A modular approach to building an Arctic Observing System for the IPY and beyond in the Switchyard region of the Arctic Ocean

PI: Craig Lee, Jason Gobat, and Michael Steele
Sponsor: National Science Foundation ()


Clarification of the nature of the observed changes in the Arctic Ocean is of central importance for development of capability to predict the future evolution of the Arctic system. Internally, more or less cyclical behavior of the system would have different effects compared to secular change with respect to:

  1. water mass characteristics and their impact on stratification, diapycnal heat fluxes, and transport of heat and salt,
  2. freshwater inventories (including that stored in form of sea ice),
  3. freshwater release to the North Atlantic,
  4. the heat budget of the upper water layers and its interplay with the sea ice cover,
  5. sea ice circulation and thickness distribution, and
  6. future circulation patterns.

Externally, the nature of the change within the Arctic Ocean has implications for the preconditioning of the stratification in the water formation regions of NADW (constant addition of freshwater compared to freshwater addition that varies around an average value consistent with today’s conditions).

To address these and related questions we propose to design, where necessary develop, and implement a component of an Arctic Ocean Observing System in the Switchyard region of the Arctic Ocean (north of Greenland and Nares Strait) that will serve the scientific studies developed for the IPY (International Polar Year), SEARCH (Study of Environmental ARctic Change), and related programs. The defining elements of the System are: (1) a multi-platform design, (2) combination of proven technology with adaptation of innovative, highly promising, new tools for operation under sea ice cover that are considered to be future backbones of a quasi-permanent, pan-Arctic Ocean System, (3) a modular approach that allows expansion of the system to a pan-Arctic scale, and (4) ongoing refinement of the design through evaluation of combined data and modeling results. The project will leave a significant legacy through its contribution to a long-term pan-Arctic Ocean Observing System that will yield results on Arctic change well beyond the intensive IPY period.