A global pandemic could not stop the International Arctic Buoy Program from deploying drifting weather buoys into the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Utqiaġvik, Alaska during these past few months. With the collaborative effort of many partners, buoys were designed, fabricated, shipped, and deployed out on the sea ice before the ice broke away from Utqiaġvik for the summer.
My role in this was facilitating the online learning meetings of the Sea Cadet Arctic Buoy Program along with the expertise and leadership of Lieutenant Commander John Woods of the Office of Naval Research, Reserve Component, Dr. Ignatius Rigor of the Polar Science Center at University of Washington, and Cy Keener an Assistant Professor of Sculpture + Emerging Technology at the University of Maryland. Together this team guided the Sea Cadets in the process of learning, designing, and engineering the development of new drifting buoys.
2020 was the first year for the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps to partner with the International Arctic Buoy Program to get 16 and 17 year old Sea Cadets engaged in STEM learning in the Arctic. A group of nearly 20 highly qualified Sea Cadets were selected for the first Sea Cadet Arctic Buoy Program. The primary task of the Sea Cadets was to design and build the environmental sensors that measure weather data, and also design the hull, or buoy, that holds and protects the sensors while out in the elements of the Arctic. They worked remotely from across the country in small teams of 3-4 to accomplish their mission. If we had traveled to the Arctic, two of the Sea Cadets would have accompanied the science team to the Arctic to deploy their buoys in April.
Since early May completing the mission of getting the Sea Cadet's buoys to Utqiaġvik to be deployed by our local collaborators and then watching the data come in has been fun to watch. The drifting buoys were completed, created, and shipped from all over the country to Dr. Rigor in Seattle and then on to Anchorage where they were then taken way north to Utqiaġvik. You can see this travel path on the IABP data map. Experienced Field Specialists (Wilbur Leavitt, Jerry Brower, and Harvard Brown) from the UIC Science in Utqiaġvik took the buoys out on the sea ice via snowmobile and made sure they were turned on and ready to send data through satellite signals.
In this post, enjoy exploring the live data portals, map data visualizations, and the photos from the deployments on the ice.
At the time of deployment, there was a large mass of land-fast ice pushed up against the shore near Utqiaġvik. Quickly after they were deployed, the ice began to come apart and drift out to sea (breakup) along with some of the buoys. As of June 4th, Sea Cadet teams buoys Ice-Pelican-004 and APL-IT-0007 were on the move. Arctic Byrds and Wolverines (team buoys) may have started to move early on the 5th. This was and still is a super exciting time where each buoy's fate is unknown. Some buoys could stay lodged on large pieces of ice and travel for weeks or months. Other buoys could end up in open water and flow with the currents. Buoys can also be crushed and become unresponsive as the wind shifts and the ice heads back to shore.
With a bit of detective sleuthing, you can try to follow the fate of your buoy by monitoring the IABP website, and check out realtime daily satellite imagery through NASA's EOSDIS Worldview. You can fast forward and reverse the time of the image with the arrows on the bottom left to see the ice move around. You can also see the latitude/longitude location for anywhere you hover your cursor.
We are watching the movement and also the data reports to help us understand where they are and the weather and ice/ocean conditions of that location. You can watch the external temperature sensor values on the IABP site to see if they increase during the day and decrease at night (meaning they are probably on ice), or stay constant just below 0 degrees C, meaning they are probably in the ocean.
2020 Plankowner - Sea Cadet Arctic Buoy Program To Continue in 2021
I've been learning more and more about Arctic sea ice buoys and thought you too may be interested in learning alongside me. On our upcoming expedition in early April we will be deploying drifting buoys in the Arctic Ocean that will be monitored through the International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP). I've been exploring current buoy data to better understand where the buoys are located using the Observing System Monitoring Center (OSMC), an international data center as well as the IABP Daily Map. I'm not an expert yet by any means, but it has been super interesting digging into the data; especially because these data tools share the data spatially, on maps, and with .kml and .kmz files you can open on Google Earth and interact with.
So far, what I'm learning is that the data parameters are fairly simple and straightforward: air temperature, water temperature, air pressure, position and time of day. Yet it is the deployment to such remote locations that is rather complex. And I can imagine the process of sending the data points every 5 minutes through satellites to the international weather forecasting centers must be a bit complex.
A significant part of the Utqiaġvik Buoy Exercise 2020 is a STEM education experience for the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps that includes STEM training while building buoys for the International Arctic Buoy Program. They are engaging in three training Saturdays before the April expedition. Then they will send two representatives from their group to join the Arctic expedition to deploy the buoys they build. Read one of the Cadet's reflections from the training day here.
So, their first training class was this past Saturday and I was fortunate to be able to 'zoom in' via video conferencing and be the fly on the wall during their entire class (8am-noon EST). Below are some screen shots from the training that helped me understand what the buoys look like and the instrumentation inside. These instruments measure surface temperature, atmospheric temperature, and barometric pressure as well as date and position.
It was also great to get an Arctic introduction from Dr. Ignatius Rigor, our expedition's lead PI (Primary Investigator).
The buoys remind me of gigantic fishing bobbers that open like an easter egg. The creative juices are flowing on how to create effective education and outreach experiences about buoy data.... stay tuned.
Also, enjoy the video below.