Cold as ice

The grand opening of the Sea-Ice Environmental Facility on Feb. 8th at the University of Manitoba marked an ambitious stepping-stone along the path to understanding the melting of polar sea ice.

The first of its kind in Canada, it is a facility consisting of a large outdoor sea salt pool with top technology that specializes in making and running tests on sea ice.

The facility is a result of a project led by Feiyue Wang, Tim Papakyriakou, David Barber and Soren Rysgaard in collaboration with the Canadian Research Icebreaker Amundsen in the Arctic Ocean and $1.38 million in combined funds from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

“What’s different about this SERF is that it really provides a semi-controlled facility where we can do some targeted experiments to address some of the fundamental questions,” Wang said.

“Right now, with climate change, the arctic is becoming more accessible. There is a lot of resource exploitation, mining activity happening or projected to happen soon.”

The use of the sea ice facility will allow for exploration of contaminants and how the ecosystem is effected. The facility allows researchers to control the composition of the seawater, so that they can control certain parameters, in order to reduce some of the uncertainties for sea-ice related research.

The first formation of sea ice has already been made and broken, while the first frost flowers bloomed upon the sea ice. The flowers are special to the arctic and the researchers are currently waiting on the results from their first tests.

The website states that “experimental studies at SERF will improve our ability to predict the impact of the rapid sea-ice loss on the marine ecosystem, on Arctic and global climates, on transport and biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases and contaminants, and on the human use of sea ice.”

Digvir Jayas, vice-president research & international at the U of M, said that his office is supporting this initiative “because of the quality and excellence of research that would come out of such a facility and the benefit and long term impact it would have on research, which would be done by students and our scientists using this facility.

“There is possibility of the sea ice receding in the summer months that could leave the passage open, free of sea ice that would open the space for navigation, which would open the arctic for exploration. So the benefit would be for the community to have a better understanding of the artic system,” he said.

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