Public Release: 

Arctic lakes thawing earlier each year

University of Southampton

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found Arctic lakes, covered with ice during the winter months, are melting earlier each spring.

The team, who monitored 13,300 lakes using satellite imagery, have shown that on average ice is breaking up one day earlier per year, based on a 14-year period between 2000 and 2013. Their findings are published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers used information on how light is reflected off the lakes, as recorded by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, which collects a range of spectral and thermal data on a daily basis as it circles the globe on two satellites. This study used the changes in reflectance to identify the freezing and thawing processes.

Southampton's Professor Jadu Dash, says: "Previous studies have looked into small numbers of lakes to show the impact of changes in temperature on the cyclic nature of lake-ice cover. However, ours is the first to use time-series of satellite data to monitor thousands of lakes in this way across the Arctic. It contributes to the growing range of observations showing the influence that warmer temperatures are having on the Arctic."

The researchers discovered that all five study areas in the Arctic (Alaska, Northeast Siberia, Central Siberia, Northeast Canada and Northern Europe) showed significant trends of early ice break-up in the spring, but to varying degrees. Central Siberia demonstrated the strongest trend, with ice starting to break-up an average of 1.4 days earlier each year. Northern Europe showed the lowest change of ice break-up at 0.84 days earlier per year. They found a strong relationship between decreasing ice cover and an increasingly early spring temperature rise.

The team also examined the timing of formation of ice cover on the lakes in late autumn. Although the use of satellite images wasn't possible due to the short daylight period limiting valid satellite observation, observations on the ground suggest lake freezing is starting later - further shortening the ice period, although more work would be needed to confirm this.

Co-author Professor Mary Edwards, from the University of Southampton, comments "Our findings have several implications. Changing ice cover affects the energy balance between the land and atmosphere. Less ice means a longer season for lake biology, which together with warmer temperatures will affect processes such as CO2 and CH4 emissions. Furthermore, many people use ice-covered landscapes for winter transport, and so spring and autumn travel for commercial and subsistence activities is likely to be more and more affected."

Professor Dash concludes: "This demonstrates the potential of routine satellite data for long term monitoring of physical changes on the Earth's surface. In the future, the new Sentinel series of satellites from the European Space Agency provide potential opportunities to examine these changes in greater detail."

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Notes to editors

1) For interview requests, please contact Peter Franklin, Media Relations, University of Southampton. Tel: 023 8059 5457 Email: p.franklin@southampton.ac.uk

2) A copy of the paper Arctic lakes show strong decadal trend in earlier spring ice-out (DOI: 10.1038/srep38449) can be found here http://www.nature.com/articles/srep38449 or obtained from Media Relations on request.

3) Graphic image available from Media Relations showing the spatial distribution and magnitude of all significant trends of breakup start (BUS) and breakup end (BUE) for Central Siberia. Each dot represents a lake for which a statistically significant trend was observed. The colour value represents the magnitude of the trend (this figure was drawn using ESRI ArcMap).

4) For more about Geography at Southampton, please visit: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/geography/index.page

5) The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.

With over 24,000 students, 6500 staff, and an annual turnover in excess of £550m, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres including the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Institute for Life Sciences, the Web Science Trust and Doctoral training Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and is a partner of the National Oceanography Centre at the Southampton waterfront campus. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/

For further information contact:

Peter Franklin, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 5457 Email: p.franklin@southampton.ac.uk

http://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/

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