NASA to undertake new mission to study arctic climate change

June 9th, 2010 - 2:31 am ICT by BNO News  

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) – NASA on Tuesday said it will be taking an up-close look at how changing conditions in the Arctic are affecting the ocean’s chemistry and ecosystems that play a critical role in global climate change.

The “Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment” mission, or ICESCAPE, is NASA’s first dedicated oceanographic field campaign, which will begin next Tuesday.

ICESCAPE takes to sea onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the United States’ newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker, providing more than 4,200 square feet of scientific laboratory space. It is designed to break four-and-a-half feet of ice continuously at three knots and operate in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than 40 scientists will spend five weeks at sea sampling the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the ocean and sea ice. A variety of instruments will be used onboard the Healy and deployed into the ocean and on the sea ice.

ICESCAPE will investigate the impacts of climate change on the ecology and biogeochemistry of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. A key focus is how changes in the Arctic may be altering the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, as greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is a leading cause of global warming.

Understanding how this carbon cycle works in different parts of the world is key in predicting future climate change, and identifying how Earth’s ecology and chemistry are influenced by natural processes and by humans is a key part of NASA’s Earth science program.

The Arctic Ocean is unique as it is nearly completely landlocked, making it an ideal location to study ongoing climate changes in a marine ecosystem already heavily impacted by declining sea ice cover, ocean acidification, and an increase in incoming solar radiation.

These changes are likely to modify the physics, biogeochemistry, and ecology of this environment in ways that are not well understood. Satellite remote sensing has provided some insight into these changes which ICESCAPE is designed to advance.

“The ocean ecosystem in the Arctic has changed dramatically in recent years, and it’s changing much faster and much more than any other ocean in the world,” said ICESCAPE chief scientist Kevin Arrigo of Stanford University. “Declining sea ice in the Arctic is certainly one reason for the change, but that’s not the whole story. We need to find out, for example, where the nutrients are coming from that feed this growth if we are going to be able to predict what the future holds for this region.”

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