Saturday, January 12, 2013

ocean currents and sea ice



mit | Each winter, wide swaths of the Arctic Ocean freeze to form sheets of sea ice that spread over millions of square miles. This ice acts as a massive sun visor for the Earth, reflecting solar radiation and shielding the planet from excessive warming.

The Arctic ice cover reaches its peak each year in mid-March, before shrinking with warmer spring temperatures. But over the last three decades, this winter ice cap has shrunk: Its annual maximum reached record lows, according to satellite observations, in 2007 and again in 2011.

Understanding the processes that drive sea-ice formation and advancement can help scientists predict the future extent of Arctic ice coverage — an essential factor in detecting climate fluctuations and change. But existing models vary in their predictions for how sea ice will evolve.

Now researchers at MIT have developed a new method for optimally combining models and observations to accurately simulate the seasonal extent of Arctic sea ice and the ocean circulation beneath. The team applied its synthesis method to produce a simulation of the Labrador Sea, off the southern coast of Greenland, that matched actual satellite and ship-based observations in the area.