Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script

© University of Alaska Anchorage

Global Perspectives

Slide 1 Title slide

Slide 2 Arctic scene with Robert Service poem excerpt and musical background:

“You who this faint day the High North is luring
Unto her vastness, taintlessly sweet;
You who are steel-braced, straight-lipped, enduring,
Dreadless in danger and dire in defeat;
Honor the High North ever and ever,
Whether she crown you, or whether she slay;
Suffer her fury, cherish and love her-
He who would rule he must learn to obey.”

Note: This photo of Turnagain Arm (near Anchorage), Alaska, by Orson Smith, has been
displayed in large format at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Slide 3 Presenter Introduction

This is Orson Smith with you for our first Fundamentals of Arctic Engineering learning
module, regarding Global Perspectives on climate and the definition of Cold Regions.
You may want to have a printed copy of the slides I’m about to describe, available in the
Course Materials area of the course web page. We’ll consider now some principles of
Earth Science that pertain to the seasonal and long-term climate zones of our planet.

Slide 4 Learning Objectives

Our learning objectives in this course content module are to
Reach a fundamental understanding of physical reasons for
o Seasonal changes in the weather from place to place on Earth,
o Heat balance of the continents, oceans, and atmosphere, and
o Long-term climate change.
Recognize climate parameters that define cold regions
Learn of some current public sources for climate information.

Slide 5 Earth’s orbit

Seasonal climate, as measured by air and surface temperatures at given regions of the
Earth, relates directly to latitude. The spherical shape of the Earth and the 23-½ degree
tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis to Earth’s orbital plane about the sun are responsible for
the correspondence of latitude and seasonal climate. The Arctic and Antarctic circles, at
66-½ degrees North and South latitude, respectively, mark the extremes of that tilt,
indicated in the figure. The Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, at 23-½ degrees North and
South, mark the North and South extremes of direct sunlight, perpendicular to the Earth’s
surface at summer solstice.


The atmosphere of an idealized rotating Earth has three doughnut-shaped vertical circulation cells in each hemisphere. Days of total darkness occur in winter at latitudes above the Arctic and Antarctic circles at 66 ½ degrees North and South Latitude. known as the Coriolis effect. Since the average temperature of the surface of the Earth varies very little. The Earth’s rotation tends to divert large-scale fluid motion of this type to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. Slide 6 Solstices and Equinoxes The tilt of the Earth’s axis to its orbital plane affects the duration of daylight and darkness on the planet’s surface. This diversion. but it is the oblique angle of sunlight on the planet’s spherical surface that has the greater effect. The northern hemisphere summer actually occurs when the Earth is a little bit farther from the Sun than it is in northern hemisphere winter. a global heat balance must exist. All latitudes above the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn receive only oblique sunlight. Long hours of winter darkness are an operational concern. Rays striking at a low angle must travel through more of the atmosphere than rays striking at high angles. The figure illustrates the relationship of surplus solar energy received in equatorial regions to the deficit of solar energy received in polar latitudes. respectively. explains why the trade winds are not flowing directly Northward or Southward. 2 . Rays striking at more oblique angles are more depleted by reflection and absorption. Slide 8 Global heat balance Fortunately for all of us. The circulations of these cells at the Earth’s surface correspond to real prevailing winds that have been recognized for centuries. in terms of seasonal variations of solar heating. The North-South circulation of heat energy in the atmosphere and oceans is responsible for the global heat balance. The inset figure compares solar radiation per unit surface area at an equinox and at the summer solstice of the northern hemisphere. Slide 9 Wind cells Solar energy variations first affect the atmosphere. Slide 7 Solar radiation intensity The angle of the sun’s rays at the surface of the Earth makes a significant difference in seasonal heating. the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans provide a mechanism for poleward transfer of heat energy. The elliptical orbit of the Earth around the sun and the associated variation of the Earth’s distance from the sun are less significant.Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script © University of Alaska Anchorage The Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical. rising at the equator and falling at the poles. Equatorial regions receive significantly more solar energy than do polar regions. as well as a heat loss factor in polar regions. A hypothetical Earth without rotation can be visualized to have a single vertical air circulation cell in each hemisphere.

