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Axel Schweiger

Chair, Principal Investigator Council & Senior Principal Oceanographer

Email

axel@apl.washington.edu

Phone

206-543-1312

Research Interests

Remote Sensing, Arctic Climatology, Systems Management

Biosketch

Dr. Schweiger's research focuses on understanding the role of clouds in the climate of the polar regions. He is studying the interaction of clouds and sea ice and has worked to impove estimates of the surface radiation balance in the Arctic. To this end he has been developing and evaluating satellite-based algorithms. He has been assembling the TOVS Polar Pathfinder data set, a 20-year data set of polar temperature, humidity profiles, and cloud information. He is currently working on applications of this data set to derive radiative fluxes and investigating their role in climate variability through sea ice model experiments. Previous research includes work on microwave-based sea ice concentration algorithms and the application of artificial intelligence methods to remote sensing problems. Dr. Schweiger has been with the APL-UW Polar Science Center since 1992.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center

Education

B.A. Geography & English, Universitat Erlangen, 1984

M.S. Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1987

Ph.D. Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1992

Projects

Arctic Surface Air Temperatures for the Past 100 Years

Accurate fields of Arctic surface air temperature (SAT) are needed for climate studies, but a robust gridded data set of SAT of sufficient length is not available over the entire Arctic. We plan to produce authoritative SAT data sets covering the Arctic Ocean from 1901 to present, which will be used to better understand Arctic climate change.

 

The Fate of Summertime Arctic Ocean Heating: A Study of Ice-Albedo Feedback on Seasonal to Interannual Time Scales

The main objective of this study is to determine the fate of solar energy absorbed by the arctic seas during summer, with a specific focus on its impact on the sea ice pack. Investigators further seek to understand the fate of this heat during the winter and even beyond to the following summer. Their approach is use a coupled sea iceā€“ocean model forced by atmospheric reanalysis fields, with and without assimilation of satellite-derived ice and ocean variables. They are also using satellite-derived ocean color data to help determine light absorption in the upper ocean.

 

Videos

Arctic Sea Ice Extent and Volume Dip to New Lows

By mid-September, the sea ice extent in the Arctic reached the lowest level recorded since 1979 when satellite mapping began.

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15 Oct 2012

APL-UW polar oceanographers and climatologists are probing the complex ice–ocean–atmosphere system through in situ and remote sensing observations and numerical model simulations to learn how and why.

Focus on Arctic Sea Ice: Current and Future States of a Diminished Sea Ice Cover

APL-UW polar scientists are featured in the March edition of the UW TV news magazine UW|360, where they discuss their research on the current and future states of a diminished sea ice cover in the Arctic.

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7 Mar 2012

The dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice over the past several summers has generated great interest and concern in the scientific community and among the public. Here, APL-UW polar scientists present their research on the current state of Arctic sea ice. A long-term, downward trend in sea ice volume is clear.

They also describe how the many observations they gather are used to improve computer simulations of global climate that, in turn, help us to asses the impacts of a future state of diminished sea ice cover in the Arctic.

This movie presentation was first seen on the March 2012 edition of UW|360, the monthly University of Washington Television news magazine.

Publications

2000-present and while at APL-UW

Using records from submarine, aircraft and satellites to evaluate climate model simulations of Arctic sea ice thickness

Stroeve, J., A. Barrett, M. Serreze, and A. Schweiger, "Using records from submarine, aircraft and satellites to evaluate climate model simulations of Arctic sea ice thickness," Cryosphere, 8, 1839-1854, doi:10.5194/tc-8-1839-2014, 2014.

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10 Oct 2014

Arctic sea ice thickness distributions from models participating in the World Climate Research Programme Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) are evaluated against observations from submarines, aircraft and satellites. While it is encouraging that the mean thickness distributions from the models are in general agreement with observations, the spatial patterns of sea ice thickness are poorly represented in most models. The poor spatial representation of thickness patterns is associated with a failure of models to represent details of the mean atmospheric circulation pattern that governs the transport and spatial distribution of sea ice. The climate models as a whole also tend to underestimate the rate of ice volume loss from 1979 to 2013, though the multimodel ensemble mean trend remains within the uncertainty of that from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System. Although large uncertainties in observational products complicate model evaluations, these results raise concerns regarding the ability of CMIP5 models to realistically represent the processes driving the decline of Arctic sea ice and to project the timing of when a seasonally ice-free Arctic may become a reality.

