Science Partners

The Catlin Arctic Survey combines a pioneering feat of human endurance with scientific discovery: an accurate mapping of a transect across one of Earth’s largest geophysical surface features: the Arctic Ocean's sea ice cover.

Ice Report 14.4.09
The results collected in the first month of the Catlin Arctic Survey point to an unexpected lack of thicker Multiyear Ice
CAS Snow and Ice Measurements Methodology
This overview is a summary of the methodology used to collect the data in the associated spread sheet. It is intended as accompanying notes for scientists using the data provided by CAS and also as general information for layman followers of the survey.
CAS Snow Ice measurements - March and April
Our results so far (with more to come), and the first published ice thickness data since the 2008 summer minimum

US Navy’s Dept of Oceanography, Monterey, California, USA Dept of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
Pen Hadow using Mora Ice Drill in Little Cornwallis Island, Nov 2008

Such a surface Survey has never before been attempted, and the need for the information has never been greater. Current estimates for the disappearance of the Arctic Ocean's sea ice cover vary from 100 years away down to just 4 years from now. Whatever happens, the consequences of its meltdown will be of global significance in terms of sea level rise(due to thermal expansion of the oceans), the geo-politics of energy resources, rainfall patterns and the availability of water supplies and, of course, the impact on biodiversity, including polar bear.

This endeavour will provide a surface-based dataset, which will then be made available to scientists. Its data will be used to improve the accuracy and reliability of supercomputer models forecasting the timing of the disappearance of the sea ice, and the associated impacts for our changing global climate – and beyond.


The Catlin Arctic Survey’s highly experienced team will be travelling on foot, hauling sledges from approximately 81°N 130°W, across 1000 km of drifting sea ice, for over 90 days, in temperatures as low as -50°C, towards the North Geographic Pole.

The surface-based team has the experience to continue the Survey through blizzards, white-outs, fog, and across ice rubble-fields, even donning immersion suits when open water and thin ice crossings deem it necessary.

Over 30 different types of measurement and sample will be taken by the surface team (some continuously, others hourly, daily or weekly) from the water column (using a SeaCat CTD Profiler), the ice/snow layers and the atmosphere. Such information will build a benchmark data set on the state of the ice, allowing for a better understanding of the interaction between the processes affecting the condition of the sea ice.

The team’s ground-penetrating radar (SPRITE) will distinguish between the base ice layer and any over-lying snow layer, as it is the thickness of the ice which is an important parameter for lifespan estimates by computer modellers.

Why is this is important?

The most frequently cited date for the seasonal disappearance of the Arctic Ocean's sea ice is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2050-2100, based on the known rate of its shrinking surface area, and the IPCC’s long-range global climate forecasts.

However, the supercomputer model developed by one of the world’s leading research teams at the US Navy’s Department of Oceanography, which focuses on the rate of the sea ice's declining volume based on ice thickness estimates (as opposed to shrinkage rates), indicates sea ice loss within dramatically less time – just 4 years from now. But outputs from such models are a function of the quality of the data put in. The Catlin Arctic Survey’s data will allow for the re-evaluation of satellite and submarine digitised observations of recent decades – and future ones – and thereby improve the accuracy and confidence of the modelled outputs.

Climate modellers will be able to use the findings coming out of the Survey data to help validate or modify the globally recognised projections made in the IPCC’s “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis” report; and to factor the survey data into related areas of scientific work, all of which has depended on the sea ice data available from satellites and submarines (hitherto unverified by a comprehensive ground-truth survey).

The IPCC’s future report: “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” may also reflect the improved understanding about the melting sea ice and the consequent collateral global impacts.

Evidence for the earlier meltdown date would provide fresh impetus to resolve through international agreements the more sustainable and responsible management of the increasingly accessible natural resources, revealed as the ice recedes. The survey will assist scientists in providing policy-makers with higher resolution forecasts than are made to date, which in turn will facilitate decisions where previously indecision has existed.

With the Arctic Ocean and surrounding high Arctic environment more responsive and vulnerable to climate change than most, the urgency for action to protect it in a variety of ways is greater than almost anywhere on Earth.

"Science" Blog Posts
And they are off
Posted by Ian Wesley
A big day today and spirits were high. After a prolonged packing session the Ice Team are out on the ice for their first mini expedition together. They left with sleds packed high and bristling with antennas....more
Friday, 16th January 2009
SPRITE data discussion
Posted by Pen Hadow
I attended a very useful conference call today with our Scientific Advisor, Professor Wieslaw Maslowski...more
Sunday, 09th November 2008

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