As sea ice begins to melt back toward its late September minimum, it is being watched as never before. Scientists have put sensors on and under ice in the Beaufort Sea for an unprecedented campaign to monitor the summer melt.
The international effort hopes to figure out the physics of the ice edge in order to better understand and predict open water in Arctic seas.
"This has never been done at this level, over such a large area and for such a long period of time," said principal investigator Craig Lee, an oceanographer at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. "We're really trying to resolve the physics over the course of an entire melt season."
The project is funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. It includes scientists from the Naval Postgraduate School, the Naval Research Laboratory, Cambridge University, Yale University, Laboratoire d'Oceanographie de Villefranche, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the British Antarctic Survey, the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the Korean Polar Research Institute.
Over the next months, the campaign will look at whether the processes that drive sea ice melt will change with increasing open water to the south. For example, open water absorbs more solar radiation, which can lead to more ice melt. Open water also exposes the ocean to wind and waves, which could lead to more mixing that would bring warmer, deeper water up into contact with the ice.
Observations will show how much the open water allows surface waves to grow and break up the ice, or how winds blowing across open water or broken ice could churn up the water lower down. They also will study how deep the sun's heat penetrates, how weather and currents affect the ice, and what all this means for the growth of tiny plants and animals living in the ice.
"As there is more and more open water in the summer, the processes that control the evolution of the sea ice are changing," said Luc Rainvill
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington