Global warming signals are expected to be amplified in the Arctic primarily because of ice-albedo feedback associated with the high reflectivity of ice and snow that blankets much of the region. The Arctic had been a poorly explored territory basically because of its general inaccessibility on account of extremely harsh weather conditions and the dominant presence of thick perennial ice in the region. The advent of satellite remote sensing systems since the 1960s, however, enabled the acquisition of synoptic data that depict in good spatial detail the temporal changes of many Arctic surface parameters. Among the surface parameters that have been studied using space based systems are surface temperature, sea ice concentration, snow cover, surface albedo and phytoplankton concentration. Associated atmospheric parameters, such as cloud cover, temperature profile, ozone concentration, and aerosol have also been derived. Recent observational and phenomenological studies have indeed revealed progressively changing conditions in the Arctic during the last few decades (e g , Walsh et al. 1996; Serreze et al 2000; Comiso and Parkinson 2004). The changes included declines in the extent and area of surfaces covered by sea ice and snow, increases in melt area over the Greenland ice sheets, thawing of the permafrost, warming in the troposphere, and retreat of the glaciers. These observations are consistent with the observed global warming that has been associated with the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Karl and Trenberth 2003) and confirmed by modeling studies (Holland and Bitz, 2003). The Arctic system, however, is still not well understood complicated by a largely fluctuating wind circulation and atmospheric conditions (Proshutinsky and Johnson 1997) and controlled by what is now known as the Arctic Oscillation (AO) which provides a measure of the strength of atmospheric activities in the region (Thompson and Wallace 1998). Meanwhile, the observed Arctic conditions since the 1970s have been shown to exhibit a linear behavior that directly contradicts what has been expected from the A0 (Overland, 2005). The decade of the 1990s has been regarded as the warmest decade in the last century and current data indicates that the 2000s may be even a warmer decade than the 1990s further supporting the linear variability. In this paper, we use satellite data to gain insights into the warming Arctic and how the abnormally warm conditions during the last few years are reflected in the region.
Earth Resources and Remote Sensing