Sea ice interactions with the climate system and ecosystems

Mid-winter snapshot of the surface ice growth rate (metres per year), where red is ice growth.
Modelling results for a mid-winter snapshot of the surface ice growth rate (metres per year), where red is ice growth and blue is melt.
Photo: Ben Galton-Fenzi, ACE CRC

Sea ice changes affect both biological production and climate ‘feedbacks’. Biological production includes such things as the growth of algae or krill - changes in which affect organisms higher up the food chain, such as whales and penguins. Climate feedbacks amplify or diminish the effects of climate change caused by climate ‘forcings’ (such as greenhouse gases which warm the Earth). As the Earth warms, sea ice melts, opening up dark ocean channels which absorb more sunlight, causing more melting.

Thus, understanding the interactions between sea ice, the surrounding ocean and the atmosphere is critical for accurate climate projections and understanding future ecosystem changes.

Research in this stream is investigating two key questions:

  • How is the Antarctic sea ice environment changing on regional scales?
  • What is the impact of environmental changes on primary production and ecosystem dynamics in the Southern Ocean?
An Argo float being deployed in the Southern Ocean.
Deploying an Argo float.
Photo: Alicia Navidad, CSIRO

To answer these questions scientists are studying sea ice extent, thickness, concentration, drift and snow thickness above the ice using a range of remote sensing technologies (such as satellites and Argo floats) and on-ice field measurements in all seasons.

Products resulting from this research will include maps of regional sea ice thickness and models for improved weather forecasting and climate studies.

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This page was last modified on 27 September 2013.