50 news posts related to Polar Science

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The importance of the atmosphere and ocean in determining the fate of Antarctica

Landsat 9 satellite imagery shows the fractured front of the Crosson Ice Shelf in the Amundsen Sector of West Antarctica. The pace of the ice shelf’s retreat slowed in this region from 2003 to 2015. New research shows that changes in offshore winds brought less warm seawater into contact with the glacier.

An international team of researchers has combined satellite imagery and climate and ocean records to obtain the most detailed understanding yet of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — which contains enough ice to raise global sea level by 11 feet, or 3.3 meters — is responding to climate change. The researchers, from the University of Washington, the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, found that the pace and extent of ice destabilization along West Antarctica’s coast varies according to differences in regional climate. 

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Strongest Arctic cyclone on record led to surprising loss of sea ice

A ship-based view of the Arctic Ocean where the ocean surface is starting to freeze.

A warming climate is causing a decline in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, where loss of sea ice has important ecological, economic and climate impacts. On top of this long-term shift due to climate change are weather events that affect the sea ice from week to week. The strongest Arctic cyclone ever observed poleward of 70 degrees north latitude struck in January 2022 northeast of Greenland. 

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Newly documented population of polar bears in Southeast Greenland sheds light on the species’ future in a warming Arctic

A Southeast Greenland polar bear on glacier, or freshwater, ice at 61 degrees north in September 2016.

Scientists have documented a previously unknown subpopulation of polar bears living in Southeast Greenland. The polar bears survive with limited access to sea ice by hunting from freshwater ice that pours into the ocean from Greenland’s glaciers. Because this isolated population is genetically distinct and uniquely adapted to its environment, studying it could shed light on the future of the species in a warming Arctic. 

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Solar energy explains fast yearly retreat of Antarctica’s sea ice

A research vessel looking out at the horizon amidst broken sea ice

In the Southern Hemisphere, the ice cover around Antarctica gradually expands from March to October each year. During this time the total ice area increases by 6 times to become larger than Russia. The sea ice then retreats at a faster pace, most dramatically around December, when Antarctica experiences constant daylight. New research led by the University of Washington explains why the ice retreats so quickly: Unlike other aspects of its behavior, Antarctic sea ice is just following simple rules of physics. 

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Glaciers are squishy, holding slightly more ice than thought

Brad Lipovsky (right) hikes over Easton Glacier on Washington’s Mount Baker in September 2021 with UW graduate students Danny Hogan (left) and Quinn Brencher.

Glacier ice is usually thought of as brittle. You can drill a hole in an ice sheet, like into a rock, and glaciers crack and calve, leaving behind vertical ice cliffs. But new University of Washington research shows that glaciers are also slightly compressible, or squishy. This compression over the huge expanse of an ice sheet — like Antarctica or Greenland — makes the overall ice sheet more dense and lowers the surface by tens of feet compared to what would otherwise be expected, according to results published Jan. 

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