What does sea ice do all day?

Dr Adam Steer

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The work and imagery presented in this talk was all made possible by a small and dedicated research team. I am grateful to Dr Tony Worby, Dr Petra Heil, Dr Jan Lieser and Dr Rob Massom for trusting me to run their logistics programs and field sampling. Dr Christopher Watson implanted too many ideas about geodesy and rigour, and helped to conceive a key sea ice surveying project.

Field trips and data collection were supported by the Australian Antarctic Division. Helicopter Resources provided aircraft and very patient pilots, and the crew of the RSV Aurora Australis got us there and back in style.

The RAPPLS project (2007-2012) led by Dr Jan Lieser is the largest-scale airborne survey of East Antarctic pack ice to date. It was the basis for my doctoral research, and work continues with a very small team unpicking a vast dataset - more than 30 000 digital images and thousands of kilometres of LiDAR flights.

Sea ice field work is hard, demanding and expensive... and always the result of long planning efforts from a dedicated team.

Why study sea ice?

Sea ice grows in winter

making super salty cold water

which sinks

and travels along the sea floor

driving global overturning circulation

which helps keep seasons stable

so farmers can tell reliably

when to plant and harvest

barley, hops and grapes.

Sea ice melts in summer

making warm, fresh, water

full of dust and algae

which adds nutrients to the ocean

and draws down a lot of carbon

which helps keep our atmosphere stable

so farmers can tell reliably

when to plant and harvest

barley, hops and grapes.

We don't know how thick it is!

The scales of sea ice

19 000 000 to 21 000 000 square kilometres of the Southern Ocean are ice-covered every winter.

Australia has about 7 000 000 square kilometres of land.

Measuring sea ice

Yes, it gets personal

Lasers and helicopters

Bridging the human-satellite scale divide

New approaches in the field

Fusing new tech and established practices

Photo from: https://www.whoi.edu/news-release/SeabedAntarctic - collected by the AAD ROV team, 2012

What about supercomputers?

Modelling sea ice

Watch the full video produced at the National Computational Infrastructure

New ways to look at sea ice

Massively scalable analysis

Miao, X., Xie, H., Ackley, S. F., Perovich, D. K., & Ke, C. (2015). Object-based detection of Arctic sea ice and melt ponds using high spatial resolution aerial photographs. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 119, 211-222. DOI: 10.1016/j.coldregions.2015.06.014