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Arctic “death spiral” or dead sensor?

August 8, 2011


As many readers have noted, one of the Arctic sea ice extent plots on our WUWT sea ice page took a Serreze style nosedive today:

According to DMI (Danish Meteorological Institute), this is the source of the data:

The ice extent values are calculated from the ice type data from the Ocean and Sea Ice, Satellite Application Facility (OSISAF), where areas with ice concentration higher than 30% are classified as ice.

And when I backtrace from OSISAF to find what satellite/sensor they used, this is what they say:

Data used: SSM/I (DMSP F15), ECMWF forecast for atmospheric correction

The glitch is reminiscent of the Feb 2009 failure of an SSMI sensor used by NSIDC.

That failure showed up on NSIDC’s plot, and when I pointed it out with a blog post NSIDC responded that it “isn’t worth blogging about“.


Click for larger image

A couple of days later they were forced by the failure of the sensor to take their data offline, so apparently it was worth blogging about after all.

They wrote in the press release at the time:

Last year, F13 started showing large amounts of missing data. The sensor was almost 13 years old, and no longer provided complete daily data to allow us to track total daily sea ice extent. As a result, we switched to the DMSP F15 sensor for our near-real-time analysis.

And as noted above, DMI uses SSM/I (DMSP F15), the same as NSIDC. Is this glitch worth blogging about? I think so since NSIDC was unaware last time that a problem had developed until we pointed it out for them.

This looks like the beginning of the problem on August 6th, as seen at the OSI SAF page:

The day before on August 5th:

It may be related to the three Coronal Mass Ejections, (CME) that hit Earth about that time. From Spaceweather.com

Earth’s magnetic field is still reverberating from a CME strike on August 5th that sparked one of the strongest geomagnetic storms in years. Registering 8 on the 0 to 9 “K-index” scale of magnetic disturbances, the storm at maximum sparked auroras across Europe and in many northern-tier US states.

It is possible the satellite operator shut down the bird for protection, but nobody got the memo. There’s no mention of data outages on NSIDC’s page or at CT or other ice product websites that I’ve found. Or, the sensor data might be so corrupt as to be unusable, or the sensor has been fried by the CME.

So, like before, I’ll send NSIDC’s Dr. Walt Meier a courtesy note on this one and see what he says. NSIDC’s plot averages over 5 days, IIRC, so it won’t show up for a few days and they have time to correct it if in fact it is the satellite sensor data again.

This may be a sensor issue, or it may be an algorithm issue. Since other plots aren’t showing it, we know it doesn’t represent a real loss of ice, just loss of data.

Curiously though, I’ve noted another glitch half a world away:

Which looks to be unrelated, since it is the AMSR-E sensor on a different satellite.

Must be the day for glitches in sea ice.

Meanwhile, Row to the Pole‘s progress is slowing to a crawl:

Must be a sea ice glitch of a different kind.

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