CryoSat-2 mission reveals major Arctic sea-ice loss
13 February 2013
Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered.
Researchers used new data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite spanning 2010 to 2012, and data from NASA's ICESat satellite from 2003 to 2008 to estimate the volume of sea ice in the Arctic.
They found that from 2003 to 2008, autumn volumes of ice averaged 11,900 km3. But from 2010 to 2012, the average volume had dropped to 7,600 km3 - a decline of 4,300 km3. The average ice volume in the winter from 2003 to 2008 was 16,300 km3, dropping to 14,800 km3 between 2010 and 2012 - a difference of 1,500 km3.
An artist's impression of ESA's CryoSat-2 satellite in orbit. Copyright ESA.
"The data reveals that thick sea ice has disappeared from a region to the north of Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago, and to the northeast of Svalbard," says Dr Katharine Giles, a NERC-funded research fellow at the Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling (CPOM) at UCL (University College London), who co-authored the report, published online in Geophysical Research Letters.
The findings confirm the continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice volume simulated by the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling & Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which estimates the volume of Arctic sea ice and had been checked using earlier submarine, mooring, and satellite observations until 2008.
Other satellites have already shown drops in the area covered by Arctic sea ice as the climate has warmed. Indeed, sea-ice extent reached a record minimum in September 2012. But CryoSat-2, launched in April 2010, differs in that it lets scientists estimate the volume of sea ice - a much more accurate indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic.
"While two years of CryoSat-2 data aren't indicative of a long-term change, the lower ice thickness and volume in February and March 2012, compared with same period in 2011, may have contributed to the record minimum ice extent during the 2012 autumn," says Professor Christian Haas of York University, Canada Research Chair for Arctic Sea Ice Geophysics, co-author of the study and coordinator of the international CryoSat sea ice validation activities.
CryoSat-2 measures ice volume using a high-resolution synthetic aperture radar altimeter, which fires pulses of microwave energy down towards the ice. The energy bounces off both the top of sections of ice and the water in the cracks in between. The difference in height between these two surfaces let scientists calculate the volume of the ice cover.
The findings are the result of a huge international collaboration between teams from UCL, the European Space Agency, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Washington, York University, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar & Marine Research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland.
The team confirmed CryoSat-2 estimates of ice volume using measurements from three independent sources - aircraft, moorings, and NASA's Operation IceBridge.
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the European Space Agency, the German Aerospace Center, Alberta Ingenuity, NASA, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
Researchers' contact details:
Dr Katharine Giles of UCL is the lead scientific contact for this study, as the lead author, Professor Seymour Laxon of UCL, tragically died in early January.
Dr Katharine Giles
Mob: 07765 252960
Professor Christian Haas
York University, Canada
Tel: 00 1 416 736 2100 ext. 77705
1. The paper - 'CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume' by Seymour W Laxon, Katharine A Giles, Andy L Ridout, Duncan J Wingham, Rosemary Willatt, Robert Cullen, Ron Kwok, Axel Schweiger, Jinlun Zhang, Christian Haas, Stefan Hendricks, Richard Krishfield, Nathan Kurtz, Sinead Farrell, Malcolm Davidson, in Geophysical Research Letters - was accepted and published online on 28 January 2013.
Press release: 03/13
Recent press news
- NERC invests in scheme to solve business problems using environmental data
- Science Budget allocations 2015-16
- NERC signs MoU with multinational energy company Shell
- NERC invests £4.6 million in Big Data
- Research on the effects of storm surges on sand dunes to aid coastal management
- Entrepreneurial scientists scoop prize money at competition finals
- NERC announces the winner of its first photo and essay competition
- NERC supports growth with responsible environmental management in energy sector
- Better modelling of tsunami zones could help insurance quotes
- NERC signs MoU with global engineering consultancy Arup