CSU Scientist to Embark on *Cool* Arctic Expedition
I entirely meant the pun I used in the title, but I’m afraid I may have misled you a bit. After all, the voyage that Jessie Creamean, a research scientist from the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, is undertaking is a bit more than a fun jaunt to the North Pole. It’s an internationally-funded expedition, and the world’s most ambitious to date.
Yesterday, Creamean boarded the RV Polarstern in Norway, and she won’t be making port again for four months (and the ship itself will not return for a full year). Instead, she and over 600 other researches from 19 different countries will spend the next year frozen in ice, drifting ever farther in to the Arctic Ocean. It’ll be kind of like a reverse Titanic (and they’ll all be smart enough to know that YES, TWO PEOPLE CAN FIT ON THAT DOOR, JACK).
So, why have these intrepid explorers decided to forsake the comforts of couches and weather that won’t freeze your face off? The RV Polarstern is part of the MOSAiC expedition (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Artic Climate), a huge, international project whose goal is to study the decline of Arctic sea ice and understand how that decline is related to global climate change. The expedition as a whole will cost $134 million, but the hope is that with the data that the ship will procure, we can create more accurate models of regional and global climates.
But Creamean herself is boarding the ship for a more specific purpose. During her voyage, she’ll be collecting thousands of ice, snow, seawater and air samples, which will help her study how microbes (i.e. algae and bacteria) in the landscape are affecting the formation of clouds. ‘Cool,’ you might say. ‘So, why do we care about that, again?’ As Creamean said for the CSU Source, “in the Arctic, clouds are like thermostats – they can reflect radiation from the sun or trap heat from the Earth’s surface.” For us, this means that clouds could possibly cause sea ice to melt faster, which would mean more sunlight exposure for the ocean, and thus more algae production. And while this might seem like a relatively harmless result, this sea algae can then become food for marine bacteria that gets carried above the ocean by sea spray, allowing these particles to actually ‘seed’ clouds in the Arctic, making us come full circle. As of yet, we don’t know how much of this bacterium takes to the skies, or even the extent of their impact on the frozen ecosystem. But Cremean hopes her research will be able to shed some light on these topics, thanks to this trip.
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As far as the expedition itself goes, Cremean’s actually a frequent flyer to the Arctic – She’s been on five previous expeditions, though this one takes her farther North than she’s ever been. Once there, her transport will be completely frozen in ice instead of floating among the floes, and she’ll get the chipper experience of the polar night – which is more hard-core than a regular night, because it lasts for 24 hours.
However, it should all be worth it after four months. Upon her return in the spring, she and a CSU team will spend months analyzing the samples Cremean collects, using their new data to understand airborne microbes in the Arctic.
So, I believe I have now delivered your daily dose of science for the day. You’re welcome. And good luck, Jessie! May your seas be fair, and in this case, we hope you *don’t* avoid the icebergs for this journey.