UW News

August 20, 2002

Local teacher documenting expedition bound for crossroads of the Arctic

News and Information

Log on starting Aug. 21 for Lake Stevens High School teacher Gail Grimes’ reports as University of Washington’s Rebecca Woodgate leads an expedition on the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star to a region of the Arctic where Atlantic and Pacific ocean waters interact in ways that could help explain the warming of the Arctic Ocean and thinning of the ice pack.

“In five weeks we will cover some 2,000 miles at this crossroads near the top of the world where the Pacific and Atlantic waters meet,” says Woodgate, an oceanographer with the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory and chief scientist for the National Science Foundation-funded expedition.

The icebreaker will travel to the Chukchi Borderland, a region 600 miles north of the Bering Strait and 800 miles shy of the North Pole, that’s renowned for the tortuous topography of slopes, ridges and plateaus on the seafloor below. That rough seafloor, dropping down 2 miles from the surface in places, as well as the motion of the ice and winds determine the paths taken by layers of water from the Atlantic and Pacific, in particular, whether the waters continue to skirt the rim of the Arctic Ocean or strike out into the central basin, thus speeding their return to the rest of the world’s oceans.

Pacific water, which is less salty and cooler than Atlantic water, typically forms a layer next to the ice, protecting it from the warmer, saltier Atlantic layer beneath, which at a balmy 33 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, could thin the polar ice. Since Pacific waters are rich in nutrients, changes in its route through the Arctic also could affect the food web.

Learn more about the research and what it’s like to be a sea-going oceanographer by watching for daily updates and photographs at http://psc.apl.washington.edu/HLD/CBL/Teacher/Webcode/index.html. The site was developed by Grimes of Everett, Wash., who teaches general science, biology and marine biology for grades 9 through 12 at Lake Stevens High School, about 40 miles north of Seattle.

Prior to catching a helicopter to the icebreaker Monday, Grimes and Woodgate visited three schools in Barrow, Alaska, to involve teachers and students there in following the expedition.

The cruise and analysis of data is being conducted by researchers from the UW, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Oregon State University and Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria, British Columbia.