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Axel Schweiger

Chair, Polar Science Center & Senior Principal Scientist





Research Interests

Remote Sensing, Arctic Climatology, Systems Management


Dr. Schweiger is the current chair of the Polar Science Center. His research focuses on sea ice, clouds, and radiation in the Arctic. He is using satellite data, models, and in-situ observations to improve our understanding of sea ice and cloud variability. He has developed the PSC Arctic Ice Volume Page, which provides monthly updated total Arctic Ice Volume estimates based on the PIOMAS model. He has worked on the validation, improvements, and applications of PIOMAS to a variety of problems.

He is a an investigator in the Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance Survey Project (SIZRS) that utilizes US-Coast Guard Arctic Domain Awareness flights make Atmospheric and Oceanographic measurements of the seasonal ice zone of the Beaufort Sea and targets the improved understanding of the changes in the Arctic system as sea ice retreats.

He has worked on algorithm development for the retrieval of clouds and atmospheric profiles and generated the the TOVS Polar Pathfinder data set, a 20-year data set of polar temperature, humidity profiles and cloud information. 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 Polar Science Center since 1992.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


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

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

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


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 ice–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.



Arctic Sea Ice Extent and Volume Follow Long-term Trend

In mid-September Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent and volume. There are annual fluctuations — 2012 was a record low for both measures — but reports of a recent 'rebound' are short-sighted. Axel Schweiger, Chair of the APL-UW Polar Science Center, shows that the downward long-term trend is clear.

6 Nov 2015

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.


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Collapse of the 2017 winter Beaufort high: A response to thinning sea ice?

Moore, G.W.K., A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, and M. Steele, "Collapse of the 2017 winter Beaufort high: A response to thinning sea ice?," Geophys. Res. Lett., EOR, doi:10.1002/2017GL076446, 2018.

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26 Mar 2018

The winter Arctic atmosphere is under the influence of two very different circulation systems: extratropical cyclones travel along the primary North Atlantic storm track from Iceland toward the eastern Arctic, while the western Arctic is characterized by a quasi‐stationary region of high pressure known as the Beaufort High. The winter (January through March) of 2017 featured an anomalous reversal of the normally anticyclonic surface winds and sea ice motion in the western Arctic. This reversal can be traced to a collapse of the Beaufort High as the result of the intrusion of low‐pressure systems from the North Atlantic, along the East Siberian Coast, into the Arctic Basin. Thin sea ice as the result of an extremely warm autumn (October through December) of 2016 contributed to the formation of an anomalous thermal low over the Barents Sea that, along with a northward shift of the tropospheric polar vortex, permitted this intrusion. The collapse of the Beaufort High during the winter of 2017 was associated with simultaneous 2‐sigma sea level pressure, surface wind, and sea ice circulation anomalies in the western Arctic. As the Arctic sea ice continues to thin, such reversals may become more common and impact ocean circulation, sea ice, and biology.

A meteoric water budget for the Arctic Ocean

Alkire, M.B., J. Morison, A. Schweiger, J. Zhang, M. Steele, C. Peralta-Ferriz, and S. Dickinson, "A meteoric water budget for the Arctic Ocean," J. Geophys. Res., EOR, doi:10.1002/2017JC012807, 2017.

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6 Oct 2017

A budget of meteoric water (MW = river runoff, net precipitation minus evaporation, and glacial meltwater) over four regions of the Arctic Ocean is constructed using a simple box model, regional precipitation-evaporation estimates from reanalysis data sets, and estimates of import and export fluxes derived from the literature with a focus on the 2003–2008 period. The budget indicates an approximate/slightly positive balance between MW imports and exports (i.e., no change in storage); thus, the observed total freshwater increase observed during this time period likely resulted primarily from changes in non-MW freshwater components (i.e., increases in sea ice melt or Pacific water and/or a decrease in ice export). Further, our analysis indicates that the MW increase observed in the Canada Basin resulted from a spatial redistribution of MW over the Arctic Ocean. Mean residence times for MW were estimated for the Western Arctic (5–7 years), Eastern Arctic (3–4 years), and Lincoln Sea (1–2 years). The MW content over the Siberian shelves was estimated (~14,000 km3) based on a residence time of 3.5 years. The MW content over the entire Arctic Ocean was estimated to be ≥ 44,000 km3. The MW export through Fram Strait consisted mostly of water from the Eastern Arctic (3237 ± 1370 km3 yr-1) whereas the export through the Canadian Archipelago was nearly equally derived from both the Western Arctic (1182 ± 534 km3 yr-1) and Lincoln Sea (972 ± 391 km3 yr-1).

Influence of high-latitude atmospheric circulation changes on summertime Arctic sea ice

Ding, Q., and 10 others including A. Schweiger, "Influence of high-latitude atmospheric circulation changes on summertime Arctic sea ice," Nat. Clim. Change 7, 289–295, doi:10.1038/nclimate3241, 2017.

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1 Apr 2017

The Arctic has seen rapid sea-ice decline in the past three decades, whilst warming at about twice the global average rate. Yet the relationship between Arctic warming and sea-ice loss is not well understood. Here, we present evidence that trends in summertime atmospheric circulation may have contributed as much as 60% to the September sea-ice extent decline since 1979. A tendency towards a stronger anticyclonic circulation over Greenland and the Arctic Ocean with a barotropic structure in the troposphere increased the downwelling longwave radiation above the ice by warming and moistening the lower troposphere. Model experiments, with reanalysis data constraining atmospheric circulation, replicate the observed thermodynamic response and indicate that the near-surface changes are dominated by circulation changes rather than feedbacks from the changing sea-ice cover. Internal variability dominates the Arctic summer circulation trend and may be responsible for about 30–50% of the overall decline in September sea ice since 1979.

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In The News

Arctic sea ice dwindles to record low for winter

CBS News

The frigid top of the Earth just set yet another record for low levels of sea ice in what scientists say is just the latest signal of an overheating world.

22 Mar 2017

Up to half of Arctic melting can be explained by natural changes

Christian Science Monitor, Patrick Reilly

While Arctic seas have been melting at a faster-than-expected rate in recent decades, scientists are still debating the degree to which natural and human factors are to blame.

14 Mar 2017

Rapid decline of Arctic sea ice a combination of climate change and natural variability

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

Arctic sea ice in recent decades has declined even faster than predicted by most models of climate change. Many scientists have suspected that the trend now underway is a combination of global warming and natural climate variability.

13 Mar 2017

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