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Bouncing Among the Arctic Ice: The Ultimate Arctic Machine?

November 30, 2005

WHOI scientists exploring the largely unknown currents beneath the polar sea ice have designed and successfully tested a new float that drifts at various depths through the oceans measuring water temperature and salinity. The float is programmed to rise to the surface periodically, find a lead or opening in the ice cover, and transmit its data via satellite antenna to scientists ashore. When the float rises and encounters ice, it sinks to a shallow depth and tries again, up to 100 times. Three experimental polar floats were deployed this summer during a seven-week voyage across the Arctic Ocean aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden. They worked: WHOI researchers have received e-mails containing position information and scientific data from the floats periodically as the floats find open water.  Contact has been less frequent in recent days as winter ice builds in the Arctic. More than 2,000 similar floats, part of the ARGO program, are dispersed through the world’s ocean to collect data for climate and ocean circulation studies.  The scientists hope to seed the Arctic with the new floats.