NSF PR 00-17 - April 5, 2000
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Automated North Pole Station Will Take the Pulse of
the Arctic Ocean
An international scientific team supported by the National
Science Foundation (NSF) will establish a research
camp at the North Pole this month. The scientists
will use the camp to lay the groundwork for a five-year
project to take the pulse of the Arctic Ocean and
learn how the world's northernmost sea helps regulate
James Morison of the University of Washington, the
lead researcher for the North Pole Automated Station
project, said the team will deploy a system of floating
buoys this season and, eventually, devices anchored
to the ocean floor to measure everything from the
salinity of the water in the Arctic Ocean to the thickness
and temperature layering of its ice cover.
"This will be the first time we've put such a congregation
of drifting buoys at the North Pole," Morison said.
Researchers will return to the Pole repeatedly over
several seasons to deploy additional buoys. Michael
Ledbetter of NSF's Arctic System Science (ARCSS) program
said that after the first year, the number of research
projects will expand to cover a broad range of sciences.
Morison added that for long-term observations, an
automated station does the work of a manned platform,
but at far less cost.
The new long-term scientific presence at the North
Pole recognizes the importance of the Arctic in regulating
global climate. Observations have shown that the Arctic
Ocean has been affected in recent years by a rapid
thinning of sea ice and shifts in ocean circulation.
These changes are related to a pattern of change in
the atmospheric circulation of the Northern Hemisphere
-- known as the Arctic Oscillation -- which is roughly
centered at the Pole.
The Arctic Ocean circulation and the water flowing
from the Arctic into the Greenland Sea affect the
deep overturning circulation of the Atlantic Ocean
and thus play an important role in regulating climate,
NSF has committed more than $5 million over five years
to support the project Morison's research team will
oversee. This year, in addition to the University
of Washington team, researchers from Oregon State
University, Seattle's Pacific Marine Environmental
Laboratory as well as the Japan Marine Science and
Technology Center, and Canada's Met-Ocean Corp will
Morison said the team will travel to the Pole early
in April to begin deploying several drifting buoys
to measure such variables as atmospheric pressure,
temperature, wind, solar radiation, water temperature,
salinity, ice temperature profiles, and ice thickness.
Over the next year, the buoys will drift with the
ice pack and are expected eventually to drift into
the Greenland Sea.
He noted that the area around the North Pole is far
from any landmass or observing stations. Even with
the use of submarines and icebreakers it is difficult
to obtain long-term measurements of temperature and
other variables at the Pole. The drifting stations
are designed to provide a mix of coverage over time
and in a wide geographic area. Coverage will be enhanced
in future years by instruments that will be moored
to the sea floor. In the future, the new U.S. Coast
Guard Cutter Healy -- an icebreaker equipped as a
science platform -- also is expected to assist in
"This station will really fill a hole in our scientific
observations," Morison said. "The station, and others
like it, will provide a set of data taken reliably
over a long period as a benchmark for the study of
When the North Pole station begins operations, NSF's
Office of Polar Programs will have a scientific presence
at both Poles. The U.S. Antarctic Program operates
three stations year-round in Antarctica, including
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
For more information: see the North
Pole Environmental Observatory home page.