Scientists sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) have revealed the latest findings from a study on Arctic sea ice, with one expert noting that summer sea ice levels could potentially fall to zero before the end of this century.
Speaking at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology EXPO, scientists presented initial findings from ONR's Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ) experiment that took place last year in the Arctic Ocean-the largest research effort ever using robotic technologies to investigate ice conditions where the frozen ocean meets the open ocean.
"There's no question that the Arctic sea ice extent is decreasing," said Dr. Martin Jeffries, program officer for the ONR Arctic and Global Prediction Program. "Multiple sources of data - autonomous underwater gliders, ice-measuring buoys and satellite images of the Marginal Ice Zone - were used to help understand why the ice is retreating."
The implications for the Navy, and the world, are significant. If there were no sea ice in the Arctic at the end of summer, that would mean that the Arctic Ocean would, until the winter ice came in, be completely open - something unprecedented in living memory, Jeffries noted.
Naval leaders have made it clear that understanding a changing Arctic is essential for the Navy to be prepared to respond effectively to future needs.
In the period between 2007 and 2014, satellites recorded the eight lowest sea ice levels ever. One of the key goals of the MIZ program, which runs through until 2017, is to use new data to make better predictive computer models, ensuring safer operations for not only naval vessels, but also anticipated increased sea traffic by shipping and fishing industries, oil, gas and mining companies and tourism operations.
In addition to gaining insights from the atmosphere, ice and ocean to help understand changing sea ice levels, the MIZ program has proved the importance of new robotic technologies, experts said at the EXPO. Much of the data coming in to Arctic scientists is now from improved sensors, with greater ability to survive the harsh weather and ocean conditions.
Some of those technologies include Seagliders - autonomous underwater vehicles that measure the salinity, temperature and optical properties of the water, both on and below the ice; buoys that measure thickness and temperature of the ice; and Dropsondes - small sensors released from the air to obtain improved atmospheric measurements.
"The data from the MIZ experiments confirm how important it is to better understand the Arctic atmosphere, ice, ocean and ocean surface waves," said Jeffries. "The newer robotic measuring capabilities being used by ONR-sponsored researchers are proving essential for us to better understand the region."
ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs more than 1,000 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.