Science and Technology News

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NOAA's Arctic mission comes to Eielson

by Senior Airman Zachary Perras
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/14/2013 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Miles north beyond Eielson rests the frigid waters of the Arctic. There, researchers and pilots from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration patrolled the airspace Oct. 19 - Nov. 7, collecting valuable data on the earth's atmosphere.

The mission is one of global importance due to the fact that the Arctic feeds weather for the entire Northern Hemisphere. The information collected is used to investigate climate change around the world.

During the span of NOAA's arctic mission, Eielson was the team's home. The base's proximity to the Arctic meant less time flying to the area of operations and more time with eyes on the mission.

"As a small government entity, we frequently rely on the support of other agencies," said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Didier, NOAA WP-3D Orion pilot. "We had every aspect of support possible all in one place here at Eielson and we wouldn't be able to do this nearly as efficiently anywhere else."

NOAA's Arctic mission aimed to look into the effect of anomalous heat, specifically in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and its effect on the overlying atmosphere. To do this required eight-hour missions, visibly inspecting the area.

"There are different variables in the air mass that relate to heat fluxes and how they have an effect on how much ice there is in the Arctic and how quickly it forms," Didier said. "We want to investigate the air mass over where the ice forms and see what's happening over time."

NOAA's P-3 aircraft is equipped with a myriad of sensors that detect different qualities of the air, including pressure, temperature and relative humidity. Whether flying at 20,000 feet or only 200 feet above the ice, the aircraft collects data for the team to decipher.

NOAA's research has shown there is less ice at this time of year than is typical of years past because of global climate change. In previous years, there would have been much thicker ice that's typically around two to three years old, but that sort of ice is scarcer now.

Ultimately, the goal is the see what this does to the atmosphere of the area, said Dr. Nick Bond, research meteorologist with the University of Washington.

"There's a certain thrill of discovery here because we're doing work that hasn't been done before and we're taking measurements that haven't been taken before," he said.

Every part of the research provides a valuable and interesting perspective because it shows a more complete picture of the regional situation.

Lt. Col. Andrew Lipina, 354th Fighter Wing Command Post and Plans and Programming chief, said Eielson was excited to support such a unique mission given the national interest in the Arctic.

"The recent release of the national strategy for the Arctic spurred multiple government agencies to research changes to the Arctic environment," Lipina said. "Eielson provided the optimal base of operation for this type of research. NOAA's Arctic flux missions staged from here proved invaluable to understanding the changes in the region."

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