In Antarctica, scientists go with the floe.
U.S. and Russian scientists launched the Antarctic's first floating laboratory last week. Built atop an ice floe nearly 2 miles long, 1 mile wide and 7 feet thick, Ice Station Weddell will carry 20 researchers on a 5-month, 400-mile journey through the western Weddell Sea Weddell Sea (wĕd`əl), arm of the Atlantic Ocean, W Antarctica, SE of South America, bordered by the Antarctic Peninsula and Coats Land. The vast Ronne and Filchner ice shelves are at the head of the sea. - previously unexplored waters clogged year round by floating ice. Along the way, the scientists hope to learn more about how the region both influences and responds to global climate.
The 80 tons of equipment on the ice floe include instruments to measure the sea, ice and air. The expedition's primary goal is to study heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere and how the intervening ice influences that exchange.
"One of the largest uncertainties affecting the accuracy of models predicting the greenhouse effect greenhouse effect: see global warming.
Warming of the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere caused by water vapour, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases in the atmosphere. Visible light from the Sun heats the Earth's surface. is the role played by the ocean's sea-ice cover," says expedition member Douglas Martinson, an oceanographer with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological ge·ol·o·gy
n. pl. ge·ol·o·gies
1. The scientific study of the origin, history, and structure of the earth.
2. The structure of a specific region of the earth's crust.
3. A book on geology. Observatory observatory, scientific facility especially equipped to detect and record naturally occurring scientific phenomena. Although geological and meteorological observatories exist, the term is generally applied to astronomical observatories. in Palisades Palisades, cliffs along the west bank of the Hudson River, NE N.J. and SE N.Y., extending from N of Jersey City, N.J., to the vicinity of Piermont, N.Y., with a general altitude of from 350 ft to 550 ft (107–168 m). , N.Y. "There is a surprisingly delicate balance between the atmospher above the ice and the ocean below it. Consequently, relatively small changes in either atmosphere or ocean can lead to significant changes in the character of the Antarctic sea ice, which in turn can have a major impact on climate."
Scientists also hope to learn more about the formation and dispersal dis·per·sal
The act or process of dispersing or the condition of being dispersed; distribution.
Noun 1. dispersal of Antarctic bottom water The Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) is a type of water mass in the seas surrounding Antarctica with temperatures ranging from 0 to -0.8◦ C, salinities from 34.6 to 34.7, and a density near 27.88. , another Weddell Sea phenomenon that significantly affects global climate. Dense and frigid frig·id
1. Extremely cold.
2. Persistently averse to sexual intercourse. , Antarctic bottom water from the Weddell Sea surges northward north·ward
adv. & adj.
Toward, to, or in the north.
A northern direction, point, or region.
north into the world's oceans, drifting along 1,000 meters or more below the sea surface. "Antarctic bottom water is the refrigerator that makes the world's oceans cold," says Lamont-Doherty oceanographer Arnold L. Gordon, coordinator of the expeditions's science programs.
Past measurements have indicated that bottom water in the southern Weddell is warmer than botom water in the northern Weddell. Gordon speculates that the western edge of the sea somehow alters the bottom water as it flows northward. "We're not going to understand the whole story about the formation of Antarctic bottom water until we investigate that western rim," he told SCIENCE NEWS.
Since the greenhouse effect could alter the amount of Antarctic bottom water supplied to the world's oceans, expedition researchers will also try to determine the rate at which bottom water leaves the Weddell. "We really need to know: Is the Artarctic spigot going to become stronger or weaker as the climate changes under the greenhouse warming scenario?" Gordon explains.
Because of the large amounts of equipment and the relatively small crew, experiments at Ice Station Weddell probably won't get into full swing until mid-March, Gordon says. However, with the station currently drifting northward at only 3 to 5 kilometers per day, the researchers shouldn't miss any important data, he adds. The expedition will end when the floe reaches warmer northern waters and begins to melt, sometime in June or July.