Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

In The News

The R/V Sikuliaq in Wisconsin at earlier trials this year. UAF photo: Val Ihde.

The R/V Sikuliaq in Wisconsin at earlier trials this year. UAF photo: Val Ihde.

News about the polar regions abounds recently, with stories ranging from new data on thinning Arctic sea ice to an exposition on the life of the Arctic scientist on location in Greenland. Here’s a round up for your reading pleasure:

Thinning Arctic Sea Ice

The average annual sea ice thickness, in meters, for teh central Arctic Ocean. Source: University of Washington

The average annual sea ice thickness, in meters, for teh central Arctic Ocean. Source: University of Washington

Researchers from the University of Washington recently combined modern and historical Arctic sea ice measurements to determine how it has changed over time. Their findings show the central Arctic Ocean experienced ice thinning of about 65 percent between the years of 1975 and 2012. During this same time period September ice thickness (when ice cover is at its minimum) was 85 percent thinner. “The ice is thinning dramatically,” said lead author Ron Lindsay, a climatologist at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. “We knew the ice was thinning, but we now have additional confirmation on how fast, and we can see that it’s not slowing down.”

The study looked at data from under-ice submarines gathered between 1975 and 1990 as well as from the NASA IceSat satellite operated from 2003 to 2008, IceBridge aircraft-based measurements, under-ice moored observations in the Beaufort Sea from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and several other measurement methods. In the past critics have said the UW group’s calculations on sea ice loss (that combine weather data, sea-surface temperatures and satellite measurements ) are too rapid, but these new findings suggest the ice is thinning even more rapidly than those past models had suggested. Read more here.

Sikuliaq Final Trials Begin

The Juneau Empire reports that the Arctic Research Vessel, Sikuliaq, is preparing for final trials next month in the Bering Sea. The 261-foot Sikuliaq is owned by the National Science Foundation and will be operated by UA Fairbanks. It replaces the Alpha Helix, which was taken out of service in 2004. The $200 million-plus Sikuliaq is designed to conduct research 24 hours per day. It will cost about $45,000 per day to operate. The Sikuliaq will spend about a month in Bering Sea ice and then head to dry dock for repairs. Science missions could resume in July.

A Day in the Life of the Scientist

The online publication Phys.org reported on Northwestern’s Yarrow Axford fieldwork in Greenland. Dr. Axford began an Arctic field research expedition to investigate climate change near the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet during the summer of 2014.

Life under sea ice

The Voice of America reports on the discovery of a marine community thriving 740 meters below the sea ice under Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. The story tells how Northern Illinois University geology professor Reed Scherer saw the thriving marine community on video monitors connected to a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) sent down a borehole in the ice. The ROV, known as Deep SCINI – for Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging – explored a 400-square meter cavity 740 meters below the ice.

“It is a very mobile environment,” Scherer told the VOA. “The bottom is changing constantly. We saw things that swim and things that crawl. Obviously they are getting enough nutrition that they can thrive. Some of the little crustacean-like creatures swam quickly and were quite active.