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

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Get the best stories from Geographical delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe 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

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

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...

Geophoto

This winter has seen frequent storms and flooding hitting many…

Wildlife

The bison, Poland’s symbol of nature conservation, already faces controversial…

Wildlife

Wolves have arrived at a wildlife park in Devon as…

Climate

An unassuming beach in Denmark is absorbing record-breaking levels of…

Energy

The environmental cost of military activities is significant. Could new…

Wildlife

Latest figures suggest that there are more than twice as…

Tectonics

How does the proposed allocation of ‘Zealandia’ as an independent…

Wildlife

Is extinction forever? While most would assume that yes, extinction…

Geophoto

Wide-angle photography is perhaps the best way to recreate the…

Wildlife

New book aims to follow in the success of last…

Wildlife

With Queensland koala numbers in free-fall, a novel idea suggests…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Tectonics

Fears that volcano eruptions in Iceland are set to regularly…

Oceans

Now we can all experience diving to the deepest point…

Wildlife

The new President of the United States has a namesake…

Geophoto

17,000 photographs from over 50 countries have been whittled down…

Wildlife

Red squirrels are found to be afflicted with a stubborn…

Polar

The toll, as a response to melting sea ice, would…

Climate

Could rail be the sustainable long-distance freight transport the world…

Energy

Abandoned oil and gas wells in the US are leaking significant…