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Researchers Track Arctic Sea Ice Loss From Space

By Sara Gavin

University of Maryland geographers are investigating how sea ice is rapidly disappearing in the Arctic by using the latest satellite-based technology to measure detailed changes in individual melt ponds, ridges, cracks and floes.

By analyzing data from ICESat-2—a NASA satellite launched in 2018 designed to measure ice, cloud and land elevation—UMD researchers and collaborators from the University of Alaska Fairbanks are monitoring one of the most striking environmental changes under way on earth.

“Anomalously warm weather in the Arctic earlier this year caused sea ice to retreat to its second-lowest level in the modern record,” said Sinead Farrell, an associate professor of geographical sciences who led the research.

Findings published yesterday in Geophysical Research Letters revealed the NASA satellite can probe one-meter-deep summer melt ponds—something never accomplished before using a space-based instrument—which could help scientists track how much ice is melting from year to year. Additionally, the researchers were able to measure narrow pressure ridges just 7 meters wide and track floating ice measuring only 20 meters across. They mapped the surface of the ice across the Arctic and discovered that the older ice gets, the rougher it becomes.

“It is exciting to see groundbreaking results coming out of the ICESat-2 dataset so quickly,” said Jackie Richter-Menge, a research affiliate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The research team also included Kyle Duncan, a senior faculty specialist at UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center; Ruohan Li, a graduate student in the Department of Geographical Sciences; and Ellen Buckley, a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science.

See the full news release on the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences website.

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