Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Data from the deep

Data from the deep Joc Kevin Elliot
18 Apr
2015
Data-gathering Royal Navy submarines are helping scientists discover how and why the Arctic Ocean is on the move

In March 1959, the USS Skate popped up at the North Pole. What used to be a very long trek by foot had become a simple cruise for a nuclear-powered submarine. Back then, head-butting through Arctic ice was a tough proposition, even for a thickly-armoured submarine. These days it would be far easier. New research shows that not only is climate warming melting the ice but Arctic waters are becoming more turbulent which also reduces the depth of the ice coverage. The UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is watching the change and, using data gathered from Arctic-bound Royal Navy submarines, is helping scientists at NOC better understand the changes.

‘By investigating the nature of turbulence under sea ice, we can begin to understand how the circulation of the Arctic Ocean is likely to change as it becomes more ice-free during the summer,’ says Dr Charlotte Marcinko, lead author on the research. Ice melt is expected to accelerate as a cold, fresh layer of water beneath the ice mixes with a salty level below. As turbulent motions increase, so does the mixing. The result is a positive feedback loop that removes even more ice.

Turbulence links currents across ocean circulation, from those as small as a few millimetres to those as wide as ocean basins. But Arctic sea-ice can shield an ocean from it, making it more difficult to study the currents beneath. The NOC has used data from the submarines, including temperature and salt content measurements, to find out what’s happening beneath the ice.

The sensitive nature of the data required approval from the Ministry of Defence before it could be used. However, thanks to the Navy’s secret sub-Arctic ramblings, the NOC has discovered that turbulence is similar in Arctic regions with high and low amounts of sea ice. This means ocean turbulence is altered through the structure of the water column, and not through ice acting as a lid to protect the ocean from the wind.

This article was published in the April 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

With the war against plastic gaining publicity and popularity, one…

Wildlife

India’s booming domestic dog population is attacking some of the…

Energy

Soaring sales of air conditioning units over the next thirty…

Climate

Well-meaning promises and actions don't always have the best outcomes.…

Geophoto

With the days at their longest and more light in…

Oceans

Tourism might be an economic pillar for many countries surrounding…

Wildlife

Brain sizes directly shown to correlate to survival rates among…

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…