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 email@example.com and Schweiger at 206-543-1312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Clear as mud: Desiccation cracks help reveal the shape of water on Mars
20.04.2018 | Geological Society of America
Hurricane Harvey: Dutch-Texan research shows most fatalities occurred outside flood zones
19.04.2018 | European Geosciences Union
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy