Sea Ice Collaboration Team

Enhancing understanding and improving predictions of the changing Arctic sea ice cover.

Scope of activities

Sea Ice

Photo by Ute Kaden (TREC 2005), Courtesy of ARCUS

Action Statement:

Motivated by the rich discussions around conditions in the Bering Sea, our team is planning to focus on central themes including harmful algal blooms, shorefast ice, sea ice thickness, and sea ice conditions in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.

Through a series of iterative conversations, we hope to engage a diverse group of people who want opportunities to network and share what they are working on. 

Sea Ice in the Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021:

Arctic sea ice is a geophysical phenomenon within a socio-ecological system, and as such it provides a variety of services (Eicken et al. 2009). They are: regulating services, e.g., the impact of sea ice on the surface energy budget plays a vital role in regulating the global climate; provisioning services, e.g., sea ice yields food for communities that harvest marine mammals for which the ice is a habitat; cultural services, i.e., non-material benefits of a cultural, spiritual, and educational nature contributing to the daily life of communities; and supporting services,e.g.,micro-organisms, although not harvested directly, are an important component of a food web that sustains marine mammals and fish. Viewed from this geophysical/socio-ecological perspective, enhancing understanding and improving predictions of the changing sea ice cover will benefit from cooperation between sea ice researchers and numerous potential collaborators, including northern residents, who have particular Local and Indigenous Knowledge of the ice.

The Arctic sea ice cover is changing dramatically. The end-of-summer minimum sea ice extent (areal coverage) and the end-of-winter maximum sea ice extent have decreased by 40 percent and 9 percent, respectively, over the course of the satellite passive microwave observation period 1979-2015 (Fetterer et al.2002, updated daily).The age and thickness distributions of the ice cover are also decreasing as the area of seasonal ice increases at the expense of the older, thicker perennial ice (Kwok and Rothrock 2009; Perovich et al. 2015). The resultant decrease in sea ice volume contributes to an increase in observed ice drift speeds (Kwok et al. 2013), and is likely responsible for higher deformation and ridging rates (Zhang et al. 2012). Pressure ridges are the thickest sea ice features and result from collisions between moving icefloes.

As the sea ice changes, there are many environmental and socio-ecological consequences. They include: direct effects on marine ecosystems and northern communities (Harwood et al. 2015; Kedra et al. 2015; Pearce et al. 2015; Ray et al. 2016; Tremblay et al. 2015), and indirect effects on terrestrial ecosystems (Bhatt et al. 2013); increasing ocean surface wave height, storm surge intensity, and coastal erosion and inundation (Overeem et al. 2015; Vermaire et al. 2014; Thomson and Rogers 2014) that threaten habitats, northern communities, and civil and defense infrastructure (Gibbs and Richmond 2015); rising sea surface temperatures (Timmermans and Proshutinsky 2015) and ocean primary production (Frey et al. 2015); a reduction in the earth's reflectivity, accounting for about 25 percent of the warming due to increasing atmospheric CO2 (Pistone et al., 2014); and tropospheric warming, which is amplifying global warming in the Arctic (Serreze and Barry 2011), and might be weakening the jet stream and contributing to more extreme weather in mid-latitude regions (e.g., Francis et al. 2014).

The changing sea ice cover, particularly the decreasing minimum extent and associated increase in the area of summer open water, is opening the region to increased ship traffic for cargo and tourism (e.g., Stephenson and Smith, 2015) and extraction of natural resources such as oil and gas, minerals, and fish (e.g., National Petroleum Council, 2015). In turn, growth in such activities has implications for homeland and national security such as search and rescue policy, oil spill preparedness and response, and domain awareness. Current model projections of sea ice extent show that a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean at the end of summer is a distinct possibility later this century, although there remains considerable uncertainty as to when that will happen (e.g., Stroeve et al. 2012). Agencies responsible for emergency response and security have documented the need for capabilities that are informed by science (USCG 2013; DOD 2013; U.S. Navy 2014).

During the period of consistent satellite passive microwave observations (1979-present), most numerical models have projected a slower rate of ice loss than the observed rate, with the best-performing models typically including more sophisticated ice processes (e.g., Stroeve et al. 2012). Enhancing understanding and improving predictions of the changing sea ice cover over a range of spatial and temporal scales (hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, annual, decadal) requires research that addresses the physical properties and processes of the ice itself (e.g., ice thickness, topography, and strength; ice motion and deformation; distribution and properties of snow on ice; and melt pond characteristics). These sea ice characteristics, in turn, are strongly influenced by the atmosphere above and the ocean below the ice. Consequently, it is necessary to take a systems approach that accounts for atmospheric and oceanographic conditions and processes and examines the interactions and feedbacks among the sea ice, atmosphere, and ocean.

