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CHIPS Articles: ICEX Weather, Ice Team Forecasts in Dynamic Arctic Environment

ICEX Weather, Ice Team Forecasts in Dynamic Arctic Environment
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lee, ICEX Public Affairs - March 21, 2018
PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska (NNS) -- The Arctic Ocean is a challenging and dangerously remote region to conduct the biennial Arctic Ice Exercise (ICEX). To operate safely requires the assistance of ice prediction and weather forecast models provided by a team of meteorology and oceanography (METOC) experts.

2018 ICEX is supported by a team comprised of members from the Naval Ice Center (NIC), based in Suitland, Maryland, combined with a team from the U.K. Royal Navy Joint Operational and Meteorological Center (JOMOC) London and the U.K. Fleet Hydrographic and Meteorology Unit (FHMU), from Devonport, U.K. The combined ICEX weather team enhances the ability to study and forecast the weather and dynamic environmental changes.

Beginning in January, members from the NIC, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) began tracking multi-year ice floes in the Beaufort Sea to identify an optimal location to host the base camp for the exercise, known as Ice Camp Skate, according to Lt. Emily Motz, METOC officer and member of ICEX 2018 METOC team.

"We tracked a thick multi-year piece of ice because multi-year ice, in addition to being thicker than first-year ice, is going to be stronger because there is less salinity," said Motz. "What we've seen through years of academic research, is that multi-year ice surrounded by first-year ice helps to add strength to that piece of ice. It's more important to the ASL because first-year ice has a smoother surface to create aircraft runways."

Beneath the ice, NIC gives a product to the submarines, refined using high-resolution imagery and data collected by the METOC team operating in and around the ice floe to identify fractures, leads, and open-water so that submarines can safely navigate under and through the Arctic Ocean during the exercise.

Flight operations are vital to ASL and the success of ICEX because they provide the only means to transport personnel and cargo across the Beaufort Sea to maintain operability throughout the five-week exercise.

According to Lt. Jon Edmonds, Royal Navy METOC officer for the UK, the METOC team provides environmental data to best exploit the environment and make the best appropriate decisions to aid in planning and conducting operations.

"On-site imagery analysis, from the NIC analyst in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, provides aviators with current and forecasted positions of the drifting ice camp in the Arctic Ocean, while data collected from atmospheric pressure, temperature, and wind speed and direction are passed to pilots for conducting safe operations during poor visibility and extreme weather conditions," said Edmonds.

Environmental monitoring is a combined effort with the emphasis of learning and enhancing METOC capabilities to study and operate in the Arctic environment and test various forecasting equipment.

"We will have three different weather stations on the ice," said Edmonds. "The Royal Navy has a tactical meteorological system (TACMET) measuring atmospheric pressure, temperature, wind speed and direction, and visibility. The U.S. has a similar sensor that has all those features, but this year we are also testing a prototype compact sensor built for portability."

The team also uses a Tactical Atmospheric Sounding Kit to collect upper atmosphere soundings up to 40,000 feet, and this equipment provides the data for Norfolk Fleet Weather Center to increase the accuracy of their products.

With the growing range of Arctic challenges, and the inherent difficulty of conducting Arctic operations, members of the METOC team are provided with daily opportunities to read and learn about the environment in the Arctic to better understand environmental observations and its effects, and to assist in tactical exploitation of the weather.

For more information about ICEX 2018, visit http://www.dvidshub.net/feature/ICEX2018, http://www.facebook.com/arcticsublab or http://www.navy.mil/ICEX2018.

For more news from Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/subpac/.

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