Seasonal Arctic summer ice extent still hard to forecast, NSIDC study says

The following is an excerpt from the National Snow & Ice Data Center. Read the entire press release at http://nsidc.org/news/press/2014_seasonalseaice_PR.html.

Will next year’s summer Arctic ice extent be high or low? Can ship captains plan on navigating the famed Northwest Passage—a direct shipping route from Europe to Asia across the Arctic Ocean—to save on time and fuel? A new study says year-to-year forecasts of the Arctic’s summer ice extent are not yet reliable.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), University College London, University of New Hampshire and University of Washington analyzed 300 summer Arctic sea ice forecasts from 2008 to 2013 and found that forecasts are quite accurate when sea ice conditions are close to the downward trend that has been observed in Arctic sea ice for the last 30 years. However, forecasts are not so accurate when sea ice conditions are unusually higher or lower compared to this trend.

“We found that in years when the sea ice extent departed strongly from the trend, such as in 2012 and 2013, predictions failed regardless of the method used to forecast the September sea ice extent,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC and professor at University of College London. Stroeve is lead author of the study, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters.

The study analyzed forecasts from the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Outlook, a project that gathers and summarizes sea ice forecasts made by sea ice researchers and prediction centers. Contributors to the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook project employ a variety of techniques to forecast the September sea ice extent, ranging from heuristic, to statistical, to sophisticated modeling approaches.

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