Studying the coupled Arctic system – PSD contributes to the SODA experiment

Photo credit: Gijs de Boer, CIRES
Photo credit: Gijs de Boer, CIRES

The Arctic is changing before our eyes. Recent decades have seen persistent decreases in the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice, impacting commerce, weather and climate. Modeling the autumn freeze-up, a pivotal seasonal development for Arctic residents and industry, is proving to be a challenge. Improving prediction of the fall freeze-up is one goal of the U.S. Office of Naval Research Departmental Research Initiative, “Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic” or SODA. This experiment aims to improve understanding of upper oceanic stratification in the Arctic, a central driver in the formation and melt of sea ice. Led by researcher Gijs de Boer (of CIRES and ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division), a PSD research team is poised to make important contributions to this effort.

Current sea ice forecast models lack desired skill over longer periods: These challenges stem in part from an incomplete understanding of the physical processes governing ice lifetime, and in part from data availability for assimilation. Both issues result, in part, from a shortfall of measurements in and over the Arctic Ocean.

The SODA strategy includes deployment of drifting ice-based buoys and instruments, fixed moorings, localized underwater glider sampling, floats and sounders, and a ship-based process study, augmenting these components with remote-sensing and model studies. In combination, these tools will provide comprehensive measurements of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

The new miniFlux will be deployed aboard the Univ. of Alaska SeaHunter UAS (Photo credit: ACUASI)
The new "miniFlux" instrument package will be deployed aboard the Univ. of Alaska SeaHunter UAS (Photo credit: ACUASI)
The new "miniFlux" will be deployed aboard Univ. of Alaska SeaHunter UAS (Photo credit: ACUASI)

PSD, with support from the NOAA UAS Program and National Science Foundation, is providing newly-developed instrumentation to obtain measurements critical to understanding atmospheric drivers of upper oceanic stratification, especially winds. The instrument package, named miniFlux, was designed jointly with the University of Colorado Boulder’s (CU Boulder) Integrated Remote and In-Situ Sensing (IRISS) Grand Challenge project, and will be flown on the University of Alaska – Fairbanks SeaHunter unmanned aircraft system. From September 22 to October 22, miniFlux will collect valuable data up to 300 nm offshore over the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, while simultaneously providing the opportunity to evaluate the utility of UAS to collect data beyond visual line of sight at high latitudes, something that has only been conducted to date in a very limited manner.

Demonstrating the viability of this platform, particularly when paired with the fixed and mobile assets to be deployed under SODA, will contribute to our ability to understand the changing, coupled Arctic environmental system under Navigating the New Arctic, one of National Science Foundation’s “10 big ideas”.

As principal investigator, de Boer will coordinate project activities and team members to optimize SeaHunter sampling, and then direct scientific analysis of the dataset after completion of the measurement campaign. Christopher Cox (also CIRES and PSD) and Janet Intrieri (PSD) will design observing strategies and help with data quality control, evaluation and analysis. PSD engineer Jackson Osborn (CIRES) and IRISS’s Cory Dixon are also participants, supporting deployment of the instrument during the campaign. Finally, Dale Lawrence (CU Boulder) is helping with instrument development and data preparation.

Posted: September 25, 2018

More Information: