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Dispatch 26: Ice in the Beaufort Gyre

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October 13 Photos
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Mengnan Zhao

October 13, 2015

Along the track of the Louis, I have been fascinated by the many forms and stages of sea ice, from the newly formed pancake ice, to the beautiful nilas, to the older, solid ice cover in which we deployed our Ice-Based Observatories. Now I fully understand and agree with the comment our seaman Bernard Noseworthy made at the beginning of the cruise that he would never get tired of the ice.

On the science side, ice plays an important role in climate change. It reflects solar radiation helping to keep the Earth cool. The satellite-observed decreasing trend in sea-ice extent since the 1970s urges scientists from all over the world to study the possible consequences and the physical processes behind this phenomenon. Scientist Jenny Hutchings from Oregon State University focuses on Arctic sea ice in her research. She talked about the loss of older, thicker ice during today’s science meeting. The interaction between ice floes (when they come together and ridge, or move apart) has substantial influence to the extent and character of the sea ice. Ridges tend to thicken ice floes, making them more resistant to melting. On the contrary, openings in the sea ice pack allow for more absorption of solar radiation (because open water is less reflective than sea-ice covered water) and the surrounding ice can therefore melt further (this is the ice-albedo feedback). The ice we have encountered this cruise has been almost entirely flat with few ridges, and we look forward to Jenny’s further analyses of the ice conditions set in context with other years in this region. Jenny also showed us ice cores collected from our two ice stations. It was intriguing to see the different patterns through the sea-ice core that will tell us its stories over the past few years.

Last updated: October 7, 2019

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