The Arctic Is Melting – And Scientists Just Lost A Key Tool To Observe It

2016-04-27T05:00:45+00:00 April 27, 2016|
NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellite. (Credit: NASA)

(Click to enlarge) NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellite. (Credit: NASA)

Earlier this month, a U.S. satellite known as F17 — which was primarily used for meteorological measurements — experienced operational failures that compromised the integrity of its data. And while there are similar satellites in orbit that can take over the data collection for now, they’re old enough that scientists are unsure how much longer they’ll last.

(From The Washington Post / by Chelsea Harvey)– Now, with no government plans to launch a replacement any time soon, scientists who rely on these satellites for valuable climate data are beginning to worry about the future of their research. The problem comes at a vital time, too — one when the Arctic, and other remote regions, are seeing rapid changes and scientists badly need these instruments to track them.

Just last month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice this past winter — the time of year when the ice reaches its annual peak — was at a record low for the second straight year.  The Arctic sea ice record has been one of the most important ways scientists have tracked the progress of climate change over time. But as of April 12, the NSIDC was forced to release a statement explaining that its daily sea ice updates were suspended until further notice due to technical difficulties with F17.

F17 — and its predecessors — have been “one of the primary resources for monitoring sea ice extent and concentration,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist and sea ice expert at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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