Friday, 10 July 2015

Polar Collective

Polar Collective is the name of a new citizen science project which involves Felicity Aston as part of a large group of scientists and other specialists.
I worked with Felicity on the Pole of Cold project, and this one takes her back to the Arctic, but this time the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole.

Here's a description from the expedition website:

During four return trips from Murmansk, we will break through 1-3 meters of sea ice to take 520 adventurous travelers to stand on top of the world at the Geographic North Pole. While doing so we will be collecting valuable sea ice data to provide to our partners in the sea ice research community.
Our aim with this citizen science project is to prove to the polar tourism industry that we can be more than just visitors to the most remote and fragile environments of our earth. With our extended access to these areas, we are in a position to collect and deliver extensive sea ice data to institutes and organizations who desperately seek it.

From the bridge of the ship we will assess sea ice thickness and concentration visually. These data will be input into Ice Watch’s ASSIST program, standardizing it with data collected by other users. Data collected in this way from a ship is more detailed and accurate than is possible with satellite remote sensing and it is useful for researchers who are developing seasonal prediction models for ice in the Arctic Ocean. 
Our data will be particularly helpful to scientists studying summer ice processes (i.e. melting and breakup of the pack), and our visual observations are particularly valuable for allowing researchers to develop a ‘feel’ for the nature of the ice pack; this allows them to more easily develop hypotheses that can then be tested with their models.
This will be the first time that repeat transects characterizing the changing ice pack will have been collected in summer for Ice Watch, and it is particularly valuable that this section runs from the ice edge to the interior pack.
Our melt pond observations and measurements are important because it has been noted that melt ponds play a major role in the summer melting process and they are a key predictor of total summer ice loss. The reason for this is that melt ponds absorb a lot more heat from the sun than the ice surrounding them does. By measuring their prevalence, area and depth we provide data that can be used to validate and correct thermal models of the Arctic which include melt ponds in their calculations.
Finally, we hope that the mere existence of this project encourages others in the polar tourism industry to follow our lead. Not only would this provide the sea ice community with a significant quantity of data but it would serve to open lines of communication between two separate communities of polar professionals that may have a lot to gain from each other. We also hope it will inspire adventurous travellers, enhance their trip with us, and give them a feeling of connection with the Arctic, having collected valuable scientific data and been more than 'just a visitor’. Our role as professionals in the polar tourism industry is to create a corps of ambassadors for the regions in which we travel, who will go home and, we hope, act as advocates for protecting these wild and beautiful places.

Read the blog to follow progress.



Image: Felicity Aston via Facebook feed

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