Evaluation of seven different atmospheric reanalysis products in the Arctic

Lindsay, R., M. Wensnahan, A. Schweiger, and J. Zhang, "Evaluation of seven different atmospheric reanalysis products in the Arctic," J. Clim., 27, 2588-2606, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00014.1, 2014.

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1 Apr 2014

Atmospheric reanalyses depend on a mix of observations and model forecasts. In data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, the reanalysis solution is more dependent on the model structure, assumptions, and data assimilation methods than in data-rich regions. Applications such as the forcing of ice%u2013ocean models are sensitive to the errors in reanalyses. Seven reanalysis datasets for the Arctic region are compared over the 30-yr period 1981–2010: National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)–National Center for Atmospheric Research Reanalysis 1 (NCEP-R1) and NCEP–U.S. Department of Energy Reanalysis 2 (NCEP-R2), Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), Twentieth-Century Reanalysis (20CR), Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim), and Japanese 25-year Reanalysis Project (JRA-25). Emphasis is placed on variables not observed directly including surface fluxes and precipitation and their trends. The monthly averaged surface temperatures, radiative fluxes, precipitation, and wind speed are compared to observed values to assess how well the reanalysis data solutions capture the seasonal cycles. Three models stand out as being more consistent with independent observations: CFSR, MERRA, and ERA-Interim. A coupled ice–ocean model is forced with four of the datasets to determine how estimates of the ice thickness compare to observed values for each forcing and how the total ice volume differs among the simulations. Significant differences in the correlation of the simulated ice thickness with submarine measurements were found, with the MERRA products giving the best correlation (R = 0.82). The trend in the total ice volume in September is greatest with MERRA (–4.1 ± 103 km3 decade-1) and least with CFSR (–2.7 ± 103 km3 decade-1).

CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume

Laxon, S.W., K.A. Giles, A.L. Ridout, D.J. Winham, R. Willatt, R. Cullen, R. Kwok, A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, C. Haas, S. Hendricks, P. Krishfield, N. Kurtz, S. Farrell, and M. Davidson, "CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume," Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 732-737, doi:10.1002/grl.50193, 2013.

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28 Feb 2013

Satellite records show a decline in ice extent over more than three decades, with a record minimum in September 2012. Results from the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling and Assimilation system (PIOMAS) suggest that the decline in extent has been accompanied by a decline in volume, but this has not been confirmed by data. Using new data from the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 (CS-2) mission, validated with in situ data, we generate estimates of ice volume for the winters of 2010/11 and 2011/12. We compare these data with current estimates from PIOMAS and earlier (2003–8) estimates from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ICESat mission. Between the ICESat and CryoSat-2 periods, the autumn volume declined by 4291 km3 and the winter volume by 1479 km3. This exceeds the decline in ice volume in the central Arctic from the PIOMAS model of 2644 km3 in the autumn, but is less than the 2091 km3 in winter, between the two time periods.

More Publications

The impact of an intense summer cyclone on 2012 Arctic sea ice retreat

Zhang, J., R. Lindsay, A. Schweiger, and M. Steele, "The impact of an intense summer cyclone on 2012 Arctic sea ice retreat," Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 720-726, doi:10.1002/grl.50190, 2013.

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25 Jan 2013

This model study examines the impact of an intense early August cyclone on the 2012 record low Arctic sea ice extent. The cyclone passed when Arctic sea ice was thin and the simulated Arctic ice volume had already declined ~40% from the 2007–2011 mean. The thin sea ice pack and the presence of ocean heat in the near surface temperature maximum layer created conditions that made the ice particularly vulnerable to storms. During the storm, ice volume decreased about twice as fast as usual, owing largely to a quadrupling in bottom melt caused by increased upward ocean heat transport. This increased ocean heat flux was due to enhanced mixing in the oceanic boundary layer, driven by strong winds and rapid ice movement. A comparison with a sensitivity simulation driven by reduced wind speeds during the cyclone indicates that cyclone-enhanced bottom melt strongly reduces ice extent for about two weeks, with a declining effect afterwards. The simulated Arctic sea ice extent minimum in 2012 is reduced by the cyclone, but only by 0.15 x 106 km2 (4.4%). Thus without the storm, 2012 would still have produced a record minimum.

Recent changes in the dynamic properties of declining Arctic sea ice: A model study

Zhang, J., R. Lindsay, A. Schweiger, and I. Rigor, "Recent changes in the dynamic properties of declining Arctic sea ice: A model study," Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, doi:10.1029/2012GL053545, 2012.

