Melinda Webster

Dr. Webster is a research scientist who studies the role of snow and sea ice in a changing climate through remote sensing, in situ observations, and modeling. The scope of her work centers on sea ice and atmosphere-snow-ice-ocean-ecosystem interactions across spatial and temporal scales, from localized event-driven processes to regional interdecadal trends. She received her Ph.D. in Oceanography with a focus on Arctic sea ice from the University of Washington. Since then, Dr. Webster has participated in 12+ polar expeditions. She became a civil servant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 2017, where she investigated physical processes and long-term trends in snow and sea-ice conditions using remote sensing techniques. In 2019, Dr. Webster joined the University of Alaska Fairbanks, shifting her focus towards integrating observations more comprehensively with climate modeling and mentoring students. She’s actively engaged with broader communities through public service and outreach. She serves as chair of the Climate and Cryosphere Arctic Sea Ice Working Group, co-lead for the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Commission’s Sea Ice Collaboration Team, and participates in several other professional societies. Dr. Webster thoroughly enjoys studying snow, sea ice, and climate, and getting opportunities to share her enthusiasm for polar science with anyone who asks.

In The News

  • Snow has thinned on Arctic sea ice

    From research stations drifting on ice floes to high-tech aircraft radar, scientists have been tracking the depth of snow that accumulates on Arctic sea ice for almost a century. Now that people are more concerned than ever about what is happening at the poles, research led by the University of Washington and NASA confirms that snow has thinned significantly in the Arctic, particularly on sea ice in western waters near Alaska.A new study, now online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, combines data collected by ice buoys and NASA aircraft with historic data from ice floes staffed by Soviet…

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  • Voyagers to the ‘epicenter of global warming’ struggle with bears, storms and thin ice

    Not long after the Arctic sun set for the final time last year, a ferocious storm descended on the isolated, icebound crew of the research vessel Polarstern.The polar night filled with the gunshot cracks of fracturing ice and the howls of 60 mph winds. The ship heaved, power cables snapped and a 100-foot meteorology tower toppled. A tremendous fissure opened in the floe to which the Polarstern was fixed, exposing the ocean waves. Researchers scrambled onto the ice to retrieve and restore their instruments.

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  • 2018 Arctic Summertime Sea Ice Minimum, Sixth Lowest on Record

    Arctic sea ice likely reached its 2018 lowest extent on September 19 and again on September 23, according to NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. Analysis of satellite data by NSIDC and NASA showed that, at 1.77 million square miles (4.59 million square kilometers), 2018 effectively tied with 2008 and 2010 for the sixth lowest summertime minimum extent in the satellite record.

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  • Arctic sea ice 2019 wintertime extent is seventh lowest

    Sea ice in the Arctic appears to have hit its annual maximum extent after growing through the fall and winter. The 2019 wintertime extent reached on March 13 ties with 2007’s as the 7th smallest extent of winter sea ice in the satellite record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center and NASA.

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  • Humanity’s greatest ally against climate change is Earth itself

    Ecosystems can draw down carbon and buffer us from the worst effects of climate change — but only if we protect them.

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  • Why the record low Arctic sea ice this October is so alarming

    For the past five months, Melinda Webster has lived on an icebreaker ship frozen in an ice floe near the North Pole.For Webster, a sea ice geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, it was an ideal observatory. She and a team of 14 other scientists set out, as part of the largest polar expedition ever, to study rapidly disappearing sea ice, which is often shrouded from the view of satellites by thick fog.

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  • Arctic Researchers Return Home To A Pandemic

    An Arctic research expedition faces a carefully orchestrated crew change. Members reflect on how they feel about emerging from the ship into a pandemic, or from social isolation into close quarters.

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  • Arctic’s ‘Last Ice Area’ May Be Less Resistant to Global Warming

    The region, which could provide a last refuge for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife that depends on ice, is not as stable as previously thought, according to a new study.

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  • Research shows need to improve prediction of Arctic melt ponds

    New research shows two widely used computer models that predict summer melt pond formation on sea ice greatly overestimate their extent, a key finding as scientists work to make accurate projections about Arctic climate change.

