Results may help shed light on global climate change issues
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Aug. 1, 2005
RENO, Nev. – In the Inupiat Eskimo Village in Barrow, Alaska - the northern-most habitation on American territory- the villagers and visiting biologists have noticed some changes: puffins, which are lower-latitude birds have started inhabiting this colder region. Last summer, a shark was sighted in the waters southwest of Barrow for the first time. And the Inupiat Eskimos aren't the only ones who have seen changes. In northern Canada, people are witnessing thunderstorms--a weather event they have never experienced within their lifetimes--as well as robins and pacific salmon; the Yukon area of northern Canada isn't experiencing winters as cold as normal; and permafrost is melting rapidly in several parts of Alaska and in nothern Canada.
Coincidence? Not to Dr. Glenn Berger, a DRI research professor who will be getting to the bottom of this--literally--by pulling mud cores from the depths of the Arctic Ocean beginning Aug. 5-Sept. 30, from over the side of the USCG Healy icebreaker.
The multi-national expedition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is the second leg of two complimentary expeditions. During the first leg, which was June 13-26, the scientists explored the western Arctic Ocean (northwest of Alaska) using only the USCG Healy. Leg 2 involves both the Healy and the Swedish icebreaker and research vessel Oden that will cross the North Pole, ending in Norway. The voyage represents only the second-ever crossing of the central Arctic Ocean by two research surface ships (the last was in 1994) and is the largest geologic expedition to the central Arctic Ocean in the last 20 years. The science party hopes to learn more about how the Arctic Ocean basin formed, the nature and physical characteristics of the ocean and the Arctic's sensitivity to record past climate changes and to predict climate change.
"The Arctic Ocean is the last major ocean to be explored scientifically. Despite advances in oceanography in the past century, scientists know more about the nature and origins of the surface of the moon than they do about the make up of the Arctic Ocean seafloor," Berger said. "Moreover, the effects of climate change tend to appear in the Arctic before showing up in more temperate regions and thus the Arctic Ocean is both a “canary in the mine” and a generator of global change, because much of the world’s ocean-circulation cold bottom waters are produced there."
Scientists will conduct high-resolution mapping of the ocean bottom and its bedrock structure using geophysical tools, study the ice and the water column to learn about present conditions and take sediment cores (up to 25 m long) that record the Arctic’s past climatic record, perhaps as far back as several hundred thousand years. Berger will be conducting one of the paleoclimatic elements of the research, which involves analyzing mud cores that reveal changes in climate over the last few thousand years. The analysis of the cores will take place at DRI's E.L. Cord Luminescence-Geochronology Laboratory, a state-of-the-art dating facility that he helped found with support from DRI and the E.L. Cord Foundation of Nevada.
"Recognizing the patterns of the past provides a necessary baseline for predicting the future," Berger explains. "The changes we are seeing today are rapid changes. It's possible that by mid-century we won't need icebreakers to go to China from Europe in the summer."
Students and teachers are encouraged to track the icebreaker's journey, read the cruise diary and look at the photo gallery at: http://sci.odu.edu/oceanography/research/hotrax/
Students can ask a scientist a question at: www.arcus.org/trec/vbc/index.php?showforum=3