University of Cambridge > > British Antarctic Survey - Polar Oceans seminar series > Snow on sea ice: poorly observed, poorly modelled, poorly understood

Snow on sea ice: poorly observed, poorly modelled, poorly understood

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr. Shenjie Zhou.

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting as the region warms at three times the global average. However the sea ice itself is generally not exposed to the warming air, but instead lies under a blanket of thermally insulating and highly reflective snow. In summer, the snow acts as a shield for the sea ice, keeping it cold, dark and frozen; in winter, snow keeps the sea ice warm and slows its recovery. Snow also obscures the sea ice from satellite measurements. In particular, it significantly complicates measurements of sea ice thickness, and so introduces great uncertainty into estimates of the total amount of sea ice. Given the key importance of snow on sea ice, it may therefore be surprising that it was described by a 2019 IPCC report as “essentially unmeasured”, and a “key knowledge gap” in our understanding of the cryosphere. My research fills this gap by analysing state-of-the-art model output and tens of thousands of cold-war-era observations. Insights from these data have been used to improve satellite-based estimates of sea ice thickness and volume. Work is now underway to better understand the timing of melt onset in the Arctic Ocean, and to improve the representation of sea ice in global climate models.

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey - Polar Oceans seminar series series.

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