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30 Oct 2012

Results from a numerical model simulation show significant changes in the dynamic properties of Arctic sea ice during 2007–2011 compared to the 1979–2006 mean. These changes are linked to a 33% reduction in sea ice volume, with decreasing ice concentration, mostly in the marginal seas, and decreasing ice thickness over the entire Arctic, particularly in the western Arctic. The decline in ice volume results in a 37% decrease in ice mechanical strength and 31% in internal ice interaction force, which in turn leads to an increase in ice speed (13%) and deformation rates (17%). The increasing ice speed has the tendency to drive more ice out of the Arctic. However, ice volume export is reduced because the rate of decrease in ice thickness is greater than the rate of increase in ice speed, thus retarding the decline of Arctic sea ice volume. Ice deformation increases the most in fall and least in summer. Thus the effect of changes in ice deformation on the ice cover is likely strong in fall and weak in summer. The increase in ice deformation boosts ridged ice production in parts of the central Arctic near the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland in winter and early spring, but the average ridged ice production is reduced because less ice is available for ridging in most of the marginal seas in fall. The overall decrease in ridged ice production contributes to the demise of thicker, older ice. As the ice cover becomes thinner and weaker, ice motion approaches a state of free drift in summer and beyond and is therefore more susceptible to changes in wind forcing. This is likely to make seasonal or shorter-term forecasts of sea ice edge locations more challenging.

Uncertainty in modeled Arctic sea ice volume

Schweiger, A., R. Lindsay, J. Zhang, M. Steele, H. Stern, and R. Kwok, "Uncertainty in modeled Arctic sea ice volume," J. Geophys. Res., 116, doi:10.1029/2011JC007084, 2011.

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1 Sep 2011

Uncertainty in the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) Arctic sea ice volume record is characterized. A range of observations and approaches, including in situ ice thickness measurements, ICESat retrieved ice thickness, and model sensitivity studies, yields a conservative estimate for October Arctic ice volume uncertainty of 1.35 x 10^3 km^3 and an uncertainty of the ice volume trend over the 1979-2010 period of 1.0 x 10^3 km^3 decade^-1. A conservative estimate of the trend over this period is ~2.8 x 10^3 km^3 decade^-1. PIOMAS ice thickness estimates agree well with ICESat ice thickness retrievals (<0.1 m mean difference) for the area for which submarine data are available, while difference outside this area are larger. PIOMAS spatial thickness patterns agree well with ICESat thickness estimates with pattern correlations of above 0.8. PIOMAS appears to overestimate thin ice thickness and underestimate thick ice, yielding a smaller downward trend than apparent in reconstructions from observations. PIOMAS ice volume uncertainties and trends are examined in the context of climate change attribution and the declaration of record minima. The distribution of 32 year trends in a preindustrial coupled model simulation shows no trends comparable to those seen in the PIOMAS retrospective, even when the trend uncertainty is accounted for. Attempts to label September minima as new record lows are sensitive to modeling error. However, the September 2010 ice volume anomaly did in fact exceed the previous 2007 minimum by a large enough margin to establish a statistically significant new record.

Arctic sea ice response to atmospheric forcings with varying levels of anthropogenic warming and climate variability

Zhang, J., M. Steele, and A. Schweiger, "Arctic sea ice response to atmospheric forcings with varying levels of anthropogenic warming and climate variability," Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, doi:10.1029/2010GL044988, 2010.

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28 Oct 2010

Numerical experiments are conducted to project arctic sea ice responses to varying levels of future anthropogenic warming and climate variability over 2010–2050. A summer ice-free Arctic Ocean is likely by the mid-2040s if arctic surface air temperature (SAT) increases 4 deg C by 2050 and climate variability is similar to the past relatively warm two decades. If such a SAT increase is reduced by one-half or if a future Arctic experiences a range of SAT fluctuation similar to the past five decades, a summer ice-free Arctic Ocean would be unlikely before 2050. If SAT increases 4 deg C by 2050, summer ice volume decreases to very low levels (10–37% of the 1978–2009 summer mean) as early as 2025 and remains low in the following years, while summer ice extent continues to fluctuate annually. Summer ice volume may be more sensitive to warming while summer ice extent more sensitive to climate variability. The rate of annual mean ice volume decrease relaxes approaching 2050. This is because, while increasing SAT increases summer ice melt, a thinner ice cover increases winter ice growth. A thinner ice cover also results in a reduced ice export, which helps to further slow ice volume loss. Because of enhanced winter ice growth, arctic winter ice extent remains nearly stable and therefore appears to be a less sensitive climate indicator.

