Arctic's melt season getting longer by five days per decade
Researchers have said that the melt season across the Arctic is getting longer by five days per decade.
According to new research from a team including Prof Julienne Stroeve (Professor of Polar Observation and Modelling at UCL Earth Sciences), who studied new analysis of satellite data shows the Arctic Ocean absorbing ever more of the sun's energy in summer, leading to an ever later appearance of sea ice in the autumn. In some regions, autumn freeze-up is occurring up to 11 days per decade later than it used to.
While temperatures have been increasing during all calendar months, trends in melt onset are considerably smaller than that of autumn freeze-up. Nevertheless, the timing of melt onset strongly influences how much of the Sun's energy gets absorbed by the ice and sea.
This in turn is affected by how reflective the surface is. Highly reflective surfaces, such as ice, are said to have a high albedo, as they reflect most of the incoming heat back into space. Less reflective surfaces like liquid water have a low albedo, and absorb most of the heat that is directed at them.
This means that even a small change in the extent of sea ice in spring can lead to vastly more heat being absorbed over the summer, leading to substantially later onset of ice in the autumn.
There is also a second effect, in that multi-year ice (which survives through the summer without melting) has a higher albedo than single-year ice that only covers the sea in winter.
Since the 1980s, the proportion of the Arctic winter ice that is made up of multi-year ice has dropped from around 70 per cent to about 20 per cent today, so the changes are quite substantial
The research has been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
(Posted on 05-03-2014)