What's happening on board the Arctic Sunrise?

Feature story - July 12, 2012
The North Pole without sea ice is a chilling thought. Sea ice is a fundamental part of the Arctic ecosystem; it is not only a vital habitat for animals such as polar bears and seabirds that live above it, but it is also essential for marine organisms that thrive below the ice.

Sea ice is also a crucial part of the global climate because its white surface affects the amount of solar radiation that is reflected or absorbed. In other words, it is the planet’s air-conditioning system.

Scientists already know that Arctic ice floes are melting faster and more extensively than they used to, but there are still big gaps in our knowledge about exactly how that process happens.

That is why a group of researchers on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise are using cutting-edge technologies to scan the 3D profile of ice floes this month. The researchers are led by leading sea ice scientist Professor Peter Wadhams from the University of Cambridge. This is the first time that scientists, scanning experts and engineers have worked together to capture the true shape of the Arctic sea ice with such accuracy.

Sailing to the Fram Strait, between Svalbard and Greenland, they will use an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to measure the underside of the ice and surface laser scanners to measure its top.

“This will enable us to essentially 'take the ice home with us'," Wadhams said. “It also provides us with a way to study the characteristics of these floes and ridges in the safe confines of our labs – without having to deal with extreme temperatures or worry about roaming polar bears.”

Here is some more information about some of the passengers on board:

Professor Peter Wadhams

Professor Peter Wadhams

Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is an oceanographer and glaciologist involved in polar sea ice research. He leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has led over 45 polar field expeditions.

William Trossell

William Trossell

Will's background in architecture and digital fabrication means he has a unique insight into industries where 3D scanning can have a substantial impact. As co-director of ScanLAB Projects, he is involved in teaching and research at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Through a series of commercial projects and research activities Will's work constantly explores and expands the potentials of this powerful technology.

Nick Toberg

Nick Toberg

Nick is a graduate student at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) at the University of Cambridge. He is interested in sea ice deformation processes in the Arctic Ocean. He is developing tools and methodology to better understand how sea ice becomes distributed in area and thickness. This work adds to a global database of sea ice data to help climate change scientists calibrate their models.

Till Wagner

Till Wagner

Till is a graduate student at the Polar Ocean Physics Group at DAMTP at the University of Cambridge and at the British Antarctic Survey. Till's is interested in the physical processes underlying the behaviour of sea ice and icebergs. This has taken him on four polar expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic.

John Fletcher

John Fletcher

John is a researcher in field of Polar Oceanography at the DAMTP at the University of Cambridge. His work focuses on the use of satellites to determine the thickness of the Arctic sea ice. Roughly speaking, this is done by bouncing a radar pulse off the surface of the ice and timing how long it takes to return to the satellite.

Joseph Severn

Joseph Severn

Joseph has been involved with 3D data capture and post processing since graduating from UCL in 1994. Working for one of the first companies to adopt the use of laser scanning in the UK, he has been fortunate enough to implement this emerging technology across a number of different disciplines. These include heritage, engineering, architecture, forensics and the motion picture industry. This breadth of experience puts him in the unique position of being able to apply methodologies from one field to another, always ensuring the most efficient solution to any measurement problem.

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