Nuclear sub dives under the ice to explore climate change
The 1999 mission is being conducted aboard the USS Hawkbill, a nuclear submarine that is able to travel almost at will under the ice, making it a unique platform to study this little explored region
April 19, 1999
Web posted at: 12:00 PM EDT
Researchers are using a nuclear submarine to take them beneath the Arctic ice cap to study ocean currents that may have an effect on global climate.
The Scientific Ice Expedition '99 is part of a five-year scientific mission between the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Navy to learn about the geology, physics, chemistry and biology of the Arctic.
The 1999 mission is being conducted aboard the USS Hawkbill, a nuclear submarine that is able to travel almost at will under the ice, making it a unique platform to study this little explored region.
"This is a capability that is not available anywhere else in the world," said Thomas E. Pyle, head of Arctic Sciences in the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.
In addition to a sea floor mapping project, the researchers will make chemical analyses of water samples that will help them determine the temperature, salinity and composition of a strong circumpolar current that flows around the boundary of the Arctic Ocean.
The current transports water from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans throughout the Arctic, said Tom Weingartner, a marine scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
"Those water masses play a very important role in the present-day status of the ice pack and changes in the delivery would have an influence and effect on ice distribution," said Weingartner.
Such changes could affect how much heat is reflected and absorbed by the ice pack, which could, in turn, have global implications.
"The data gathered on this and other SCICEX missions are uncovering important clues about the circulation of the Arctic Ocean currents and their potential effects in altering the composition of the Arctic ice pack. These clues may help us to better understand the cause and effects of global climate change," said Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation.
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