Given the Arctic ice caps' precipitous decline over the past year and bleak projected outlook, an "early warning" system may seem like too little, too late. The scientists heading up the Arctic Observing Network, whose aim it is to assess the changes going on now in order to help predict the ice caps' future, believe the instrument they have just devised - the ice-tethered profiler (ITP) - may still provide some valuable insights.
Equipped with a set of components that includes a surface buoy, various sensors, a motor and a modem, ITPs are installed using an ice auger to drill a 10-inch-diameter hole and - after being anchored down to an ice floe - are left to drift, continuously monitoring the seawater properties below. Their expected lifetime is 3 years - about the same amount of time their supporting ice floe will last.
The scientists, led by WHOI's John Toole and Rick Krishfield, are interested in investigating the processes that help sustain the halocline - a depth in the ocean with a high salinity gradient. They are worried that warmer surface waters may disrupt or even stop the formation of the halocline in the near future, which could help drastically accelerate the rate of ice melting.
After hitting a few technical bumps in the road, the scientists managed to erect an Arctic Ocean-wide network of ITPs, with several recently installed in the Beaufort Gyre. They are now working on developing additional sensors for the ITPs that would measure chlorophyll, solar radiation, particles and other ocean properties prone to be affected by climate change.
Via ::Oceanus: A New Way to Monitor Changes in the Arctic (magazine)