Clark scientist to lead NASA research on sea ice in Arctic

April 15, 2011

With support of $735K grant, Prof. Karen Frey and two Ph.D. students will study climate change from aboard icebreakers

Professor Frey recently received funding from the NASA Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program for a project titled "Impacts of Sea Ice Decline and River Discharge Shifts on Biological Productivity in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas." Frey is the lead principal investigator (PI) on the grant, which totals $735,192 over the next four years. Co-investigators are scientists Lee Cooper and Jacqueline Grebmeier from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Frey's research is part of NASA's multi-year project called ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment), based aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy icebreaker during June/July of 2010 and September 2011, as well as on the RV Xuelong Chinese icebreaker during the summer of 2012. "The NASA grant program is very competitive and we were quite pleased to hear of Dr. Frey's award," said Priscilla Elsass, interim Associate Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies at Clark University. "The research of Dr. Frey and her students should lead to a better understanding of the effects of climate change."

Professor Frey has been involved in several expeditions to study climate change in the Arctic. Frey conducted research aboard the Healy in 2006, 2007, and 2008. During the past two summers (2008 and 2009), she led a select group of Clark undergraduates in "The Polaris Project: Rising Stars in the Arctic" (National Science Foundation, International Polar Year), a field course in eastern Siberia to study the hydrological and biogeochemical impacts of climate warming and permafrost thaw.

Two of Frey's Clark undergraduates will also travel to eastern Siberia for The Polaris Project in summer 2010. In March 2009, Frey was featured in a four-part NOVA special, "On Thin Ice in the Bering Sea." Two of Professor Frey's Ph.D. students, Christie Wood and Luke Trusel, will accompany her on the first six-week long cruise in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this coming summer.

"Dr. Frey's ICESCAPE project provides an incredible opportunity to further my training as a polar scientist," said Trusel, whose research focuses on the Antarctic cryosphere. "This is my third polar research experience and my second in the Arctic, but first on an ice breaker and on this side of the Arctic. In addition to learning new field and analytical techniques, the close ship-based environment will provide great opportunities to learn from and share knowledge with other researchers. The potential for conducting Arctic research with prominent scientists in the field, including Dr. Frey, was a major draw to coming to Clark."

During the ICESCAPE project, scientists from several disciplines will study and integrate data from state-of-the-art sensing devices in and on the ice and seas as well as satellite remote sensing. They will use field-based observation and climate models that project changes in the ice cover. According to NASA, "The retreat of the [Arctic] 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."