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2/26/2013
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White House Points Sensors, Drones To Gauge Arctic Change

White House outlines five-year plan to measure ice melt and study the impact of environmental change on the local population.

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery
NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The White House's National Science and Technology Council has released a five-year research plan that aims to establish a better scientific understanding of environmental changes taking place in the Arctic.

The plan calls for data collection through a variety of technologies, including satellite imaging, sensors and sensor-equipped drones. The sensors would gather data from the atmosphere, land- and sea-ice and ocean waters.

The plan was created by the U.S. Interagency Research Policy Committee, comprised of representatives from 13 federal agencies. The departments of Energy and Interior, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are responsible for integrating research that can improve modeling of Arctic systems and environmental processes. The Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Office of Naval Research and U.S. Coast Guard will take the lead on conducting the research and monitoring changes.

[ The Department of Energy has invested $17 million in a new supercomputer to use for climate and biological research. Read more at New Supercomputer To Target Climate Research. ]

In a blog post on Whitehouse.gov, Brendan Kelly, OSTP assistant director for polar sciences, and Simon Stephenson, the head of NSF's Arctic Sciences Section, wrote that environmental changes in the Arctic are having "profound impacts" on local populations. They contend that diminishing sea ice "accelerates global warming and alters circulation in the atmosphere and oceans in ways that change storm patterns in other parts of the world."

The 104-page report points to "broad scientific consensus" that changes in global climate are altering ice and snow cover and affecting Arctic ecosystems, populations and natural resources.

The plan outlines seven areas of research: sea ice and marine ecosystems; terrestrial ice; atmospheric studies of surface heat; observing systems; regional climate models; adaption tools for local communities; and human health.

The research areas involve various types of data collection and analysis. For example, the atmospheric studies of surface heat would be accomplished in part through remote sensing and satellite observations. Supercomputers will be used to create climate models and simulations and Web portals to provide data access to research partners.

The plan calls for an integrated "Arctic observing system" that would involve, among other things, monitoring the Arctic's glaciers and marine environment and assessing the impact of terrestrial warming and permafrost thawing on the carbon cycle.

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