Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seaglider monitors climate-related ocean circulation in the Arctic during record-breaking journey under ice

National Science Foundation: An intelligent, ocean-going glider has spent six months on a record-breaking deployment to sample the icy waters off western Greenland. The samples will contribute to the longest continuous measurement of Arctic currents that help to drive ocean circulation and regulate global seawater temperatures.

The 49-kilogram (110-pound) seaglider, developed and deployed by researchers at the University of Washington, measured fresh water leaving the Arctic Ocean through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Davis Strait and entering the Labrador Sea.

Scientists are concerned that Arctic climate change and increased fresh-water runoff are affecting the formation of very dense water in the Labrador Sea. That dense, cold water is a critical component driving the circulation of the world's oceans, according to Craig Lee, a principal oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

…The seaglider is one of more than 35 projects that are part of NSF's Arctic Observing Network (AON), which is meant to track and understand Arctic environmental change using an integrated suite of tools ranging from ocean buoys to satellites. Under-ice gliders might one day be among a suite of devices under the ice-covered high Arctic.

AON was one of NSF's primary research thrusts for the International Polar Year (IPY), which ended in late March. IPY was a 24-month deployment by scientists from 60 countries around the world to better understand the physical characteristics of the Polar Regions, their role as regulators of global climate and the nature of the changes occurring their as global temperatures rise. In the Arctic, scientists and Native communities also worked together not only to understand the changes themselves, but also the effects of change on subsistence lifestyles.

A seaglider is prepared for deployment in Davis Strait by Avery Snyder and Adam Huxtable, field engineers with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. Credit: Applied Physics Laboratory / University of Washington


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