IceGoat: The next generation

by Kathryn Hansen
Thursday, April 26, 2012

One source of young talent to carry the military’s proposals and technologies into the future will come from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where Lt. Cmdr. John Woods, an oceanography professor, specializes in sea-ice studies. Woods recently launched a polar science program, supported by the academy’s STEM Office, which he hopes will convey to students an understanding of sea-ice dynamics — how ice is thinning and what’s causing it to thin.

The academy offers a polar science class, taught by Woods, as well as a climate change course. Beyond classroom work, however, Woods also makes a point of engaging midshipmen with real-world Arctic experiments. Last year, Woods and Midshipman Eric Brugler traveled to Greenland with NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an annual airborne science mission to monitor polar ice. This year, Woods, U.S. Naval Academy faculty, four midshipmen and a graduate student from Penn State University traveled with NASA’s BROMEX mission to the northernmost town in the U.S., Barrow, Alaska, where they deployed the academy’s first Arctic buoy.

The buoy project got its start when the University of Washington invited Woods' polar program to take part in the International Arctic Buoy Program. SRI International provided the instrument’s guts and, over the course of a semester, midshipmen constructed IceGoat1. (The name derives from the academy’s mascot, Bill the Goat.)

IceGoat1 contains a meteorology package, sensors to measure the air and water temperature and sea pressure, and two webcams that take pictures that are relayed via satellite. The buoy transmits real-time environmental data to the World Meteorological Organization database for weather and ice forecasts, and into the International Arctic Buoy Program research database, which culls information from more than 70 Arctic platforms.

During spring break, the midshipmen deployed the buoy into Arctic sea ice off the coast of Barrow. If IceGoat1 turns out to be a success, Woods hopes next year to take midshipmen and a buoy to the North Pole.

Overall, the effort and interest in the polar program seem to be driving a real interest in Arctic issues. “The midshipmen come in na├»ve but leave believing they could be operating in the Arctic as commissioned officers,” Woods says. “I just think we need to prepare the midshipmen to possibly operate there one day.”

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