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Biology Articles » Hydrobiology » UD scientists track freshwater flow from Arctic into the Atlantic

UD scientists track freshwater flow from Arctic into the Atlantic

Freshwater discharge from the Arctic to the North Atlantic is a crucial factor controlling global climate

University of Delaware marine scientists are now working aboard the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy on a National Science Foundation project to track the fresh water flowing out of the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic.

This fresh water, from melting ice and rivers, affects the salinity and circulation of the ocean and thus has a major influence on the Earth's climate.

"Freshwater discharge from the Arctic to the North Atlantic is a crucial factor controlling global climate," says Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of Physical Ocean Science and Engineering in the UD College of Marine Studies and one of the lead investigators on the project.

The five-year study involves over 35 scientists from Oregon State University, the Institute of Ocean Sciences in British Columbia, and the University of Delaware. The scientists will be using tools ranging from underwater current profilers to satellite sensors to determine the volume and timing of freshwater flows through Nares Strait, a narrow channel between northern Greenland and Canada's Ellesmere Island.

Funded by a $2 million grant from NSF's Office of Polar Programs, UD's primary contribution to the research effort will be to install and operate an ocean observing system in Nares Strait. On the first expedition, which sets sail from St. John's, Newfoundland, on July 21 and concludes August 16 in Thule, Greenland, the UD team will be setting up oceanographic equipment moorings at 26 locations along the bottom of the strait to measure currents, temperature, and salinity. Sea level will be monitored at eight locations, and two sensors will be installed to measure ice thickness and motion.

Led by Muenchow, UD's science team includes research associate David Huntley, graduate student Melissa Zweng, UD sophomore Lauren Brown, Elinor Keith, a senior at Princeton University who is an intern this summer in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at the College of Marine Studies, and Robert McCarthy, a physics teacher at Governor Mifflin High School in Reading, Pennsylvania. McCarthy will be reporting the team's activities on a daily basis on the project Web site for the benefit of students, the public, and other researchers.

Last week, after the Healy left its home port in Seattle to transit through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic Ocean, Muenchow and Huntley boarded the icebreaker early on to get their sea legs and begin testing their equipment. All went smoothly, and Muenchow is now raring for the expedition to begin.

"It's very difficult for me to relax," Muenchow writes in an e-mail from the Healy. "There are just too many exciting things going on. I can see the instruments, and I can see the ocean from which these measurements are taken. Data on oceanography is streaming in, in real time, from all directions. I'm like a data junkie who has been given an overdose."

University of Delaware. July 2003.


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