A new record minimum for arctic sea ice

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:07 PM GMT on November 18, 2009

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Arctic sea ice reached a new record minimum during the first half of November, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (Figure 1). The record low ice extent this month is the first extended period of record minimum arctic sea ice since 2007. The new record minimum suggests that the gains in ice seen over the past two years were probably a temporary fluctuation due to normal year-to-year variability in the weather, and that the long-term arctic sea ice decline observed since the 1970s is continuing.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent up to November 16, 2009, compared to the record low year of 2007 and the average from 1979 - 2000. Sea ice extent over the past ten days has fallen below the record minimum observed in 2007. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

What caused the new record low?
The record low was due to very warm air invading the Arctic during October, in combination with the unusually warm ocean temperatures that have prevailed in the region over the past few decades. The warm air temperatures were primarily the result of an intense series of low pressure systems in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia, that worked in concert with a very strong high pressure system north of Alaska to drive warm air from Central Asia poleward over the past six weeks. The strong storms and unusual pressure pattern brought winds of about 5 mph above average to large regions of the Arctic Ocean, which helped break up existing ice and kept ice from freezing as much as usual. With all that warm air flowing into the Arctic, the cold air that was there had to go somewhere else, and that "somewhere else" was North America. The U.S. recorded its 3rd coldest October on record in 2009, thanks to cold air flowing out of the Arctic. The temperature and sea level pressure patterns over the Northern Hemisphere for October (Figure 2) were highly anomalous, with temperatures up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, and sea level pressures up to 11 mb above average. The atmospheric circulation pattern has shifted over the past two weeks, with the result that warm air from Central Asia is no longer being pumped into the Arctic so vigorously, nor is cold air from the Arctic streaming southward into North America. As a result, temperature anomalies in the Arctic are beginning to decline, and sea ice extent later this month will probably rise above the record minimums observed in 2007.



Figure 2. Departure of surface air temperature and surface pressure from average for October 2009. Surface temperatures in the Arctic were up to 27°F (15°C) above average over the Arctic Ocean, due to sea ice loss. The strongest anomalies occurred where sea ice was missing from its usual position, though the entire Arctic was affected. The clockwise flow of air around the anomalously strong high pressure system north of Alaska (labeled "H" in the right-hand image) helped drive a flow of very warm air from Central Asia into the Arctic, and a very cold flow of air out of the Arctic southward into North America. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

How will the November sea ice loss affect next summer's sea ice loss?
A record 19% of the Arctic sea ice cover this summer in the Arctic was over 2 years old, far below the 1981 - 2000 average of 52%. In the summer of 2009, NASA researcher Ron Kwok and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle published satellite data showing that mean winter arctic ice thickness declined by 48% between 1980 and 2008. The loss accelerated over the past five years, with the ice losing 0.68 meters (2.2 feet) of thickness between 2004 and 2008, finishing at 6.2 feet thick. This remarkable thinning was confirmed in May 2009 by the Catlin Arctic Survey, a 9-week, 435 km expedition across the Canadian Arctic led by polar scientist Professor Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge. Wadhams' expedition found that most of the route had first year ice just 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) thick. With El Niño conditions crossing from the moderate to strong category over the past two weeks in the Eastern Pacific, the prospects for a much warmer than usual winter in the Arctic have increased, likely setting the stage for continued record or near-record minimum sea ice extent and thickness into next spring. The arctic sea ice will be very vulnerable to a new record minimum next summer if warmer than average temperatures are seen over the Arctic.

Sea ice loss causes stronger storms in the Arctic
The stronger storms over the Arctic Ocean this fall were due, in part, to the loss of sea ice. In a 2009 article titled, Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979-2008, Simmonds and Keay found that September storms over the East Arctic intensified by about 1 mb over the past 30 years and had grown about 50 miles larger in diameter, thanks to all the extra heat energy supplied by more open water due to recent losses in Arctic sea ice. These stronger storms may create a positive feedback loop that will lead to even more sea ice loss: reduced sea ice drives stronger storms, whose winds break up sea ice, creating even more warm water to feed stronger storms with stronger winds, and so on. Now that the arctic sea ice is 48% thinner than 30 years ago, this effect will increase in importance, since thinner ice breaks up more readily in strong winds.

