Robots Monitor the Melting Arctic

Posted 1 Jul 2009 at 16:41 UTC by steve Share This

Earlier this year NOAA warned that increased global warming was combining with natural variability in the Arctic and could result in an ice-free Arctic in as little as 30 years, rather than the end of the century as predict by earlier models. This has created a sense of urgency among organizations studying the changes. NOAA and NASA have combined forces with Northrop Grumman to create a specially modified Global Hawk UAV that will make 6 long duration missions over the Arctic and the Pacific ocean to collect data in troposphere and lower stratosphere. The Global Hawk is an autonomous robot that can stay aloft for 31 hours at altitudes up to 65,000 feet. NASA is also using a UAVSAR (Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar) to create highly detailed Arctic ice maps:

Using these data, scientists would also be able to measure the speed, direction and topographic height of ice caps whose sub-glacial bedrock topography is already mapped – thereby providing critical information that can be used to improve models of glacier mechanics.

Meanwhile, Seaglider robots have been deployed off Greenland to make more accurate measurements of Arctic sea currents. Scientist believe the Arctic runoff is already altering the density of sea water in the Labrador Sea, driving critical ocean circulation that affects the global climate. We mentioned last month that another seaglider project has resulted in a new understanding of ocean circulation that should significantly improve the accuracy of climate models. Canada is also deploying two AUVs to scan the seabed to further their claims in the coming UN Convention that will determine which nations get sovereign rights to the new ocean areas forming as the Arctic melts.

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