Arctic sea ice retreat in 2007 follows thinning trend

Lindsay, R.W., J. Zhang, A. Schweiger, M. Steele, and H. Stern, "Arctic sea ice retreat in 2007 follows thinning trend," J. Climate, 22, 165-176, 2009.

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1 Jan 2009

The minimum of Arctic sea ice extent in the summer of 2007 was unprecedented in the historical record. A coupled ice–ocean model is used to determine the state of the ice and ocean over the past 29 yr to investigate the causes of this ice extent minimum within a historical perspective. It is found that even though the 2007 ice extent was strongly anomalous, the loss in total ice mass was not. Rather, the 2007 ice mass loss is largely consistent with a steady decrease in ice thickness that began in 1987. Since then, the simulated mean September ice thickness within the Arctic Ocean has declined from 3.7 to 2.6 m at a rate of –0.57 m decade-1. Both the area coverage of thin ice at the beginning of the melt season and the total volume of ice lost in the summer have been steadily increasing. The combined impact of these two trends caused a large reduction in the September mean ice concentration in the Arctic Ocean. This created conditions during the summer of 2007 that allowed persistent winds to push the remaining ice from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side of the basin and more than usual into the Greenland Sea. This exposed large areas of open water, resulting in the record ice extent anomaly.

Relationships between arctic sea ice and clouds during autumn

Schweiger, A., R. Lindsay, S. Vavrus, and J. Francis, "Relationships between arctic sea ice and clouds during autumn," J. Clim., 21, 4799-4810, 2008.

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1 Sep 2008

The connection between sea ice variability and cloud cover over the Arctic seas during autumn is investigated by analyzing the 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) products and the Television and Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS) Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS) Polar Pathfinder satellite datasets. It is found that cloud cover variability near the sea ice margins is strongly linked to sea ice variability. Sea ice retreat is linked to a decrease in low-level cloud amount and a simultaneous increase in midlevel clouds. This pattern is apparent in both data sources. Changes in cloud cover can be explained by changes in the atmospheric temperature structure and an increase in near-surface temperatures resulting from the removal of sea ice. The subsequent decrease in static stability and deepening of the atmospheric boundary layer apparently contribute to the rise in cloud level. The radiative effect of this change is relatively small, as the direct radiative effects of cloud cover changes are compensated for by changes in the temperature and humidity profiles associated with varying ice conditions.

What drove the dramatic retreat of arctic sea ice during summer 2007?

Zhang, J., R. Lindsay, M. Steele, and A. Schweiger, "What drove the dramatic retreat of arctic sea ice during summer 2007?" Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, doi:10.1029/2008GL034005, 2008.

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11 Jun 2008

A model study has been conducted of the unprecedented retreat of arctic sea ice in the summer of 2007. It is found that preconditioning, anomalous winds, and ice-albedo feedback are mainly responsible for the retreat. Arctic sea ice in 2007 was preconditioned to radical changes after years of shrinking and thinning in a warm climate. During summer 2007 atmospheric changes strengthened the transpolar drift of sea ice, causing more ice to move out of the Pacific sector and the central Arctic Ocean where the reduction in ice thickness due to ice advection is up to 1.5 m more than usual. Some of the ice exited Fram Strait and some piled up in part of the Canada Basin and along the coast of northern Greenland, leaving behind an unusually large area of thin ice and open water. Thin ice and open water allow more surface solar heating because of a much reduced surface albedo, leading to amplified ice melting. The Arctic Ocean lost additional 10% of its total ice mass in which 70% is due directly to the amplified melting and 30% to the unusual ice advection, causing the unprecedented ice retreat. Arctic sea ice has entered a state of being particularly vulnerable to anomalous atmospheric forcing.

Did unusually sunny skies help drive the record sea ice minimum of 2007?

Schweiger, A.J., J. Zhang, R.W. Lindsay, and M. Steele, "Did unusually sunny skies help drive the record sea ice minimum of 2007?" Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, doi:10.1029/2008GL033463, 2008.

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30 May 2008

We conduct experiments with an ice-ocean model to answer the question whether and to what degree unusually clear skies during the summer of 2007 contributed to the record sea ice extent minimum in the Arctic Ocean during September of 2007. Anomalously high pressure over the Beaufort Sea during summer 2007 appears associated with a strong negative cloud anomaly. This anomaly is two standard deviations below the 1980–2007 average established from a combination of two different satellite-based records. Cloud anomalies from the MODIS sensor are compared with anomalies from the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis and are found in good agreement in spatial patterns and magnitude. However, these experiments establish that the negative cloud anomaly and increased downwelling shortwave flux from June through August did not contribute substantially to the record sea ice extent minimum. This finding eliminates one aspect of the unusual weather that may have contributed to the record minimum.