Expect an ice-free Arctic by 2030
In a press release put out by the Catlin Arctic Survey, Professor Wadhams said, "The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view--based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition--that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years". In their 2009 report on this year's Arctic sea ice minimum, National Snow and Ice Data Center Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Mark Serreze said, "It's nice to see a little recovery over the past couple years, but there's no reason to think that we're headed back to conditions seen back in the 1970s. We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades". At the December 2008 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, the world's largest climate change conference, sea ice expert Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Navy Postgraduate School blamed 60% of the melting during the past decade on heat brought in by ocean currents, and projected that summertime arctic sea ice would completely disappear by 2016. Dr. Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory was more conservative, projecting a 2030 demise of arctic sea ice. He thought we would be "hanging around where we are for a while", and thought it would take two more unusual summers like the "perfect storm" of 2007 to push the system to an ice-free state.

The consequences
There were 88 presentations on arctic sea ice at the 2008 AGU conference. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current long-term decline in arctic sea ice was almost entirely natural, or that we can expect the decline to reverse this century. Sea ice experts do blame part of the decline on natural variability in the weather, but we wouldn't be where we are now without the warming caused by human-emitted greenhouse gases. One view (Stroeve et al., 2007) is that human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for 47 - 57% of the arctic sea ice loss since 1979. Heat-absorbing black soot from fires and pollution settling on the white ice is thought to also be a significant contributor.

The consensus I heard at the AGU conference among arctic sea ice experts was that the summertime sea ice will be gone by 2030. If they are correct, we can expect a period of significantly accelerated global climate change to begin 10 - 20 years from now. Arctic sea ice is one of the critical components maintaining the stability of our current climate. Once the the ice is gone, the climate will become unstable, with highly unpredictable results. It is true that Earth's past has many examples of warmer climates that evolved due to natural causes where life flourished, and we shouldn't fear the new, stable climate we will eventually arrive at centuries from now. However, life on Earth is adapted to the current climate. The changes that will occur during the transition will be extremely disruptive to Earth's ecosystems and the humans that rely on them for life. If one were to rate the destructive capability of climate change the way we rate hurricanes, I would rate current climate change at the "Invest" or "tropical disturbance" stage--the climate change storm is just beginning to organize. But the coming climate change storm is destined to hit our children with the full fury of intensifying hurricane.

References
Kwok, R., and D. A. Rothrock. 2009, "Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958-2008", Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L15501, doi:10.1029/2009GL039035

Simmonds, I., and K. Keay (2009), Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979.2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L19715, doi:10.1029/2009GL039810.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, Arctic sea ice decline:Faster than forecast", GRL 34 L09501, doi:1029/2007GL029703, 2007.

The road to Copenhagen
By some accounts, the future of the world will be at stake this December, when the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge. Dr. Ricky Rood, author of Wunderground's climate change blog, will be there, and Wunderground has given the University of Michigan a grant to send a student who will also blog for us. I have a number of posts I'm planning in the run-up to Copenhagen, including:

- Impact of arctic sea ice loss on Northern Hemisphere winter weather
- The Manufactured Doubt industry
- What global warming skeptics say about arctic sea ice
- Is higher CO2 more beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

I'll also have an end-of-hurricane season summary on November 30, plus posts on whatever breaking weather stories occur. My next post will be Friday, when I plan to summarize the global weather last month, which was the 2nd - 6th warmest October on record.

Jeff Masters

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Does hair loss cause GW? More heat escapes from my head now.
Member Since: September 11, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 263
Quoting icmoore:
Hi again Flood, LST, Kman and all!

LOL Flood you seem to surrounded by some good like-minded friends tonight :)



Yes, my dear, and happily so! I find that most of the people here iare of the same mind when it comes ot...well, you know...LOL

Well folks,I'm going to get out of here for a little while; I have to finish a little work from home so I'll be back in after a while...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting Floodman:


You betcha! A little dab'll do ya!


