Arctic sea ice regained a third of its volume in 2013, CryoSat measurements show

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An unusually cold summer of 2013 has helped the Arctic sea ice to cover a lot of ground and according to measurements by ESA’s CryoSat satellite the ice cover has increased by a third as compared to 2012 levels.

The findings are a results of collaborative efforts by scientists at University College London (UCL) and the University of Leeds in the UK. Researchers used a whopping 88 million sea-ice thickness measurements taken by CryoSat over the course of four years from 2010 to 2014 to notice a bump in the sea ice cover in 2013.

During the period between 2010 and 2012, researchers found that there was a 14 per cent reduction in volume of sea ice, but in 2013 the sea ice registered a 41 per cent increase in volume – the primary reason being the summer of the year was 5 per cent cooler than 2012.

Autumn Arctic sea-ice thickness as measured by CryoSat between 2010 and 2014. Credit: UCL/CPOM/University of Leeds

Autumn Arctic sea-ice thickness as measured by CryoSat between 2010 and 2014. Credit: UCL/CPOM/University of Leeds

According to Lead author Rachel Tilling, from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at UCL the unusually cool summer didn’t allow enough time for the thick ice to melt because of which it persisted in northwest of Greenland.

ESA’s CryoSat, which was launched in 2010, is capable of measuring height of ice – both of that floating in the polar oceans and of the vast ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica – and this information was vital for the latest findings.

Though the scientific community has been aware about the steady decline in the volume of Arctic sea ice, it hasn’t been able to provide accurate measurement data about the reduction on volume until now. CryoSat is changing that.

Tilling added that using a combination of data involving maps of sea-ice extent and their measurements of sea-ice thickness, they are now able to provide a complete picture of what’s going on below the water, where most of the action happens.

In just five years of operations, CyroSat has provided with unprecedented amount of data that is revealing important information on the state of Arctic sea ice.

Experts warn that the jump in the volume of Arctic sea ice isn’t all good news as temperatures will continue to rise over the course of next few decades which will reverse the gain and eventually lead to more melting.

The team now plans to use CryoSat’s measurements of changing sea-ice thickness to help improve the models that are used to predict future climate change, and also to assist maritime activities in the Arctic region, which can be dangerous and costly to navigate.

Tommaso Parrinello, ESA’s CryoSat Manager, said, “CryoSat has been in orbit for over five years now and still continues to demonstrate excellence by delivering the precise data that scientists need to advance polar science – we remain very proud of our satellite.”

The study has been published in Nature Geoscience.