From: Neila Columbo, Sierra Club Green Home, More from this Affiliate
Published August 4, 2012 07:17 AM

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution innovates to help track Arctic Ice

As the Arctic sea ice continues to melt, an initiative led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is trying to predict out future changes to the Arctic and how this will affect the environment.

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In 2004, John Toole and his research team at Woods Hole Oceanic Institute (WHOI) developed a new way to measure changes in the Arctic as part of the Arctic Observing Network, an international collaboration of scientists studying the Arctic polar climate and ecosystem. Computer models suggest significant impacts in this region will occur in the next few years, and it is of great concern to scientists to know how these shifts will affect ocean stratification and circulation, ecosystems, and global weather patterns.            

"The Earth's climate system is changing in response to the increase of carbon levels in the atmosphere. Computer models seem to suggest in the next 100 years or earlier, say by mid-century, the ice cover of the Arctic may disappear mid-summer each year, and some models suggests once it begins to disappear, it could go very quickly, perhaps over the course of ten years," says Toole. "The Arctic may function more like the Antarctic in the future with a highly seasonal ice cover — little in mid-late summer, and a broad, thin coverage in winter."

The instruments Toole’s research team developed, known as Ice-Tethered Profilers (ITPs), measure seawater properties in the Arctic daily and send those data back to WHOI. Autonomous profiling instruments actually date back to the 1970s. However, engineers at WHOI were able to design a new model with greater endurance and depth capability. This new model consists of a foam buoy float that sits atop the sea ice and supports a wire rope tether extending down into the ocean, with an underwater vehicle that profiles along the wire.

The ITP is important given that it is nearly impossible to collect data over long periods of time in an environment such as the Arctic.

"To be able to get sustained measurements over time you need to have autonomous measurements rather than having a person standing there to take the measurements. Most likely if you place a profiler there you will not receive it back, so it is important to get data in real time through satellites," Toole explains.

Image shows WHOI Research Team Deploying Ice-Tethered Profilers at the Arctic. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution).

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