Brylcreem didn't even work for me when I HAD hair!!! (nor Butch Wax)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Oh lord. I saw percocet. All I get is vicodin. Ahh the wonders of the pain clinic. When i was much younger I could have enjoyed them, now I hate the things.
Member Since: September 11, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 263
Quoting xcool:
hi



That's all you do xcool is talk, talk, talk.!
JK How are you? Any interesting images tonight?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
LOL. to the previous several mins.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
279. GBlet
YUP, that's why all my friends call me Sparky.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hi again Flood, LST, Kman and all!

LOL Flood you seem to surrounded by some good like-minded friends tonight :)

Member Since: July 18, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 4140
Hey, xcool...how you doin'?
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting hydrus:
Yes, it helps even the the most serious of ailments Dr. Flood...


You betcha! A little dab'll do ya!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
275. xcool
hi
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Floodman:


Hydrus,my dear friend, I knew that we were of the same mind on many things...LOL
Yes, it helps even the the most serious of ailments Dr. Flood...
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19494
271

My baby...telling tales on me!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting pearlandaggie:
269. oh, my...definitely not Mr. Clean Marine! LMAO :)


Now that's funny, I don't care who you are...Clean Marine...LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting pearlandaggie:
269. oh, my...definitely not Mr. Clean Marine! LMAO :)


LOL...there's an understatement! Thank goodness when they took his medical history yesterday, they were only concerned with recent "experience", or we'd have been there awhile! ;)
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 412
269. oh, my...definitely not Mr. Clean Marine! LMAO :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting pearlandaggie:
267. dang, Flood...between that and 'CocaCola' (LOL), i would say you've "experienced" a few things! LOL


I used to be a regular pharmacopeia, baby!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
267. dang, Flood...between that and 'CocaCola' (LOL), i would say you've "experienced" a few things! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting hydrus:
Then you roll the fattie.......PFFFFT....yeahhh..


Hydrus,my dear friend, I knew that we were of the same mind on many things...LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting kmanislander:
Hi Flood

I see that you are blogging to the bitter end eh .

One thing I can tell you is that Percocet is the best part of any surgery. LOL


I'm enjoying it the best I can...it does dull the pain considerably but I wish I could get it to finish my work for me...LOL

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting kmanislander:


Hi there

I am made to understand that you have been tasked with providing the post op update. I shall await the same asap.

A friend


Hi, kman - great to finally "meet" you!

Yes, I'll be in and out of here tomorrow, and over the course of the next couple of days, to keep everyone up to date on "FrankenFlood's" progress.

Flood is right - this is a wonderful group of friends, and we so appreciate everyone's support!
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 412
HANSEN MARS CHALLENGE
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting LongStrangeTrip:


LOL! Apparently, haute cuisine...or at the very least, whatever Flood requests.


Hi there

I am made to understand that you have been tasked with providing the post op update. I shall await the same asap.

A friend
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:

Low-salt, Vegetarian, or Kosher?


LOL! Apparently, haute cuisine...or at the very least, whatever Flood requests.
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 412
Hi Flood

I see that you are blogging to the bitter end eh .

One thing I can tell you is that Percocet is the best part of any surgery. LOL
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
Guam has just barely dodged the bullet several times this year. So let the streak continue.

When does Aussie usually come in? I just read the UN doubled the disaster aid to the Phillippines; decent of 'em.

Hydrus has cujones! Medicinal, from CA, of course.

(shoot, keep hitting submit instead of modify...sor-ree)
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Guam has just barely dodged the bullet several times this year. So let the streak continue.

