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Ice - Surface melting revealed by the North Pole Environmental Observatory

Sea Ice | North Pole Observations | Glaciers | Snow Cover

Since 2002, the multi-agency USA-Japan joint project entitled "North Pole Environmental Observatory" (NPEO) has deployed Web Cameras along with instruments that monitor air, ice and ocean conditions. The cameras and instrumentation are deployed in Spring on an ice floe drifting southward from the North Pole (drift maps are shown below). The Web Cams provide an otherwise unobtainable view of sea ice conditions throughout the Arctic summer. Animations of the images are available as YouTube videos.

The summers observed by the North Pole Web Cams were very different, as seen in the table below. A brief commentary for each observation year follows the table.

  Snow waterlogged
Onset of melt
Widespread
Melt pond coverage
Onset of freeze-up Webcam
Drift Map
Webcam
Animations
2013 June 28, 2013 webcam image Jul 25, 2013 webcam image Aug 31, 2011 webcam image 2012 Drift track
  Jun 28, 2013 Jul 25, 2013 Jul 28, 2013  
2012 June 17, 2012 webcam image Jul 25, 2012 webcam image Sep 3, 2012 webcam image 2012 Drift track
  Jun 17, 2012 Jul 25, 2012 Started Sep 3, 2012
slight thawing Sep 16 & 19.
Snow-covered Sep 20.
 
2011 June 17, 2011 webcam image Jul 9, 2011 webcam image Aug 31, 2011 webcam image 2011 Drift track
  Jun 15, 2011 Jul 9, 2011 Aug 31, 2011  
 
2010 June 25, 2010 webcam image Jun 27, 2010 webcam image Aug 12, 2010 webcam image 2010 Drift track
  Jun 25, 2010 Jun 27, 2010 Started Aug 12, 2010
Snow-covered Aug 23.
 
 
2009 July 8, 2009 webcam image July 14, 2009 webcam image Aug 11, 2009 webcam image 2009 Drift track
  July 8, 2009 July 14, 2009
Meltpond coverage was never very widespread.
Started Aug 11, but some meltponds still present Sep 8. Snow-covered Sep 25.  
         
2008 Late June 2008 webcam image June 30, 2008 webcam image Sept 14, 2008 webcam image 2008 Drift track
  June 25, 2008 June 30, 2008 Meltponds present Sep 14 and snow-covered on Sep 22
(click for large images)
 
         
2006 Late June 2004 webcam image July 15, 2004 webcam image August 18, 2004 webcam image 2006 Drift track
  June 28, 2006 July 5, 2006 Started August 11, 2006,
Snow-covered August 14
 
         
2004 Late June 2004 webcam image July 15, 2004 webcam image August 18, 2004 webcam image 2004 Drift track
  June 29, 2004 July 15, 2004 Started August 7, 2004;
Snow-covered August 17.
 
         
2003 June 24, 2003 webcam image NPEO site on July 4, 2003 September 7, 2003 webcam image 2003 Drift track
  June 24, 2003 July 4, 2003 September 7, 2003  
         
2002 July 29, 2002 webcam image August 18, 2002 webcam image August 29, 2002 webcam image 2002 Drift track
  July 29, 2002 August 18, 2002
Widespread melt pond coverage was not observed.
August 29, 2002    
  Snow waterlogged
Onset of melt
Widespread
Melt pond coverage
Onset of freeze-up

Webcam
Drift Map

Webcam
Animations

Commentary:

In 2012, on August 26, the Arctic sea ice extent reached the lowest value observed during the satellite record. Following that low, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop, falling below 4 million square kilometers by September 5. Compared to September conditions in the 1980's and 1990's, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice. (Reference: National Snow and Ice Data Center).

"First impressions from our 2012 North Pole Environmental Observatory (NPEO) deployment and initial Seasonal Sea Ice Zone Reconnaissance Survey (SIZRS) are that there is quite a bit more snow on the ice than in the last few years and there is more ocean heat than ever right below the mixed layer." (From the June discussion by J. Morison,University of Washington, in the Pan-Arctic Sea Ice Outlook in the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook.)

In 2011, the Arctic lost sea ice very rapidly in the first half of July. Ice loss slowed in late July-early August, but resumed again later in August.  The September 2011 sea ice minimum was at or near a record low.

In 2010, the snow became soft Jun 25, similar to many other years, but widespread meltponds formed by Jun 27, earlier than in any of the other years observed by the webcams. Freezeup began Aug 12 and meltponds were covered by Aug 23.

"Web cams show more melt ponds than last year, but less than in other recent years. This is in spite of there having been more snow in April 2010 than the previous 2 springs. For the most part, the ice at both 2010 Web Cam locations looks fairly well drained, presumably contributing to increased albedo - As evidenced by the number of times we have seen the 2010 melt ponds freeze over already, we think the early summer input of heat to the ice from the atmosphere is less than average"
. From July 13, 2010 discussion by J. Morison and N. Untersteiner (University of Washington) in the Pan-Arctic Sea Ice Outlook in the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook.

In 2009, the snow became soft and meltponds started to form July 8, but never became very widespread, with the maximum meltpond extent observed around July 14-16. Meltponds were closing over by Aug 11, but small slits of open water were still visible Sept 8. After that date, only one image was received from the web cam, on Sept 25, at which time the melt ponds were all snowcovered. In summary, in 2009, onset of melt was later than most years (later only in 2002). Meltpond coverage was less widespread than any year observed by the web cams other than 2002, but the snow remained soft later than most years (at least through Sept 8).

In 2008, the snow became waterlogged June 25, and extensive meltponds formed quickly, only five days later (June 30). Meltponds are still observed August 25 in standard web cam images. After that time, the only clear images are from another webcam with a fisheye lens observing sky conditions, but also revealing snow conditions. Meltponds are visible on the fisheye image from September 14. Although further images are at least partially obscured by water drops or snow on the lens, there appears to be snow cover in an image from Sepember 22. In summary, in 2008, the onset of melt progressed more quickly than in previous years, and melt ponds persisted longer and later than usual.

Summer sea ice transition information was not available for 2005 or 2007.

2002 - 2004: The onset of melting is typically in early June, but occurred in late July in 2002, and late June in 2003 and 2004. The Web Cam images show very limited melt pond coverage in 2002, but widespread melt pond coverage in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, the melt ponds were widespread by July 4, but diminished in late July, and then reformed in mid-August. Freezeup began in late August in 2002, Sept 7 in 2003, and in mid-August in 2004.

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