Coast Guard helps scientists study Arctic ice

Buoy used to collect data on weather, sea ice conditions

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009

JUNEAU - The U.S. Coast Guard 17th District deployed a buoy last week in the Arctic that will help scientists collect information about sea ice.

Ltj. G. Rebecca Chambers / U.s. Coast Guard
Ltj. G. Rebecca Chambers / U.s. Coast Guard

It was the first time the Coast Guard placed an ocean drifting buoy in the Arctic Ocean.

The buoy is one in an international network that was started in the late 1970s to help scientists forecast weather, predict sea ice conditions and determine the effects of climate change, among other uses.

The Coast Guard worked in cooperation with several scientific agencies and the International Ice Patrol to place the buoy Wednesday from the back of a C-130 Hercules airplane.

The buoys are typically deployed by ship or aircraft during iceberg reconnaissance.

Many changes in Arctic climate noted in the past two decades were first observed and studied using buoy data.

Wednesday's effort coincides with the Coast Guard's month-long operations on the North Slope and the summer 2009 expedition of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy is participating in a joint U.S.-Canada mapping mission and also is supporting the deployment of buoys for research.

"We are leaning forward to gain a thorough understanding of the cultural, environmental and operational challenges the Coast Guard faces in Northern Alaska and the Arctic domain," said Capt. Robert Phillips with the 17th Coast Guard District. "As such, we need to project a persistent presence in these remote regions to expand our knowledge of the environment and protect U.S. sovereignty."

The ice drifting buoy uses a modified version of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment buoy. These WOCE buoys are drogued at 50 or 150 feet to track the deep water currents that affect iceberg drift. The drifters also measure the sea surface temperature using a thermister on the underside of the surface float.

The drifters are further equipped with submergence sensors that indicate drogue loss. Buoys without drogues do not follow ocean currents well, because the surface float is significantly affected by wind and waves.

Drifters transmit sensor data to satellites that determine the buoy's position and relay the data to ground stations, which provide tracking and data services. The WOCE buoys the International Ice Patrol use cost about $2,000 each.

The International Ice Patrol deploys between 12 and 15 buoys each year in the Labrador Sea and North Atlantic region.

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