When does Aussie usually come in? I just read the UN doubled the disaster aid to the Phillippines; decent of 'em.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting Floodman:


Niiice...
Quoting Floodman:


The problem there is that percocet and coffeebeer do not play well together...or too well, depending upon your point of view
Then you roll the fattie.......PFFFFT....yeahhh..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19494
257. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
ECMWF STILL TRYING TO DEVELOP A TROPICAL CYCLONE BY NEXT WEEK. IT
PREDICTS THAT THE SYSTEM WILL PASS JUST SOUTH OF GUAM NEXT
WEDNESDAY. GFS ALSO HAS A TROPICAL CYCLONE IN ITS PREDICTION. IT
IS STILL IS DEVELOPING A TROPICAL CYCLONE SOUTH OF YAP AND MOVING
IT NORTH ALONG THE 140E LATITUDE LINE. THIS MORNINGS GFS HAS AN
ADDED BONUS IN THAT IT DEVELOPS TWIN CYCLONES. IT CREATES A SECOND
SYSTEM NEAR CHUUK AND MOVES IT NORTH ALONG THE 150E LATITUDE LINE.
ITS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT THE GFS ENSEMBLE DOES NOT SHOW EITHER
TROPICAL CYCLONE. ANY CIRCULATION THAT THE GFS ENSEMBLE PRODUCES
REMAINS SOUTH OF 10N AND MOVES WEST TOWARDS THE SOUTHERN
PHILIPPINES.

ITS HARD TO SAY IF A REAL TROPICAL CYCLONE WILL EVENTUALLY BE
PRODUCED. THE MJO IS NOW OVER INDONESIA AND WILL MOVE EASTWARD
OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT WEEK OR TWO. ITS IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY
WITH CERTAINTY IF IT WILL CAUSE AN ENHANCEMENT IN TROPICAL
CYCLONE ACTIVITY ACROSS THE REGION. HOWEVER THE MJO HAS BEEN
KNOWN TO DO THIS. IN FACT THIS MJO DID HELP SPAWN TWO TROPICAL
CYCLONES IN THE INDIAN OCEAN. IT IS DEBATABLE IF THIS FACT WILL
EQUATE TO ANY TROPICAL CYCLONE ACTIVITY OVER THE WESTERN PACIFIC
BUT IT IS POSSIBLE THAT THE ODDS ARE A BIT HIGHER.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
Re. Puns

The pun is the lowest form of humor; therefore the basis of all true wit.


Thanks, Shen!

"A pun is the lowest form of humor- if you didn't think of it first." Oscar Levant
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting LongStrangeTrip:


Hi IC, Awake, Dude and anyone else I missed! We're trying to wrap up the loose ends before we exit the office for a while. I'll be in tomorrow to keep everyone updated on Flood's surgery, recovery, etc.

Did he tell you he'll have a "private chef" doing the cooking for him at the hospital? I, on the other hand, have to brown-bag it. What's up with THAT?!

Low-salt, Vegetarian, or Kosher?
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
253. it appears that you apprehended the wrong suspect! LOL

btw, i've heard that the Alabama/Auburn rivalry actually DID result in bloodshed! oh, my!
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting pearlandaggie:
226. uh hem....you need to make sure you give credit where credit is due! LOL


I'm sorry even though I'm not sure what I'm apologizing for! Did I get the wrong Aggie, Pearland? Done it before, sure I'll do it again...

Deadskins v. Dallas this weekend.
This can only lead to bloodshed.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Re. Puns

The pun is the lowest form of humor; therefore the basis of all true wit.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
you know, this whole discussion today made me really think about the situation. i think that until you can prove to people that something needs to be done (through improved techniques/data and intellectual honesty and integrity), there are a lot of people that will see some of the solutions to AGW as an assault on their liberties or livelihood (and maybe rightly so). it's pretty scary to think that this could actually tear the nation apart...i hope that's not the case, but i can see that as one possible outcome.

i think there is a lot of underestimation right now of how critical the situation may be...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting pearlandaggie:
247. yeah, that's probably true. if you're gonna be slobbering drunk, you want it to be from the alcohol! LOL


LOL...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
247. yeah, that's probably true. if you're gonna be slobbering drunk, you want it to be from the alcohol! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting pearlandaggie:
i have turkey tomorrow for lunch! woohoo! :)


Niiice...
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting pearlandaggie:
242. why not have some coffeebeer? LOL

(although i must confess that given the choice between SBL and nothing, i choose SBL)

LOL


The problem there is that percocet and coffeebeer do not play well together...or too well, depending upon your point of view
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
i have turkey tomorrow for lunch! woohoo! :)
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting icmoore:
Hey there, Flood! It's Flood and the darlin's, dudes, and dears :) Hi to LST and everyone else!
Been thinkin' about you dude! What time is your opening tomorrow?
You'll be up and dancin' in no time and we will all help you pass the time.


