UW News

May 22, 2008

Arctic ice research cited in polar bear listing

News and Information

Ignatius Rigor would be the first to say he’s no expert on polar bears, their listing as a threatened species last week or the policies of George W. Bush concerning greenhouse gases.

But the polar ice expert with the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory is the person credited with the graphics concerning the dwindling extent and age of the Arctic ice since 1979. Those were part of Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s materials May 14 when he conducted a press conference saying the U.S. government was listing polar bears as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Four of the five graphics in Kempthorne’s press materials (see them <a href=http://www.doi.gov/secretary/speeches/081405_speech.html>here</a>) referenced work Rigor has published or presented in recent years in collaboration with other UW researchers and in his 10-year role as coordinator of the International Arctic Buoy Program (http://iabp.apl.washington.edu). The program, originated at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory in 1979, involves the efforts of many nations to get the best possible coverage of the Arctic using buoys that drift in the ice with instruments that may dangle down into the ocean below, measure properties of the ice that surrounds them, measure atmospheric conditions — or do all three at once.

From the program data Rigor, for example, published findings last year in Geophysical Research Letters, saying that loss of sea ice that is more than a year old — called perennial ice because it lasts more than a year — could be the key to understanding record-breaking shrinking of the ice. The work was partially funded by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.