Coast Guard, University of Washington partner on Arctic research
Posted by PA3 Jonathan Klingenberg, Friday, July 5, 2013
The word Arctic conjures images of flat, icy and inhospitable landscapes devoid of all but the polar bears, seals, and other wild life captured on film in nature programs, but this is not the case. Many people do not know of the extensive research that is being conducted in the Arctic to better understand the changes that are occurring.Open water is attracting an increase in human activity from commercial shipping outfits and eco-tourism operators and has created an opportunity for the Coast Guard to partner with scientific researchers. To conduct scientific research and improve awareness of the changing conditions in the Arctic, the Coast Guard and the University of Washington partnered for a week to conduct four Arctic domain awareness flights during the month of June.
The crews worked together to launch a total of three probes from a Kodiak-based HC-130 Hercules airplane over the Arctic Ocean. The first probe that was deployed, the Dropsond, samples the air as it falls from 10,000 feet to the surface of the ocean. The data provides temperature, wind direction, wind velocity and more. The second probe that was dropped was the Aircraft Expendable Conductivity Temperature Depth or AXCTD for short. Lastly, the Aircraft Expendable Current Profiler or AECP was dropped to measures water current velocity and direction.
According to James Morison, the principal oceanographer at the University of Washington polar science center, both the AXCTD and the AECP drop into the water, float on the surface and a small probe drops down from a thin wire. As it’s extending down it’s taking data from the water column extending down 1,000 meters. It gives researchers an unprecedented understanding of what’s going on in the water.
The Hercules is the Coast Guard’s long-range search platform. The aircraft can fly for approximately 3,000 miles before refueling and conduct multiple missions ranging from searches and communications to transporting cargo and personnel or dropping rescue equipment over stranded mariners.
“It’s the perfect platform for operating at low levels,” said Lt. Jessie Hyles, an Air Station Kodiak Hercules pilot. “It’s good at flying low and slow. Coast Guard crews are trained to fly low and slow on search and rescue cases or law enforcement flights. That’s where we are comfortable operating. Dropmasters are specifically trained to conduct drop operations out of the back of the C-130, dropping flares and pumps and survival equipment. They are very familiar with doing that and the sensors that we deployed for the University of Washington are all within the geometric size that they are trained for and good at doing.”
The University of Washington benefits from the partnership with the Coast Guard by utilizing the ADA flights to deploy their sensors. Traditionally they use civilian ships to deploy the sensors at the very end of the research season, at the end of the summer, when the ice has receded leaving areas of open water. All of the data gathered is from August and September but with the Coast Guard flights they can conduct research beginning in May and June.
According to Morison the ability to gather hydrographic data earlier in the year will give researchers a good idea of how the Arctic is going to look toward the end of summer when traffic lanes start opening up. That information in turn gives people who transit through the area an idea of what the weather conditions, ice floes and overall climate will be during their transit. Predictability, preparedness and safety all go hand in hand.
Air Station Kodiak’s Arctic domain awareness flights support the Coast Guard’s Arctic strategy objectives for increasing Arctic domain awareness and broadening partnerships with federal, state, local and tribal partners.
Increasing Arctic domain awareness is the primary reason the Coast Guard began conducting the flights in 2007. The flights allow the Coast Guard crews to increase their knowledge and experience about conducting operations in the region. The science missions with the University of Washington began in 2009 and have included dropping several sensors. The science coordination also included air sampling over the Brooks Range for NOAA to establish a long-term record of the gases present in the area and how they change over time. The data from the sensors is only collected for a couple of hours after their deployment, but what is received is taken back to the labs for further analysis.
“With the science stuff we are doing, not only are we improving the awareness of the Coast Guard and aircrews, but we are improving the awareness of the top polar scientists in the entire world,” said Hyles. “They are learning things and have access to data they never had before.”
Broadening partnerships between the Coast Guard and the scientific community allows both sectors to broaden their understanding of the Arctic and how it is changing. As human traffic in the Arctic increases, a better understanding of the area is achieved through research and continued discussions with regional stakeholders. This allows the Coast Guard to accomplish missions effectively and efficiently to protect the safety of life at sea, safeguard the maritime environment and ensure commerce with as little as possible negative impact on those who call that region home.