June 8, 2010
Voyage into the Arctic Ocean with Stanford researchers
By Louis Bergeron
Seven Stanford researchers are about to board an icebreaker and head off into the chilly Arctic Ocean on a five-week voyage during which they will plow as far as they can into the sea ice.
They will gather data on the state of the ice, the ocean and the microscopic plants and animals that dwell therein. The tiny organisms regulate the flow of carbon into and out of the sea and the scientists are seeking to assess how the melting ice is affecting the organisms and ecosystem.
As they journey through the Arctic, they will be blogging as they go. They plan to leave the confines of the ship and venture out onto the sea ice several times to study conditions on the ice itself.
Kevin Arrigo, a Stanford professor of environmental Earth system science, is the chief scientist of the project.
"We're beginning to understand how the melting of Arctic sea ice is related to climate change. Unfortunately, we know very little about what these changes have in store for Arctic marine life, Arrigo said. "During this expedition, we hope to gather enough hard data to begin to put the pieces together."
A half dozen Stanford folks including grad students, staff researchers and an undergrad will also be part of the 43-person science team aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, a 420-foot-long ship that can plow through sea ice up to four and a half feet thick.
The ship will leave Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on June 15 and push its way through the Arctic ice as far as it can, sailing up through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northwest coast of Alaska.
The ICESCAPE mission, short for "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," will collect data to compare with NASA's satellite views of ocean biology and ice.
One of the principal aims of the project is to investigate how climate change in the Arctic may be altering the ocean's ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
This is the first oceanographic research voyage sponsored by NASA. The Healy is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and managed by the National Science Foundation.