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Mark Wensnahan

Senior Physicist





Research Interests

Science Education Outreach, Sea Ice Remote Sensing


Mark Wensnahan is currently part of a project to produce a 49-year record of arctic sea-ice draft measured by U.W. Navy submarines. Dr. Wensnahan has also conducted research on the use of passive microwave satellite data for determining sea ice extent and thickness, and the associated fluxes of heat and mass. Dr. Wensnahan joined the Laboratory in 1998.

Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


Sc.B. Physics, University of Washington, 1988

M.S. Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, 1991

Ph.D. Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, 1995


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Evaluation of seven different atmospheric reanalysis products in the Arctic

Lindsay, R., M. Wensnahan, A. Schweiger, and J. Zhang, "Evaluation of seven different atmospheric reanalysis products in the Arctic," J. Clim., 27, 2588-2606, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00014.1, 2014.

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1 Apr 2014

Atmospheric reanalyses depend on a mix of observations and model forecasts. In data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, the reanalysis solution is more dependent on the model structure, assumptions, and data assimilation methods than in data-rich regions. Applications such as the forcing of ice%u2013ocean models are sensitive to the errors in reanalyses. Seven reanalysis datasets for the Arctic region are compared over the 30-yr period 1981–2010: National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)–National Center for Atmospheric Research Reanalysis 1 (NCEP-R1) and NCEP–U.S. Department of Energy Reanalysis 2 (NCEP-R2), Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR), Twentieth-Century Reanalysis (20CR), Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA), ECMWF Interim Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim), and Japanese 25-year Reanalysis Project (JRA-25). Emphasis is placed on variables not observed directly including surface fluxes and precipitation and their trends. The monthly averaged surface temperatures, radiative fluxes, precipitation, and wind speed are compared to observed values to assess how well the reanalysis data solutions capture the seasonal cycles. Three models stand out as being more consistent with independent observations: CFSR, MERRA, and ERA-Interim. A coupled ice–ocean model is forced with four of the datasets to determine how estimates of the ice thickness compare to observed values for each forcing and how the total ice volume differs among the simulations. Significant differences in the correlation of the simulated ice thickness with submarine measurements were found, with the MERRA products giving the best correlation (R = 0.82). The trend in the total ice volume in September is greatest with MERRA (–4.1 ± 103 km3 decade-1) and least with CFSR (–2.7 ± 103 km3 decade-1).

Analysis of the Arctic system for freshwater cycle intensification: Observations and expectations

Rawlins, M.A., et al., including M. Steele, C.M. Lee, M. Wensnahan, and R. Woodgate, "Analysis of the Arctic system for freshwater cycle intensification: Observations and expectations," J. Clim., 23, 5715-5737, doi:10.1175/2010JCLI3421.1, 2010.

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1 Nov 2010

Hydrologic cycle intensification is an expected manifestation of a warming climate. Although positive trends in several global average quantities have been reported, no previous studies have documented broad intensification across elements of the Arctic freshwater cycle (FWC). In this study, the authors examine the character and quantitative significance of changes in annual precipitation, evapotranspiration, and river discharge across the terrestrial pan-Arctic over the past several decades from observations and a suite of coupled general circulation models (GCMs). Trends in freshwater flux and storage derived from observations across the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas are also described.

Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003-2008

Kwok, R., G.F. Cunningham, M. Wensnahan, I. Rigor, H.J. Zwally, and D. Yi, "Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003-2008," J. Geophys. Res., 114, doi:10.1029/2009JC005312, 2009.

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7 Jul 2009

We present our best estimate of the thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean ice cover from 10 Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) campaigns that span a 5-year period between 2003 and 2008. Derived ice drafts are consistently within 0.5 m of those from a submarine cruise in mid-November of 2005 and 4 years of ice draft profiles from moorings in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Along with a more than 42% decrease in multiyear (MY) ice coverage since 2005, there was a remarkable thinning of ~0.6 m in MY ice thickness over 4 years. In contrast, the average thickness of the seasonal ice in midwinter (~2 m), which covered more than two-thirds of the Arctic Ocean in 2007, exhibited a negligible trend. Average winter sea ice volume over the period, weighted by a loss of ~3000 km3 between 2007 and 2008, was ~14,000 km3. The total MY ice volume in the winter has experienced a net loss of 6300 km3 (>40%) in the 4 years since 2005, while the first-year ice cover gained volume owing to increased overall area coverage. The overall decline in volume and thickness are explained almost entirely by changes in the MY ice cover. Combined with a large decline in MY ice coverage over this short record, there is a reversal in the volumetric and areal contributions of the two ice types to the total volume and area of the Arctic Ocean ice cover. Seasonal ice, having surpassed that of MY ice in winter area coverage and volume, became the dominant ice type. It seems that the near-zero replenishment of the MY ice cover after the summers of 2005 and 2007, an imbalance in the cycle of replenishment and ice export, has played a significant role in the loss of Arctic sea ice volume over the ICESat record.

More Publications

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center