OASIS-Canada Brings Science to Students
The Out-on-the-Ice sled sits on the frozen Beaufort sea at sunset. Photo: Sandy Steffen © Environment Canada, 2008. Click here to enlarge.
It sounds like a magic trick that even Houdini would have a hard time pulling off – the ‘ozone/mercury disappearing act.’
Yet, every year when the sun comes up in the Arctic spring, mercury and the potent greenhouse gas ozone disappear from the air near the ground along the coast of the frozen ocean.
Environment Canada scientists are on the case, and they are trying to provide some answers to this environmental mystery.
Solving the riddle
A scientist checks equipment on the ice near Kuujjuarapik, Quebec during the OASIS campaign last March. Photo: Stoyka Netcheva © Environment Canada, 2008. Click here to enlarge.
OASIS-Canada (Ocean-Atmosphere-Sea Ice and Snow) is an Environment Canada-led International Polar Year project. An expedition of 10 Canadian scientists is conducting research on the frozen Arctic Ocean to learn more about how pollutants move from the air, to the ice and ultimately into the northern ecosystem.
The research is taking place near Barrow, Alaska, as part of one of the last major projects during the International Polar Year (IPY). OASIS-Canada will focus on mercury, a substance that can harm the health of northern residents. It will also focus on ground-level ozone, which is both a smog pollutant and a greenhouse gas.
“We’re trying to find out how these chemicals get there, how the Arctic tolerates their intrusion and what possible impacts there will be to the ecosystem should the Arctic Ocean melt,” says Jan Bottenheim, Senior Research Scientist with Environment Canada and lead on the OASIS-Canada project.
Out On The Ice with OASIS
When the ice cracked, a helicopter had to rescue the OOTI sled. Photo: Ralf Staebler © Environment Canada, 2008. Click here to enlarge.
The scientists are using a specially constructed sled called OOTI (Out on the Ice) that has been outfitted with battery operated, sophisticated hi-tech equipment to measure how quickly chemical substances move between the air, and the snow and ice. By going to the scene, researchers are hoping to get a first-hand glance of the complex chemical processes that are responsible for this major shift in Arctic air chemistry.
The equipment on the sled can operate in extreme Arctic conditions, where temperatures can plunge below - 40° C. The sled will be hauled onto the frozen ocean by snowmobile where it will record detailed information about the movement of air pollutants and other chemical substances from the air into the Arctic ice and snow.
IPY Day: The student connection
Jan Bottenheim, OASIS-Canada lead, deploys an ozone buoy in Alaska that is designed to measure year-long concentrations of ozone, carbon dioxide and other substances. Photo © Environment Canada, 2009. Click here to enlarge.
The International Polar Day on March 18 focused on Polar Oceans and marine life.
The Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, hosted a Polar Day event on that day which included presentations from several Arctic researchers and marine biologists.
Students were able to ask OASIS-Canada scientists questions in a live videoconference broadcast from Barrow, Alaska.
The IPY Polar Day event broadcast is available online at: www.ipy-api.gc.ca
Amidst all the activities that are part of this year's IPY projects, Jan Bottenheim, the lead of Environment Canada's OASIS team, wants one important message to be conveyed to Canadian students: the Arctic is an environment worth protecting, with changes to this delicate part of Canada having a large impact on the global environment.
International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 is a collaboration of international scientific research focused on the Polar Regions.
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- OASIS-Canada is investigating the surface chemistry of ozone and mercury over the Arctic Ocean
- Environment Canada researchers are at an ice camp in Barrow, Alaska
- Researchers are using a specially constructed sled called OOTI (Out on the Ice) that measures how fast chemicals move between the air, and the snow and ice
- The last International Polar Day is taking place on March 18 and will focus on Polar Oceans and marine life
- The Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec is hosting a live satellite Q&A session between students and OASIS-Canada researchers
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