Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sea ice atlas to aid Arctic planning - and is really cool

Back in the dark ages of the 1960s, the science of ice forecasting – predicting how much ice will be choking Arctic seas in a given month – was based more on intuition than science. Forecasters relied largely on memory and anecdotal observations, with results about as fallible as you’d expect. Sometimes, the dearth of information caused trouble for forecasters, like the time they sent barges laden with Alaska pipeline materials into the Bering Sea and accidentally trapped them in the ice for days.

Thanks to satellite technology, today’s Arctic-going vessels have a better chance of avoiding such mishaps. But without a solid historical record to contextualize the data, there are still a lot of unknowns. A digital Sea Ice Atlas is out to change that, bringing 160 years' worth of observation together with modern GIS mapping to take forecasting into the 21st century.

With temperatures at record highs and Alaskan sea ice at record lows, activity above the Arctic circle has spiked. Oil, fishing, tourism, military and shipping officials have each expressed the need for a reliable resource to help them navigate not only the ever-shifting northern seas, but also the future of the Arctic itself. Dael Devenport, a National Park Service archeologist, plans to use the atlas to predict coastal erosion and preserve archeological sites at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.
Though the atlas was mostly created for people who work in the Arctic, the interactive maps and historical record are free for anyone with an internet connection, and are just plain cool to play around with – especially if you’re in the midst of a mid-winter heat wave and dreaming of snow and ice, as we are at the HCN headquarters in Paonia, Colo.

From your desk, you can create a number of customized maps and charts, including an animated map that shows how the Alaskan ice pack has changed over time. You can set the map to an exact date and time period – say, every February from 1850 to 2012 – and watch the ice morph, growing and shrinking before your eyes. Or you can set it to watch the ice pack change every week over a given year. You can also create a graph showing when waters became ice-free at specific locations each year.

Nothing like this has existed before. The information in the Sea Ice Atlas was painstakingly compiled over two years from ten different sources, including old whaling logs, the Danish Meteorological Institute and the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office. Data from the past few decades was relatively easy to archive, thanks to satellite images, but deciphering hand-drawn charts and logs from the 1800s and consolidating them into a single format proved a bigger challenge.

Read the rest here:

sea ice atlas
sea ice map 2

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