Joint Ocean Ice Studies


Established in 2003, Joint Ocean Ice Studies (JOIS) is an international collaboration between Canada, the United States, and Japan that monitors oceanographic conditions in the Arctic via an annual month-long, scientific expedition aboard the icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. The program forms an important Canadian contribution to international Arctic climate research through the Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project (BGEP), a partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists, and the Pan-Arctic Climate Investigation (PACI), a co-operation with Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) scientists.

Led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist, Dr. Bill Williams, JOIS conducts annual surveys in the Beaufort Gyre – a portion of the southern Canada Basin, north of Alaska and the Yukon, whose water circulates in a clockwise direction. The study seeks to understand the impacts of climate change on the physical and geochemical environment of the Beaufort Gyre, as well as the corresponding biological responses.

The data collected is used to link perturbations in the Arctic to changes observed in the Beaufort Gyre, such as variations in freshwater content and sources, ice cover properties and distribution, water mass properties and distribution, ocean circulation, and ocean acidification

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Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project

The Canadian Basin with its Beaufort Gyre (BG) contains about 45,000 km3 of fresh water (Aagaard and Carmack, 1989). This is the major reservoir of fresh water stored in the Arctic Ocean and its volume is 10-15 times larger than the total annual river runoff to the Arctic Ocean, and at least two times larger than the amount of fresh water stored in the sea ice. What is the mechanism of fresh water accumulation in the BG? A release of only 5% of this fresh water is enough to cause a salinity anomaly with the magnitude of the Great Salinity Anomaly of the 1970s. This leads to other questions: What is the seasonal and interannual variability of freshwater content in the BG? and What is the role of the BG in the variability of freshwater export to the North Atlantic? There are no robust answers for these questions because the BG is one of the most hostile and inaccessible areas of the globe, so that most of it has never been measured or observed. 

The major goal of this project is to investigate basin-scale mechanisms regulating freshwater content in the Arctic Ocean and particularly in the BG. The major hypothesis of the project is that the BG accumulates a significant amount of fresh water from different sources under anticyclonic (clockwise) wind forcing, and then releases this fresh water when this forcing weakens or changes direction to a cyclonic (counterclockwise) rotation. This accumulation and release mechanism could be responsible for the observed salinity anomalies in the North Atlantic and for a decadal scale variability of the Arctic system as the BG may both filter annual river inputs and pulse freshwater outflows. 

In the summer of 2003 we (1) established the BG observational program with Fiona McLaughlin and Eddy Carmack from Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the Institute of Ocean Sciences (click here to see study area and observational system design) to measure freshwater content (in sea ice and in the ocean) and freshwater fluxes in the BG using moorings, drifting buoys, and remote sensing; (2) started analyzing all available historical data for the area using Russian, US and international data archives; and (3) began modeling processes of freshwater accumulation and release using ideal and real-time numerical and laboratory models in collaboration with scientists working in the Arctic Ocean Model Intercomparison Project (AOMIP).

Moorings provide us with time series of temperature, salinity, currents, sea ice draft, and bottom pressure (sea surface heights). Conventional mooring systems containing a McLane Moored Profiler (MMP) used to sample currents and hydrographic data from 50 to 2050 m with a 17 hour time interval. In addition, an ASL Environmental Sciences 420kHz upward-looking sonar (ULS) provides information about sea ice draft, and a high accuracy bottom pressure recorder (BPR) measures sea level height variability and near bottom (3800 m) seawater temperature. Each mooring consists of a surface flotation package at 50 m depth housing a ULS, a mooring cable containing the MMP, and dual acoustic releases and BPR immediately above the anchor. 

Several economical expendable ice-tethered beacons produced by the METOCEAN company were deployed in 2003 to provide concurrent temperature and salinity data at several discrete depths in the uppermost 40 m. These instruments suspended 3 SeaBird MicroCat C/T recorders and broadcast the data via Argos, which also provided the drifter location. These beacons worked successfully during 2003-2004. Since 2004, Ice-Tethered Profilers (ITPs) replaced beacons and provide Lagrangian information about water temperature and salinity in the BG region year-round at levels from 8 to 760 meters with high vertical resolution. 

Shipboard hydrographic data and water sampling are carried out at about 30 standard sites on each cruise. The scientific objectives of this program include: (1) identification of water mass characteristics, using multiple hydrographic tracers, and computation of freshwater content from different sources; (2) comparison of observed characteristics with historical data from the region; and (3) separation of the components of halocline water according to their origin. Temperature, salinity, oxygen, and nutrients, CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, total alkalinity, dissolved inorganic carbon, Tritium3He and delta18O are measured and analyzed at the locations along each section. 

Based on analyses of these direct observations, historical data, and results of specially designed numerical and laboratory experiments, we expect to further our understanding of the Arctic climate system by (1) identifying links among accumulation and release of fresh water in the BG and atmospheric, hydrologic, cryospheric and oceanic processes, (2) quantifying the regional and temporal variability of relevant processes in terms of freshwater fluxes, and (3) determining the relative importance of each factor that influences freshwater content and flux change under global warming conditions. 

The observed freshwater content variability in the BG, which acts to integrate the complex contributions from different factors, is expected to be the primary indicator of the ocean's response to climate change (see Results).

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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The ocean is a vast and challenging place to work,but knowledge about the ocean is crucial to life on a changing planet.

WHOI scientists and engineers travel the globe from land and the coasts to the deepest depths to tackle questions ranging from climate change to oil spills to ocean acidification.

If there is no tool to do what needs to be done, we invent one; if there is no experimental method, we devise it. Because now more than ever, the ocean matters to us all.

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Canadian Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard is a Special Operating Agency within Fisheries and Oceans Canada. First and foremost, the Coast Guard's top priority is and always will be the safety of mariners in Canadian waters. The organization owns and operates the majority of the federal government’s civilian fleet and provides key maritime services that protect the marine environment, support economic growth, ensure public safety and ensure Canada's sovereignty and security in Canadian waters. In addition, the Canadian Coast Guard provides support to other government organizations to advance broader mandates that directly benefit Canadians.

The Canadian Coast Guard also supports key Arctic Operations that includes icebreaking and ice escorts for marine traffic, re-supplying of isolated communities, marine search and rescue efforts, environmental response activities, maintaining aids to navigation, and providing support for scientific and government programming. The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent serves as the key operational platform for these operations as well as for the Joint Oceans Ice Studies since 2003

Learn more about the Coast Guard here