Norwegian Young Sea Ice Cruise (N-ICE2015)

Primary objective: To understand the effects of the new thin, first year, sea ice regime in the Arctic on energy flux, ice dynamics and the ice associated ecosystem, and local and global climate. Secondary objectives: Understand how available ocean heat is mixed upwards towards the sea ice and to what extent it influences the sea ice energy budget. Understand the fate of solar radiation incident on the first-year sea ice in the region and how its fate is affected by properties of the atmosphere, snow, ice, and ocean. Quantification of the changing mass balance of Arctic sea ice and its snow cover. Model the dynamics of the drifting ice. Understand the ice associated ecosystem and model future changes. Effects on local and global weather systems.

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Scientists at work on the ice, with RV Lance in the background

TEST CRUISE Scientists at work on the ice during the 2014 test cruise in preparation for N-ICE2015. Photo: Paul Dodd / Norwegian Polar Institute

N-ICE2015 drift path

DRIFT PATH The RV Lance will freeze into the ice north of Nordaustlandet, Svalbard, and passively drift with the ice, likely in a SW direction. Map: Norwegian Polar Institute

In September 2012 we saw the smallest sea ice extent on record in the Arctic. In addition, we observe that sea ice drifting through Fram Strait is substantially thinner in recent years (less than 2 m), compared with the early 1990s (about 3 m).  What this indicates is that over the past 25 years we have not only lost a lot of sea ice cover but also moved from a multiyear sea ice system towards a seasonal system.  

During a cruise aimed at studying the properties of the thin young sea ice during peak melting season in late July and early August, we observed that first-year ice reflects about 10% less of the incoming solar energy than multiyear ice. The effect of this is that the ice and the ocean below it receive 16 W/m2 more energy from the sun. About half of the energy is absorbed in the ice and the other half penetrates to the ocean below. The extra energy means that the thickness of first-year ice will decrease 13 cm more per month due to melting than multiyear. This is just one example of the changes that already occur in the Arctic but the increased influx of energy, both from the Atlantic inflow, and the sun, will off course cause numerous of other chances and cascade effect. To predict the future of the Arctic sea ice, effect on the climate, ocean and ecosystems we need good knowledge of the state of the system today and the processes that occur today and tomorrow.

To close the knowledge gap, the Norwegian Polar Institute has initiated the "Norwegian Young Sea ICE Cruise" (N-ICE2015). N-ICE2015 project will provide a comprehensive dataset on the energy budget of the first-year sea ice system as well as oceanographic and atmospheric data, and will cover the time from when the new ice is formed in winter until it melts. These data will help us understand, model and predict the Arctic sea ice system and its effect on the ecosystem, weather and climate. Importantly, the dataset will be made available to the wider scientific community. Basic funding for the N-ICE2015 comes from the Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE), the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Fram Centre, and the Ministry of Climate and Environment.

Scientists at work on the ice, with RV Lance in the background

TEST CRUISE Scientists at work on the ice during the 2014 test cruise in preparation for N-ICE2015. Photo: Paul Dodd / Norwegian Polar Institute

In late December 2014 we will let RV Lance freeze into the ice north of Nordaustlandet, at 83.25°N 30°E, and let her passively drift with the ice. Judging from historic sea ice drift trajectories, it is likely that RV Lance will drift in a SW direction. The actual drift trajectory and speed are impossible to predict, but the ship will probably be freed from the ice in mid spring. If so, RV Lance will return to her starting position and start a new drift. Under all circumstances, the ice drift project will end in late June.

Throughout the cruise we will study oceanographic properties, the marine ecosystem, the ice itself, radiation, meteorological parameters, ice dynamics and ice mechanics. These data will be the core of our deliverables, and will be made available to the wider community through the Norwegian Polar Institute data service – some data in real time, other data after analysis. In combination with the existing multiyear sea ice dataset provided by SHEBA and similar projects, these data will make scientists better equipped to forecast future scenarios regarding sea ice in the Arctic, ecosystem responses, and feedback on the planet's climate.

In addition to time series data, we will have dedicated campaigns to study processes such as algae bloom under the ice, sea ice thickness over a larger area, and turbulent mixing of the ocean caused by underwater topography and wind. Some of this work will be done using advanced remotely operated underwater vehicles and autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). While RV Lance is in the ice, the area around her will also serve as a ground-truthed reference point for scientists working with remote sensing from satellite images or airplanes.

N-ICE2015 will give us a golden opportunity to do science in an area, and at a time of year, that has seldom been studied before. An endeavour such as this is impossible without collaboration from many national and international groups. Through this joint effort, N-ICE2015 intends to produce a new and comprehensive dataset on the new sea ice regime in the north, enabling us to meet the future well prepared.