Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

In the News

Two people stand on the ice with their testing sticks, hooks visible at the top. The hook could be used to grab onto an article of clothing if someone fell into the water. Photo: Gay Sheffield

Two people stand on the ice with their testing sticks, hooks visible at the top. The hook could be used to grab onto an article of clothing if someone fell into the water. Photo: Gay Sheffield

From stranded walruses to the upcoming launch of a new research vessel and more, the Arctic has been in the news a lot lately. Here are some of the highlights:

Arctic Native Ice Testing Stick To Be Used on Sikuliaq

Alaska Public Radio reported that when the new National Science Foundation research vessel Sikuliaq launches in a few months, it will be equipped with about a half-dozen Arctic Native ice testing sticks. The sticks, which often feature a hook on one end and a point on the other, have been used for generations to help native inhabitants navigate the unpredictable ice and prevent accident falls through weak patches. To read or hear the entire story, click here.

Walruses on Shore

Late last month, more than 35,000 walruses were photographed by scientists working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a beach near the village of Point Lay, on the Chukchi Sea in northwest Alaska. The walruses are forced onto land when sea ice, which they use to rest between dives for food, disappears, according to NOAA. A report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center on September 22 said Arctic sea ice had reached its lowest extent of the year on September 17, the sixth-lowest amount of Arctic sea ice on record.This year’s ice report and massive walrus haul-out come the same month that a NOAA report said sea surface temperatures across a vast expanse of the North Pacific are 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) higher than normal. For more on the walruses and sea ice, click here.

American scientists unearth lost 1960s polar satellite images

Barents Observer reports that scientist David Gallagher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center recently recovered and scanned satellite data from 1964—the earliest existing satellite photos of the earth. The result is a treasure trove for climate scientists studying time-series data. The paper reports:

It was worth the wait. What Gallaher and his NSIDC colleague Garrett Campbell had discovered was both the largest and the smallest Antarctic sea ice extent ever recorded, one year apart, as well as the earliest sea ice maximum ever just three years later; it was an inexplicable hole in the Arctic sea ice even while the overall extent agreed with modern trends; it was the earliest known picture of Europe from space; it was a picture of the Aral Sea with water still in it. 

It was, as Gallaher puts it, like looking at “the Precambrian of satellite data.”

To read the entire story, click here.

NASA to study Arctic Sea Ice

Scientists from NASA’s Earth Science Division recently announced a research project to fly an airborne mission over the Arctic Ocean. The mission’s name is ARISE, short for Arctic Radiation IceBridge Sea and Ice Experiment.” Bill Smith, the project’s principal investigator from the Langley Research Center says the project’s goal is to investigate the impact the loss of sea ice has on cloud creation. Currently scientists hypothesize that the loss of sea ice creates more clouds, which can act like a blanket and trap warm wait beneath them. According to a NASA press release, “The interplay between clouds and ice, cooling and warming, is complex. ARISE aims to unravel the knot by taking a lot of data.” For more information, click here.

Thermokarst in the Arctic Desert

The New York Times reports on the research of several scientists studying the impact of global warming in the Arctic High Desert, some 600 miles north of Alaska. Specifically, scientists are investigating the various thaw processes that give rise to the area’s unique landforms. One of those scientists is Wayne Pollard of McGill University, a 25-year veteran of high Arctic permafrost reach. The story quotes Dr. Pollard saying, “Most importantly under today’s climate are the potential impacts of global warming on permafrost temperature and distribution, which would affect surface erosion and vegetation through runoff and thaw.” For the complete story, click here.