It’s grim up North (but beautiful too)

Blogs, or to spell out the contraction, web logs, were originally just that: a log of interesting things found on the internet. Yesterday was a day when I rediscovered that tradition. Prompted by a comment from glaciologist Mauri Pelto on my recent Greenland post, I started off by making a visit to NASA’s MODIS Rapid Response System image site, which provides access to near real-time imagery from the Aqua and Terra satellites (click on Near-real-time production under “quick links” to be taken to the most recent images). The images aren’t fully processed (you can see “stripes” and slight distortions), but they give you a good look at what’s going on. I first went and had a look at what spring on the Petermann glacier in NW Greenland looked like:

Continue reading “It’s grim up North (but beautiful too)”

Wouldn’t it be ice


Pictures from my new favourite blog,, where Jason Box of the Byrd Polar Research Centre at Ohio State is posting from the Greenpeace expedition to the Petermann glacier in NW Greenland. The pictures are stunning (above shows fracturing on the end of the ice tongue) — and the insight to what’s going up there as the Arctic melts is fascinating. And, just to make every photographer jealous, they get to fly over pods of narwhals (including two young ‘uns, I reckon)…


On an island


NASA’s Earth Observatory is without doubt one of my favourite web sites. As I write, the above view of sea ice off Baffin Island (or a version of it) is their Image of the Day, and aside from the obvious beauties of the swirls of melting sea ice (memorably described in a comment at RealClimate as “frappucino”), I reckon you can make out the two chunks of last year’s Petermann Ice Island that I blogged about last week. My two red arrows mark the huge relict chunks of ice shelf. Click on the image (or here) for the full NASA version (about 3.5MB), and then go and look at the icebergs pouring out of the fjords on Greenland’s west coast (top right of the big picture). Dramatic and lovely, and frightening at the same time.

In other Arctic news, there are a new set of forecasts for this year’s minimum at the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook site: most teams are picking a result somewhere between 2007 and 2008, but two of the sea ice modelling efforts are still suggesting a new record is possible. The NSIDC’s July 22nd update notes that 2009’s melt is now running ahead of 2008, and looking at their daily graph of extent, the current rate of melt seems to be faster than 2007. This has prompted some speculation about when the NE and NW Passages might open. Scanning the Cryosphere Today and University of Bremen maps, it looks as though the NE Passage (above Russia) might open soon. Blue colours on the CT image correspond the ice swirls on the NASA image above, and there’s still plenty of melt season to run. The NW Passage doesn’t look as sure a prospect: I think it could open, but perhaps only on the northern route. We live in interesting times…

Plus: great images of the Petermann Ice Tongue from the Greenpeace science team up there at the moment at the Guardian and Discovery Channel. Not to be missed.

[David Gilmour]

First we lose Manhattan…

It looks as though the Petermann Ice Tongue in northern Greenland is about to lose another major chunk of ice. This New Scientist video (accompanying text here) shows a team working on the tongue, documenting events as they happen. They expect a major break-up event within weeks:

When this happens, an island of ice the size of Manhattan, spanning 100 km2 holding 5 billion tonnes of ice, will break free and drift out to sea.

Researchers are concerned that the loss of this huge mass of ice might “uncork” the glacier, leading to a speed up and further ice loss.

Last year’s ice island started out at 25 km2, but has moved an amazing distance since it broke off in July 2008. By September it had moved south through Nares Strait (between Greenland and Ellesmere Island), and at that point the Canadian Ice Service installed a GPS tracking beacon. The ice island is now down to 21 km2 in area, drifting off the SE coast of Baffin Island. The massive berg has its own regularly updated page at the Canadian Ice Service (with satellite imagery), and you can follow its daily position here. I wonder how far a new Manhattan-sized island might get…

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that huge blobs of organic “goo” up to 15 miles long are appearing in the Chuckchi Sea and to the north of Alaska.

The US Coast Guard told the Anchorage Daily News that the strange find is not an oil product or a hazardous substance of any kind.

“It’s definitely, by the smell and make-up of it, some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Terry Hasenauer. In recent history I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this,” he added.

Results of an analysis are expected next week

The cracks are showing

petermann_breakup-1_web copy.jpg Arctic warming is taking a toll on more than sea ice: two of Greenland’s largest glaciers have experienced significant breakups over the last month, according to researchers at Ohio State University. The Petermann glacier in the far northwest of the island has lost a 29 square kilometre chunk of its floating ice tongue, and a big crack further back suggests another large piece could be about to break off. Meanwhile, the Jakobshavn Isbrae on the west coast – the largest glacier in Greenland – has retreated further inland this summer than at any time in the last 150 years, and possibly up to 6,000 years.

Further south, a team led by Ted Scambos at the University of Boulder has examined the rate of ice loss from the glaciers of south east Greenland, previously thought to be too small to contribute much to the overall mass balance of the ice sheet. Using a combination of laser altimetry and satellite imaging, they estimate that the region is losing about 100 cubic kilometres per year, a substantial part of the overall loss.

While we’re up there, the Arctic sea ice is still melting fast. Cryosphere Today shows the current area to be 3.68m km2, homing in on last year’s record. The fat lady’s still in her hotel…