The Sea Ice Goal focuses on ice and ocean conditions and processes. Progress in the implementation of the Sea Ice Goal will also contribute to and benefit from research undertaken under the Atmosphere, Marine Ecosystems, Coastal, and Environmental Intelligence Goals. The Sea Ice Goal, and its broader connections to these other components of the Arctic environmental system, also addresses the call for policy-driven research that meets fundamental regional and national needs. For example, the changes that are occurring in the Arctic sea ice cover affect the well-being of Arctic residents (Well-being), the functioning of the marine environment (Stewardship), regional and national security (Security), and potentially regions far beyond the Arctic (Arctic-Global System).


Team leaders

Jackie Richter-Menge
US Arctic Research Commission

Janet Intrieri
Earth System Research Laboratory | Physical Sciences Division

Olivia Lee
University of Alaska Fairbanks (Website)

Melinda Webster
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Performance elements from the Arctic research plan

3.1 Conduct coordinated/integrated atmosphere-ice-ocean observations and research to understand the processes that determine the spatial and temporal variation of the thickness, extent and volume of sea ice, and their effects on atmosphere-ice-ocean interactions and feedbacks over multiple time scales (daily, weekly, seasonal, inter-annual, decadal).

  • 3.1.1 Support investigator-driven observations and process studies of the pack ice (e.g., ice thickness distribution, topography/surface roughness and strength; ice motion and deformation; snow depth distribution and melt pond characteristics; surface albedo and energy balance) and landfast ice (e.g., extent, stability, and break-up).
  • 3.1.2 Continue to support the U.S. Interagency Arctic Buoy Program (US IABP) to provide meteorological, ice, and oceanographic data for research purposes and to meet real-time operational requirements. US IABP, coordinated by the National Ice Center and the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, contributes to the International Arctic Buoy Programme.
  • 3.1.3 Continue Operation IceBridge (OIB) to measure sea ice freeboard and thickness and to measure the depth of snow on the ice in late winter 2017, 2018, and 2019 in the western Arctic Ocean.
  • 3.1.4 Launch (1) the NOAA/NASA Joint Polar Satellite System in 2017 to enhance understanding of the sea ice age/thickness, ice concentration, ice surface temperatures, snow cover, and snow water equivalent; and (2) the NASA Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) in 2018 to estimate sea ice thickness over the entire Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas.
  • 3.1.5 Use multiple remote sensing data sets to: (1) investigate sea ice properties and processes and atmosphere-ice-ocean interactions; and (2) develop algorithms for automated ice edge detection and delineation of the marginal ice zone, landfast ice extent, ice classification (e.g., age/type of ice, melt ponds, floe size), and ice motion and deformation.
  • 3.1.6 Develop and deploy new technologies that enable persistent data collection on a variety of environmental variables using mobile platforms and sensors operating above, on, in, and under the Arctic sea ice cover to support a framework of observations that will improve forecasting and prediction of sea ice.
  • 3.1.7 Investigate Arctic Ocean processes, interactions and feedbacks that affect the dynamics and thermodynamics of the sea ice cover, including ocean circulation and stratification, turbulence and mixing, horizontal and vertical heat transport, and freshwater transport and storage. The ONR Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic (SODA) project (FY16-FY20) is an example of a contribution to this Performance Element.

3.2 Improve models for understanding sea ice processes and for enhanced forecasting and prediction of sea ice behavior at a range of spatial and temporal scales.

  • 3.2.1 Support investigator-driven modeling studies designed to understand and parameterize key sea ice properties and processes, including ice thickness distribution, topography, and strength; ice motion, deformation and mechanics; snow depth distribution and melt pond characteristics; surface albedo and energy balance; and biogeochemistry.
  • 3.2.2 Enhance operational sea ice forecasting and research-oriented prediction capabilities through improvements to model physics (explicit and parameterized); initialization techniques; assimilation of observations, model evaluation and verification; evaluation of model skill, post-processing techniques and forecast guidance tools used in operational forecasts and decision support.

3.3 Support collaborative networks of researchers to advance knowledge, understanding, and prediction of the sea ice system.

