CORVALLIS - Oregon State University oceanographer Kelly Falkner is leading a 28-day international research expedition aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy this summer to study the role the Arctic Ocean plays in the global water cycle.
The cruise, which begins July 21, will include researchers from the U.S., Canada and Japan who are seeking to better understand how much seawater and ice flow south through the Nares Strait. The amount and timing of these flows affects North Atlantic waters and global ocean circulation, which is influenced by temperature and salinity. Over the past decade, scientists have observed significant changes throughout the North Atlantic. The head of Nares Strait sits at the confluence of major water mass boundaries within the Arctic that have recently been observed to shift, possibly in response to changed atmospheric pressure patterns.
The five-year, $3.5 million project involves about 50 scientists from several research institutions. During the cruise, researchers will take water samples and place instruments on the seafloor in Baffin Bay, Kane Basin and Kennedy Channel. The instruments will measure ocean currents, sea level, temperature and salt content over a three-year period.
To study conditions that may have occurred over several decades, researchers will collect bivalves and water samples along the Canadian and Greenland sides of the Nares Strait. Clams lay down their shells in distinct annual layers; the chemical composition of those layers can offer clues to the environmental conditions that existed at that time.
To study flows that occurred hundreds or thousands of years ago, scientists will collect four sediment cores from the seafloor in North Baffin Bay. Analysis of the sediment cores should reveal environmental conditions over time. In addition, researchers will attempt to collect detailed maps of the seafloor in this area.
Falkner, an associate professor in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, is involving local citizens in the research project. A new Canadian territory created in 1999 called Nunavut, which means "our land," covers 2 million square miles of Canada, and is home to 29,000 people in 26 communities. Falkner has visited the area, and engaged a first-year local college student, Pauloosie Akeeagok, to assist with the clam retrieval portion of the project.
"Pauloosie is a hunter, and is familiar with the behavior of walrus and eider ducks, both of which eat clams," said Falkner.
Akeeagok will assist in locating these wildlife and the clam beds, said Falkner, who also is seeking participation from the Greenland community.
"We hope to learn about the environment from its local residents, whose people have a long and rich history in the region, as we share our observations of it with them," said Falkner.