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Environmental Monitoring


October 2013 Issue

Ice Sheet is 20 Million Years Older Than Expected
Researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have found that, contrary to the popularly held scientific view, an ice sheet on West Antarctica existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought. The findings indicate that ice sheets first grew on the West Antarctic subcontinent at the start of a global transition from warm greenhouse conditions to a cool icehouse climate 34 million years ago. Previous computer simulations were unable to produce the amount of ice that geological records suggest existed at that time because neighboring East Antarctica alone could not support it. The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Given that more ice grew than could be hosted only on East Antarctica, some researchers proposed that the missing ice formed in the Northern Hemisphere many millions of years before the documented ice growth there, which started about 3 million years ago. But the new research shows it is not necessary to have ice hosted in the northern polar regions at the start of greenhouse-icehouse transition.

Earlier research published in 2009 and 2012 by the same team showed that West Antarctica bedrock was much higher in elevation at the time of the global climate transition than it is today, with much of its land above sea level.

The belief that West Antarctic elevations had always been low lying (as they are today) led researchers to ignore it previously. The new research presents compelling evidence that this higher land mass enabled a large ice sheet to be hosted earlier than previously realized, despite a warmer ocean in the past.

Using their new bedrock elevation map for the Antarctic continent, the researchers created a computer simulation of the initiation of the Antarctic ice sheets. Unlike previous computer simulations of Antarctic glaciation, this research found the nascent Antarctic ice sheet included substantial ice on the subcontinent of West Antarctica.

The modern West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains about 10 percent of the total ice on Antarctica and is similar in scale to the Greenland Ice Sheet. West Antarctica and Greenland are both major players in scenarios of sea level rise due to global warming because of the sensitivity of the ice sheets on these subcontinents.

NOAA Weather Buoy Back Online in Alaska
U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA personnel repaired NOAA weather data buoy 46084 and returned it to service in Southeast Alaska. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Maple coordinated with NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) to complete repairs on the buoy, ensure it was functioning correctly and redeploy it 29 miles southwest of Cape Edgecumbe.

Buoy 46084 is one of 252 stations currently deployed in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and monitored by the NDBC. It measures and transmits air and sea temperatures, wind speed and direction, wave height, wave direction and period, as well as barometric pressure changes every 10 minutes.

IOOS Report Identifies Focal Points, Shortfalls
The Interagency Ocean Observation Committee (IOOC) and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) have released the U.S. IOOS Summit Report to assess ocean-observing progress over the past decade and to develop plans for the next decade of ocean observations.

The report narrows focus on the following themes and challenges over the next decade: improving governance to address high-level coordination and support needs; pursuing new funding mechanisms and potential public-private partnerships to complement traditional funding; developing a complete census of existing observing efforts; increasing the breadth and scope of ocean observations to address increased demand; developing a Web-based, central marketplace for bringing users, requirements, data providers, new technologies, and available data and products together; improving branding, attribution, and user awareness of U.S. IOOS and its contributors and participants; developing common design processes and data/product standards; increasing the level of integration across the U.S. IOOS enterprise; and maintaining forward momentum and continuing to grow IOOS, while addressing needed improvements.

IOOS gaps identified include: biological, geochemical, and ecological observations; nearshore observations; a dedicated observing effort in the boundary between coastal and global models; water quality monitoring; seafloor changes; high-resolution bathymetry; passive acoustic monitoring of animal movements; ocean pH at depth; calcium saturation; biomass; sea ice; hardened sensors for extreme events; and coordinated efforts to inform industry of desired data standards/reporting formats.

Tûranor PlanetSolar Collects Gulf Stream Data
Having left St. John’s, Canada, on August 6, the solar ship MS Tûranor PlanetSolar reached Europe on August 28, after crisscrossing the North Atlantic for 23 days and traveling 4,598 kilometers.

During the ship’s second 2013 trans-Atlantic crossing, the PlanetSolar DeepWater expedition continued with a team of researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) conducting physical and biological measurements along the Gulf Stream.

The PlanetSolar DeepWater scientific expedition’s last phase of measurements will begin in Ostend, Belgium. After that, the ship will leave for London, England, the stopover that will conclude the phase of measurements conducted as part of the expedition.

Launched in Florida in early June, the expedition has covered more than 8,000 kilometers, using advanced instruments and the expertise of the UNIGE scientists to collect a continuous series of physical and biological measurements along the Gulf Stream, both in the water and in the air. The research team studied the key parameters of climate regulation, namely aerosols and phytoplankton, in order to better understand the complex interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, as well as the role these interactions play in climate change.

The researchers were particularly interested in the phenomenon of ocean vortexes.


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