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  • Ice in the Arctic is melting even faster than scientists expected, study finds

    NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks to scientists Melinda Webster with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, about implications for the rest of the globe. She’s on an icebreaker ship to examine ice melt.

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  • Glass microspheres aren’t the answer for saving Arctic sea ice

    A proposal to cover Arctic sea ice with layers of tiny hollow glass spheres about the thickness of one human hair would actually accelerate sea-ice loss and warm the climate rather than creating thick ice and lowering the temperature as proponents claim, according to a new study.Sea ice, by reflecting the majority of the sun’s energy back to space, helps regulate ocean and air temperatures and influences ocean circulation. Its area and thickness are of critical importance to Earth’s climate. A 2018 study argued that repeated spreading of hollow glass microspheres on young Arctic sea ice would increase reflectivity, protect…

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Selected Projects

  • Arctic System Science, NSF

    Collaborative Research: Spatiotemporal variability of solar radiation partitioning in the sea ice system: improving climate models using observations from the MOSAiC field campaign; Principal Investigator.   


    UNSOL_FY2022, NASA

    The seasonal cycle of Arctic snow depth from ICESat-2: linkages to summer freeboards and albedo; PI


    DE-FOA-0002414: Biological and Environmental Research, DOE

    How snow drives the seasonal evolution of land and sea surface albedos in the Alaskan high Arctic; Co-I.


    Engineer Research & Development Center: Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory

    Observing and Predicting Coastal Sea Ice Stability & Trafficability; Co-Investigator.


    NNH19ZDA001N-IDS: Interdisciplinary Research in Earth Science, NASA

    Investigating the Fate of Sea Ice & Interactions with the Polar Atmosphere in the “New Arctic”; Co-Investigator.


    NNH18ZDA001N-PMMST: Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) Science Team, NASA 

    Using GPM in an Optimal Estimation Lagrangian Framework (OELaF) to quantify moisture transport in Arctic Cyclones; Co-Investigator.


    NNH19ZDA001N-ATDM: Weather & Atmospheric Dynamics, NASA

    Improving Understanding of Precipitation Events in the Arctic; Principal Investigator.


    NNH17ZDA001N-TASNPP: The Science of TERRA, AQUA, and SUOMI NPP, NASA 

    Refinement and Enhancement of the Terra and Aqua MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS Cryosphere Algorithms and Data Products; Co-Investigator.


    NNH17ZDA001N-NIP: New (Early Career) Investigator Program in Earth Science, NASA 

    Assessing & improving the seasonal capability of ICESat-2 data for sea ice research; Principal Investigator.

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Selected Publications

  • Buckley, E.M., Farrell, S.L., Herzfeld, U., Webster, M., Trantow, T., Baney, O.N., Duncan, K., Han, H., & M. Lawson (accepted), Observing the evolution of summer melt on multiyear sea ice with ICESat-2 and Sentinel-2, The Cryosphere, 17, 3695–3719, doi: 10.5194/tc-17-3695-2023, 2023.

  • Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E., Webster, M., Boisvert, L., Parker, C., & C. Horvat (in press), Record low SLP Arctic cyclone of January 2022: characteristics, impacts, and predictability, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 127, doi:10.1029/2022JD037161, 2022.

  • Parker, C., Mooney, P., Webster, M., & L. Boisvert, The influence of climate change on Arctic cyclones: recent and future, Nat. Comms., 13, 6514, doi:10.1038/s41467-022-34126-7, 2022.

  • Webster, M., & S.G. Warren (2022), Regional geoengineering using tiny glass bubbles would accelerate the loss of Arctic sea ice, Earth’s Future, 10, e2022EF002815, doi:10.1029/2022EF002815

  • Light, B., Smith, M.M., Perovich, D.K., Webster, M., Holland, M., Linhardt, F., Raphael, I.A., Clemens-Sewall, D., MacFarlane, A., Anhaus, P., & D. Bailey (2022), Arctic sea ice albedo: spectral composition, spatial heterogeneity, and temporal evolution observed during the MOSAiC drift, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro., 10(1) doi:10.1525/elementa.2021.000103.

