Sea Ice

Less Ice or More? What You Need to Know About Antarctica’s Meltdown

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 13, 2014   View Article

In Antarctica, glaciers are sloshing seaward at an ever faster clip, ocean waters are warming, and, perhaps counterintuitively, sea ice is expanding, according to a batch of recent studies that paint a stark picture of climate change unfolding at the far southern reaches of the globe. For people in North America, the distant events raise the specter of higher seas sooner than climate models suggest.

Here are answers to key questions about what’s happening on that cold continent.

Who’s Driving That Tanker? New Polar Code For Sailing Emerges

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after a drunk captain and his fatigued crew ran the Exxon Valdez onto a reef where it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new rules are taking shape to prevent a similar disaster in the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean.

There, melting sea ice is opening a new frontier for cruise and cargo ships as well as prospectors for oil, gas, and hard rock minerals.

A key goal of the new rules is to ensure people skilled in navigating ice-strewn seas are aboard every vessel in Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to Lawson Brigham, a distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who has participated in the development of the so-called Polar Code for more than 20 years.

Giant Waves Pose New Risk for Ships in Ice-Diminished Arctic

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Monster waves should be added to the list of hazards faced by ship captains as they plot a course through the waters of the Arctic Ocean, according to a new study that reports observations of house-sized swells in seas that until recently were covered in ice year-round.

“Waves always pose a risk to working at sea,” study author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle, said via email to NBC News from off the coast of northern Alaska. “The unique thing about the Arctic is that it is changing so rapidly that we cannot apply past measurements to understand future risk.”

Arctic Ship Traffic and Oil Spill Worries Rise as Ice Recedes

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 25, 2014   View Article

Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.

Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.

Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

Scientists More Certain Than Ever on Climate Change, Report Says

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 26, 2014   View Article

Experts are more certain than ever that human activity is changing the global climate, even though they don’t fully understand every detail of the climate system, according to a new report released Wednesday by two of the world’s leading scientific bodies.

The document from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society aims to move the climate change debate beyond humans’ role in global warming to a discussion of how to limit the impacts on society.

“Climate change is happening. We see it in temperature, we see it in the melting ice, and we see it in sea-level rise,” Inez Fung, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Berkeley and a co-lead author of the report, told NBC News. The changes are due to rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide with a chemical signature from the burning of fossil fuels, she added.

Polar Bears Switch Diets to Survive, Studies Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 24, 2014   View Article

Arctic polar bears may be adjusting their eating habits as their sea ice habitat melts and the furry white predators stand to lose the floating platform they depend on to hunt seals, their primary food. According to researchers, however, the bears are displaying flexible eating habits as their world changes around them.

Indeed, scientific studies indicate polar bear populations are falling as the sea ice disappears earlier each spring and forms later in the fall. But a series of papers based on analysis of polar bear poop released over the past several months indicate that at least some of the bears are finding food to eat when they come ashore, ranging from bird eggs and caribou to grass seeds and berries.

Greenhouse gas escaping in the Arctic could cause economic harm, experts say

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 24, 2013   View Article

Methane bubbling to the surface as the Arctic sea ice retreats could have catastrophic consequences for the global economy, a team of researchers argue in a new paper. To avoid the economic pain measured in tens of trillions of dollars over the coming century will “require major reductions in global emissions” of greenhouse gases, the team concludes.

The economic fallout will come from an added uptick in extreme weather, rising seas, reduced crop yields and other impacts already associated with global climate change.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach