Targeted observation and process-informed modelling of Antarctic sea ice

testing equipment on ice in Antarctica

Project duration:  2015-2019

Project Funding: $1.9m

Antarctic sea ice is one of the key elements in the global climate system.  Its presence maintains cold conditions that help sustain Antarctica’s ice sheets, and it affects the rate of global warming by influencing ocean heat uptake in the Southern Ocean. Antarctic sea ice has a significant influence on both the ocean and atmospheric components of the climate system, and variability in sea ice extent is coupled with the occurrence of weather systems over New Zealand.

While it is understood that growth and decay of sea ice is driven by a range of processes, a lack of observations has meant these drivers are poorly understood. Satellite observations show that the maximum total extent of sea ice around the Antarctic has been increasing slowly over the past three decades, a behaviour superficially at odds with “global warming”. Earth System Models (ESMs) cannot faithfully reproduce these recent trends in sea ice coverage, particularly their varying regional response.

Through preparation and modelling work in New Zealand, and field experiments on the ground in Antarctica, this project aims to focus on the inner and outer margins of the Antarctic sea ice cover where it has been observed to grow and recede fastest. Ice shelves supply very cold water that increases growth near the continent, while the mechanical energy of ocean surface waves breaks-up the sea ice near the ice edge. The proposed work will increase our understanding of these drivers of growth and decay, and connect with complementary national and international activities. These discoveries will be incorporated into the sea ice module used by the NZESM.

Primary Contact and Principle Investigator:

Professor Pat Langhorne, University of Otago,

Pat’s main research focus is in the ice-ocean interaction in the ice shelf basal cavity. Understanding the relation of this interaction to the properties of the sea ice cover is an interest of her group.   From this understanding, models are created that are used to explore the influence of this process over large spatial and temporal scales. This project is interlinked with Far from Frozen (a project funded through Curious Minds) that can be found at the Otago Ice Mass Balance Station website.

Read about this project - Stuff article 15 December 2015

Listen to Oceanographer Dr Craig Stevens talk about this project on Radio New Zealand Beneath the Ross Ice Shelf 23 January 2017


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