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Satellite Confirms UW Estimate of Dramatic Arctic Sea Ice Volume Loss

February 15, 2013; 5:00 PM ET

A satellite from the European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed the recent, dramatic decrease in Arctic sea ice volume that has been estimated for over 30 years by the University of Washington's (UW) Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System, or PIOMAS.

Latest PIOMAS Arctic sea ice volume estimate.

The ESA satellite indicates that the Arctic has lost more than a third of its summer sea-ice volume since a decade ago when a U.S. satellite also made actual observations.

Also, the summer minimum is now one-fifth of what it was in 1980, when the UW model was started.

The UW's PIOMAS model combines weather records, seas surface temperatures and satellite pictures of ice coverage to compute volume. It then verifies the results with actual thickness measurements from individual moorings or submarines that navigate under the ice, according to the University of Washington news release.

PIOMAS daily Arctic sea ice volume showing the 5 lowest years since 1979 compared to the mean 1979-2012 volume.

Key excerpts from the UW news release......

"Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive," said co-author Axel Schweiger, a polar scientist in the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. "What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid."

Schweiger cautioned that past trends may not necessarily continue at the same rate, and predicting when the Arctic might be largely ice-free in summer is a different question. But creating a reliable record of the past helps to understand changes in the Arctic and ultimately helps to better predict the future.

"One question we now need to ask, and can ask, is what are the processes that are driving these changes in the ice? To what degree is it ocean processes, to what degree is this in the atmosphere?" Schweiger said. "I don't think we have a good handle on that yet."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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