Conditions underneath the Arctic ice have long been very difficult to assess. Sensors are difficult to install and to maintain, and any kind of long term maintenance is extremely expensive if it is possible at all. However for UK environmental researchers Christmas has come very early or - somewhat late – as they are to be presented with a deluge of previously unavailable oceanographic data, thanks to the Ministry of Defence.
Environmental data such as water temperature and salt content is routinely monitored by all Royal Navy vessels, including submarines, and so the data set from a UK submarine mission can provide a snapshot of conditions under the ice and shed light on the changes taking place in the Arctic.
The MOD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is working with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Hydrographic Office to prepare data in ways that will make it useful to environmental researchers.
The project is known as the Submarine Estimates of Arctic Turbulence Spectra, and is funded through NERC's Arctic Research Programme. DSTL has been involved from the early part of the project, consulting with the environmental researchers and deciding what type of information would be appropriate for their studies.
The project will see the controlled release of scientific data on environmental changes, possibly paving the way for further data to be released in the future, and even the creation of new data streams as particularly useful data may be recorded on future missions.
Data will be released to academics at NERC's National Oceanography Centre (NOC), based at the University of Southampton, for analysis. This could, for the first time, uncover the impact of climate change in relation to what's happening in the Arctic.
DSTL marine scientist Tim Clarke said: "This has really been a collaborative effort and without co-operation of all bodies involved it would not have been possible. What this represents is the availability of important scientific data, previously inaccessible, which can only move the study forward. The MOD is excited by this project since it puts UK researchers at the forefront of climate change science. Any progress will, ultimately, lead to an improved oceanographic product for Royal Navy operations."
NOC researcher John Allen said: "We're delighted that this information will be available and thank each of the organisations who have been instrumental in releasing this data. It's really important to have this information as it will enable us to clearly measure the changes which have occurred in recent years, which is paramount for the accuracy, wider impact and legacy of global environmental science research."