Polar News from the American Geophysical Union's 2007 Fall Meeting


San Francisco - The fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is expected to draw more than 15,000 geophysicists from around the world. The meeting provides an  researchers, teachers, students, and consultants with an opportunity to present and review the latest scientific research affecting the Earth, the planets, and their environments in space.

Links below lead to news stories about the Polar Regions released at the meeting. They are accompanied by digests of the stories. Please follow the link to read the story in full.

The page will be updated throughout the weeklong conference, as news is released and press conferences held.

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Abrupt Climate Change and Our Future

Frontiers of Geophysics Lecture

6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. (Pacific Time) / 3:15 to 4:15 (Eastern), Wednesday, Dec. 12

Presented by Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm07/

Live from IPY!

Two Live from IPY! events will take place in conjunction with the AGU Meeting.

Live from IPY!, a project of the NSF-supported PolarTREC (Teachers & Researchers Exploring and Collaborating) uses an Internet platform that supports real-time online presentations, audio, and chat functions to allow for interaction with teachers and researchers during their PolarTREC expeditions.

Anyone may register for these events and participation is free. Each live event is also archived for downloading and viewing. 

Registration is required: http://www.polartrec.com/live-from-ipy/registration

Press Conference

The South Pole of Mars

Although IPY primarily focuses on the Polar Regions of the Earth, one session here included spectacular images of Spring at the South Pole of Mars.

The full-color images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), from a team the University of Arizona, as well as downloadable version of the news conference as a .pdf file, are available on the university's HiRISE Web site.

HiRISE is flying aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)  Mission.

News Releases

News releases from Ohio State University

Scientists have discovered what they think may be another reason why Greenland 's ice is melting: a thin spot in Earth's crust is enabling underground magma to heat the ice.

They have found at least one “hotspot” in the northeast corner of Greenland -- just below a site where an ice stream was recently discovered.

NSF funded the research

Scientists gathering evidence of ancient ice sheets uncovered a new mystery about what's happening on the Arctic sea floor today.

Sonar images revealed that, in some places, ocean currents have driven the mud along the Arctic Ocean bottom into piles, with some “mud waves” nearly 100 feet across.

The 2005 expedition was funded by NSF, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, and the Swedish Science Council.

Two Ohio State University researchers spent months scouring through old expedition logs and reports, and reviewing 70-year-old maps and photos before making a surprising discovery.

They found that the effects of the current warming and melting of Greenland 's glaciers that has alarmed the world's climate scientists occurred in the decades following an abrupt warming in the 1920s.

The work was supported in part by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Ohio State.

Scientists have gathered more evidence that suggests flowing water on Mars--by comparing images of the Red Planet to an otherworldly landscape on Earth.

In recent years, scientists have examined images of several sites on Mars where water appears to have flowed to the surface and left behind a trail of sediment. Those sites closely resemble places where water flows today in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica, the new study has found.

Researchers have used the Dry Valleys as an analogy for Mars for 30 years, explained Berry Lyons, professor of earth sciences and director of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.

Lyons is lead principal investigator for NSF's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, a collaboration of more than 1,800 scientists who study the ecology of sites around the world.

In a mission of unprecedented scale, scientists are about to cover West Antarctica with a network of sensors to monitor the interactions between the ice and the earth below--24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

NSF just awarded the collaboration, called POLENET, $4.5 million to plant global positioning system (GPS) trackers and seismic sensors on the bedrock that cradles the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

Lead institution Ohio State University will receive more than $2.2 million, and the rest will be divided among partners in the United States as part of an IPY project.

News from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

The 2007 melt extent on the Greenland ice sheet broke the 2005 summer melt record by 10 percent, making it the largest ever recorded there since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and a University of Colorado at Boulder climate scientist.

The melting increased by about 30 percent for the western part of Greenland from 1979 to 2006, with record melt years in 1987, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2005 and 2007, he said.

Steffen and his team used data from the Defense Meteorology Satellite Program's Special Sensor Microwave Imager aboard several military and weather satellites to chart the area of melt, including rapid thinning and acceleration of ice into the ocean at Greenland's margins. They also have been using a rotating laser and a sophisticated digital camera and high-definition camera system provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to map the volume and geometry of moulins on the Greenland ice sheet to a depth of more than 1,500 feet.

News from the University of Washington:

Record-breaking amounts of ice-free water have deprived the Arctic of more of its natural "sunscreen" than ever in recent summers. The effect is so pronounced that sea surface temperatures rose to 5 C above average in one place this year, a high never before observed, says the oceanographer who has compiled the first-ever look at average sea surface temperatures for the region.

Such superwarming of surface waters can affect how thick ice grows back in the winter, as well as its ability to withstand melting the next summer, according to Michael Steele, an oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. Indeed, since September, the end of summer in the Arctic, winter freeze-up in some areas is two months later than usual.

The extra ocean warming also might be contributing to some changes on land, such as previously unseen plant growth in the coastal Arctic tundra, if heat coming off the ocean during freeze-up is making its way over land, says Steele, who discussed the changes during a Dec. 12 press conference.

News from NASA:

A fleet of NASA spacecraft, launched less than eight months ago, has made three important discoveries about spectacular eruptions of Northern Lights called "substorms" and the source of their power.

NASA's Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission observed the dynamics of a rapidly developing substorm, confirmed the existence of giant magnetic ropes and witnessed small explosions in the outskirts of Earth's magnetic field.

NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite has provided the first global-scale, full-season view of iridescent polar clouds that form 50 miles above Earth’s surface. Very little is known about these 'clouds at the edge of space', also called Polar Mesospheric Clouds. How do they form over the summer poles, why are they being seen at lower latitudes than ever before, and why have they been growing brighter and more frequent?

The AIM mission is the first satellite dedicated to the study of these noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds. They are called "night shining" clouds by observers on the ground because their high altitude allows them to continue reflecting sunlight after the sun has set below the horizon. AIM has provided the first global-scale view of the clouds over the entire 2007 Northern Hemisphere season with an unprecedented horizontal resolution of 3 miles by 3 miles.

Polar-related sessions at the meeting