by N. Vizcarra, February 2020 in EarthData/NASA
Paul Holland, a climate modeler with the British Antarctic Survey, has spent the last ten years studying Antarctica’s sea ice and the Southern Ocean. Lately, he has been scrutinizing the seasons of Antarctica and how fast the ice comes and goes. Holland thinks these seasons may be a key to a conundrum: If Earth’s temperatures are getting warmer and sea ice in the Arctic has been shrinking fast, why then is sea ice in the Antarctic slowly increasing?
Holland used data from NASA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC) to calculate the ice concentration rate of growth for each single day, which he called intensification; and the total ice area rate of growth, which he called expansion. “I did that for all thirty years of data and plotted the trends,” he said. Holland’s plots showed that the different regions in the Southern Ocean contributed to the overall increase, but they had very diverse trends in sea ice growth. This suggested that geography and different wind patterns played a role. So to gain more insight Holland looked at seasonal wind trends for the different regions.
Holland found that winds were spreading sea ice out in some regions and compressing or keeping it intact in others and that these effects began in the spring. It contradicted a previous study in which, using ice drift data, Holland and Ron Kwok from the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) found that increasing northward winds during the autumn caused the variations.
“I always thought, and as far as I can tell everyone else thought, that the biggest changes must be in autumn,” Holland said. “But the big result for me now is we need to look at spring. The trend is bigger in the autumn, but it seems to be created in spring.”
“Paul has created two more sea ice metrics that we can use to assess how Antarctic sea ice is responding,” said researcher Sharon Stammerjohn, referring to the measures of intensification and expansion. The new metrics help assess how the system is responding as opposed to simply monitoring the state of the system. “Say your temperature is at 99.2 degrees Fahrenheit,” Stammerjohn said. “You don’t have any insight to that temperature unless you take it again an hour later and you see that it changed to 101 degrees. Then you can say, okay, my system is responding to something.”