Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Polar ice packs


Microplastics (MP) are recognized as a growing environmental hazard and have been identified as far as the remote Polar Regions, with particularly high concentrations of microplastics in sea ice. Little is known regarding the horizontal variability of MP within sea ice and how the underlying water body affects MP composition during sea ice growth. Here we show that sea ice MP has no uniform polymer composition and that, depending on the growth region and drift paths of the sea ice, unique MP patterns can be observed in different sea ice horizons. Thus even in remote regions such as the Arctic Ocean, certain MP indicate the presence of localized sources. Increasing exploitation of Arctic resources will likely lead to a higher MP load in the Arctic sea ice and will enhance the release of MP in the areas of strong seasonal sea ice melt and the outflow gateways.

Concepts: Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Arctic Circle, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


Arctic sea ice is retreating rapidly, raising prospects of a future ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer. Since climate-model simulations of the sea-ice loss differ substantially, we here use a robust linear relationship between monthly-mean September sea-ice area and cumulative CO2 emissions to infer the future evolution of Arctic summer sea ice directly from the observational record. The observed linear relationship implies a sustained loss of 3 ± 0.3 m(2) of September sea-ice area per metric ton of CO2 emission. Based on this sensitivity, Arctic sea-ice will be lost throughout September for an additional 1000 Gt of CO2 emissions. Most models show a lower sensitivity, which is possibly linked to an underestimation of the modeled increase in incoming longwave radiation and of the modeled Transient Climate Response.

Concepts: Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Emission standard, Global warming, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


The contribution of declining Arctic sea ice to warming in the region through Arctic amplification suggests that sea ice decline has the potential to influence ecological dynamics in terrestrial Arctic systems. Empirical evidence for such effects is limited, however, particularly at the local population and community levels. Here we identify an Arctic sea ice signal in the annual timing of vegetation emergence at an inland tundra system in West Greenland. According to the time series analyses presented here, an ongoing advance in plant phenology at this site is attributable to the accelerating decline in Arctic sea ice, and contributes to declining large herbivore reproductive performance via trophic mismatch. Arctic-wide sea ice metrics consistently outperform other regional and local abiotic variables in models characterizing these dynamics, implicating large-scale Arctic sea ice decline as a potentially important, albeit indirect, contributor to local-scale ecological dynamics on land.

Concepts: Ecology, Arctic Ocean, Greenland, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Phenology, Northwest Passage, Polar ice packs


Earth’s modern climate is defined by the presence of ice at both poles, but that ice is now disappearing. Therefore understanding the origin and causes of polar ice stability is more critical than ever. Here we provide novel geochemical data that constrain past dynamics of glacial ice on Greenland and Arctic sea ice. Based on accurate source determinations of individual ice-rafted Fe-oxide grains, we find evidence for episodic glaciation of distinct source regions on Greenland as far-ranging as ~68°N and ~80°N synchronous with ice-rafting from circum-Arctic sources, beginning in the middle Eocene. Glacial intervals broadly coincide with reduced CO2, with a potential threshold for glacial ice stability near ~500 p.p.m.v. The middle Eocene represents the Cenozoic onset of a dynamic cryosphere, with ice in both hemispheres during transient glacials and substantial regional climate heterogeneity. A more stable cryosphere developed at the Eocene-Oligocene transition, and is now threatened by anthropogenic emissions.

Concepts: Ice, Glacier, Climate, Arctic Ocean, Glaciology, Oligocene, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


During ice-free periods, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) could be an attractive shipping route. The decline in Arctic sea-ice extent, however, could be associated with an increase in the frequency of the causes of severe weather phenomena, and high wind-driven waves and the advection of sea ice could make ship navigation along the NSR difficult. Accurate forecasts of weather and sea ice are desirable for safe navigation, but large uncertainties exist in current forecasts, partly owing to the sparse observational network over the Arctic Ocean. Here, we show that the incorporation of additional Arctic observations improves the initial analysis and enhances the skill of weather and sea-ice forecasts, the application of which has socioeconomic benefits. Comparison of 63-member ensemble atmospheric forecasts, using different initial data sets, revealed that additional Arctic radiosonde observations were useful for predicting a persistent strong wind event. The sea-ice forecast, initialised by the wind fields that included the effects of the observations, skilfully predicted rapid wind-driven sea-ice advection along the NSR.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate, Forecasting, Ocean, Wind, Arctic Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Polar ice packs


The interface layer between ocean and atmosphere is only a couple of micrometers thick but plays a critical role in climate relevant processes, including the air-sea exchange of gas and heat and the emission of primary organic aerosols (POA). Recent findings suggest that low-level cloud formation above the Arctic Ocean may be linked to organic polymers produced by marine microorganisms. Sea ice harbors high amounts of polymeric substances that are produced by cells growing within the sea-ice brine. Here, we report from a research cruise to the central Arctic Ocean in 2012. Our study shows that microbial polymers accumulate at the air-sea interface when the sea ice melts. Proteinaceous compounds represented the major fraction of polymers supporting the formation of a gelatinous interface microlayer and providing a hitherto unrecognized potential source of marine POA. Our study indicates a novel link between sea ice-ocean and atmosphere that may be sensitive to climate change.

