It’s long been thought the area deemed the “Last Ice Area” — a region of the Arctic spanning the top of Greenland and Canada — would remain safe for ice-dwelling creatures through consistently strong ice even if neighbouring areas became inhospitable.
But recent research finding a record low of sea-ice concentration in part of the region last summer is suggesting that the Last Ice Area is more vulnerable to climate change than we previously thought.
“Current thinking is that this area may be the last refuge for ice-dependent species,” Axel Schweiger, a polar scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory and lead author of the research, said in a press release.
“So if, as our study shows, it may be more vulnerable to climate change than people have been assuming, that’s important.”
The study, published in the journal Communications Earth and Environment last week, focused on a region of the Last Ice Area right above Greenland, called the Wandel Sea.
The Wandel Sea normally is almost entirely covered by ice that has survived for multiple years and remains thick year-round, even during the summer.
But when a German icebreaker called Polarstern was attempting to sail through the area in August 2020, mapping the route with satellite images, the images showed that their path was less obstructed than usual.
Researchers say the satellite images found just 50 per cent sea ice concentration in the area on August 14, a record low.
“Sea ice circulates through the Arctic, it has a particular pattern, and it naturally ends up piling up against Greenland and the northern Canadian coast,” Schweiger said. “In climate models, when you spin them forward over the coming century, that area has the tendency to have ice survive in the summer the longest.”
While sea ice has been thinning in these regions in recent years as part of a long-term trend, the numbers came as a surprise. Researchers note that at the start of 2020, the ice thickness in the area was slightly thicker than previous years, and that at the start of the summer the levels were close to normal, suggesting that temporary gains in ice thickness do little to slow overall ice loss.
“During the winter and spring of 2020 you had patches of older, thicker ice that had drifted into there, but there was enough thinner, newer ice that melted to expose open ocean,” Schweiger said. “That began a cycle of absorbing heat energy to melt more ice, in spite of the fact that there was some thick ice. So in years where you replenish the ice cover in this region with older and thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect.”
Not every disruption of sea ice in the region is caused by climate change; in 2018, unexpected winds pushed sea ice away from the coast of Greenland and created wide stretches of ocean hemmed in by ice.
The majority of this recent loss in ice concentration observed in the study is thought to be largely caused by unusual weather. Researchers modelled the period from June 1 to August 16, 2020, and found that 80 per cent of the record low was caused by weather-related factors, including winds that break up ice and push it around.
However, one fifth of the damage was caused by long-term thinning of the ice due to global warming. The impact of climate change is something researchers are concerned about, saying it “contributed significantly to the record low” in the study.
“[Winds] transported sea ice out of the region and allowed the accumulation of heat from the absorption of solar radiation in the ocean,” the study stated. “This heat was mixed upward and contributed to rapid melt during high wind events.”
Climate change is one of the driving factors behind the growing trend of thinner ice and more open water. The study also points out that extreme weather events such as storms, heat waves or floods are increased by climate change’s effect, showing how it can exacerbate existing weather patterns or issues.
“Given the long-term thinning trend and strong interannual variability in atmospheric forcing, it seems reasonable to expect that summer sea ice conditions in the [Wandel Sea] will likely become more variable in the future,” the study explained.
While researchers only looked at the Wandel Sea, this new data does bring up questions for the future of the Last Ice Area.
The Last Ice Area includes wide swathes of ice that connects islands in the northernmost parts of Canada, above Baffin Island. It supports numerous species of Arctic marine animals, such as polar bears, bearded seals, ringed seals and walruses.
“This area has long been expected to be the primary refuge for ice-dependent species because it is one of the last places where we expect summer sea ice to survive in the Arctic,” co-author Kristin Laidre, a principal scientist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, said in the release.
What affect more open water could have on these species is unknown.
“We know very little about marine mammals in the Last Ice Area,” Laidre said. “We have almost no historical or present-day data, and the reality is that there are a lot more questions than answers about the future of these populations.”
So is the Last Ice Area at risk? We can’t tell yet. But more research needs to be done.
“Our work suggests a re-examination of climate model simulations in this area, since most do not predict summer 2020-level low [sea ice thicknesses] until several decades or more into the future,” the study said.
“While the [Wandel Sea] is only one part of the LIA, our results should give us pause when making assumptions about the persistence and resilience of summer sea ice in the LIA.”