  • 3.3.1 Support the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) Sea Ice Action Team to synthesize the results of multiple agencies’ and other stakeholders’ investments in sea ice observations and process studies and communicate results, information, and the societal implications of sea ice change to broader audiences
  • 3.3.2 Support a collaborative network of scientists and stakeholders to advance research on sea ice predictability and prediction at a variety of time and space scales and communicate new knowledge, understanding, and tools to broader audiences.


Sea Ice

Photo by Lollie Garay (PolarTREC 2007/2008), Courtesy of ARCUS

Scientific Achievments

Progress is reported on all 11 performance elements assigned to the Sea Ice research goal in the Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021 via the IARPC Collaborations website. Highlights include:

  • International Arctic Buoy Programme (IABP, represents a robust collaboration between 32 different Federal, research and operational institutions from many different countries. The IABP continues to maintain a fundamental element of the Arctic Observing Network (AON), made up of drifting buoys that observe meteorological, oceanographic and sea ice conditions. As of this writing, the US arm of the IABP has deployed 35 buoys, and owns 57 of the 117 buoys currently reporting in the IABP AON. (Performance Element 3.1.2)
  • Improved instrumentation on NASA’s Operation IceBridge (which NASA now plans to continue through FY20), allowing for more accurate snow depth retrievals over the sea ice cover and higher sample density and measurement precision of ice surface elevation. (Performance Elements 3.1.3, 3.1.5)
  • Delivery of the Algorithm Theoretical Basis Document (ATBD) for AMSR2 sea ice products, facilitating the use of these satellite-derived observations of the Arctic sea ice cover. (Performance Element 3.1.5)
  • Publication of the Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic (SODA) Science Plan, an ONR-sponsored Departmental Research Initiative with a major field experiment in 2018 (Performance Element 3.1.7):
  • NOAA successfully completed the second season of aircraft operations during early September (2016 & 2017), deploying buoys in the Chukchi Sea to provide real time observations of upper ocean temperatures prior to and during fall. Data are available at: (Performance Elements 3.1.7, 3.2.2)
  • The DHS S&T-sponsored Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC) is developing a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle—Tethys—equipped to detect oil below sea ice. Tethys also carries an ADCP for detecting the underside of the ice and measuring ice draft, and water salinity and temperature sensors for measuring the state of the ocean under the ice. Focused on U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) missions and in alignment with the USCG’s research, development, test, and evaluation program, ADAC develops and transitions technology solutions, innovative products and educational programs to improve situational awareness and crisis response capabilities related to emerging maritime challenges posed by the dynamic Arctic environment.
  • The ONR Canada Basin Acoustic Propagation Experiment (CANAPE) moorings were recovered by the USCG Healy after one year of operation. The Healy and USCG aircraft also deployed, respectively, a number of IABP buoys and ONR-sponsored expendable atmospheric and oceanographic sensors.
  • Increased collaboration between the observing and modeling research communities, via the use of in situ observations to evaluate model performance (e.g., NRL Arctic Cap Nowcast/Forecast System (ACNFS), SIPN Sea Ice Outlook (SIO)) and the assimilation of observations derived from satellites (e.g., NRL ACNFS, NASA IceBridge Science Project Office, NOAA ESRL Arctic Sea Ice Forecasts, SIPN SIO) and aircraft (e.g. NOAA Arctic Heat, SIPN SIO). (Performance Element 3.2.2)
  • National Weather Service (NWS) Alaska Testbed staff are evaluating NOAA’s daily, short term (0-10 day) Arctic Sea Ice Forecasts (, to understand utility, usage, and the interpretation of ensemble data and uncertainty information for stakeholders. (Performance Element 3.2.2)
  • Sea Ice Prediction Network (SIPN) leadership team continues to organize and run the Sea Ice Outlook (SIO), a community-based effort to compare seasonal forecasts, receiving 35 predictions of the September pan-Arctic sea ice cover and 12 predictions of the Alaskan region. (  (Performance Element 3.3.2)

Collaboration Between Federal Agencies and the Research Community

The IARPC Collaborations website is the primary tool being used by the SICT to improve communication and collaboration. In addition to individual postings on the website, during FY2017 the SICT held 9 meetings via the website. The topics addressed during presentations given at these meeting ranged widely and included updates on field programs, reports on key meetings, new modelling efforts, and funding opportunities. The presentations were given by members of the research community and representatives from Federal agencies, and were selected to address many of the sea ice-related performance elements (Performance Elements 3.1.1, 3.1.4, 3.1.5, 3.1.6, 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 3.3.1, 3.3.2). Of these meetings, 2 were held jointly with other teams to further extend the collaborative environment, including the Marine Ecosystems Collaboration Team (topics discussed: (i) pan-Arctic conceptual model and (ii) long term sustainability of Walruses) and the Atmosphere Collaboration Team and Modeling Collaboration Team (MOSAiC project). After every presentation, discussion was encouraged and action items were undertaken to foster communication among team members.