  • Smith, M.M., Albedyll, L.v., Raphael, I., Lange, B., Matero, I., Salganik, E., Webster, M., Granskog, M.A., Fong, A., Lei, R., & B. Light (2022), Quantifying false bottoms and under-ice meltwater layers beneath Arctic summer sea ice with fine-scale observations, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro. 10(1) doi:10.1525/elementa.2021.000116.

  • Huang, Y., Taylor, P.C., Rose, F.G., Rutan, D.A., Shupe, M.A., Webster M., & M. Smith (2022), Towards a more realistic representation of surface albedo in NASA CERES satellite products: a comparison with the MOSAiC field campaign, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro., 10, doi:10.1525/elementa.2022.00013.

  • Webster, M., Holland, M., Wright, N.C., Hendricks, S., Hutter, N., Itkin, P., Light, B., Linhardt, F., Perovich, D.K., Raphael, I.A., Smith, M.M., Albedyll, L.v., & J. Zhang (2022), Spatiotemporal evolution of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice: MOSAiC observations and model results, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro. 10, doi:10.1525/elementa.2021.000072.

  • Albedyll, L.v., Hendricks, S., Grodofzig, R., Krumpen, T., Arndt, S., Belter, H.J., Birnbaum, G., Cheng, B., Hoppmann, M., Hutchings, J., Itkin, P., Lei, R., Nicolaus, M., Ricker, R., Rohde, J., Suhrhoff, M., Timofeeva, A., Watkins, D., Webster, M., & C. Haas (2022), Thermodynamic and dynamic contributions to seasonal Arctic sea ice thickness distributions from airborne observations, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro. 10, doi:10.1525/elementa.2021.00074.

  • Webster, M., Rigor, I., & N. Wright (2022), Observing Arctic sea ice, Oceanography. 35, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2022.115.

  • Kay, J.E., DeRepentigny, P., Holland, M.M., Bailey, D.A., DuVivier, A.K., Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E., Deser, C., Jahn, A., Singh, H.A., Smith, M.M., Webster, M., Edwards, J., Lee, S., Rodgers, K., & N.A. Rosenbloom (2022), Less surface sea ice melt in the CESM2 improves Arctic sea ice simulation with minimal non-polar climate impacts, J. of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, 14, doi:10.1029/2021MS002679.

  • Nicolaus, M., et al., including M. Webster (2022), Overview of the MOSAiC expedition – snow and sea ice, Elementa: Sci. of the Anthro. 10, doi:10.1525/elementa.2021.000046.

  • Holland, M.M., Clemens-Sewall, D., Landrum, D., Light, B., Perovich, D., Polashenski, C., Smith, M., & M. Webster (2021), The influence of snow on sea ice as assessed from simulations of CESM2, The Cryosphere, doi:10.5194/tc-2021-174.

  • Belter, J., Krumpen, T., von Albedyll, L., Alekseeva, T., Frolov, S., Hendricks, S., Herber, A., Polyakov, I., Raphael, I., Ricker, R., Serovetnikov, S., Webster, M., & C. Haas (2021), Interannual variability in Transpolar Drift summer sea ice thickness and potential impact of Atlantification, The Cryosphere. doi:10.5194/tc-15-2575-2021.

  • Perovich, D., Smith, M., Light B., & M. Webster (2021), Meltwater sources and sinks for multiyear Arctic sea ice in summer, The Cryosphere. doi:10.5194/tc-2021-114.

  • Webster, M., DuVivier, A.K., Holland, M.M. & D.A. Bailey (2021), Snow on Arctic sea ice in a warming climate as simulated in CESM, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans. 125, doi:10.1029/2020JC016308.

  • Boisvert, L., Webster, M., Petty, A., Markus, T., Cullather, R., & D. Bromwich (2020), Intercomparison of precipitation estimates over the Southern Ocean from atmospheric reanalyses, J. Clim., doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-20-0044.1.

  • Kwok, R., Cunningham, G., Kacimi, S., Webster, M., Kurtz, N., & A. Petty (2020), Decay of the snow cover over Arctic sea ice from ICESat-2 acquisitions during summer melt in 2019, Geophys. Res. Lett. doi:10.1029/2020GL088209.

  • DuVivier, A., DeRepentigny, P., Holland, M., Webster, M., Kay, J., & D. Perovich (2020), Going with the floe: tracking CESM Large Ensemble sea ice in the Arctic provides context for ship-based observations, The Cryosphere, doi:10.5194/tc-14-1259-2020.

  • Kwok, R., Kacimi, S., Webster, M., Markus, T., Kurtz, N., & A. Petty (2020), Snow depth and sea ice thickness from ICESat-2 and CryoSat-2 freeboards: A first examination, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans. doi:10.1029/2019JC016008.

  • Webster, M., Parker, C., Boisvert, L., & R. Kwok (2019), The role of cyclones in snow accumulation on Arctic sea ice, Nat. Comms. 10, 5285, doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13299-8.

  • Petty, A., Webster, M., Boisvert, L., & T. Markus (2018), The NASA Eulerian Snow on Sea Ice Model (NESOSIM) v1.0: initial model development and analysis, Geosci. Model Dev. 11, 4577-4602, doi:10.5194/gmd-11-4577-2018.

  • Webster, M., Gerland, S., Holland, M., Hunke, E., Kwok, R., Lecomte, O., Massom, R., Perovich, D., & M. Sturm (2018) Snow in the changing sea-ice systems, Nat. Clim. Change, 8, doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0286-7.

  • Zhang, J., Schweiger, A., Webster, M., Light, B., Steele, M., Ashjian, C., Campbell, R., & Y. Spitz (2018), Melt pond conditions on declining Arctic sea ice over 1979–2016: Model development, validation, and results, J. Geophys. Res., Oceans., 123 (11), doi:10.1029/2018JC014298.

  • Boisvert, L., Webster, M., Petty, A., Markus, T., Bromwich, D., & R. Cullather (2018), Intercomparison of precipitation estimates over the Arctic Ocean and its peripheral seas from reanalyses, J. Clim., 31(20), 8441–8462, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0125.1.

  • Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E., Webster, M., Farrell, S. L., & C. Bitz (2018), Reconstruction of snow on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res., 123 (5): 3588-3602, doi:10.1002/2017jcc013364

  • Contributing author of the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment, Ch. 6.2: “Changes in sea ice thermodynamics, age and dynamic processes” (2017).

  • Kwok, R., Kurtz, N. T., Brucker, L., Ivanoff, A., Newman, T., Farrell, S. L., King, J., Howell, S., Webster, M., Paden, J., Leuschen, C., MacGregor, J.A., Richter-Menge, J., Harbeck, J., & M. Tschudi (2017). Intercomparison of snow depth retrievals over Arctic sea ice from radar data acquired by Operation IceBridge. The Cryosphere, 11(6), 2571–2593. doi:10.5194/tc-11-2571-2017.

  • Light, B., Perovich, D.K., Webster, M., Polashenski, C.M., & R. Dadic (2015), Optical properties of melting first-year Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, doi:10.1029/2015JC011163.

  • Webster, M., Rigor, I.G., Perovich, D.K., Richter-Menge, J.A., Polashenski, C.M., & B. Light (2015), Seasonal evolution of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120, 5968–5982, doi:10.1029/2015JC011030.

  • Polashenski, C.M., Perovich, D.K., Frey, K.E., Cooper, L.W., Logvinova, C.I., Dadic, R., Light, B., Kelly, H.P., Trusel, L.D., & M. Webster (2015), Physical and morphological properties of sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during the 2010 and 2011 NASA ICESCAPE missions, Deep Sea Res. Part II: Topical Studies in Ocean., doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2015.04.006.

  • Webster, M., Rigor, I.G., Nghiem, S.V., Kurtz, N.T., Farrell, S.L., Perovich, D.K., & M. Sturm (2014), Interdecadal changes in snow depth on Arctic sea ice, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, 5395–5406, doi:10.1002/2014JC009985.