Impacts of Climate on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) is a multi-year NASA shipborne project. The bulk of the research will take place in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea’s in the summers of 2010 and 2011.

The Arctic sea ice cover is in decline. The retreat of the summer ice cover, a general thinning, and a transition to a younger, a more vulnerable ice pack have been well documented. Melt seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer. These changes can profoundly impact the physical, biological, and geochemical state of the Arctic Ocean region. Climate models project that changes in the ice cover may accelerate in the future, with a possible transition to ice free summers later this century. These changes are quite pronounced in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea and have consequences for the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, potentially affecting everything from sea ice algae to polar bears.

The central science question of this program is, “What is the impact of climate change (natural and anthropogenic) on the biogeochemistry and ecology of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas?” While both of these regions are experiencing significant changes in the ice cover, their biogeochemical response will likely be quite different due to their distinct physical, chemical, and biological differences.

ICESCAPE will pursue the above central science question and associated issues through an interdisciplinary, cross cutting approach integrating field expeditions, modeling, and satellite remote sensing. Central to the success of this program is a quantitative and reliable determination of chemical and biological fluxes to and from open water, ice and snow surfaces, as a function of relevant environmental conditions such as the nature of the surfaces. This will be pursued in ways that couple remotely sensed information to that obtained via state-of-the-art chemical, physical and biological sensors located in water, on or under ice, and in the atmosphere. Assimilation and synthesis of data will benefit from coupled atmosphere, biology/ecology, ocean, and sea ice linked modeling.