As the ice melts, fresh obstacles confront Arctic researchers. Published online 12 October 2011 | Nature 478, 174-177 (2011) | doi:10.1038/478174a
Last month, US researchers took a 4,000-tonne gamble when they steered the Marcus G. Langseth through the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean. The 72-metre research vessel was not built to plow through ice, so it had never ventured that far poleward before.
But the rules are changing quickly in the new north. Managers at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the ship, decided to send the Langseth into the Arctic after reviewing satellite images that showed that the intended survey area in the Chukchi Sea had been largely clear of ice for four of the past five summers.
In an e-mail to Nature during the cruise, its principal investigator, Bernard Coakley, said: “We are rolling the dice a bit to take her up north.” But the bet paid off for Coakley, a marine geologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sea-ice coverage was at near-record lows this summer, and the Langseth — due back in dock this week — has not encountered any troubling ice.
With the Arctic warming roughly twice as fast as the rest of the globe, there is more need than ever to monitor the changing conditions there. And the retreating summer sea ice is opening up new options for scientists who want to explore the once difficult-to-reach Arctic waters, allowing them, for example, to use vessels other than icebreakers.
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