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Science Bit

University of Colorado, Rutgers, NOAA

Snow cover, glaciers, and global warming

Two separate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) deal with possible symptoms of global warming. One team of researchers has found that the levels of Northern Hemisphere sea ice and snow cover in 1990 were the lowest since satellite records began in 1973, apparently as a result of record high surface temperatures that year. The scientists, Mark Serreze, James Maslanik, Jeffrey Key, and Raymond Kokaly of the CU/NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and David Robinson of Rutgers University, studied observations from satellites, weather stations, ships, and the Arctic Ocean Buoy Program, which provides weather information from buoys dropped by plane onto drifting pieces of sea ice. The data were analyzed by computer at CIRES. The researchers also found that 1993 was the second-lowest year on record for sea ice, and snow cover has been below normal since the late 1980s. The results of the NSF-supported study were published in the 15 August Geophysical Research Letters. For more information, contact Serreze (303-492-2963 or serreze@Kryos.colorado.edu) or Peter Caughey (303-492-4007 or caughey@spot.colorado.edu).

Mark Meier, a glaciologist at CU's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, reports that the volume of the world's glaciers outside of Greenland and the Antarctic has diminished markedly in the past century, and the rate of loss appears to be accelerating. Meier says that the total mass of small glaciers worldwide has apparently diminished by about 11% since the late 19th Century. In some places the change has been more dramatic; the European Alps appear to have lost more than 50% of their ice. Annual changes in the volume of the world's glaciers appear to be related primarily to changes in air temperature, Meier explains; the observed shrinkage does not appear to be related to any global change in precipitation. An estimate of long-term temperature trends from glacier volume change indicates global warming of a little over half a degree Celsius. Meier can be reached at 303-492-6556 or Mark.Meier@colorado.edu, or contact James Scott (303-492-3114 or scottjr@spot.colorado.edu).

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