Mark Serreze

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("National Snow and Ice Data Center - NSIDC," Director -

Mark Serreze is a Professor within the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) Department of Geography and Director of the CU National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), a Research Center specialized in remote sensing of snow and ice, Arctic climate, frozen ground, ice sheets, glaciers, and more.NSIDC began as an analog archive and information center, the World Data Center for Glaciology, to archive data and information from the 1957–1958 International Geophysical Year. Since then, NSIDC has evolved to manage cryosphere-related data ranging from the smallest text file to terabytes of remote sensing data from NASA’s Earth Observing System satellite program. With global warming and Arctic melting, NSIDC analysis are becoming more and more important in order to control the state of Arctic and the Global Warming effects. Why Arctic is more vulnerable to climate change than other areas? What are the main consequences (local and global) of Arctic changes? What can humans do to reverse Arctic Ice melting process? Mark Serreze answered to these and other questions.
INTERVIEW - (February 2013) 
The interview was realized and published in February 2013 - (Original interview in English)
Subject: Arctic Melting: causes, consequences and solutions

1. Question: Since 1951 the temperature in Greenland has gone up by 1.5°C, compared with around 0.7°C globally. Why Arctic is more vulnerable than other areas to climate change?

The Arctic region is sensitive to positive climate feedbacks – processes that accentuate climate change.  The most important of these is albedo feedback, albedo simply referring to how reflective the surface is.  If we warm up the Arctic, some of the region’s highly reflective snow and ice cover melts, exposing darker (lower albedo) underlying surfaces which more readily absorb the sun’s energy.   This leads to further warming and even more melt.  The biggest temperature changes have actually occurred over parts of the Arctic Ocean, which can be linked to loss of the floating sea ice cover.  

2. Question:
For many scientists, the time when the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer will be sooner than previously expected. There are researches that forecast such event within 30 years and even,according to Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, "The final collapse of ice summer will probably be complete by 2015/16. When do you think such collapse will happen if things will not change?

I’m sticking with somewhere around the year 2030 as to when we’ll see a seasonally ice free Arctic Ocean.  I stress that we are just talking about summer – there will be ice in winter for a long time to come, for even in a greenhouse-warmed world it will get cold and dark in the Arctic in winter.  While I’ve heard arguments that we could lose the summer ice by 2015 or so, I think that this scenario is too aggressive. 

3. Question:
In your opinion, what will be the main short and long term consequences in a local and a global scale  of Arctic Ice melting?

A fairly immediate issue is that loss of the sea ice cover will have impacts on weather patterns extending into middle latitudes.  Indeed, there is growing evidence that we’re already seeing this.  Looking out longer term, a big concern is that Arctic warming will lead to thaw of the Arctic’s permafrost.  Permafrost is perennially frozen soil that underlies most of the Arctic land area.  Thaw could release large stores of carbon presently locked up in the permafrost, raising atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels, hence leading to further warming.  This is knownas the permafrost-carbon cycle feedback 

4. Question:
Could you describe the main changes global warming is causing to Arctic biodiversity and what species are most in danger of extinction?

We’re already seeing widespread impacts on Arctic ecosystems, from phytoplankton all the way to top predators such the polar bear.  There is concern that polar bears may not be able to adapt to the rapid climate change.  Some seal species may be in trouble. Of course there will be winners and losers.  Some species may flourish in a warmer world, while others will not fare so well.  The issue is not so much climate change per se but the rapid pace of change. 

5. Question:
Arctic Ice melting can cause a disruption of the mighty “overturning circulation” of the global oceans, the exchange of warm tropical and cold polar water. What will be the consequences of this phenomena?

This is not as big a problem as we once thought.  It is likely that the overturning circulation in the Atlantic will slow in the future, both due to a warmer upper ocean and expected increases in high latitude precipitation. Both of these make the water column more stable, lessening the overturning. However, the idea that we could somehow halt or seriously disrupt the overturning circulation through melt of Arctic ice seems unlikely.  This is good news.

6. Question:
What do you think is the main cause, among human activities, of Arctic Ice Melting?

The main cause is clearly us – through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities, we are increasing that atmosphere’s load of greenhouse gas and this is causing warming.  The evidence is overwhelming and is based on principles of radiative transfer developed over a century ago.  Warming in the Arctic is especially strong because of feedback effects noted earlier.

7. Question:
It is proved that Co2 emissions are the main cause of global warming. There are many proposals to reduce such emissions: on one hand, reducing the demand for energy (Movements of decreasing, Transition towns and so on); on the other hand, restructuring the supply of energy, by turning from the traditional sources of energy (coal and Oil) to more sustainable and clear ones (wind and sun) or to nuclear ones. There are even ideas to put in place technological system to reduce glabal warming (reflecting the sun's rays back into space, making clouds whiter and seeding the ocean with minerals to absorb more CO2). What do you think would be the right approach to face the problem?

While we should certainly be working towards conservation and development of renewables,      we have to be pragmatic – we must adapt to a warmer world.   No matter what we do, we are going to be dependent on fossil fuels for a long time to come.  We are already well down the path to a warmer world and it is going to get warmer.   The growth in fossil fuel use in China and India is staggering and shows no signs of slowing down.

8. Question:
Could you indicate the first 5 priorities human (both governments and citizens) should put in placeto arrest Arctic Ice melting process?

It is too late to arrest the Arctic melting process, at least in the foreseeable future.  

9. Question:
What is NSIDC is doing to improve Arctic preservation and, among its activities, what do you think is the most important in this perspective?

The most important thing we are doing at NSIDC is outreach and education.  Climate is changing and the Arctic is leading the way.  We need to be ready for climate changes because the longer we ignore it, the harder it will be to address it and adapt to it. 

10. Question:
Finally, If you could send “a message to humans”, what would you suggest to do in order to preserve themselves and our Planet in the long period?

Nothing comes for free.  We built our modern society and technology largely on cheap, abundant energy from fossil fuels.  Everything from automobiles to cell phones to the food we buy at the grocery store is tied into fossil fuels.  What we didn’t appreciate is that it’s a trap.  Shrill arguments from the extreme right that global warming either doesn’t exist or else has purely natural causes are as unhelpful as shrill arguments on the extreme left that it’s all doom and gloom.  We need to accept the reality that we are headed for a warmer world and chart a pragmatic path forward.