Making time for science

Arctic sea ice extent on 12 September 2012 c/o NSIDC

I am always rushing around doing ‘things’; training, eating, working, replying to emails, catching up with people, sorting out the garden, cleaning the house, writing about the expedition, securing funding but there is one thing that I feel has been missing for a while on this blog.

The missing element is something that perhaps is so important to the expedition that I don’t really think about it. It’s ingrained in my head. It’s the science.

It’s easy to write about pulling tyres as its fun, but the science behind this trip is technical, and not so easy to write about.

Today, I am making time for science.

The basics

We’ve lost 40% of Arctic sea ice in the last 40 years, We’ve more melt days, less freeze days, More open water absorbing the sun’s radiation, Heating the planet.

The expedition

We are working with some fantastic scientific partners to monitor the state of the Arctic Ocean, on a transect never travelled before. Our 800 mile journey will involve team members, under the guidance of Bjorn Erlingsson, researcher at the Icelandic Meteorological Office to record:

  • Ice properties e.g. ice-type ridging/rafting stage, ice-free-board, ice-type thickness
  • Snow thickness, snow density and snow crystal properties
  • Ice mechanics, growth of winter ice (rafted/ridged vs. thermodynamic), crossover thickness and block thickness in ridges and cohesion of ice blocks.

This data will be fed into the NASA funded National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists, The Met Office, The Scott Polar Institute, The Norwegian Polar Institute and the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute to name a few. All of the data collected will be ‘open source’ so that anyone can use it. We are part of a huge citizen science project.

The Royal Society

I went to a conference back in September at The Royal Society where ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models and global impacts’ was the topic of the day. Quite a topic for someone who is getting to grips with ice science.  It was a worthwhile event with a range of speakers from the National Oceanography Centre to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre to the Universities of Reading and Cambridge. I learnt a lot and came out feeling proud to play a part to help decipher what is happening in the Arctic.

A few key points re the state of the Arctic:

  • It has been noted that multi-year ice in the Arctic is on the decrease. This older ice helps to stabilise the new ice which forms. With this on the decrease, the ice is more susceptible to change from a warming climate.
  • The melt season in the Arctic is changing. The melt season begins earlier and has a later freeze point in the autumn. This gives rise to a longer melt season and an ability to melt more of the ice.
  • Satellite evidence and models show a decline in multi-year ice from 1999-2014. QuickSCAT and ASCAT scan the region every 3 days. In the past 15 years, the ice has decreased in the Arctic by 2 million square kilometres – 30% of the Arctic Ocean!
  • Satellite data cannot always differentiate between snow and ice, so our measurements on the ice will help ground-truth satellite imagery for the region.
  • Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge spoke about the Arctic Death Spiral and its impact on the planet. Quite scary!
  • Factors which influence the extent of sea ice include dynamic influences i.e. wind force, divergence/convergence; thermodynamic influence i.e. surface winds, weather; cloud cover; arctic oscillation and changes in ice albedo (reflection).

Summary

I am enjoying learning about the science and how we continue to monitor the Arctic for changes. It’s a new world to me, but having an ongoing dialogue with Bjorn is helping me get to grips with how important our expedition is.  Maybe I’ll have a new career in ice science one day.

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