Arctic Ocean Sea Ice Thickness, Bathymetry, and Water Properties from Submarine Data

Friday, 19 December 2014
Florence M Fetterer and Ann K Windnagel, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States
The Submarine Arctic Science Program, SCICEX, is a federal interagency collaboration that began in 1993 among the operational Navy, research agencies, and the marine research community to use nuclear-powered submarines for scientific studies of the Arctic Ocean. Unlike surface ships and satellites, submarines have the unique ability to operate and take measurements regardless of sea ice cover, weather conditions, and time of year. This allows for a broad and comprehensive investigation of an entire ocean basin. The goal of the program is to acquire comprehensive data about Arctic sea ice thickness; biological, chemical, and hydrographic water properties; and bathymetry to improve our understanding of the Arctic Ocean basin and its role in the Earth's climate system.

Ice draft is measured with upward looking sonars mounted on the submarine’s hull. The work of collaborators on the SCICEX project compared recent ice draft from the submarines with draft from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) and with ice thickness estimates from ice age and have shown that SCICEX ice draft are consistent with these models. Bathymetry is measured with a bottom sounder. SCICEX bathymetry data from 1993 to 1999 are included in the International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean (IBCAO). Collaborators have compared more recent bathymetry data collected through the SCICEX project with other IBCAO data, and they agree well. Water properties are measured with two different types of conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensors: one mounted on the submarine’s hull and expendable versions that are deployed through the submarines torpedo tubes. Data from the two different CTD sensors validate one another. The breadth of instrumentation available from submarines along with their ability to be unencumbered by sea ice, weather, and season makes the data they have collected extremely valuable. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) manages this data collection and makes it available through the web at http://nsidc.org/scicex.