NASA scientists are watching the annual seasonal melting of the Arctic sea ice cover. The floating, frozen cap that stretches across the Arctic Ocean shrinks throughout summer until beginning to regrow, typically around mid-September.

As of Aug. 19, Arctic sea ice covered about 2.31 million square miles. While this is on track to be larger than the record-breaking low year in 2012, the sea ice extent is still well below average for the past 30 years, and continues a trend of sea ice loss in the Arctic. From 1981 to 2010, the average sea ice extent on Aug. 19 was 2.72 million square miles – 18 percent larger than on that same date this year.

“While this year is not heading toward a record low minimum extent in the Arctic, sea ice is well below normal and continues an overall pattern of decreasing sea ice during summer in the Arctic,” said sea ice scientist Walt Meier, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

While NASA scientists have used satellites to document sea ice changes for more than 40 years, this summer the agency is also flying three airborne research campaigns to observe different aspects of climate-driven change in the Arctic.

The ARISE (Arctic Radiation-IceBridge Sea and Ice Experiment) campaign will begin flights later this week from Greenland to measure how changing land and sea ice conditions in the region are affecting the formation of clouds and the exchange of heat from Earth’s surface to space.

For some time scientists at NASA and elsewhere have been concerned about how the retreat of sea ice in summer could affect the climate of the Arctic. This campaign is one of the first to study the interaction between sea ice loss and the Arctic atmosphere.

The CARVE (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment) campaign is making its third year of flights from Fairbanks, Alaska, over vast regions of Alaska to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases being released from thawing tundra and permafrost.

And an offshoot of NASA’s long-running Operation IceBridge, a plane will fly over Alaskan glaciers to measure how much the thickness of those glaciers has changed from previous years.