Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Scripps Scientist Leads Antarctic Research Vessel Heading North to Map Arctic Waters
Research cruise will use a variety of instruments to map waters off Alaska
Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San DiegoAn ice-breaking Antarctic research vessel will sail to the Arctic for the first time this summer to conduct a comprehensive survey of the chemistry, temperature, and other characteristics of the waters off Alaska. James Swift, a research oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is the chief scientist for the research cruise.
Scientists seeking to untangle the complicated web of relationships between the shallow ocean shelves and deep basins of the Arctic Ocean will use the survey to guide their research. They hope to understand to what extent climate change is already occurring in the Arctic, what its effects might be on the plants and animals that live there and the people who depend on them, and what measures might be taken to compensate for any changes.
The research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer usually operates in the Southern Hemisphere for the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). But this summer, a team of NSF-funded Arctic researchers will use it as a platform to map the distribution of salinity, temperature, nutrients, and other characteristics over the outer shelf to deep basin region of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off northern Alaska.
NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5 billion.
The Palmer, which otherwise would be in port during an off-season lull, will be used in place of a Canadian icebreaker that was unavailable to support the research cruise.
The Palmer will conduct the marine survey as part of NSF's Western Arctic Shelf Basin Interactions (SBI) project. SBI researchers are trying to identify processes that govern the exchanges of water of the shallow shelves that surround the Arctic Ocean basin and the deep-water basin itself.
Currently, the ocean basins act as carbon dioxide reservoirs, or sinks, locking up some of the gas and preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere. Any change in the current carbon dioxide balance could have direct effects on air temperatures and the amount of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. For example, they might cause some species to flourish and change the habitat of others.
Swift of Scripps Institution said his team will map the various characteristics of the waters in the SBI study region to provide a reference grid for the other SBI cruises in this three-year field program.
Using a variety of methods, including sampling with a conductivity, temperature, depth sensor, or CTD, which is lowered over the side of the ship, the scientists will collect water to analyze for such variables as salinity and dissolved oxygen as well as the concentrations of chlorophyll and nutrients.
"We hope, once the cruise is over, to be able to produce a very good map of the physical, chemical, pigment, and other variables in the SBI study region," Swift said. A series of cruises is planned, as part of the SBI project, to take samples of marine life and survey marine mammal populations. The 2003 survey cruise, however, will be unique in its mapping function. "We will have time to both cover a wider area and also to cover some of the SBI area more intently," Swift noted.
Also sailing aboard the Palmer will be Jim Rogers, a science and geography teacher at Polson High School on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana. He will participate under the auspices of the Teachers Experiencing the Arctic and Antarctic program, a joint initiative of NSF's Office of Polar Programs and its education and human resources directorate.
The Palmer, which was undergoing routine maintenance in Lyttelton, New Zealand, is scheduled to arrive in Alaskan waters in early July and to complete its cruise by late August.
Swift, who has previous experience as a researcher on the Palmer off the coast of Antarctica in winter, said the ship is well suited for the kind of work it will be doing for the first time in the Arctic.
The 94-meter (308-foot) Palmer is equipped with labs and other facilities for examining the biological, oceanographic, geological, and geophysical components of global change. It accommodates 37 scientists, has a crew of 22, and is capable of 75-day missions.
Built by Edison Chouest Offshore Inc., of Galliano, La., the ship was accepted for use by the Antarctic Program in 1992.
The ship is named for Nathaniel Brown Palmer, the American credited with first seeing Antarctica. Palmer, then 21 years old, commanded the 14-meter (45-foot) sloop Hero, which on Nov. 16 and 17, 1820 entered Orleans Strait and came very close to the Antarctic Peninsula. Later in his life, Palmer also won wealth and fame as a pioneer clipper shipmaster and designer.
The Palmer's trip north complements a deployment to Antarctic waters of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, which has carried out previous SBI cruises. During the 2002-2003 Antarctic research season, Healy, an icebreaker specifically designed to support polar research, was sent south to help keep open a vital sea-lane used to resupply McMurdo Station, NSF's scientific and logistical hub in Antarctica.
Healy will conduct research this summer in the Arctic near Greenland.
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NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and graduate training in the world. The scientific scope of the institution has grown since its founding in 1903. A century of Scripps science has had an invaluable impact on oceanography, on understanding of the earth, and on society. More than 300 research programs are under way today in a wide range of scientific areas. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration. Now plunging boldly into the 21st century, Scripps is celebrating its centennial in 2003.
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.
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