Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Analysis to evaluate and improve model performance in the Central Arctic: Unique perspectives from autonomous platforms during MOSAiC (Award# 1805569)

PI: de Boer, Gijs (
Phone: (303) 492.6221 
Institute/Department: U of Colorado, Boulder, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ARCSS
Program Manager: Dr. Gregory Anderson ( )
Discipline(s): | Instrument Development | Meteorology and Climate\Atmospheric Science | Meteorology and Climate\Unmanned Aircraft |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This study will use an emerging technology, unmanned aircraft systems, to collect measurements with the goal of improving weather and climate models of the Arctic system. It is part of the international MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) program, an extensive field effort to freeze an icebreaker into sea ice for an entire year to serve as a research platform for a comprehensive study of the atmosphere, ocean and ice system in the high Arctic. The unique and potentially transformative aspect of this project is that unmanned aircraft collect data at small spatial and temporal scales, providing new information about variability in temperature, humidity, and winds. In addition, direct measurements of these variables over breaks in the sea ice have been very limited to date. Therefore, this study will address a significant source of error in our current ability to forecast how energy is transferred between the atmosphere and underlying ice and sea surface. Together with information from collaborating scientists participating in the MOSAiC field effort, the investigators will evaluate a series of hypotheses related to the performance of model simulations of key processes over the central Arctic Ocean. The investigators will also give pubic lectures at schools and other venues, capitalizing on interest and excitement in use of new technology though use of videos and photos of the unmanned aircraft systems. They will support training for early career scientists by involving graduate students and postdoctoral scientists. The investigators will deploy an unmanned aircraft system to measure atmospheric temperature, winds, and humidity, as well as surface albedo. Flights will take place from mid-winter (February) through late summer (August) to capture variable conditions in both the atmosphere and sea ice surface and will include routine profiling of the lower atmosphere, spatial mapping of thermodynamic quantities and surface albedo, and mapping of the lower atmospheric structure over leads. This data will be evaluated with measurements of the atmosphere, ocean and ice collected by other scientists as part of the MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) project to address hypotheses related to the performance of modeling tools in simulating key processes over the central Arctic Ocean. These include questions about sub-grid scale variability of atmospheric and surface parameters and its influence on model-simulated surface energy budget; the influence of leads in the sea ice on energy transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere and how models represent this transfer; and the importance of vertical resolution in simulation of the Arctic atmosphere and its impact on the simulation of clouds and the surface energy budget. The investigators will compare observations from unmanned aerial systems to a variety of simulations, ranging from global products to fully-coupled regional simulations completed using the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM) to detailed single-column and 2D modeling at high resolution.

Logistics Summary:
This project will use unmanned aircraft operations as part of MOSAiC to collect measurements focused on the structure of the lower atmosphere, its spatial variability, the intensity of turbulent energy fluxes, and the influence on surface features on this structure, over the central Arctic Ocean ice pack. In conjunction with other MOSAiC datasets, these measurements will provide unprecedented perspectives on lower atmospheric state and its influence on the surface energy budget. The RV Polarstern will depart from Tromso, Norway and, once it reaches its destination, will spend the next year drifting through the Arctic Ocean, trapped in the ice. During the set-up phase, the RV Polarstern will enter the Siberian sector of the Arctic in thin sea ice conditions in late summer. A distributed regional network of observational sites will be set up on the sea ice in an area of up to ~50km from the RV Polarstern. The ship and the surrounding network will drift with the natural ice across the polar cap towards the Atlantic, while the sea ice thickens during winter. The research teams will join the expedition for several months at a time (aka legs) as the expedition will change crews and be supplied by other icebreakers and aircraft throughout the year. There will be six legs of the expedition and a total of 23 NSF awards in support of the MOSAiC effort. For more information on the MOSAiC expedition, go to In 2020 this project will participate on the MOSAiC cruise Legs 3-5 (mid-February to mid-August). They will use a variety of Unmanned Aerials Systems (UAS) launched from the ice alongside Polarstern. In addition, Air-Deployable Micro-Buoys may be deployed into ocean leads, as they form.

CPS will provide safety training and travel support for meetings and trainings. All other logistics support will be provided by Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) via the user day fee and/or covered by the PI direct to grant. The AWI user day fee will be covered via an agreement between the NSF and AWI.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 302 / 16 / 2020 04 / 15 / 20202
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 404 / 16 / 2020 06 / 15 / 20202
2020Arctic Ocean and Seas - MOSAiC Leg 506 / 16 / 2020 08 / 15 / 20202

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