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Assessing Sea Ice Habitats of Arctic Pinnipeds

PI: Vladimir Eremeev
Institution: Institute of Ecology, RAS, Moscow, Russia
Arctic sea ice cover has become thinner, younger, and more vulnerable to increasing polar temperatures during recent decades. This decline was accompanied by significant change in patterns of the Arctic atmospheric circulation, resulting in longer summer melt seasons, greater intrusions of warm Atlantic water, and different trajectories of ice motion. Interannual distributions of multi-year ice have exhibited high variability during the past two decades, especially in peripheral seas surrounding the central Arctic basin.

Assessing variability of the Arctic sea ice habitats in conditions of climate change based on multisensor satellite observations provides important information for improving our understanding of Arctic marine ecosystems. Recent and dramatic changes in sea ice and melt conditions have been observed in the Western Arctic, which in turn affect the sea ice habitats of marine mammals and other ecosystem components. Studies suggest that wind anomalies over the Bering Sea play a dominant role in the year-to-year ice variations. For the thermodynamic mechanism, winds may contribute to anomalous sea ice formations via heat flux anomalies. Northerly winds bring cold and dry air onto the Bering Sea, which enhances the ocean-to-atmosphere heat fluxes, and in turn which can result in greater ice formations. This project will help elucidate the principal mechanisms that affect age and thickness distributions of Arctic sea ice, and provide useful information for improving predictive models of sea ice conditions.

This project will study:

1) variability in sea ice concentrations, age structure and thickness distributions, the dates of melt onset, and rates of melting in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in 1979-2006,

2) effects of variability in the dates of the melt onset on patterns of ice seal reproduction and molt,

3) long term trends in ice parameters and melting events in the Bering and Chukchi Seas and their influence on Arctic marine ecosystems, and

4) models of sea ice extent to evaluate the probabilities of the Bering and Chukchi Seas becoming ice-free in future decades.

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    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory  |  Physical & Life Sciences Directorate