On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

Our environment is changing, fast.

Glaciers are melting at an alarming speed, extreme weather patterns are shifting, and warming oceans are threatening precious marine ecosystems. How will all of this impact life on Earth? The answers lie in scientific research.

NYU Abu Dhabi researchers have a critical global role in determining how environmental conditions today will affect us in the years to come. Their work sheds an important light on the precarious condition of our planet.

Monsoon on the Move

If the current pace of climate change continues, the annual monsoon that affects hundreds of millions of people in northern India, especially farmers, will bring new challenges for future generations. Sophisticated simulations by the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Prototype Climate Modeling show storm activity declining significantly by the late 21st century. However, more storms are predicted over land areas, and extreme rainfall patterns will shift further north and inland.

Here's what we know:

  • Overall monsoonal storm activity will decline by 45 percent by the late 21st century.
  • As the monsoonal storm activity weakens it will also shift geographically north and inland.
  • Formation of monsoonal storms declined by 60 percent, accompanied by a 10 percent increase in storms over land areas.
  • Extreme rainfall pattern shifts toward northern India.
  • Monsoon rains affect nearly 600 million people living in agricultural areas in northern India.
  • Irregularities in seasonal rains can be highly disruptive to the local economy.

Expanding Ocean Dead Zone

Scientists are worried that fisheries and tourism could be badly affected by a vast dead zone in the Arabian Sea.

Dead zones are areas of the ocean where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for fish to survive. The Arabian Sea dead zone is the largest in the world. It starts at about 100 meters and goes down to 1,500 meters, stretching from Oman to the coast of India.

We have produced high resolution simulations that show the oxygen depleted conditions ... will become more intense and frequent in the region.

Zouhair Lackhar, research scientist

Coral Crisis

Climate change isn’t the only threat to the planet’s coral reefs.

They are also exposed to deadly underwater diseases and, not unlike humans, depend on their own built-in defense mechanisms to fight them off. Corals, though stationary, can alter their surroundings by producing unique molecules that can help recruit healthy surface microbiomes and fight parasitic microbes.

Scientists may be able to predict when diseases and bleaching occur and perhaps even prevent them if they can better understand the types of molecules corals need to maintain a healthy surface microbiome.

This is the first glimpse of what corals do in their immediate surroundings to adapt to their environment.

Shady Amin, biologist

An Arctic Heat Wave?

Warm, dusty air from the Sahara Desert has caused ice to melt and temperatures to rise by up to 10 degrees Celsius in southern parts of Greenland.

About half of the Arctic’s warming conditions are attributed to increased moisture and heat fluxes transported to the region from elsewhere on Earth. Dust-laden air is hitchhiking across the North Atlantic Ocean from Africa in a newly discovered polar jet stream circulation.

If the polar jet is set to slow more frequently due to changes in the Arctic climate system ... such events are expected to become more frequent.

Diana Francis, atmospheric scientist

The newly discovered poleward route is considered the most substantial in terms of dust load import into the Arctic, due to the minimal geographical distance between the origin point and the destination.

The impact of dust deposition on ice in Greenland, such as darkening ice and formation of algae on ice or cryoconite, as well as the link between Saharan dust transport and the Arctic heat dome must be investigated further, the researchers said.

Oceans Rising

A gigantic chunk of Antarctica could break off in our lifetime, triggering a potentially catastrophic rise in global sea level.

A team of international experts from the US and UK face dangerously hostile fieldwork conditions to determine why the remote Thwaites Glacier is so unstable, and predict when it might collapse. It’s an urgent mission because 40 percent of the world’s population lives near water.

New York University's research contribution received a $2.1 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

Collapse of the entire the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet could result in a 10-foot-rise in sea level, enough to overwhelm coastal areas around the globe, including New York City.

Center for Global Sea Level Change

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the world, an estimated 10 billion tons of Arctic ice fell from a giant glacier into the ocean in Eastern Greenland. The extraordinary ice calving event, caught on camera by researchers from the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Global Sea Level Change, lasted about 30 minutes. It’s estimated the resulting iceberg stretches four miles, the distance from lower Manhattan to Midtown in New York City. The effect on sea level is not yet known.