A dramatic image captured by a University of Washington monitoring buoy reportedly shows a lake at the North Pole. But Santa doesn’t yet need to buy a snorkel.
NSF North Pole Environmental Observatory
The view from webcam 2 on July 26 shows open water on the ice.
A. Schweiger, UW
An aerial photo taken July 16 shows extensive meltwater pools off the Alaskan coast.
“Every summer when the sun melts the surface the water has to go someplace, so it accumulates in these ponds,” said Jamie Morison, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory and principal investigator since 2000 of the North Pole Environmental Observatory. “This doesn’t look particularly extreme.”
After media coverage in CBS News, The Atlantic and the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Morison returned from overseas travel late last week to a pile of media inquiries. Over the weekend the team posted an explanatory page on the project website.
One of the issues in interpreting the image, researchers said, is that the camera uses a fisheye lens.
“The picture is slightly distorted,” said Axel Schweiger, who heads the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Polar Science Center. “In the background you see what looks like mountains, and that’s where the scale problem comes in – those are actually ridges where the ice was pushed together.”
Researchers estimate the melt pond in the picture was just over 2 feet deep and a few hundred feet wide, which is not unusual to find on an Arctic ice floe in late July.
In the midst of all the concern, the pool drained late July 27. This is the normal cycle for a meltwater pond that forms from snow and ice — it eventually drains through cracks or holes in the ice it has pooled on.
The now-infamous buoy was first plunked into floating ice in April, at the beginning of the melt season, about 25 miles from the North Pole. Morison drilled a hole about three football fields away for a second camera, which is pointing in a different direction and shows a more typical scene. Since then the ice floe holding both cameras has drifted about 375 miles south.North Pole Environmental Observatory
The buoys record weather, ice, and ocean data, and the webcams transmit images via satellite every 6 hours. Images show the ice, buoys and yardsticks placed in the snow to track the surface conditions throughout the summer melt season. Maybe the instruments will survive the summer without getting crushed by shifting ice to record data for another year. Maybe they will fall in the water and eventually wash ashore. Researchers place the buoys to try to maximize their useful lifetime.
While researchers say the so-called lake at the North Pole is not out of the ordinary, there is a lot of meltwater that could affect the sea ice in coming weeks, in the closely watched lead-up to the September ice minimum.
Last summer the sea-ice hit a record low in extent since measurements began in 1979. This year the melting started a bit later than usual, Schweiger said, but picked up in the last couple of weeks. Late summer is usually the strongest period of shrinking because the ice is already thin.
“Whether we’re going to see another record or not is still up in the air,” Schweiger said.
He flew over the ice last month in a joint project with the U.S. Coast Guard to drop instruments that measure oceanic and atmospheric conditions and ice motion.
Morison was last on the ice in April when he deployed the buoys. His forecast for this summer, based on years of experience, is included on a list of expert predictions compiled by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Seattle office.
Morison will not change his June estimate that this summer will come close to, but not pass, the 2012 record, but he is having his doubts. Looking at the photos from the recent flyover shows more melt along the Alaskan coast, and his experience suggests that ice is fragile.
“I think it’s going to be pretty close to last year,” Morison said. “Up in the Canada Basin the ice looks like Swiss cheese, with lots of holes. Even though the ice extent is pretty good, our thinking is that if there’s a big storm event we’re going to see a rapid breakup of that ice and it’s going to disappear pretty quickly.”
The UW team manages another sea-ice tracking tool. The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center publishes daily images and calculations of sea-ice extent and area, while the UW group combines those satellite images and other data to tabulate sea-ice volume. For many people, the UW’s monthly updates are a go-to source for getting the latest numbers on sea ice.
And while the North Pole lake news stories don’t exactly hold water, UW researchers say that it at least shows public interest and concern.
“While the hoopla about Santa’s swimming pool was off the mark,” Morison said, “it is the long-term observational record from these buoys that provides the perspective needed to understand what really is going on.”
For more information, contact Morison at 206-543-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Schweiger at 206-543-1312 or email@example.com
Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction