Losing its cool: will ice melt heat up naval operations in Arctic Ocean?

Arctic ocean

As diminishing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean expands navigable waters, scientists have traveled to the region to study the changing environment–and provide new tools to help the U.S. Navy operate in a once-inaccessible area.

A recent announcement from the National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed that 2016’s sea ice minimum (the annual measurement of when sea ice hits its lowest point) tied with 2007 for the second-lowest ice minimum since satellite monitoring began in the 1970s.

Scientists measured the strength and intensity of waves and swells moving through the weakened Arctic sea ice.

The accumulated data will be used to develop more accurate computer models and prediction methods to forecast ice, ocean and weather conditions.

Researchers used sophisticated oceanographic and acoustic sensors to gauge temperature, salinity, ice and ambient noise conditions under the surface of the ice and water.

These factors can dramatically impact the effectiveness of sonar operations and antisubmarine warfare.

Because of its thick shield of sea ice, the Arctic historically has had limited naval strategic relevance beyond submarine operations.

But as this frozen cover changes, it is opening new commercial shipping lanes; increasing oil and natural gas exploration, fishing and tourism; and raising potential new security concerns.

It also may create new requirements for the Navy’s surface fleet.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) supported the study. ONR sponsored its scientific research through two initiatives within its Arctic and Global Prediction Program.

One is Marginal Ice Zone, and the other is Waves and Sea State. Additional research involved the program’s Canada Basin Acoustic Propagation Experiment (CANAPE) initiative.

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News source: Office of Naval Research.
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