NRL Completes ICEX2016 Expedition, Mapping of Arctic Ice


05/05/2016 07:45 EDT - 21-16r
Contact: Daniel Parry, (202) 767-2541



A team of U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) scientists from the Marine Geoscience Division have concluded a month-long sea-ice research expedition as part of the Navy's March 2016 ICe Exercise (ICEX) designed to develop a comprehensive understanding of the physical structure and evolution of Arctic sea-ice. The project collected data useful in assessing the operability and safety of Navy and commercial assets along future Arctic routes.

NRL_2016_ICEX_BaseU.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) scientists from the Marine Geoscience Division, and a U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Midshipman intern, participating in the Navy’s March 2016 ICe Exercise (ICEX), lived and worked for one week at the ICEX Ice Camp located above the Arctic Circle on an ice floe in the Beaufort Sea. During the day, usually in minus 25- to minus 45-degree temperatures, the team worked collecting ice thickness and snow character data in support of their NRL Sea Ice Physics research. Coincident airborne sensor data was also collected over the ground team’s work sites. Pictured (l-r): Dr. Andrei Abelev, NRL; Dr. Rick Hagen, NRL; MIDN Haadi ElSaawy, USNA; and Dr. Joan Gardner.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler N. Thompson)

The team, comprised of geologists, geophysicists, and data analysts, was sent to the North Slope of Alaska to investigate the degree of ice-coverage and ice parameters, such as strength and thickness. These data provide the theoretical underpinnings of the modeling of such parameters from remotely sensed data collected from aircraft and satellite platforms, cross-evaluated with ground truth data.

"Until now, characterization of sea-ice has been primarily at very small, local scales from in-situ core measurements and some ground-based scatterometry," said Dr. Joan Gardner, NRL geologist. "Our proposal executes a combined program of airborne measurements and coincident on-ice measurements used to characterize surface and volumetric scattering from the bottom of the sea-ice to the top of the snow surface."

The fundamental goal of this research is to better understand the physics and evolution of sea-ice with age from its initial salty, relatively uniform state through the gradual thickening, and freshening process via the formation and expelling of brine pockets. This research utilizes airborne data collected with an ultra-wide-band, low-frequency, polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a wide-band snow-radar, and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). These data are used to create models of surface and volumetric scattering across a range of frequencies and polarizations of differing sea-ice and snow surfaces and types, such as fresh snow, slightly saline ice, brine pockets of various geometries, and solid salt inclusions.

Utilizing these tools, the NRL team was also instrumental in acquiring and analyzing the parametric data necessary for establishing the ICEX camp. Funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) the team collected data from six candidate ice floes identified from satellite imagery by the National Ice Center (NIC) as potential sites. This information was provided to the members of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) to utilize in their decision making process for locating a viable ice floe for ICEX. ASL establishes a temporary ice camp every 2 to 3 years in the Beaufort Sea during the month of March. The camp is used for submarine force asset tactical training, sensor testing, and research and development (R&D).

The ASL mission requires an ice floe that can support the infrastructure for the exercise - robust enough to support a runway, submarine surfacing area, and the small village of buildings necessary to house personnel for the month long exercise. This has historically been done using visual photos taken from a Coast Guard aircraft and various satellite imageries.

The ASL is responsible for developing and maintaining expertise in Arctic specific skills, knowledge, equipment, and procedures to enable the submarine force to safely and effectively operate in the unique Arctic Ocean environment.

Office of Naval Research

National Ice Center

Arctic Submarine Laboratory

NRL_2016_ICEX_CoreCollecting data during the Navy’s March 2016 ICe Exercise (ICEX), Dr. Joan Gardner, geologist, from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Marine Geosciences Division, drills through an ice floe in the Beaufort Sea to determine ice thickness. The data collected during the exercise will help researchers better understand the physics and evolution of Arctic sea-ice with age from its initial salty, relatively uniform state through the gradual thickening, increased deformation, and freshening process. Also pictured: Dr. Rick Hagen, NRL, (behind Gardner); Dr. Andrei Abelev, NRL, (to Gardner’s right); and Mr. Travis Major, Arctic Submarine Lab (kneeling).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler N. Thompson)
NRL_2016_ICEX_CoreU.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) scientists, Dr. Andrei Abelev and Dr. Joan Gardner, examine an extracted ice core during the Navy’s March 2016 ICe Exercise (ICEX) above the Arctic Circle. The core samples will help the scientists measure salinity, density, and crystal structure, as part on an ongoing ice characterization research project. ICEX 2016 is a five-week exercise designed to research, test, and evaluate operational capabilities in the region, providing the Navy the tools to assess operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and develop partnerships and collaborative efforts.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler N. Thompson)


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The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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