Mark Serreze

Mark Serreze

Ph.D. Geography, 1989
Director, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
Professor, Dept. of Geography

Office: RL-2, #203
Phone: 303-492-2963
NSIDC Web site »

Research Interests

  • Arctic climate variability and change
  • High latitude atmospheric circulation
  • Numerical weather prediction in high latitudes
  • Arctic atmosphere-ocean-ice interactions
  • The hydrologic cycle
  • Paloeclimate

Current Research: Environmental impacts of a rapidly changing Arctic

Arctic sea-ice extent at the end of the summer melt season has declined sharply during the past 30 years. Summers with an essentially ice-free Arctic Ocean are likely to be realized well within this century, perhaps as early as 2030. Ice extent for September 2012 was the lowest observed in the satellite record (1979 to present), and the six lowest September extents during the period of satellite coverage have all occurred in the past six years. While part of my research has continued to focus on trying to better understand the factors responsible for this rapid trend, during the past several years my attention has increasingly shifted toward addressing the environmental and societal consequences of current and future sea-ice loss. Ice loss is already contributing to increased wave action and coastal erosion, since, with less sea ice in summer, winds now have a longer fetch over open water. While the decline in ice extent fundamentally represents a response to a warming Arctic, research with CIRES colleagues also has shown that the loss of ice is itself contributing to strong rises in Arctic air temperature during autumn and winter—not just at the surface, but extending through a considerable depth of the atmosphere. This is because with less ice in spring and summer, which exposes dark, open-water areas, the Arctic Ocean now absorbs much more of the Sun’s energy than was the case a few decades ago. This extra heat is then released back upwards to the atmosphere in autumn and winter. This strong warming, known as Arctic amplification, is starting to extend beyond areas of ice loss to influence Arctic land areas. Continued loss of the ice cover is likely to influence patterns of atmospheric circulation and precipitation not just within the Arctic, but also in middle latitudes. While this idea finds support in many numerical modeling studies, including those conducted with colleagues at CIRES, there is tantalizing observational evidence that such effects have already occurred. Finally, as the ice cover retreats, the Arctic is becoming more accessible for marine
shipping and oil and gas exploration, increasing the economic and strategic importance of the region.

serreze graph

Graph showing levels of Arctic sea-ice cover in late spring and summer months.


Click here for a complete list of published works »