New UNIS weather station – now in the sea!

New UNIS weather station – now in the sea!

Top image: The weather station was deployed outside Bjørndalen by UNIS earlier this autumn. Photo: Ragnheid Skogseth/UNIS

UNIS has recently deployed a new underwater measurement station in Isfjorden. Now everyone can monitor the temperature, currents, tides and biological activity via the internet.

21 November 2016
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

For the past ten years the sea temperatures in Svalbard and in the Barents Sea has increased resulting in a delayed and much more unstable sea ice season. This has proven to be an increasing challenge for companies and operators, such as tourism companies, logistical operators and for education and research linked to sea ice.

The reduction in sea ice cover is mainly due to the proximity to the Atlantic heat source in the West Spitsbergen Current, which has increased in the same period. Of all the fjords on the west coast of Spitsbergen, Isfjorden has the strongest link to the heat source through the distinct Isfjordrenna across the shelf west of Spitsbergen.

The warm Atlantic water has been dominant at this base since 2006 and has several times over the last ten winters flooded the shelf and flowed directly into the fjords on the west coast of Spitsbergen. The sea ice cover that previously was thick in some fjords or in the side-fjords Billefjorden and Dicksonfjorden, has in recent years not been present or relatively thin compared to a “normal” year.

Under such inflow episodes of warm and saline Atlantic water there is a huge possibility that the warm water can be guided into the fjord ice, which then could melt from below. This is not directly visible from the surface of the sea ice and snow cover, so snowmobiling on the fjord ice in recent years has been marred with uncertainty due to lack of real time information about the dangers lurking beneath the ice.

Underwater weather station
UNIS has now deployed an ocean observatory in Isfjorden outside Bjørndalen for monitoring ocean currents and the inflow of warm and saline water in Isfjorden. In addition, there is a website that conveys real-time values and historical time series from this “weather station in the sea”.

Location of weather station at sea outside Bjørndalen Svalbard

The location of the weather station outside Bjørndalen, Svalbard. Map: TopoSvalbard/UNIS

UNIS has received funding from the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund and instruments and technical support from Aanderaa Data Instruments AS in Bergen, to realize this new ocean observatory.

The main objective of the project is to develop a tool that provides a better dissemination of environmental conditions in Isfjorden to assess the risk of traveling on sea ice and a better knowledge base for harvesting of fish stocks and biological and chemical data samples in Isfjorden.

This project will ensure that we have updated information of the climate change impact on the natural environment, says project leader and UNIS researcher in physical oceanography Ragnheid Skogseth.

– By looking at the temperature development through late autumn it will also be possible to provide better assessment about the fate of sea ice formation for the next winter, she says.

The website and data from the ocean observatory are freely available for the many projects that UNIS have with kindergartens, schools and higher education and research institutions.

Included in the project is launching a comprehensive website with information on current, temperature- and salt observations in several depths, an ice index that will indicate presence of sea ice at the surface and a pressure gauge for tidal variations. In addition the primary productivity of the ocean is measured by a fluorometer at 20 m depth. These readings in combination with the light and oxygen measurements will give us much valuable information on the biological status of the fjord.

The ocean observatory is located so that it can notify us about the influx of warm and saline Atlantic water all year round and will therefore be of assistance in risk assessment for traffic on the sea ice in the winter and provide information when it is beneficial to harvest the fish stock. This is because the attractive fish species (cod, haddock, salmon and mackerel) follow the inflow of Atlantic water.

UNIS has taken the initiative to establish a high-Arctic seasonal time series in Isfjorden: Isfjorden Marine Observatory System (IMOS). The ocean observatory is a long-awaited tool to help UNIS scientists and others to target their sampling of other important physical and biological parameters than can only be retrieved by boat.

Important for future shipping plans

Isfjorden is the largest fjord along the west coast of Spitsbergen and has always been a strategic inlet for the settlements on Svalbard. Large year-to-year variations in the amount of sea ice, and rarely permanent sea ice cover, are why the bay has been naturally selected as a fairway. The ongoing climate change and reduction of sea ice cover will affect the traffic pattern in the north.

The Longyearbyen community council and local businesses are working for the port of Longyearbyen to become a hub in the future shipping across the Arctic Ocean to the north. The planned ocean observatories will lie along the current fairway to Longyearbyen and will provide valuable information about tides and currents to the increasing number of ships in Isfjorden.

By looking at the temperature and salt observation and the development through late fall, it will also be possible to help local tourist operators with information about the possibility for sea ice to form the next winter. Thus, it can be scheduled for safer and more attractive alternatives the upcoming season. Data from ocean observatory will be important for long-term data series on plankton in Isfjorden, a project on which UNIS and Russian scientists in Barentsburg collaborate. Data can also be used for research-based tourism, for example offer lectures and do sampling, including plankton, temperature and salt, from tourist boats.

The development of current, temperature, salinity (salt content in the water), oxygen content, chlorophyll content, light conditions, and tides in Isfjorden can be followed here:

Red buoy indicates the location of the weather station

The red buoy indicates the location of the weather station. Photo: Ragnheid Skogseth/UNIS.

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