From top are UTSA Assistant Professor Hongjie Xie in the Antarctic,
graduate student Burcu Cicek at work on the icebreaker Oden and
Associate Professor Stephen Ackley.
See more expedition photos.>>

UTSA researchers examine global warming in Antarctic

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(Feb. 12, 2007)--Hongjie Xie, UTSA assistant professor of earth and environmental science, and doctoral student Burcu Cicek are analyzing data on sea ice that they collected in December on a two-week trip to the Antarctic.

As part of an expedition of scientists and educators from the United States, Chile and Sweden, the goal was to determine if global warming is affecting the South Pole.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change citing the loss of Arctic sea ice because of global warming echoes what many scientists have said for years. The Antarctic expedition in December was the next step in global climate research.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the 6,000-mile Antarctic expedition gave scientists the opportunity to collect data aboard the Swedish icebreaker, Oden, during transit from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the United States' McMurdo Research Station on the Antarctic continent, south of New Zealand.

The Oden was chartered by NSF to break through the ice to create a 25-mile long shipping channel for delivery of annual supplies to the McMurdo station. En route, the ship pushed through 1,700 miles of ice that surrounds the continent.

"We now know what the sea ice really looks like, as far as its thickness and concentration, and now we can compare the data collected to what we see in satellite imagery," said Xie.

As part of the first research trip to the Antarctic, Xie and Cicek observed the sea ice and regularly transmitted meteorological data to the world weather observing network including water and air temperatures, wind speed and direction, visibility, cloud cover and atmospheric pressure.

"As a student, it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience getting to observe scientists from different countries as they conducted their own research studies," said Cicek.

Other ongoing projects included observations of seals, penguins and seabirds; biological activity in the seawater; and temperature and salinity measurements in the ocean depths.

Xie and Cicek will enlist the help of world-renowned sea ice expert Stephen Ackley to analyze their data in UTSA's Laboratory for Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics.

With more than 30 years as a government scientist and educator, Ackley joined the research team last year as a UTSA associate professor of research, with more than a dozen trips to both the Arctic and Antarctic to his credit. His outstanding contributions to sea-ice research were recognized in 2004 when the Antarctic geographic feature, Ackley Point, was named after him by the U.S. Board of Geographical Names.

"In the Antarctic, we are seeing some regional increases in the sea ice, along with regional decreases," said Ackley. "If you look at the totality of it, it appears as if it hasn't changed very much over the last 30 years, but it has. Even though we're only seeing these regional changes and not a systemic decline in the amount of ice cover, it is still significant in terms of the way the regions are responding. We're finding that it's linked to global change in the atmosphere."

The UTSA research team plans more Antarctic trips. In September, Ackley will take UTSA students and faculty on the U.S. icebreaker N.B. Palmer for a two-month trip through the Antarctic sea ice.

For more information, visit the Laboratory for Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics Web site or contact Hongjie Xie at (210) 458-5445.