Dr. Cecilia Bitz tracks sea ice because it disappears at unprecedented ranges

polar-bear-unsplash-720x720 Dr. Cecilia Bitz tracks sea ice because it disappears at unprecedented ranges

There’s an outdated plane hangar in Churchill, Manitoba, close to Canada’s Hudson Bay. Within the early 1980s, it was transformed into 28 strengthened cells; you don’t need these inmates escaping. It’s the Polar Bear Holding Facility, but it surely’s also called polar bear jail. Members of the rescue staff will usher in bears which were scavenging by trash bins or who appear unhealthy. Often, after round a month, the bears are airlifted out of city.

eniac-women-programmers-7_1-300x250-c-e Dr. Cecilia Bitz tracks sea ice because it disappears at unprecedented ranges

Polar bears shouldn’t be counting on human scraps to outlive. They’re categorized as marine mammals, as a result of they spend a lot of their time on sea ice. They rely on the frozen seawater to hunt for seals and different prey. Polar bear issues aren’t simply taking place at Hudson Bay. You’ll additionally discover them on the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska. “You will have this domino impact with the lack of sea ice there,” Dr. Cecilia Bitz informed Digital Tendencies. The seals create respiration holes within the ice, then use the snow to construct lairs for having pups. Hotter temperatures and rain can collapse the lairs, leaving the seals weak and reducing their inhabitants over time.


bitz_greenlandsea2012-325x325 Dr. Cecilia Bitz tracks sea ice because it disappears at unprecedented rangesDr. Cecilia Bitz, Chair of the Division of Atmospheric Sciences on the College of Washington Svavar Jónatansson

Because the chair of the Division of Atmospheric Sciences on the College of Washington, Bitz research sea ice and its function in local weather change. Although she’s visited the Arctic a number of instances, she will be able to do most of her work from Seattle, utilizing satellite tv for pc pictures and different information to forecast sea ice. Businesses all around the world, together with the Nationwide Climate Service, collect info on sea ice concentrations and ice thickness and enter them into ensemble forecasts. These fashions deliver collectively quite a lot of forecasts and see the place they agree. “Once you hearken to a climate forecast, you’re getting chances,” mentioned Bitz. “Often it’s an opportunity of rain, and we do the identical factor for an opportunity of this proportion or that proportion of sea ice.” Bitz and her staff then attempt to predict the circumstances as much as six weeks out for 17 Arctic areas. Whether or not there will likely be a 70 p.c likelihood of sea ice or 85 p.c change is vital for anybody touring within the Bering Sea or Hudson Bay.


The ICESat-2 may lengthen how far out Bitz is ready to predict sea ice, from six weeks to nearer to its theoretical restrict of six months. NASA launched the satellite tv for pc simply over a 12 months in the past. When its not utilizing lasers to find out the amount of icebergs, ICESat-2 is measuring the peak of sea ice round Greenland. Although NASA has been utilizing planes to take these measurements for over a decade, Bitz calls the satellite tv for pc “an enormous, revolutionary change to the info we’re getting.”

weddell-ice-nasa-1200x9999 Dr. Cecilia Bitz tracks sea ice because it disappears at unprecedented rangesNASA

The extent of element the ICESat-2 can present is essential for monitoring modifications to sea ice. Satellite tv for pc pictures can present variations in ice floor, whether or not it’s tough or easy. The extra glassy the ice, the newer it’s. “You possibly can think about on a lake, when it refreezes early within the 12 months, is actually flat,” mentioned Bitz. Older ice is extra weathered, having undergone soften and refreezing cycles, getting battered and buffered about by wind and currents. Multiyear ice is rougher, whereas ice youthful than a 12 months is much less bumpy. Sensors that measure the reflections from the floor of Earth, referred to as scatterometers, enable scientists to see the variations between the 2 sorts. Scatterometer information from 1999 to 2017 present growing areas of the Arctic Ocean coated by new ice; lower than one third was coated by multiyear ice in 2017. Much less and fewer ice is ready to stick round in the course of the summer time, permitting it to turn out to be multiyear ice.

Bitz mentioned it’s startling how a lot the quantity of multiyear ice has shrunk, over 50 p.c since 1999. Dependable satellite tv for pc information for icy areas goes again to 1979, however there are ice-thickness measurements from submarine sonars from the late 1950s. Even earlier than then, there are accounts from native communities. “The Beaufort Sea had no sea ice in October this 12 months, which no person can bear in mind ever having occurred,” mentioned Bitz. Oral information can final centuries. When Arctic explorer Charles Francis Corridor traveled to Baffin Island in 1860, his Inuit guides informed him about different explorers and ships that had ventured to the world. They meant Martin Frobisher, who’d landed on the island almost 300 years earlier.

The Beaufort Sea had no sea ice in October this 12 months, which no person can bear in mind ever having occurred.”

“I’ve by no means seen the Arctic with my eyes when it was more healthy,” mentioned Bitz. She mentioned the anecdotal information she’s learn and heard from native communities assist her get a way of what’s been misplaced. As soon as, they used sleds to journey throughout ice to get to neighboring villages. Historically, permafrost freezers would maintain whale meat chilly and secure from scavenging polar bears. Not anymore. “Speaking to individuals, it’s fairly inescapable that we’ve by no means seen sea ice loss like this in human historical past,” mentioned Bitz.

The connection between fossil gasoline emissions and deforestation and the warming planet are irrefutable, mentioned Bitz. “The one method we will cease local weather change is that if we cease emitting,” she mentioned. Sea ice isn’t simply an indicator of rising temperatures; it’s concerned within the suggestions loop that amplifies it. The reflective nature of ice helps maintain the planet cooler by bouncing the solar’s elevate again. Melting ice leaves darker swimming pools of uncovered ocean that take up the warmth, turning the ice even slushier.

We are able to credit score political cartoonist Thomas Nast with relocating Santa Claus to the North Pole in 1866. On the time, nobody had reached it, so it made sense that it might take a dose of magic to reside there. To many, the Arctic should really feel simply as unreachable, its ice points as distant. In fact, this isn’t true in any respect. We’ll all really feel the results of warming and Alaska is a part of america. “I feel it’s vital to do not forget that the U.S. is an Arctic nation,” mentioned Bitz.

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