Ensemble 1-year predictions of Arctic sea ice for the spring and summer of 2008

Zhang, J., M. Steele, R. Lindsay, A. Schweiger, J. Morison, "Ensemble 1-year predictions of Arctic sea ice for the spring and summer of 2008," Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, doi:10.1029/2008GL033244, 2008.

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22 Apr 2008

Ensemble predictions of arctic sea ice in spring and summer 2008 have been carried out using an ice-ocean model. The ensemble is constructed by using atmospheric forcing from 2001 to 2007 and the September 2007 ice and ocean conditions estimated by the model. The prediction results show that the record low ice cover and the unusually warm ocean surface waters in summer 2007 lead to a substantial reduction in ice thickness in 2008. Up to 1.2 m ice thickness reduction is predicted in a large area of the Canada Basin in both spring and summer of 2008, leading to extraordinarily thin ice in summer 2008. There is a 50% chance that both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage will be nearly ice free in September 2008. It is not likely there will be another precipitous decline in arctic sea ice extent such as seen in 2007, unless a new atmospheric forcing regime, significantly different from the recent past, occurs.

Seasonal predictions of ice extent in the Arctic Ocean

Lindsay, R.W., J. Zhang, A.J. Schweiger, and M.A. Steele, "Seasonal predictions of ice extent in the Arctic Ocean," J. Geophys. Res., 113, doi:10.1029/2007JC004259, 2008.

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29 Feb 2008

How well can the extent of arctic sea ice be predicted for lead periods of up to one year? The forecast ability of a linear empirical model is explored. It uses as predictors historical information about the ocean and ice obtained from an ice–ocean model retrospective analysis. The monthly model fields are represented by a correlation-weighted average based on the predicted ice extent. The forecast skill of the procedure is found by fitting the model over subsets of the available data and then making subsequent projections using independent predictor data. The forecast skill, relative to climatology, for predictions of the observed September ice extent for the pan-arctic region is 0.77 for six months lead (from March) and 0.75 for 11 months lead (from October). The ice concentration is the most important variable for the first two months and the ocean temperature of the model layer with a depth of 200 to 270 m is most important for longer lead times. The trend accounts for 76% of the variance of the pan-arctic ice extent, so most of the forecast skill is realized by determining model variables that best represent this trend. For detrended data there is no skill for lead times of 3 months or more. The forecast skill relative to the estimate from the previous year is lower than the climate-relative skill but it is still greater than 0.45 for most lead times. Six-month predictions are also made for each month of the year and regional three-month predictions are made for 45-degree sectors. The ice-ocean model output significantly improves the predictive skill of the forecast model.

Seasonal evolution and interannual variability of the local solar energy absorbed by the Arctic sea ice-ocean system

Perovich, D.K., S.V. Nghiem, T. Markus, and A. Schweiger, "Seasonal evolution and interannual variability of the local solar energy absorbed by the Arctic sea ice-ocean system," J. Geophys. Res., 112, doi:10.1029/2006JC003558, 2007.

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6 Mar 2007

The melt season of the Arctic sea ice cover is greatly affected by the partitioning of the incident solar radiation between reflection to the atmosphere and absorption in the ice and ocean. This partitioning exhibits a strong seasonal cycle and significant interannual variability. Data in the period 1998, 2000–2004 were analyzed in this study. Observations made during the 1997–1998 SHEBA (Surface HEat Budget of the Arctic Ocean) field experiment showed a strong seasonal dependence of the partitioning, dominated by a five-phase albedo evolution. QuikSCAT scatterometer data from the SHEBA region in 1999–2004 were used to further investigate solar partitioning in summer. The time series of scatterometer data were used to determine the onset of melt and the beginning of freezeup. This information was combined with SSM/I-derived ice concentration, TOVS-based estimates of incident solar irradiance, and SHEBA results to estimate the amount of solar energy absorbed in the ice-ocean system for these years. The average total solar energy absorbed in the ice-ocean system from April through September was 900 MJ m-2. There was considerable interannual variability, with a range of 826 to 1044 MJ m-2. The total amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and ocean was strongly related to the date of melt onset, but only weakly related to the total duration of the melt season or the onset of freezeup. The timing of melt onset is significant because the incident solar energy is large and a change at this time propagates through the entire melt season, affecting the albedo every day throughout melt and freezeup.