into the Arctic Ocean. In these years. Also shown are effects of the continental land masses and high mountains of the world. before a more typical distribution of ocean temperatures is restored. Our burning of hydrocarbon fuels may have affected the balance of outgoing radiant heat energy. allowing warm water to spread farther eastward in winter. Unusually warm water on the eastern side of the Pacific disrupts weather cycles. shifts southward. Sea water flows northward through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia. Slide 11 Season wind variations Expressions of Earth climate must acknowledge seasonal differences that are superimposed on the long-term average. such as monsoons. The cycle of El Nino-Southern Oscillation and La Nina conditions has an apparent period of 7 – 8 years. the trade winds are weak. The north-south trends lead away from zones of divergence where air is falling to the surface.Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script © University of Alaska Anchorage Slide 10 Air circulation and prevailing winds The prevailing surface winds of the world are portrayed in the figure. The prevailing winds lead toward zones of convergence where air rises. Prevailing ocean currents transport tremendous amounts of heat poleward in circulating gyres. A mound of warm water is pushed up in the western Pacific by the trade winds. The Earth’s lower surface temperature corresponds to longer wavelength radiation in the infrared range of restaurant heating lamps.000 degrees Celsius corresponds to a peak energy emission in the range of visible light to which our eyes are adapted. The sun’s surface temperature of 6. and stresses various ocean ecologies. 3 . These two figures show large-scale patterns of surface air pressure and associated wind patterns and their differences from place to place as summer changes to winter. Slide 12 Ocean currents Wind stress on the water drives major circulation in the oceans. Slide 13 El Nino A climatic anomaly involving both circulation in the atmosphere and ocean is El Nino. Arctic Ocean circulation is in a phase of discovery with interest of many nations in the changes accompanying reduction of the polar ice cap. Some years the Inter-tropical Convergent Zone of the trade winds. The subtropical gyre in the North Atlantic includes the much-studied Gulf Stream current. Slide 14 Spectra Longer term changes may be occurring and many suspect that the works of humanity may be responsible. El Nino – Southern Oscillation years are often followed by anomalous La Nina conditions. The Gulf of Alaska has the counter-clockwise Alaska Current. usually a bit north of the geometric equator.

the heating index usually refers to a basis of 18 degrees Celsius. Air temperature is the most frequently applied physical parameter to define cold regions. The shift northward of the “-1 degree Celsius or 31 degree Fahrenheit” contour is of particular consequence to areas where soil. This change in the balance of incoming and outgoing heat appears to have contributed to global warming. The strong influence of the oceans on air temperature is apparent in the asymmetry of both the “A” and the “B” contours. The “B” contour delineates regions north of which average temperatures are below freezing. This distribution of temperatures is changing. Carbon dioxide is essentially transparent to sunlight. blue and grey areas are frozen for more than half the year. A degree-day represents a day during which the average temperature departed from a given basis by one degree. but tends to absorb longer wave radiation emitted by the Earth. For example. mean annual temperatures The colors on this map of the world indicate mean annual air temperatures. Various duration criteria have come into practical use. The “degree-day” concept is common to most of these indexes. Buildings must 4 . that is below 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The figure shows a projection of the Earth. The “A” contour surrounds regions where average annual air temperatures are below 0°C. Let’s look at some air temperature-related parameters that are common in engineering practice. Green. Slide 16 Air temperature The phrase “cold regions” makes direct reference to temperature. during the coldest month of the year. maximum snow depths exceed 60 cm. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere controls how much Earth radiation is absorbed. Slide 15 Greenhouse Effect Evidence is building that we have artificially elevated the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and have given the atmosphere greater capacity to absorb heat emitted by the Earth. Global warming is causing these contours to move northward. Slide 18 Heating index The lines on this map show one of several temperature-related “indexes” in common use. and Asia. Slide 17 North America.Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script © University of Alaska Anchorage The rows of irregular shaded bars below the energy spectra indicate the wavelength of radiation most absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. The “B” contour provides a definition of cold regions that includes much of North America. beneath a shallow active layer. Europe. and lakes and rivers are ice covered for more than 180 days. has been permanently frozen. The duration of continuous temperatures below freezing relates to important responses of various materials and the need to heat buildings and machines for their intended use. The temperature at which water turns to ice is a threshold of extreme importance in cold regions engineering.

