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Establishing SHEBA

January 1998

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.

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