Characteristics of satellite-derived clear-sky atmospheric temperature inversion strength in the Arctic, 1980-96

Liu, Y.H., J.R. Key, A. Schweiger, and J. Francis "Characteristics of satellite-derived clear-sky atmospheric temperature inversion strength in the Arctic, 1980-96," J. Climate, 19, 4902-4913, 2006.

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1 Oct 2006

The low-level atmospheric temperature inversion is a dominant feature of the Arctic atmosphere throughout most of the year. Meteorological stations that provide radiosonde data are sparsely distributed across the Arctic, and therefore provide little information on the spatial distribution of temperature inversions. Satellite-borne sensors provide an opportunity to fill the observational gap. In this study, a 17-yr time series, 1980–96, of clear-sky temperature inversion strength during the cold season is derived from High Resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder (HIRS) data using a two-channel statistical method. The satellite-derived clear-sky inversion strength monthly mean and trends agree well with radiosonde data. Both increasing and decreasing trends are found in the cold season for different areas. It is shown that there is a strong coupling between changes in surface temperature and changes in inversion strength, but that trends in some areas may be a result of advection aloft rather than warming or cooling at the surface.

Changes in seasonal cloud cover over the Arctic seas from satellite and surface observations

Schweiger, A.J., "Changes in seasonal cloud cover over the Arctic seas from satellite and surface observations," Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, 10.1029/2004GL020067, 2004.

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19 Jun 2004

Winter and spring changes in cloudiness are compared over the arctic seas (ocean areas north of 60°N) from the TOVS (TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder) Polar Pathfinder retrievals and two separate datasets derived from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). All satellite products exhibit significant decreases in cloud fraction over the arctic seas during winter (December, January, February) on the order of 5% / decade. An equally striking increase in spring (March, April, May) cloudiness is evident from the TOVS Pathfinder (TPP) and the extended AVHRR Polar Pathfinder (APP-x) projects. In the Central Arctic these positive trends can be as large as 15% / decade. Surface observations from the Russian drifting meteorological stations are consistent with satellite-observed changes during the 1980s. Negative trends in spring cloudiness reported by Comiso [2003] are in conflict with these findings. Spring changes in cloudiness are associated with changes in the atmospheric circulation. These dramatic, large-scale changes may have substantial impacts on the surface energy balance.

Validation of TOVS Path-P data during SHEBA

Schweiger, A.J., R.W. Lindsay, J.A. Francis, J. Key, J.M. Intrieri, and M.D. Shupe, "Validation of TOVS Path-P data during SHEBA," J. Geophys. Res., 107, 8041, doi:10.1029/2000JC000453, 2002.

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28 Sep 2002

Products from the TIROS-N Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS) Polar Pathfinder (Path-P) data set are compared with surface measurements and other satellite remote sensing retrievals during the Surface Heat Balance of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) field program (October 1997 to September 1998). The comparison provides estimates of Path-P retrieval uncertainties. Results are placed in the context of the natural variability and timescales of variability to allow potential users to judge the applicability of the data set for their purpose. Results show temperature profiles to be accurate within 3 K, total column precipitable water within 2 mm annually, and surface temperature within 3 K. Uncertainties in temperature retrieval are below "within-season" variability during all times of the year. Uncertainties in water vapor retrieval during winter and summer are slightly below observed variability in those seasons but are well below during spring. Uncertainty in retrieved cloud fraction is highly dependent on the timescale of observations. Cloud fractions from the surface and satellite are well correlated (correlation coefficient > 0.7) at timescales greater than 4 days but show weaker correlation at shorter timescales. Uncertainty in TOVS-retrieved cloud fraction is less than 20% for 5-day averages. In winter, TOVS-retrieved cloud fractions are higher than those reported in standard meteorological observations but match those derived from lidar data. This supports the notion that standard meteorological observations may underestimate cloudiness in winter. Cloud-top temperatures measured from the surface (lidar/radar) are significantly different from those estimated using TOVS and Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) radiances, which highlights the fundamental and inherent dissimilarity between these two measurement techniques.

In The News

Antarctic ice at record-high growth, Arctic continues to lose

Christian Science Monitor, Becky Oskin

Antarctica gained 7.6 million square miles of sea ice this southern winter, according to The National Snow and Ice Data Center, while sea ice in its northern counterpart continues to shrink. Axel Schweiger comments, "I think it's still very much within the long-term trend of declining arctic sea ice."