Hi IC, Awake, Dude and anyone else I missed! We're trying to wrap up the loose ends before we exit the office for a while. I'll be in tomorrow to keep everyone updated on Flood's surgery, recovery, etc.

Did he tell you he'll have a "private chef" doing the cooking for him at the hospital? I, on the other hand, have to brown-bag it. What's up with THAT?!
Member Since: July 10, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 412
Quoting icmoore:
Hey there, Flood! It's Flood and the darlin's, dudes, and dears :) Hi to LST and everyone else!
Been thinkin' about you dude! What time is your opening tomorrow?
You'll be up and dancin' in no time and we will all help you pass the time.


1PM will be the grand opening, dear...the procedure is supposed to take about 3 hours, and after that I will be FrankenFlood...LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
242. why not have some coffeebeer? LOL

(although i must confess that given the choice between SBL and nothing, i choose SBL)

LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting tornadodude:


LOL well I'm researching the good and bad of wind turbines for my EAS class, you?


Just hanging, waiting...LOL
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
241. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Tropical Disturbance Summary (1830z 18NOV)
==========================================
Area of convection (91W) located at 5.1N 152.8E or 160 NM south-southwest of Chuuk. Recent animated satellite imagery shows an unorganized area of limited moderate to deep convection associated with a broad area of cyclonic turning. An 0607z Quikscat Pass indicates a large 15-20 knot low level circulation center has developed within this broader turning. Strong westerly flow along the south side of the circulation supports further consolidation (and tightning) of the low level circulation center. Vertical wind shear is low and outflow has been aided by an upper level cyclone around 40N.

Maximum sustained winds near the center is 15-20 knots with a minimum sea level pressure of 1007 MB. The potential for this disturbance to form into a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is FAIR.

System #2
--------

An area of convection (92W) located at 6.4N 174.9E or 225 NM east of Majuro. A 0626z Quikscat Pass image indicates a strpmg tropical wave pulsing trough eastern Micronesia. However, a more recent (1141z TMI) Microwave Pass shows that a well defined low level circulation center, outlined by pronounced curvature of deep convection particularly within the eastern semi-circle, has evolved from this wave. Centralized deep convection has also become increasingly persistent as well, due to enhanced poleward venting into a upper level cyclone to the north and low vertical wind shear.

Maximum sustained winds near the center is 15-20 knots with a minimum sea level pressure of 1005 MB. The potential for this disturbance to form into a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is FAIR.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
226. uh hem....you need to make sure you give credit where credit is due! LOL
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
Quoting jeffs713:

There is a line between comebacks... and that. (although I have to give you credit for making an excellent pun)


They say puns are the lowest form of wit, but sometimes you just can't help yourself, you know what I mean?? They are like, right there for the picking. Thanks jeffs!! I only to that to ones whom I know well.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Awake, you could never ignore me! I had to get the Dude back. Ever see what he does to me?? He can come up with the quips.

There is a line between comebacks... and that. (although I have to give you credit for making an excellent pun)
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:

Groan. Grothar, we do care about you, so we're going to warn you in advance that we do have "ignore" buttons.


Awake, you could never ignore me! I had to get the Dude back. Ever see what he does to me?? He can come up with the quips.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SQUAWK:


It's OK. Rocky Geminer is a pilot I used to fly with doing R&D work back at Pax River NAS.

Ah Ha! Then we know he's a Genius!

ok...really BBL
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:


I'm a Gemini, too...I often have to plead the 5th!

(Apologies, Squawk, that was in retribution for Grothar's bad puns...not as clever as his, though. BBL, glad the blog is a bit on the lighter side, now. My brain had to think SO much this a.m.)


It's OK. Rocky Geminer is a pilot I used to fly with doing R&D work back at Pax River NAS.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.