UM researcher receives $926,000 to study effects of melting Arctic ice

A University of Montana researcher received a $926,000 competitive grant to study the effects of melting ice in the Arctic Ocean on the carbon cycle.

Chemistry professor Mike DeGrandpre and his team of scientists have been awarded a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation to place six sensors that record carbon dioxide and pH levels under the ice in the center of the Arctic Ocean. It’s the first time a research team has studied such levels in the central Arctic Ocean, he said.

In August 2012, scientists will drill several meters through the ice and secure 2.5-foot long cylinder sensors to the bottom of ice caps in six different locations. Each sensor costs roughly $17,500.

The sensors, built by Missoula-based Sunburst Sensors, are made for sustained observation of pH and carbon dioxide, and will send real-time data via satellite to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The sensors will be part of a larger Arctic Observing Network designed to document changes in the Arctic.

“With global warming we are seeing less summer sea ice, and the sea surface is warming and freshening,” DeGrandpre said.

Whether that means increased carbon dioxide – in either the atmosphere or ocean, with possible negative effects – is unknown, he said. But collecting baseline data now will help scientists later have a better understanding of how such changes affect global warming, DeGrandpre said.

The sensors also can detect possible changes in the amount of human-produced carbon dioxide in the Arctic Ocean. Such changes could cause acidification, with potentially fatal consequences for some organisms.

“There’re a lot of organisms that are sensitive to small changes in pH because oceans have been constant in terms of pH levels for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said.

The sensors will document changes in the carbon dioxide cycle and ocean acidification in the Arctic during the next three to four years.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

Chelsi Moy, Missoulian, 21 September 2011. Article.


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