Since 1979 the extent of sea ice in the Arctic has been declining at an average rate of -3.5% each decade, with the winter extent in December 2012 the second lowest month on satellite record. Scientists have also documented less summer ice cover, an overall thinning of the ice, and the transition to an ice pack that is "younger" (i.e., has not survived more than one melting season) and more vulnerable to destruction from winter storms. In addition, the melting seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, making it more difficult for new ice to form and for multi-year ice to retain its extent. Low sea ice in the Arctic leads to a variety of impacts, including increased mortality rates of marine mammals that depend on the ice pack for breeding, as well as significant changes in the Arctic's regional atmosphere and weather patterns.
These changes are most profound in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and, for that reason, scientists have embarked on a multi-year research program called ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on the EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment). The central research question of ICESCAPE is: "What is the impact of climate change (both natural and anthropogenic) on the biogeochemistry and ecology of the Chukchi and Bering Seas?" By taking measurements of the Arctic seawater, ice, and atmosphere from state-of-the-art research vessels, then combining this information with satellite remote sensing data and computer models, scientists can answer questions about chemical and biological fluxes with respect to a variety of environmental conditions.
The Marine Biogeochemistry Lab at BIOS is an integral part of the ICESCAPE Science Team, providing the staff and laboratory resources to measure properties of the Arctic carbon system. To learn more about this research program, visit the ICESCAPE website.