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

Geographical Week

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

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

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    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 ...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

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...

Oceans

East African countries are sharing shipping data in order to…

Wildlife

How many elephants can you see? How many orang-utans are…

Climate

The ocean floor is being deformed under the weight of…

Climate

Progress on halting warming has not been great throughout 2017.…

Oceans

Coral bleaching is widespread around the globe and as it…

Climate

Wales is the second best recycler in the world

Climate

A series of worrying reports by the Global Carbon Project…

Wildlife

While it was the impact on civilian populations that generated…

Oceans

For Sylvia Earle there is one over-riding threat to humanity…

Geophoto

Iceland is a sparsely populated country with one of the…

Wildlife

Baltic seals and fish-eating bird populations are increasing and could…

Oceans

The UN has committed to completely stopping plastic waste from…

Wildlife

The world’s most endangered marine mammal has just been thrown…

Climate

Sixty-two of the natural World Heritage Sites are now at…

Oceans

In February 2015, maritime lawyer and cold water swimmer Lewis…

Climate

Water, water may be everywhere, but as Marco Magrini discovers,…

Energy

A deeper look at Scotland’s recent decision to ban the…

Climate

The discovery of increasing levels of ozone-depleting compounds being emitted…

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…

Energy

Could human waste one day be fuelling our homes and…