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What's New Archive

June 09, 2015

The changing Arctic climate is a harbinger of a global future, but to understand emerging patterns we need to know more about the past history of the Earth's weather. The handwritten journals and logbooks of scientists and sailors who for centuries have left records of the weather and environmental conditions they encountered on their travels provide unique information about the history of the Arctic climate.

Help scientists recover Arctic weather observations made by explorers. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and improve a database of weather extremes. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and the stories of the people on board. Learn more from the Old Weather YouTube video and at the Arctic ReDiscovery website.

Kjell-Sture Johansen (NORUT), Dan Mock (AUV), Andreas TØllefsen (NORUT), Rune Storvold (NORUT), Scott Stalin (PMEL), Nick Delich (PMEL), Jim Johnson (PMEL), Hagen Teig (ESRL),Brad Hooper (AUV), Tej Dhakai (LDEO), and Scott Brown (LDEO) with partner groups after the final mission. Photo credit: Kjell-Sture Johansen

Kjell-Sture Johansen (NORUT), Dan Mock (AUV), Andreas TØllefsen (NORUT), Rune Storvold (NORUT), Scott Stalin (PMEL), Nick Delich (PMEL), Jim Johnson (PMEL), Hagen Teig (ESRL),Brad Hooper (AUV), Tej Dhakai (LDEO), and Scott Brown (LDEO) with partner groups after the final mission. Photo credit: Kjell-Sture Johansen

May 08, 2015

Kjell-Sture Johansen (NORUT), Dan Mock (AUV), Andreas TØllefsen (NORUT), Rune Storvold (NORUT), Scott Stalin (PMEL), Nick Delich (PMEL), Jim Johnson (PMEL), Hagen Teig (ESRL),Brad Hooper (AUV), Tej Dhakai (LDEO), and Scott Brown (LDEO) with partner groups after the final mission. Photo credit: Kjell-Sture Johansen

May 08, 2015

PMEL atmospheric chemists Trish Quinn and Tim Bates teamed up with other scientists and engineers to measure black carbon (soot) in the climate sensitive Arctic region.  The scientists launched out of Ny-Ålesund, Norway using Mantas, an unmanned aerial systems (drones) to take measurements in the atmosphere, using a suite of sensors that could capture particle size and composition, light scattering properties and tracers that help detect the geographic origin of the particles.  Scientists and engineers completed a total of 26 flights during this field season, in addition to sampling snow on the ground for black carbon deposition measurements.  The data from flights and snow will help scientists better understand how black carbon is transported to the Arctic and to constrain its contribution to ice melt and warming in the Arctic.  

For more information, read here about the 2015 field season and visit the Atmospheric Chemistry webpage.

PMEL Project: 

Saildrone in the open water.  Credit: Saildrone Inc.

Saildrone in the open water.  Credit: Saildrone Inc.

April 21, 2015

On April 22, two autonomous surface vehicles equipped with meteorological and oceanographic sensors will be released for the first time in the Bering Sea by NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL)

Saildrones have the capacity to increase observational infrastructure in remote and hostile polar regions where ship time and human labor is costly and potentially hazardous. The ongoing development of Saildrones is a collaborative effort of researchers at PMEL, the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Saildrone Inc.

The wind- and solar-powered Saildrone incorporates the principles of sailing and scientific research with a nearly 20 foot high carbon-fiber wing that speeds through the waters with a suite of high resolution sensors. Compared to other remotely operated vehicles, these autonomous surface vehicles can carry over 200 pounds of instrumentation, travel at speeds up to 16 mph, and are quickly maneuverable. There is also no need to ‘drive’ or continuously monitor Saildrones. Like a ship with a set course, a Saildrone will continue on its path while continuously taking measurements, notifying on-call engineers of potential dangers via phone.

For the past year, scientists and engineers have focused on successfully developing the technology to operate in colder waters while obtaining quality data. The April deployment in the Bering Sea will focus on gathering and verifying that data collected are accurate enough for NOAA research and climate studies. By 2016, researchers hope to be north of the Bering Sea and entering Arctic waters.

PMEL researchers and Saildrone Inc. engineers have incorporated a suite of sensors into the Saildrone that include wind, air temperature and humidity, barometer, ocean surface temperature, water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and fluorescence. Pending a successful mission, the researchers and engineers are working on additional technologies, such as an acoustic fish finder to examine fish populations and a carbon dioxide-methane sensor to measure gas exchange between the air and water.

“Our ultimate goal using Saildrones is to understand the Arctic ecosystem at the water surface and throughout the water column,” said Calvin Mordy, Ph.D., a lead scientist on the project from JISAO.

“Our ultimate goal using Saildrones is to understand the Arctic ecosystem at the water surface and throughout the water column”

Studies of the Bering Sea and Arctic waters are conducted mostly with ships. However, shortcomings of research vessels include their cost, limited range of observations, and seasonal measurements. The use of Saildrones in colder waters could allow scientists to enhance ship time, expand their range of measurements in the ocean, and continue to monitor through the entire year. These air and water measurements can be used to better understand warming temperatures, decreasing sea ice, and ocean acidification in an area that is not only a productive ecosystem, but also a valuable fishery for salmon, king crab, and Walleye pollock.

While Saildrones are rugged instruments that have been tested in the waters of San Francisco and other more temperate waters, the Bering Sea presents unique challenges. Strong currents around Alaska can make steering difficult, while limited sunshine may affect some of the solar-powered instruments. The most unique challenge of the Saildrone will be navigating through a potential sea of jellyfish. In large enough numbers, the jellyfish can clog the water intake system that allows the suite of instruments to take measurements.

After the initial testing, the two Saildrones will spend the next couple weeks mirroring the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson and testing validity of the data sets during regular operations on the M2 Biophysical Mooring in the southeastern Bering Sea . Once these comparisons are complete the autonomous surface vehicles will continue solo, heading northward in search of sea ice until July, when they will be retrieved from Nome, Alaska. A successful deployment of Saildrones into the Bering Strait would be symbolic for the potential of these autonomous surface vehicles to survey waters from pole to pole.

Published in NOAA Research News
by Caroline Mosley, NOAA Research Communications

March 03, 2015

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February 03, 2015

The age of Arctic sea ice can be determined using satellite observations and drifting buoy records to track the movement of ice floes, and can be a rough indicator for ice thickness. 

This NOAA PMEL animation shows the age of the ice at the end of each winter since 1987. Paler colors indicate older ice, with light blue indicating 4-year ice to white indicating very old ice.

In the 1980’s, 26% of the Arctic winter ice pack consisted of thick ice built up over multiple years. After 2007, older ice diminishes rapidly and is replaced by younger ice. Starting in 2011, very old ice remains only along the Canadian coast.

At the end of winter 2014, only 10% of the ice pack was old ice, less than half the amount in the early 1980’s, and very old ice has become more rare. Learn more about Arctic Sea ice in 2014 in the Sea Ice article in the 2014 Arctic Report Card and visit PMEL's Arctic Research Page.

PMEL Project: 
December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014

The NOAA-led Arctic Report Card was released today. The annual assessment of change in the Arctic shows the region continues to outpace the rest of the globe in response to climate change, warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on earth.

The report documents changes in air temperature, sea surface temperature, snow cover, sea ice extent, the Greenland ice sheet, ocean productivity, and vegetation over the tundra. A special addition this year includes an assessment of polar bear population dynamics in several different regions of the Arctic.

Read the NOAA press release and visit the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2014.  

PMEL Project: 

December 17, 2014

The NOAA-led Arctic Report Card 2014  was released today.  In 2014, rising air and sea temperatures continued to trigger changes in the Arctic.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth. However, natural variation remains, such as the slight increase in March 2014 sea ice thickness and only a slight decrease in total mass of the Greenland ice sheet in summer 2014.

The warming Arctic atmosphere was strongly connected to lower latitudes in early 2014, with cold air outbreaks into the eastern USA and warm air intrusions into Alaska and northern Europe. Arctic warming conditions are impacting polar bear conditions, northern hemisphere snow cover, sea surface temperatures and primary productivity, tundra and the Greenland ice sheet.

The annual Arctic Report Card tracks recent environmental changes, with 10 essays in 2014 prepared by an international team of 63 scientists from 13 different countries and an independent peer-review organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Arctic Council. Read more...

