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The Marginal Ice Zone Observations and Processes EXperiment (MIZOPEX)

MIZOPEX Study Area

Recent years have seen extreme changes in the Arctic. Particularly striking are changes within the Pacific sector of the Arctic Ocean, and especially in the seas north of the Alaskan coast. These areas have experienced record warming, reduced sea ice extent, and loss of ice
in areas that had been ice‐covered throughout human memory. Even the oldest and thickest ice types have failed to survive through the summer melt period in areas such as the Beaufort Sea and Canada Basin, and fundamental changes in ocean conditions such as earlier phytoplankton blooms may be underway. A basic question that is significant for the entire Earth system is whether these regions have passed a tipping point, such that they are now essentially acting as sub‐Arctic seas where ice disappears in summer, or instead whether the changes are transient, with the potential for the ice pack to recover. The answer may depend largely on conditions in areas known as marginal ice zones (MIZ); areas where the "ice‐albedo feedback" driven by solar warming is highest, ice melt is extensive, and where human and marine mammal activity is greatest.

Despite the significance of the MIZ, basic parameters such as sea surface temperature (SST), sea surface salinity (SSS), and a range of sea ice characteristics are still insufficiently understood in these areas, and especially so during the summer melt period. The project proposed here, identified collectively as the "Marginal Ice Zone Ocean and Ice Observations and Processes EXperiment" (MIZOPEX), will directly address these information gaps through a targeted, intensive observing campaign that exploits unique capabilities of multiple classes of UAS (NASA SIERRA, Insitu ScanEagles, and a microUAS) combined with in‐situ sensing and satellite observations. Specific research areas to be addressed using MIZOPEX data are: relationships between ocean skin temperatures and subsurface temperatures and how these evolve over time in an Arctic environment during summer; variability in sea ice conditions such as thickness, age, and albedo within the MIZ; interactions of SST, salinity and ice conditions during the melt cycle; and validation of satellite‐derived SST and ice concentration fields provided by AVHRR, MODIS, AMSR‐E and the NPP/JPSS VIIRS.

As originally proposed, MIZOPEX consisted of a data collection phase in Year 1 (summer 2012), targeting the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, with a data analysis and archiving phase in Year 2. Plans are underway to revise this to consist of deployments of the small UAS in Year 1 at Oliktok Point, AK, with combined small UAS and SIERRA deployments in Year 2 at Oliktok and Fairbanks, respectively. The measurement strategy has three basic aspects:

  • Extensive airborne surface mapping repeated frequently over sufficiently large areas to accommodate comparisons with satellite‐derived sea surface temperature and sea ice data sets
  • Sustained, continuous observations of ocean surface, subsurface, and atmospheric conditions over 10's of hours, sufficient to investigate ocean‐ice‐atmosphere interactions and obtained at spatial scales orders of magnitude finer than provided by satellites
  • Repeated visitation to locations within the drifting ice pack, allowing Lagrangian tracking and observations over a period of weeks to assess how specific portions of the ice pack evolve over the summer.

This approach requires unique capabilities that are either simply impossible to attain or are too dangerous or impractical to be done using manned aircraft or satellites.

In the course of meeting these science tasks, MIZOPEX will demonstrate the operational capabilities of UAS when deployed in a difficult environment and tasked with challenging mission profiles. The project will provide new insights into the steps necessary to operate multiple UAS, including multiple classes of UAS and multiple UAS of the same class, in and near the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). The effort will contribute to NASA's Earth science goals by making measurements that are directly relevant to improving Earth system models, by improving our understanding of fundamental phenomena, and by characterizing change in key components of the Earth system.

MIZOPEX in the News

Spotlight: MIZOPEX on phys.org: A national research team led by the Univ of Colo. Boulder is embarking on a two-year, multi-pronged effort to better understand the impacts of environmental factors associated with the continuing decline of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. [Read More...]
A national research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder is embarking on a two-year, multi-pronged effort to better understand the impacts of environmental factors associated with the continuing decline of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-01-cu-boulder-led-team-decline-arctic-sea.html#jCp
Spotlight: James Maslanik and Betsy Weatherhead talks about MIZOPEX in the Daily Camera [Learn More...]
Spotlight: Greg Walker and Andy Mahoney use small UAS to assess conditions on the 25-foot ice ridge blocking the harbor of Nome, Alaska, and preventing the transit of fuel supply tankers into the harbor.  [Learn More...]


mail_logo MIZOPEX Proj PI: James Maslanik
mail_logo MIZOPEX Proj Mgr: John Adler
mail_logo MIZOPEX Team: MIZOPEXers
mail_logo Data/Website Coor: Sandra Castro