Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility US Department of Energy
 

North Slope of Alaska

 

The North Slope of Alaska (NSA) atmospheric observatory is providing data about cloud and radiative processes at high latitudes. The observatory, known as a megasite, includes a central facility at Barrow and the third ARM Mobile Facility to the east at Oliktok Point.

The NSA is a focal point for atmospheric and ecological research activity in the Arctic. Scientists use data from the NSA to improve the representation of high-latitude cloud and radiation processes in earth system models.

Science in the Alaskan High Arctic

The NSA facilities consist of two active measurement sites, the central facility at Barrow and the ARM Mobile Facility 3 at Oliktok Point.

Barrow

Known as the “top of the world,” Barrow hosts the NSA’s main research site near the coast of the Arctic Ocean, where ARM collects data about cloud and radiative processes at high latitudes.

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Oliktok Point

Located on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, Oliktok Point is the current home of the third, and newest, ARM Mobile Facility, or AMF3. From this remote spot, researchers have access to important data about Arctic climate processes at the intersection of land and sea ice, aided by DOE-controlled air spaces for manned and unmanned flight systems.

Measuring the Changing Arctic

The NSA observatory offers ideal locations to study the rapidly changing atmosphere and climate of the Arctic. The observatory collects comprehensive data about cloud and radiative processes using ARM instrument systems. Compelling reasons to study the atmosphere and climate at high latitudes include:

  • The Arctic is warming more quickly than anywhere else on the planet. Recent decreases in Arctic sea ice coverage affect how much heat from sunlight is reflected versus absorbed by the ocean.
  • In the Arctic, ice (including snow) is the predominant form of condensed water most of the year. Ice and snow scatter, transmit, and absorb sunlight and radiant heat much differently than water.
  • There is very little water vapor in the atmosphere, which changes how radiant energy propagates through the atmosphere and affects the performance of some instruments.
  • The major “pumps” for the global ocean currents are at high latitudes, and there is good reason to believe that those pumps will be affected by climate-related changes in the atmosphere.
  • High latitude atmospheric processes over both land and sea must be characterized for incorporation into global and regional climate models, and are typically underrepresented due to the sparsity of collection sites.
  • Polar amplification will likely produce a larger change in temperature at the poles as compared to the average change of the planet as a whole. This will affect global weather patterns, likely resulting in more severe weather events at lower latitudes as well.

Instruments and Data

The Barrow and Oliktok Point facilities each support more than 32 different instruments, many of which were built specifically for the high latitudes. In addition to fixed instrumentation, the NSA is expanding its use of manned and unmanned aircraft through the ARM Aerial Facility (AAF), as well as its use of tethered balloon systems (TBS).

ARM transmits all data gathered at the NSA to the ARM Data Center, where it is made freely available via Data Discovery.

Controlled Airspaces

The AMF3 at Oliktok Point is the only ARM facility that includes controlled airspace, with two designated areas. These controlled airspaces give the NSA observatory more freedom in using aerial systems to study the atmosphere.

ARM’s Restricted Airspace consists of a 4 nautical mile (nm) radius, centered at Oliktok Point and extending 7,000 feet above ground level. ARM also operates a Warning Area north of Oliktok Point that is roughly 40 nm wide and extends approximately 700 nm into international airspace over the Arctic Ocean toward the North Pole.