19 Sep 2014

'Future of Ice' initiative marks new era for UW polar research

UW News & Information, Hannah Hickey

The University of Washington's new 'Future of Ice' initiative seeks to build on research in the polar regions now undergoing rapid changes. The initiative includes several new hires, a new minor in Arctic studies, and a winter lecture series.

6 Jan 2014

Arctic 101: UW degree to prep students for a melting world

The Seattle Times, Sandi Doughton

The University of Washington is launching a new initiative to boost research in polar regions and prepare students for a world where melting ice is opening new opportunities — and posing new threats.

5 Jan 2014

More News Items

Stronger winds explain puzzling growth of sea ice in Antarctica

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

Much attention is paid to melting sea ice in the Arctic. But less clear is the situation on the other side of the planet. Despite warmer air and oceans, there's more sea ice in Antarctica now than in the 1970s — a fact often pounced on by global warming skeptics. The latest numbers suggest the Antarctic sea ice may be heading toward a record high this year.

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17 Sep 2013

A University of Washington researcher says the reason may lie in the winds. A new modeling study to be published in the Journal of Climate shows that stronger polar winds lead to an increase in Antarctic sea ice, even in a warming climate.

"The overwhelming evidence is that the Southern Ocean is warming," said author Jinlun Zhang, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. "Why would sea ice be increasing? Although the rate of increase is small, it is a puzzle to scientists."

His new study shows that stronger westerly winds swirling around the South Pole can explain 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume in the past three decades.

The polar vortex that swirls around the South Pole is not just stronger than it was when satellite records began in the 1970s, it has more convergence, meaning it shoves the sea ice together to cause ridging. Stronger winds also drive ice faster, which leads to still more deformation and ridging. This creates thicker, longer-lasting ice, while exposing surrounding water and thin ice to the blistering cold winds that cause more ice growth.

In a computer simulation that includes detailed interactions between wind and sea, thick ice — more than 6 feet deep — increased by about 1 percent per year from 1979 to 2010, while the amount of thin ice stayed fairly constant. The end result is a thicker, slightly larger ice pack that lasts longer into the summer.

"You've got more thick ice, more ridged ice, and at the same time you will get more ice extent because the ice just survives longer," Zhang said.

When the model held the polar winds at a constant level, the sea ice increased only 20 percent as much. A previous study by Zhang showed that changes in water density could explain the remaining increase.

"People have been talking about the possible link between winds and Antarctic sea ice expansion before, but I think this is the first study that confirms this link through a model experiment," commented Axel Schweiger, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Lab. "This is another process by which dynamic changes in the atmosphere can make changes in sea ice that are not necessarily expected."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Still unknown is why the southern winds have been getting stronger. Some scientists have theorized that it could be related to global warming, or to the ozone depletion in the Southern Hemisphere, or just to natural cycles of variability.

Differences between the two poles could explain why they are not behaving in the same way. Surface air warming in the Arctic appears to be greater and more uniform, Zhang said. Another difference is that northern water is in a fairly protected basin, while the Antarctic sea ice floats in open oceans where it expands freely in winter and melts almost completely in summer.

The sea ice uptick in Antarctica is small compared with the amount being lost in the Arctic, meaning there is an overall decrease in sea ice worldwide.

Many of the global climate models have been unable to explain the observed increase in Antarctic sea ice. Researchers have been working to improve models to better reproduce the observed increase in sea ice there and predict what the future may bring.

Eventually, Zhang anticipates that if warmer temperatures come to dominate they will resolve the apparent contradiction.

"If the warming continues, at some point the trend will reverse," Zhang said.

Santa's workshop not flooded – but lots of melting in the Arctic

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

A dramatic image captured by a University of Washington monitoring buoy reportedly shows a lake at the North Pole. Researchers estimate the melt pond in the picture was just over 2 feet deep and a few hundred feet wide, which is not unusual to find on an Arctic ice floe in late July.

30 Jul 2013

European satellite confirms UW numbers: Arctic Ocean is on thin ice

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

The September 2012 record low in Arctic sea-ice extent was big news, but a missing piece of the puzzle was lurking below the ocean's surface. What volume of ice floats on Arctic waters? And how does that compare to previous summers?

13 Feb 2013

Thick sea ice is disappearing from the Arctic, new satellite data show

NBC News, John Roach

Thick sea ice is disappearing from a broad swath of the Arctic, according to new satellite data that confirms estimates from computer models and suggests the region may be ice free during the summers sooner rather than later.

13 Feb 2013

On thin ice: As Arctic Ocean warms, a scramble to understand its weather

Christian Science Monitor, Pete Spotts

Increasing summer ice melt in the Arctic Ocean could shift global weather patterns and make polar waters more navigable. But scientists say forecasting Arctic ice and weather remains a massive challenge.

