Next Tuesday, NASA will launch an entirely new (for them) craft. On June 15th, ICESCAPE will take to sea onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, leaving from Dutch Harbor, Alaska and heading to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

This is the first oceanographic research voyage sponsored by NASA.  The ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) mission plans to take an up-close look at how changing conditions in the Arctic are affecting the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems that play a critical role in global climate change.

NASA is hoping that this mission enhances the satellite data that already is collected of the area. More than 40 scientists, including six from Stanford University, will spend five weeks at sea sampling the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the ocean and sea ice.

According to today’s Stanford Report:

They will gather data on the state of the ice, the ocean and the microscopic plants and animals that dwell therein. The tiny organisms regulate the flow of carbon into and out of the sea, and the scientists are seeking to assess how the melting ice is affecting the organisms and ecosystem.

“The ocean ecosystem in the Arctic has changed dramatically in recent years, and it's changing much faster and much more than any other ocean in the world,” said ICESCAPE chief scientist Kevin Arrigo, PhD, of Stanford. “Declining sea ice in the Arctic is certainly one reason for the change, but that's not the whole story. We need to find out, for example, where the nutrients are coming from that feed this growth if we are going to be able to predict what the future holds for this region.”

(The Stanford team will be blogging about their adventures and research. You can follow them here.)

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