Facial Recognition—Now for Seals – Hakai Magazine
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Have you ever looked at a seal and thought, Is that the same seal I saw yesterday? Well, there could soon be an app for that based on new seal facial recognition technology. Known as SealNet, this seal face-finding system was developed by a team of undergraduate students from Colgate University in New York.
Taking inspiration from other technology adapted for recognizing primates and bears, Krista Ingram, a biologist at Colgate University, led the students in developing software that uses deep learning and a convolutional neural network to tell one seal face from another. SealNet is tailored to identify the harbor seal, a species with a penchant for posing on coasts in haulouts.
The team had to train their software to identify seal faces. “I give it a photograph, it finds the face, [and] clips it to a standard size,” says Ingram. But then she and her students would manually identify the nose, the mouth, and the center of the eyes.
For the project, team members snapped more than 2,000 pictures of seals around Casco Bay, Maine, during a two-year period. They tested the software using 406 different seals and found that SealNet could correctly identify the seals’ faces 85 percent of the time. The team has since expanded its database to include around 1,500 seal faces. As the number of seals logged in the database goes up, so too should the accuracy of the identification, Ingram says.
As with all tech, however, SealNet is not infallible. The software saw seal faces in other body parts, vegetation, and even rocks. In one case, Ingram and her students did a double take at the uncanny resemblance between a rock and a seal face. “[The rock] did look like a seal face,” Ingram says. “The darker parts were about the same distance as the eyes … so you can understand why the software found a face.” Consequently, she says it’s always best to manually check that seal faces identified by the software belong to a real seal.
Like a weary seal hauling itself onto a beach for an involuntary photo shoot, the question of why this is all necessary raises itself. Ingram believes SealNet could be a useful, noninvasive tool for researchers.
Of the world’s pinnipeds—a group that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions—harbor seals are considered the most widely dispersed. Yet knowledge gaps do exist. Other techniques to track seals, such as tagging and aerial monitoring, have their limitations and can be highly invasive or expensive.
Ingram points to site fidelity as an aspect of seal behavior that SealNet could shed more light on. The team’s trials indicated that some harbor seals return to the same haulout sites year after year. Other seals, however, such as two animals the team nicknamed Clove and Petal, appeared at two different sites together. Increasing scientists’ understanding of how seals move around could strengthen arguments for protecting specific areas, says Anders Galatius, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who was not involved in the project.
Galatius, who is responsible for monitoring Denmark’s seal populations, says the software “shows a lot of promise.” If the identification rates are improved, it could be paired with another photo identification method that identifies seals by distinctive markings on their pelage, he says.
In the future, after further testing, Ingram hopes to develop an app based on SealNet. The app, she says, could possibly allow citizen scientists to contribute to logging seal faces. The program could also be adapted for other pinnipeds and possibly even for cetaceans.
NASA launches nanosatellite in preparation for lunar 'Gateway' station – Yahoo News Canada
Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.
It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.
Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: “Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa’s ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.
“We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon.”
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The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.
Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.
Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.
Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.
The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.
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Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, “Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.
“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!”
At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.
Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.
It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.
“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”
It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.
Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.
Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.
The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.
Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station
The year’s biggest and brightest supermoon will appear in July & here’s when you’ll … – Curiocity
Summer is here and with it? Sunshine – and some serious moonshine (of the visible variety, of course). This upcoming month, look up in anticipation of the biggest and brightest event of the year, the July Buck supermoon – which will hover over North America on July 13th.
Appearing 7% larger and lower in the sky, this particular event will be one well worth keeping an eye on when it rises above the horizon.
This will be the closest we’ll get to our celestial neighbour in 2022 (357,418 km) and while North America won’t get to see it when it reaches peak illumination at 2:38 pm ETC., it’ll still look pretty dang impressive after the sunsets.
Not sure when the moon rises in your area? Here’s the earliest that you’ll be able to see the moon in various cities across the continent according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
- Seattle, Washington – 9:50 pm PDT
- Vancouver, British Columbia – 10:02 pm PDT
- Calgary, Alberta – 10:35 pm MST
- Edmonton, Alberta – 10:49 pm MST
- Toronto, Ontario – 9:34 pm MST
- Montreal, Quebec – 9:18 pm MST
Until then, cross your fingers for a clear sky, friends! It’s going to be incredible.
When: Wednesday, July 13th
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