12 Feb 2013

Cyclone did not cause 2012 record low for Arctic sea ice

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

"The Great Arctic Cyclone of August 2012," is thought by some to have led to the historic sea ice minimum reached in mid-September 2013. UW research suggests otherwise.

31 Jan 2013

Study finds arctic cyclone had insignificant impact on 2012 ice retreat

The New York Times, Andrew C. Revkin

A new modeling study by the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, replaying last summer%u2019s Arctic Ocean ice conditions with and without the storm, shows that the short-term influence of all that ice churning probably played almost no role in the final ice retreat in September.

31 Jan 2013

Scientists chuck instruments off planes into cracks in Arctic sea ice

NBCNews.com, Charles Q. Choi

As sea ice disappears in the Arctic Ocean, the U.S. Coast Guard is teaming with scientists to explore this new frontier by deploying scientific equipment through cracks in the ice from airplanes hundreds of feet in the air.

10 Oct 2012

UW scientists team with Coast Guard to explore ice-free Arctic Ocean

UW New and Information, Nancy Gohring

A new partnership has evolved for the Coast Guard and University of Washington scientists since disappearing Arctic ice has opened vast new frontiers.

2 Oct 2012

How do they do it? Predictions are in for arctic sea ice low point

UW News and Information, Nancy Gohring

Researchers are working hard to improve their ability to more accurately predict how much Arctic sea ice will remain at the end of summer. It's an important exercise because knowing why sea ice declines could help scientists better understand climate change and how sea ice is evolving.

14 Aug 2012

Arctic sea ice: Claims it has recovered miss the big picture

The Washington Post, Jason Samenow and Brian Jackson

Perhaps you've heard Arctic sea ice extent has fully recovered after nearly setting record low levels in September, 2011. Sea ice extent is a one-dimensional measure of Arctic ice. Sea ice volume, which is estimated each month at the University of Washington, shows levels well below normal.

16 May 2012

Explore the polar ice caps at the Pacific Science Center

The Seattle Times/KING 5 News, Christine Johnson

University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory has teamed up with the Pacific Science Center for four days of demonstrations, exhibits and talks aimed at school children, families, and people interested in learning more about the poles. Polar Science Weekend will feature over ninety scientists that work in some of the most remote and challenging places on earth.

2 Mar 2012

Arctic ice hits second-lowest level, US scientists say

BBC News

Sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2011 has passed its annual minimum, reaching the second-lowest level since satellite records began, US scientists say.

16 Sep 2011

NSIDC: Arctic sea ice extent second lowest; NOAA: 8th warmest August globally

Washington Post, James Samenow

While NSIDC's estimate of the minimum extent is second lowest on record, some instruments/algorithms are suggesting a new record low. And University of Washington's estimate for Arctic sea ice volume - which takes into account the ice thickness - is lowest on record.

15 Sep 2011

Arctic sea ice volume reaches record low for second straight year

Washington Post, James Samenow

Arctic sea ice continues a long-term melting trend, setting new record lows for both volume and extent. The University of Washington estimates August sea ice volume was 62% below the 1979-2010 average.

14 Sep 2011

Arctic sea ice is melting at its fastest pace in almost 40 years

The Guardian, John Vidal

New data suggests that the volume of sea ice last month appeared to be about 2,135 cubic miles — just half the average volume and 62% lower than the maximum volume of ice that covered the Arctic in 1979. "Ice volume is now plunging faster than it did at the same time last year when the record was set," said Axel Schweiger.

11 Sep 2011

Extent of Arctic summer sea ice at record low level

Christian Science Monitor, Pete Spotts

Researchers at the University of Washington's Polar Science Center note that in 2010 the volume of summer sea ice fell to a record low. Volume takes into account ice thickness, as well as extent.

10 Sep 2011

Total Arctic sea ice at record low in 2010

Reuters, Gerard Wynn

The minimum summertime volume of Arctic sea ice fell to a record low last year, APL-UW researchers said in a study to be published shortly, suggesting that thinning of the ice had outweighed a recovery in area.

5 Sep 2011

July Arctic sea ice melts to record low extent, volume

The Washington Post, Jason Samenow

The impacts of a sweltering July extended well beyond the eastern two-thirds of the continental U.S. Both the extent and volume of ice in the Arctic were lowest on record for the month according to data and estimates from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and APL-UW's Polar Science Center.

8 Aug 2011

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