November 14, 2014
November 13, 2014

Deep Sea Research Part II just published a special issue on research in the Bering Sea.   Ten PMEL and Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean scientists contributed to this issue.  The Bering Sea Project: Volume III documents the findings of six years of research and the partnership of two ecosystem programs. 

The NSF-funded Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST) and the NPRB-funded Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP), with in-kind contributions from NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, have shed light on ecosystem dynamics and how the region may respond to climate change.  In particular, researchers found that when and where the sea ice extends are major factors that determine productivity and impact the entire ecosystem of the Bering Sea.   To find out more information about these exciting programs, visit the EcoFOCI and BEST-BSIERP websites.

From left to right: Dr. Muyin Wang, Dr. Nick Bond, Dr. Jim Overland, and Dr. Kevin Wood

From left to right: Dr. Muyin Wang, Dr. Nick Bond, Dr. Jim Overland, and Dr. Kevin Wood

October 02, 2014

From left to right: Dr. Muyin Wang, Dr. Nick Bond, Dr. Jim Overland, and Dr. Kevin Wood 

October 02, 2014

Scientists from PMEL and JISAO took off on NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter P3 aircraft on October 2 from Seattle, Washington heading to Fairbanks, Alaska to take part in 5 flight missions to measure heat flux coming from the Arctic Ocean. This is the second year in a row scientists have flown above Arctic waters.  Data gathered from both years to test the hypothesis that increased summer heat storage in the newly sea-ice free ocean regions in the Arctic lead to surface heat fluxes in autumn that are large enough to have impacts on atmospheric temperature, humidity, wind and cloud distributions. 

This project has been jointly funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and NOAA, and includes both aircraft and ship operations.  To learn more about NOAA's research in the Arctic, visit

PMEL Project: 

September 15, 2014

On September 15th, NOAA researchers at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) worked with their colleagues at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) to recover three ocean gliders in the Northern Gulf of Alaska where they have been operating for the past four and half months. This mission, which was the longest ocean acidification glider operation ever conducted, was designed to better understand the impacts that glacial runoff and other biogeochemical processes have on ocean acidification in remote access, high-latitude regions.

Two carbon wave gliders, which ride at the surface of the ocean, provided surface measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) and dissolved oxygen concentrations as well as temperature and salinity data (Plot 1). Over the course of the deployment, the two surface gliders covered more than 6,700 km and made 4,757 measurements of CO2 in the air and seawater.

Simultaneously, a subsurface Slocum glider made over 5,400 dives through the water column down to 200 m, collecting 404,912 measurements of temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen (Plot 2) while covering a horizontal distance of over 2,700 km along the continental shelf. All of the gliders were controlled remotely and in real-time from Seattle, WA using new interface software that can be run from any laptop or handheld device, allowing the glider pilots more flexibility during operations.

During the deployment, preliminary data from all three gliders was transmitted back to PMEL where it was analyzed and used for dynamic mission planning. This allowed the two lead scientists, Dr. Jeremy Mathis at PMEL and Dr. Wiley Evans at UAF to modify the tracks of each glider to best capture changing ocean parameters throughout the spring and summer. In the coming months scientists will process and try to understand all of the data, but this mission has proven that autonomous gliders are and will be a critical component of NOAA’s mission to gather environmental intelligence in the future.

PMEL Theme: Carbon Air/Sea Flux
photo of fishing ships in Alaska

photo of fishing ships in Alaska

July 29, 2014

A new study led by PMEL's Dr. Jeremy Mathis, published online July 29 in Progress in Oceanography, shows that many of Alaska's economically valuable marine fisheries are located in waters already experiencing ocean acidification.  The economy and livelihood of communities in southeast and southwest Alaska are expected to be particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification and have underlying factors making these communities more susceptible. Studies show that red king crab and tanner crab, two important Alaskan fisheries, grow more slowly and don’t survive as well in more acidic waters. Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water that can absorb more carbon dioxide, and unique ocean circulation patterns which bring naturally acidic deep ocean waters to the surface. 

Read more on the NOAA press release and visit PMEL's ocean acidification research page.