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Arctic Floats: A Pilot Effort for Arctic Argo


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Computer science & e-learning

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The Arctic Ocean plays an important role in regulating the world ocean's heat, and freshwater, and its nutrient cycles. Understanding, monitoring, and predicting how the Arctic Ocean changes as climate changes are thus imperative, but can only be achieved with a comprehensive observation network. The exceedingly successful global Argo program, which consists of roughly 3000 autonomous instruments distributed throughout the world ocean measuring physical properties of the upper 2000 m of the water column, has demonstrated how such a monitoring system can be maintained using low-cost autonomous profiling floats. Technological advancement has made it possible to deploy Argo-type floats in the deep Arctic basin, but sea ice reduces the floats’ ability to surface at regular intervals to determine their position and to transmit data to satellites. Using simulations, we will investigate uncertainties associated with extended "silent times" during which floats are unable to surface. We will determine the reduced accuracies in temperature and salinity measurements as a function of a float’s initial position and length of silent times. Use of auxiliary information to estimate the float's movements during silent times will also be explored. These simulations will help establish the likelihood that floats will report their positions after residing 1-5 years under ice and the number of floats that are needed to reduce the uncertainty in the measurement of water mass properties, helping us design a plan for using Arctic floats in the near future. This work leverages much of the high latitude satellite and in situ observations and the use of the Arctic Sub-polar gyre state estimate (ASTE) to extract as much information as possible on: (a) the uncertainty associated with operating near-future float technology, and (b) the geographic distribution of where new observations would have the most impact on better understanding the hydrographic changes occurring in the Arctic. We will quantify several metrics, related to the likelihood of a float’s surfacing-time as a function of time-mean and time-varying sea ice state, the float's associated position uncertainties, and the implied hydrographic uncertainties. The use of the observations and the state estimate are complementary in that ASTE can inform the initial design of the float deployment, and in turn future float data will be used to further constrain and improve ASTE.