It's all part of a new partnership that has evolved since disappearing Arctic ice has opened vast new frontiers -- for the Coast Guard and for University of Washington scientists.
This year, the lowest ebb of Arctic sea ice covered less area than at any time since scientists began recording it. From 1979 to 2000, the average low point for the year was 7 million square kilometers, or 2.7 million square miles. This year, it's less than half as much -- 3.4 million square kilometers.
"It used to be that the ice just pulled back a bit from the beach each year," said Jamie Morison, an oceanographer at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory. "Now we're seeing huge areas of open water."
Suddenly faced with a great expansion of the water over which it must monitor ship traffic and perform search-and-rescue operations, the Coast Guard has begun making regular flights over the Arctic, taking off from Kodiak, Alaska. UW researchers, equally eager to explore the newly accessible ocean, are among those who have tagged along on regular Coast Guard flights, known as Arctic Domain Awareness flights, to deploy scientific equipment.
The UW is leading a project known as the Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance Surveys that aims to take repeated ocean, ice and atmospheric measurements in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, north and west of Alaska.
Researchers are able to arrange for deployment of equipment to take those measurements via the Coast Guard's scheduled C-130 Hercules aircraft tours. They have flown monthly this summer, with Coast Guard crews deploying 19 probes as far as 80 degrees north latitude, north of most land masses. The final flight will be in mid-October, after which it gets too dark to travel very far and the ice returns.
The researchers are studying the impact of the lack of ice cover. For instance, ocean surface temperature can be 5 or 6 degrees warmer without ice. Because there's no ice to block solar radiation, the layer of warmer water extends deeper and that affects circulation patterns and slows the growth of ice during the winter. Changes in the ocean surface temperatures can also have profound effect on the atmosphere and changes in the temperature, humidity and cloud cover can in turn affect how fast sea ice melts or grows.
"For the first time we're measuring ocean and atmosphere in an integrated way and trying to track the changes," said Axel Schweiger, a climatologist and chair of the Applied Physics Laboratory's Polar Science Center.
UW scientists involved with the International Arctic Buoy Program, designed to monitor sea level pressure, surface air temperature and ice motion, have also taken advantage of the Coast Guard flights. The multiagency program is led by the UW's Polar Science Center and has deployed hundreds of buoys in the Arctic since 1979.
The researchers have modified some equipment so it can be tossed out of airplanes rather than deployed by ship. One large buoy used by the International Arctic Buoy Program carries instruments that transmit air temperature and pressure information via satellite and gets rolled out of the back of the airplane flying 300 feet above the surface. At that height, a parachute fills and releases in time to temper the buoy's landing. If the buoy is dropped from higher it might hit too hard, damaging the instruments; too low and the parachute may drag the buoy sideways in the water. The researchers have learned about both issues the hard way.
Coast Guard crews have also been deploying 3-foot-long, tube-shaped instrument packages out the side door of the planes. Once the package hits the water, it drops a torpedo-shaped sensor probe that travels to a depth of 1,000 meters, or 3,280 feet, in about 10 minutes. The probe is connected by a thin copper wire to a radio transmitter that floats on the surface. The probe sends data about water temperature and salinity up the thin wire to the surface transmitter, which relays it by VHF radio back to the airplane circling above.
Without the planes, the researchers would have to hire a ship, usually an icebreaker, to bring the instruments to the targeted location. Or, they could pay for a specialized research aircraft, an expensive proposition, particularly for research that benefits from weekly or monthly expeditions. "You won't get that kind of repeat coverage with a designated research aircraft," Schweiger said.
The Coast Guard appears to get some value from taking the scientists along too. Data from the buoys about air pressure and temperature is fed into the world meteorological network.
"This weather data helps them fly safely," said Ignatius Rigor, a mathematician at the Applied Physics Laboratory who coordinates the International Arctic Buoy Program.
The scientists can also field questions from the crew about ice thickness and the weather in the area, Morison said.
The data they collect is already being used by many institutions as well, including the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which closely monitors Arctic sea ice.
The researchers hope to be able to continue their collaboration with the Coast Guard in years to come.
The Seasonal Ice Zone Reconnaissance Surveys program is funded by the Office of Naval Research and the International Arctic Buoy Program is funded by the 20 research and operational institutions that comprise the program.
For more information, contact Schweiger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-543-1312.
Nancy Gohring | Newswise Science News
NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California
24.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field
23.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News