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Thinning Snowpack on the Arctic Sea Ice

August 15, 2014; 3:29 PM ET

New research from NASA and the University of Washington shows evidence that the Arctic snowpack has thinned significantly on the sea ice since the middle of the 20th century.

This study looked at recent data collected by ice buoys (1993-2013) and NASA aircraft (2009-2013) and compared that data with ice flow observations from Soviet drifting ice stations (1950-1987).

The team was able to show that the snowpack has thinned in the western Arctic from 14 to 9 inches since the middle part of last century and from 13 inches to 6 inches on average in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which are west and north of Alaska, according to the University of Washington news report.

For observations in the western Arctic only, the springtime Arctic snow depth is declining at an average of 0.27 cm per year or about one inch less per decade.

Key excerpts from the UW report...

The authors speculate the reason for the thinner snow, especially in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, may be that the surface freeze-up is happening later in the fall so the year's heaviest snowfalls, in September and October, mostly fall into the open ocean.

What thinner snow will mean for the ice is not certain. Deeper snow actually shields ice from cold air, so a thinner blanket may allow the ice to grow thicker during the winter. On the other hand, thinner snow cover may allow the ice to melt earlier in the springtime.

Note: this study is posted online in the journal Geophysical Research.

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


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