Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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John Kemp, right, augers a hole for the Ice-Tethered Profiler. (Photo by Rick Krishfield, WHOI)

WHOI researchers scouted the perfect spot to deploy instruments in the Beaufort Sea in the western Arctic Ocean. In August 2004, John Kemp (far right) and Rick Krishfield found their spot: a stable, four-meter-thick piece of ice to install an Ice-Tethered Profiler (ITP). Developed at WHOI by John Toole, the ITP is secured to a drifting ice flow. It dangles an instrumented cable into the ocean to measure water temperature and salinity—through all seasons and over several years—transmitting data back via satellite. (It was also an ideal spot for polar bears—hence Seaman Andrew Kaiser, above, of the Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent and his shotgun.)

Using a variety of instruments to measure ocean, ice, and atmosphere in the Beaufort Sea, WHOI researchers seek to elucidate the sea’s critical role in global climate. Vast amounts of fresh water collect in the sea: from the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait; from precipitation and melting snow and ice; and from great Siberian and Canadian rivers draining into it. This huge freshwater reservoir is trapped by a wind-driven, cyclonic current called the Beaufort Gyre. WHOI physical oceanographer Andrey Proshutinsky has theorized that when the winds occasionally shift, the gyre weakens, allowing large volumes of fresh water to leak into the North Atlantic. Th is flywheel may have large impacts on ocean circulation and climate, and it may be sensitive to global warming. Nobody knows for sure, because the Beaufort Sea is among the Earth’s most hostile and inaccessible regions, and data is scarce. But pioneering, annual expeditions to the Beaufort Sea from 2003 to 2008 will begin to reveal its secrets.

The Beaufort Gyre Freshwater Experiment is funded by the National Science Foundation and the WHOI Ocean and Climate Change Institute. The Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Technology Innovation Award at WHOI funded initial development of the ITP.

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