Earth's Frozen Oceans
Part C: Arctic Sea Ice Extent
Sea ice extentsea ice extent: the total area covered by some amount of ice, including open water between ice floes; sea ice extent is typically measured in square kilometers. is a measurement of the area of ocean (usually given in units of km2 or mi2) where there is at least some sea ice. As you go through this module, you may also come across the term sea ice concentrationsea ice concentration: the fraction of an area that is covered by sea ice.. Sea ice concentration is the proportion of a given area of the ocean that is covered by ice, and is usually stated as a percentage ranging from 0% (open water) to 100% (totally ice-covered). Scientists' measurements of sea ice extent include only areas where sea ice concentration is at least 15%. Arctic sea ice is considered to be a key indicator of global climate conditions. In this part of the investigation, you'll explore how Arctic sea ice extent changes over different timescales.
- Open the National Snow and Ice Data Center's Sea Ice Animation Tool.
- Set the parameters to show sea ice extent in the northern hemisphere, beginning in January, 2008.
- Explore how Arctic sea ice extent changes over the course of a full year. Use the "next" button in the animation control bar to advance the animation one month at a time.
- Now, set the parameters to show sea ice extent in the northern hemisphere, beginning in January of the last full year before you started this lab (e.g., if today is October 17, 2015, set your start date at January, 2014).
- Use the "next" button in the animation control bar to advance the animation one month at a time through the entire year. As you examine each frame, write down the total extent (in square kilometers) of sea ice for that month and how it compares to the median ice edge shown as a pink/purple line. This line allows you to see how the sea ice extent during a given month compares to the typical extent for that month.
- Using graph paper or a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel, make a plot of Arctic sea ice extent (y-axis) vs. time in months for the year you are studying (x-axis).
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the 4 years before the year you just plotted.
- Combine all of your data and create a 5-year plot of sea ice extent.
Stop and Think
1: Describe your plot. How does sea ice extent change over the course of a year? Explain.
2: Do you think you would see exactly the same pattern in the data if you chose a different year? Explain.
Stop and Think
3: Describe your plot. How does sea ice extent change over the course of 5 years? How does this plot compare to your 1-year plot? Explain.
DiscussAs a class, discuss:
- Why is it important to understand how sea ice changes over time?