Slippery Slope

The Arctic Ocean and surrounding areas are experiencing an unexpected change within the eco-system; the sea ice is melting faster than geoscientists expected.

Global warming is a major contributor to this problem and marine mammals may be searching for another place to call home in the years to come.

University of Texas at San Antonio Associate Professor of Geological Sciences Hongjie Xie was one of 61 scientists that participated in an expedition to the Arctic Ocean this past summer. Because of global warming, the sea ice has been changing significantly in the past 30 years. 

“[For] about 50 days, we collected tons of data about sea ice physical and optical properties,” says Xie. Some of the tasks consisted of drilling holes into the sea ice, collecting samples of the sea ice, and comparing these measurements with the past measurements of sea ice from 2008 – 2010. 

More studies took place throughout the expedition in order to find out the rate of melting ice and the long-term affects caused by the decrease in ice. Xie says the reason for the expedition was to observe how ice continues to change.

While the loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean can cause a problem for marine mammals, such as polar bears. “If all of the sea ice is gone from the eco-system, all the animals will have trouble surviving,” says Xie. Marine mammals may become endangered in time due to the decrease in sea ice and will force the marine mammals to relocate continuously.

Xie says during the summer season most of the sea ice is lost, but it would take at least 30 years before a route would become available. However, if the sea ice begins to break and dissolve over time, a route may be available for the use of trading between North America, Asia and Europe.

It will be feasible for countries to sail their cargo through the Arctic Ocean and this route would be beneficial. Countries that would consider taking this route can reduce their travel time and save on fuel.

Geoscientist Xie has been teaching and researching at The University of Texas at San Antonio since 2004. Xie received his doctorate from The University of Texas at El Paso in Remote Sensing/Geographic Information Systems/Geoinformatics. Xie does research overseas as well as in the U.S., specifically in the Texas coast region, and the hill country and the west mountain areas. But there is no limit to where Xie can research and he says “that is the big advantage.”