Slide 22 Alaska Permafrost Much of Alaska has permanently frozen ground beneath a surface soil layer of seasonally changeable temperature. Slide 20 Thawing index Thawing index is complementary to freezing index. Thaw subsidence of these permafrost foundations is a great concern as the climate warms. lies above permafrost. Some extremely cold areas accumulate little snow. it is computed with a colder base temperature. with its counterpart “thawing index”.Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script © University of Alaska Anchorage typically be heated when the outside air is colder than 18 degrees Celsius. is the most common of engineering parameters related to air temperature. You should always be sure to note the particular temperature scale. One day at 16 degrees Celsius would represent 2 heating degrees-days. The salt in seawater reduces its freezing temperature. snow can be dispersed by winds. About 21 percent of Alaska’s road miles and 42 percent of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline are built on continuous permafrost. as indicated by this slide. Sub-arctic areas have sporadic patches of permafrost in the process of thawing. 5 . Global warming and thaw subsidence in permafrost regions is a grave concern for the structural foundations of present infrastructure. 0 degrees Celsius. Continuous permafrost exists in the high Arctic and is a fundamental parameter of all construction there. Occasionally. Snow is strongly affected by local weather patterns and nearby mountains. The sum of heating degree-days throughout a year is the heating index. Slide 21 Snow depth Significant accumulations of snow on the ground certainly identify cold regions. Another 57 percent of roads and 43 percent of the pipeline are built on discontinuous permafrost. almost always defined as the annual sum of degree-days above the freezing temperature of fresh water. Snow accumulation is an important structural criterion. either Fahrenheit or Celsius. but snow depth trends do not necessarily follow temperature trends. lakes. Slide 23 Alaska Infrastructure on Permafrost Important Alaska infrastructure. Once fallen. The amount of included frozen water is proportional to the tendency of permafrost to subside on thawing. Slide 19 Freezing index Freezing index. Freezing index is typically computed as the annual sum of degree-days below 0 degrees Celsius. and oceans. calling for a lower freezing index basis. and the particular basis of any indexes of this type quoted in literature. such as when freezing seawater is of interest.

Slide 25 NCDC The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. saying “So long for now. all of which is archived.” 6 . The State Climatologist also can provide advice on the nature of archived data and can provide summaries. This is Orson Smith. The National Weather Service. I’ll be back with you for the second part of the first module to discuss in more detail climate change impacts on northern infrastructure. Slide 27 Alaska State Climate Center The comprehensive archives of the State Climate Center in Anchorage provide detailed data for application to both climate study and engineering problems. available through the web address on this slide. on request. or NOAA. collects all manner of atmospheric data. Slide 27 Conclusion Your first homework assignment will allow you to try your hand at online access to climate data at Alaska sites. a NOAA branch. The Alaska Climate Research Center leads research in the State on global warming and its effects. The International Permafrost Association and other groups are actively studying global trends in permafrost change. The National Climatic Data Center.Arctic Engineering Module 1a Script © University of Alaska Anchorage Slide 24 Circumpolar Permafrost Similar concerns for climate warming and melting permafrost exist in all the Arctic regions of the world. is one of several national centers of archived data useful for cold regions engineering. is the US agency most responsible for collecting and archiving climatic measurements. Slide 26 Alaska Climate Research Center Selected climate statistics for some Alaskan cities are presented on the web by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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