Scientists have long been fascinated by the great
pack ice of the Arctic Ocean, a frozen canopy stretched over the ocean,
covering an area roughly the size of the United States. The pack ice,
which seals off the Arctic Ocean, greatly affects the surrounding ecosystem
as well as shipping routes and petroleum extraction.
The frozen island is now the focus of a massive NSF endeavor named the
Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean project (SHEBA).
Last September, two icebreaking ships set sail for the pack ice, where
they established Ice Station SHEBA, a floating science project that consists
of a fleet of ships, research aircraft and balloons, satellites, and a
U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.
The ice pack is constantly deformed and shifting. Richard Moritz, SHEBA
project office director at the University of Washington, explains that
SHEBA is necessary to get a better understanding of this complicated landscape. "More
than half the Arctic pack ice melts and refreezes each year, but even
the most sophisticated computer models cannot simulate this change."
SHEBA's goal is to trace the fate of the pack ice over the course of
a year, including the complex interrelationship between the Arctic atmosphere,
sea ice, and ocean waters. Hopefully, SHEBA will yield information leading
to more accurate analysis of the fate of the pack ice in the coming century,
and the effects that any major ecological changes will have on the surrounding
earth and beyond.
This project, which is co-sponsored by the Office of Naval Research,
will involve more than 50 scientists from around the world.