Stakeholder Engagement

The primary tool used by the SICT for engagement is the IARPC Collaborations website. A priority goal of the SICT, outlined in the FY2017 annual workplan, was to engage more of the sea ice community (e.g. researchers, stakeholders, local community members, etc.) in this unique communication hub. For instance, we looked to increase attendance at monthly team meetings and to attract a more diverse collection of people, including researchers, stakeholders, and early career members. Towards this end, we have begun to track the attendance at the monthly meetings, including the participant demographics (e.g., affiliation, career stage, local community member, gender, etc.). During FY2017, the SICT co-leads made a specific commitment to increase participation of early career researchers. To address this commitment, the SICT co-leads deliberately sought out and invited early career researchers to make presentations at the monthly team meetings.

SICT leadership is co-convening a Fall 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) special session (“Understanding the New Arctic: Meeting Societal Needs through Observing Networks, Indigenous Knowledge, System Science, and Synthesis") aimed at encouraging the implementation of knowledge co-production and the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge at the inception of a research project. Many of the featured speakers in the session are from the indigenous community and from researchers who have direct experience of engaging with local community members, from the inception of a project.

Accomplishments from FY2019

The Sea Ice Collaboration Team continued to grow community by hosting meetings that actively engage members and strive to be inclusive.

  • By hosting a pre-AGU discussion in October of 2018, the SICT helped to strengthen community connections as well as allow access to information for those not attending AGU.

 The rapid rate of sea ice loss in the Bering Sea in 2018 and 2019 prompted the SICT to actively engage the research community to identify resources that could provide timely information.

  • A joint meeting between the Sea Ice Collaboration Team (SICT), Environmental Intelligence, and Coastal Resilience Teams was held in spring 2019 (25 March). The cross-disciplinary discussions emphasized efforts to better coordinate fieldwork observations and leverage research activities during upcoming funded cruises.
  • The SICT invited several Arctic residents to attend and present during the IARPC meetings, but weather disruptions to technology and travel remains a barrier for some Arctic residents to engage during scheduled meetings. 

The SICT highlighted research on the changing landfast ice which directly impacts coastal communities through impacts of safety on over-ice travel, and reduced protection of coastal infrastructure from erosion caused by storm and wave action.

  • The April 2019 SICT meeting included updates from NSF funded projects on shorefast ice knowledge in Uummannaq Bay, Greenland (PI J Ryan), and modeling ice drift and deformation at the ice-coast interface (PI J Hutchings).
  • The development of useful and improved ice forecasting products for Arctic stakeholders remains an ongoing effort of the SICT.
  • DOD-sponsored research on Co-producing sea ice tools to improve situational awareness and crisis response in the Arctic (PI Kettle) was reported in the June 2019 meeting.
  • The research provided insight from stakeholders, including marine operators and responders, subsistence users, and service providers on needs for a sea ice notification system using real-time observations.

The intersection of sea ice loss and its role in Harmful Algal Blooms in the Arctic is an ongoing discussion with an emphasis on developing informational products that benefit Arctic residents.

  • A joint meeting was held in July 2019 between the Marine Ecosystem, Coastal Resilience and SICT.
  • Opportunities were identified to link the sea ice modeling community with HAB researchers to explore development of models to predict future HAB blooms, and sea ice as a potential source of cyst beds that may influence the intensity and distribution of HAB blooms.

Team Priorities for FY2020

  • TheSICT will be creating following continuing conversations:
    • Bering Strait meeting (EICT, CRCT, MECT)
    • Sea Ice conditions in Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort (CRCT, EI)
    • HABs (MECT, MST, HWCT)
    • Shorefast Sea Ice (CRCT, MST)
    • Sea Ice Thickness across Arctic Ocean Basin (MST)


  • The SICT intends to increase participation in updates (local community), early career, local community

2017 Performance Element Reporting Log

2017 Sea Ice Collaboration Team Annual Report

2018 Performance Element Reporting Log

2018 Sea Ice Collaboration Team Annual Report

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