Robots On Ice Probe the Arctic

Why a team of research robots is investigating disappearing sea ice, and why you should care

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Deep in the frozen realm of the Arctic, scientists are deploying robots, built to operate autonomously and remotely, to complete a cold, lonely recon mission. These bots will gather information on the area’s sea ice, whirring and clicking far away from anyone who could possibly observe their careful work. Specially designed to withstand the extreme conditions of the region, the machines, which dive, swim, hover, and glide, will monitor the fragile marginal ice zone (MIZ) of the Beaufort Sea. By assessing local environmental changes, scientists are able to track both rising sea levels and the subsequent loss of ice, hoping to keep up with the alarming, rapidly shifting climate conditions of the Arctic, which has been warming at nearly twice the rate as the rest of the globe.

According to New Scientist, the droid-driven Marginal Ice Zone Program conducted by the Office of Naval Research Department Research Initiative is the largest experiment of its kind in the Arctic Ocean. Researchers involved with the project are employing a motley crew of robots: floaters, drifters, gliders, sportos, motorheads, geeks, bloods (OK, maybe not those last few) and the U.S. Navy has invested $12 million into the project, hoping to predict how much sea north of Canada and Alaska will be navigable in years to come.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]If the decline in sea ice continues unabated, many scientists believe we will see an ice-free Arctic in our lifetimes.[/quote]

Arctic ice may not sound very exciting, but it plays a pretty big part in the way our oceans function. When this ice forms, most of the salt from the seawater is pushed out, making the surrounding water denser, and contributing to global ocean circulation—large-scale movements of the Earth’s water that affect global temperatures and weather patterns. Vast and white, the larger ice sheets reflect back nearly 90 percent of the direct sunlight that hits them, keeping the water cool below. The dark ocean surface underneath the ice, on the other hand, absorbs nearly 90 percent of the heat—so as the melt and deformation of the ice occurs, the oceans heat up exponentially.

In order to understand exactly what is happening in ice zones like the Beaufort Sea, a whole spectrum of parameters needs to be measured: air temperature variation, wind conditions, the speed and direction of migrating ice, where waves are coming from, and how quickly ice is melting—all of which have to be looked at as parts of a much more complex, ever-changing planetary picture. If the decline in sea ice continues unabated, many scientists believe we will see an ice-free Arctic within the next 50 years, an eventuality that could have devastating consequences for the planet.

Despite fears in many industries of automation taking human jobs, in the hostile terrain of the Arctic, collecting this data is a job made for our robot friends, which don’t need down coats or hot chocolate, and aren’t known for freezing to death, unlike puny human researchers. Every day these industrious bots digest and beam out the grim facts of climate change brings us one step closer to understanding, and hopefully one day slowing, the creeping loss of Arctic sea ice.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet