Despite years of focus on melting Arctic sea ice, research models predicting how it changes are lacking.
They aren t that good. They don t necessarily do a great job of predicting what s going to happen, explained UW Senior Principal Oceanographer Craig Lee. That tells us we don t have the physics right.
That s a concern for Lee, who says the ice is melting faster than anyone originally thought.
Getting the physics right is now the focus of a $12 million project funded by the US Office of Naval Research. The first-of-its-kind study began in March and ends in September.
It involves experts from all over the world, but researchers from Seattle will contribute one of the most essential pieces.
Researchers at UW s Applied Physics lab have developed robotic gliders that weigh 100 lbs, are 6 feet long, can travel 3,000 feet deep, and are equipped with several sensors that measure salt content, microorganisms, water turbulence, and temperature.
It s something very new. We haven t been able to do that before, Lee said.
The gliders will deploy in the next few days.
This antenna actually sits off the back, Lee said, pointing to a large orange piece on the glider s tail.
The antenna is used for remote satellite communication, allowing for unique opportunities.
In the past researchers have set up costly camping trips. Constraints on humans conducting field research limited their range of data collection.
You can t stay out there for that long, Lee said.
The robotic gliders, however, can stay in the Arctic long after researchers leave.
They re collecting their data, they re doing their thing, they re telephoning their data home, Lee said.
It gives Lee and others the chance to see how arctic ice changes during its entire melting season, particularly in what s called the marginal ice zone , the area of broken ice between solid ice and open water.
The surface waves can deform the ice, which causes it to break, Lee said.
Broken ice melts faster, creating more water. The open water, in turn, absorbs more heat than ice, which reflects light. The more water there is, the more heat is absorbed, melting ice faster.
Our ability to understand how the sea ice evolves feeds back into the climate models which then give us our predictions about how the globe will fare in the future, Lee said.
The gliders only travel about a half-mile per hour, and it may take 5-years for the final data analysis, but researches expect to use the information gathered for decades to come.