Concepts: Protein, Climate, Polymer, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


The ongoing regime shift of Arctic sea ice from perennial to seasonal ice is associated with more dynamic patterns of opening and closing sea-ice leads (large transient channels of open water in the ice), which may affect atmospheric and biogeochemical cycles in the Arctic. Mercury and ozone are rapidly removed from the atmospheric boundary layer during depletion events in the Arctic, caused by destruction of ozone along with oxidation of gaseous elemental mercury (Hg(0)) to oxidized mercury (Hg(ii)) in the atmosphere and its subsequent deposition to snow and ice. Ozone depletion events can change the oxidative capacity of the air by affecting atmospheric hydroxyl radical chemistry, whereas atmospheric mercury depletion events can increase the deposition of mercury to the Arctic, some of which can enter ecosystems during snowmelt. Here we present near-surface measurements of atmospheric mercury and ozone from two Arctic field campaigns near Barrow, Alaska. We find that coastal depletion events are directly linked to sea-ice dynamics. A consolidated ice cover facilitates the depletion of Hg(0) and ozone, but these immediately recover to near-background concentrations in the upwind presence of open sea-ice leads. We attribute the rapid recoveries of Hg(0) and ozone to lead-initiated shallow convection in the stable Arctic boundary layer, which mixes Hg(0) and ozone from undepleted air masses aloft. This convective forcing provides additional Hg(0) to the surface layer at a time of active depletion chemistry, where it is subject to renewed oxidation. Future work will need to establish the degree to which large-scale changes in sea-ice dynamics across the Arctic alter ozone chemistry and mercury deposition in fragile Arctic ecosystems.

Concepts: Electrochemistry, Climate, Radical, Atmosphere, Arctic Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


We present a modelling study of processes controlling the summer melt of the Arctic sea ice cover. We perform a sensitivity study and focus our interest on the thermodynamics at the ice-atmosphere and ice-ocean interfaces. We use the Los Alamos community sea ice model CICE, and additionally implement and test three new parametrization schemes: (i) a prognostic mixed layer; (ii) a three equation boundary condition for the salt and heat flux at the ice-ocean interface; and (iii) a new lateral melt parametrization. Recent additions to the CICE model are also tested, including explicit melt ponds, a form drag parametrization and a halodynamic brine drainage scheme. The various sea ice parametrizations tested in this sensitivity study introduce a wide spread in the simulated sea ice characteristics. For each simulation, the total melt is decomposed into its surface, bottom and lateral melt components to assess the processes driving melt and how this varies regionally and temporally. Because this study quantifies the relative importance of several processes in driving the summer melt of sea ice, this work can serve as a guide for future research priorities.

Concepts: Thermodynamics, Canada, Object-oriented programming, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


3,9,13-trimethyl-6-(1,5-dimethylhexyl)-tetradecan-1,2-diol and 2,8,12-trimethyl-5-(1,5-dimethylhexyl)-tridecanoic acid appear to be produced during the bacterial metabolism of IP25, a highly branched isoprenoid lipid often employed for past Arctic sea ice reconstruction. Characterization and quantification of these metabolites in sediments are essential to determine if bacterial degradation may exert a significant influence on IP25-based palaeo sea ice reconstructions.

Concepts: Protein, Bacteria, Metabolism, Lipid, Arctic Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Polar ice packs


Pollutants emitted from wildfires in boreal Eurasia can be transported to the Arctic, and their subsequent deposition could accelerate global warming. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) MCD64A1 burned area product is the basis of fire emission products. However, uncertainties due to the “moderate resolution” (500 m) characteristic of the MODIS sensor could be introduced. Here, we present a size-dependent validation of MCD64A1 with reference to higher resolution (better than 30 m) satellite products (Landsat 7 ETM+, RapidEye, WorldView-2, and GeoEye-1) for six ecotypes over 12 regions of boreal Eurasia. We considered the 2012 boreal Eurasia burning season when severe wildfires occurred and when Arctic sea ice extent was historically low. Among the six ecotypes, we found MCD64A1 burned areas comprised only 13% of the reference products in croplands because of inadequate detection of small fires (<100 ha). Our results indicate that over all ecotypes, the actual burned area in boreal Eurasia (15,256 km(2)) could have been ~16% greater than suggested by MCD64A1 (13,187 km(2)) when applying the correction factors proposed in this study. This implies the effects of wildfire emissions in boreal Eurasia on Arctic warming could be greater than currently estimated.

Concepts: Canada, Vegetation, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Arctic shrinkage, Wildfire, Sea ice, Polar ice packs