It reads like an answer on Jeopardy. It’s very big – big as in18 million square miles, equivalent to one sixth of the earth’s entire landmass – changing, and quickly.
Question: What is the Arctic?
Sea ice, which once held off explorers and ships along the Northwest Passage, has now begun to give way to new shipping lanes and access to natural resources.
Where is the Arctic changing, why it is changing, and how we can predict what will happen next? Christian Haas, the Canada Research Chair in Arctic Sea Ice Geophysics at York University, intends to answers these questions in his study of Arctic sea ice.
His research takes him to the Far North of Canada, the Arctic region where the ice is most sensitive to environmental changes.
“If the Arctic changes, Canada changes,” says Haas. “It has a big impact on the North, its people, and Canada’s economy.” From drilling for oil to creating shipping lanes, the economic implications of the changing Arctic are as vast as the Arctic itself.
Haas employs a variety of methods to measure and track the sea ice, spanning all the way from drilling into the ice, to survey by helicopter, to tracking ice movement and thickness via satellite.
Haas and his team provide vital data to government and industry to help make key policy decisions that affect the Far North, including monitoring dangerous shifts in ice and avoiding environmental damage.
“There is a high uncertainly with Arctic sea ice,” says Haas. “The speed, deformation, and thickness of the ice change rapidly, and vary on both small and large scales.”
Haas and his team are the only research group in the Far North providing important real-time updates about the thickness of the ice. The data they collect are fed into climate modelling programs that track ice changes and can help predict when and where the ice will thaw seasonally.
“We need to know how thick the ice really is and if it is realistic to send ships there or not,” says Haas.
Mapping the rapid change in ice conditions is critical for a better understanding and prediction of climate change, and for safety in the Arctic for both oil rigs and transport, he says.