New research suggests that Antarctic sea ice may not be expanding as fast as previously thought. A team of scientists say much of the increase measured for Southern Hemisphere sea ice could be due to a processing error in the satellite data. The findings are published today in The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).
Arctic sea ice is retreating at a dramatic rate. In contrast, satellite observations suggest that sea ice cover in the Antarctic is expanding – albeit at a moderate rate – and that sea ice extent has reached record highs in recent years.
What’s causing Southern Hemisphere sea ice cover to increase in a warming world has puzzled scientists since the trend was first spotted. Now, a team of researchers has suggested that much of the measured expansion may be due to an error, not previously documented, in the way satellite data was processed.
“This implies that the Antarctic sea ice trends reported in the IPCC’s AR4 and AR5 [the 2007 and 2013 assessment reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] can’t both be correct: our findings show that the data used in one of the reports contains a significant error. But we have not yet been able to identify which one contains the error,” says lead-author Ian Eisenman of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego in the US.
Reflecting the scientific literature at the time, the AR4 reported that Antarctic sea ice cover remained more or less constant between 1979 and 2005. On the other hand, recent literature and the AR5 indicate that, between 1979 and 2012, Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent increased at a rate of about 16.5 thousand square kilometres per year. Scientists assumed the difference to be a result of adding several more years to the observational record.
“But when we looked at how the numbers reported for the trend had changed, and we looked at the time series of Antarctic sea ice extent, it didn’t look right,” says Eisenman, who set out to figure out what was wrong.
Scientists have used satellite data to measure sea ice cover for 35 years. But the data doesn’t come from a single instrument, orbiting on a single satellite throughout this period. Instead, researchers splice together observations from different instruments flown on a number of different satellites. They then use an algorithm – the most prevalent being the Bootstrap algorithm – and further processing to estimate sea ice cover from these data.
In the study published in The Cryosphere, Eisenman and collaborators compare two datasets for sea ice measurements. The most recent one, the source of AR5 conclusions, was generated using a version of Bootstrap updated in 2007, while the other, used in AR4 research, is the result of an older version of the algorithm.
The researchers found a difference between the two datasets related to a transition in satellite sensors in December 1991, and the way the data collected by the two instruments was calibrated. “It appears that one of the records did this calibration incorrectly, introducing a step-like change in December 1991 that was big enough to have a large influence on the long-term trend,” explains Eisenman.
“You’d think it would be easy to see which record has this spurious jump in December 1991, but there’s so much natural variability in the record – so much ‘noise’ from one month to the next – that it’s not readily apparent which record contains the jump. When we subtract one record from the other, though, we remove most of this noise, and the step-like change in December 1991 becomes very clear.”
With the exception of the longer time period covered by the most recent dataset, the two records were thought to be nearly identical. But, by comparing the datasets and calculating Antarctic sea ice extent for each of them, the team found that there was a stark difference between the two records, with the current one giving larger rates of sea ice expansion than the old one in any given period.
If the error is in the current dataset, the results could contribute to an unexpected resolution for the Antarctic sea ice cover enigma.
Please mention the name of the publication (The Cryosphere) if reporting on this story and, if reporting online, include a link to the paper (TBA) or to the journal website (http://www.the-cryosphere.net/).
This research is presented in the paper ‘A spurious jump in the satellite record: has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?’ to appear in the EGU open access journal The Cryosphere on 22 July 2014.
The scientific article is available online, free of charge, from the publication date onwards, at http://www.the-cryosphere.net/recent_papers.html. A pre-print copy of the paper is available for download at http://www.egu.eu/news/118/is-antarctic-sea-ice-cover-really-setting-record-highs/.
The team is composed of Ian Eisenman (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, USA), Walter Meier (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA) and Joel R. Norris (Scripps).
The European Geosciences Union (www.egu.eu) is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit interdisciplinary learned association of scientists founded in 2002. The EGU has a current portfolio of 16 diverse scientific journals, which use an innovative open access format, and organises a number of topical meetings, and education and outreach activities. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting over 11,000 scientists from all over the world. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, energy, and resources. The 2015 EGU General Assembly is taking place is Vienna, Austria from 12 to 17 April 2015. For information regarding the press centre at the meeting and media registration, please check http://media.egu.eu closer to the time of the conference.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California at San Diego, USA
EGU Media and Communications Manager
Dr. Bárbara Ferreira | EGU Press Office
A damming trend
17.12.2018 | Michigan State University
Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
17.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.12.2018 | Architecture and Construction
17.12.2018 | Life Sciences