NOAA 2000-037
Contact: Pat Viets


When the former Soviet Union disbanded in the early 1990s, it also signaled the end to the collection of some weather and climate data from the Arctic. But an international team of scientists, including some from NOAA, using an instrument that looks like a "Star Wars" character, is working to close that gap.

"The former Soviet Union used to have manned ice camps from about 1958 to the early 1990s that would float out there on the ice collecting weather data," said James Overland, meteorologist and oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. "But since the Soviet Union disbanded and the camps were abandoned, there's been a gap in the observations."

That gap will soon be closed with the establishment of a research camp at the North Pole this month to gather data during a five-year project to learn how that area of the world affects global climate.

"Since about 1989, it looks like the atmospheric circulation has changed and there is less ice," Overland explained. "We need to take measurements to compare with the measurements that the Russians made in the past. What's exciting about this North Pole project is that we'll have instruments in place to take measurements."

Overland said that NOAA and the laboratory's role is to install the meteorological stations that will be used to study climate change as it is affected by the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation, an atmospheric circulation of the Northern Hemisphere, is centered over the North Pole. Instead of having humans stationed at the North Pole, these weather instruments will sit on ice flows about two to three meters (about six to nine feet) thick.

One of the instruments is a radiometer that will measure long-wave radiation from the clouds and short-wave radiation from the sun. Overland described it as a "mini R2D2," the bullet-shaped robot that appeared in the "Star Wars" films.

"It's a canister about two feet high, and its top rolls over once an hour. The sensors are then exposed for about a minute to take readings and then return to the canister to prevent the build up of ice crystals that could affect its operation," Overland said.

NOAA scientists are also installing a weather station to measure wind temperature, speed and direction, and an instrument to measure ice thickness.

"In the summer the ice and snow melts, and it makes the ice thinner. In the winter, it grows on the bottom and makes it thicker," Overland said.

The plan is to put out new instruments every year because they are installed on ice flows, which drift away.

By the end of May, the laboratory plans to have a Web site where those interested in a weather report from the North Pole can do so from the comfort - and warmth - of their own homes.

The project, supported by the National Science Foundation, is being directed by the University of Washington. The "R2D2" radiometers were developed by Scientific Solutions, Inc. in New Hampshire.

For more information on the North Pole project, visit: