About 350 researchers from around the world specializing in observing and modelling Earth’s polar oceans gathered at the International Glaciological Society (IGS) Sea Ice Symposium, between August 18 and 23, 2019. Held once every five years, the IGS symposium brings together experts to present new discoveries and technological advances in sea ice related research. This year it was hosted by the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, Canada. The symposium was a timely opportunity to discuss the most recent changes in the sea ice environment, including the ongoing loss of the ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, and widespread climate change in the Southern Ocean. The week was packed with the traditional oral and poster presentations, in addition to keynote talks on topics including the fate of meltwater runoff from the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the opportunities and challenges posed by economic development in the Arctic.  There was plenty of time for participants to enjoy networking and face-to-face discussions between presentations. A mid-symposium excursion to the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Center, at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg, Manitoba, gave participants an opportunity to meet with Dr. Stephen Petersen, Head of Conservation and Research, and learn about international polar bear management and conservation. The sea ice scientists also got a chance to observe some of the resident orphaned polar bear cubs, who are cared for at the center.

Geographical Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Sinead Farrell attended the symposium, along with researchers from the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, and graduate students from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. Farrell presented the latest results from the recently launched NASA ICESat-2 mission, which carries the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) designed to precisely measure the elevation of Earth’s polar regions. Farrell and her team used ATLAS height measurements to derive sea-ice freeboard, the height of the sea ice above local sea level. The observations reveal very fine details of sea-ice topography including rough, multiyear sea-ice floes, leads, new ice growth, and pressure ridges within the ice cover, the first time such high-fidelity measurements have been acquired from a space-borne platform. The quality of ATLAS data were evaluated through comparison with coincident measurements, collected from an airborne lidar system flown over the Arctic in Spring 2019. Their early results suggest excellent agreement in the independent measurements of sea ice freeboard across a range of ice types, from smooth to rough surfaces. Farrell also showed a new approach for weighing Antarctic icebergs, with ICESat-2 altimetry measurements. On the final day of the symposium, Farrell delivered an oral presentation on the importance of snow in the Arctic climate system, and reviewed the latest breakthroughs in measuring snow depth on sea ice with airborne and satellite remote sensing techniques.  

Due to the overall success of the IGS sea ice symposium, and record-setting attendance, it was decided to have the next gathering in just three years’ time, at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany in 2022.

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean