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Article in The Times of London Magazine Features Oceanographer Victoria Hill

Victoria Hill

Old Dominion University oceanographer Victoria Hill is a featured scientist in an article about Arctic climate research that appeared this month in the Eureka magazine of The Times of London.

The eight-page article, which is well illustrated with photos taken at a research site in the Arctic this spring, explains the tedious work Hill has undertaken to try to explain why ice up near the North Pole is melting faster than scientific models had predicted. She worked with the Catlin Arctic Survey during March and April.

Most scientific research in the Arctic Ocean region is done during the summer when the weather can be almost hospitable and there is more open water in which to take measurements and conduct experiments. But Hill and ODU research associate David Ruble rushed the season this spring - and endured temperatures down to minus-40 Celsius - because Hill's research plan required it.

She believes the remains of tiny plants that live in polar ice can tint the water light brown and cause it to absorb more sunlight and heat up faster than scientific models had previously predicted. To test her hypothesis she needed to get to the packed ice before the summer melt.

The brown-tinged material that is of interest to Hill is chromophoric dissolved organic material (CDOM). River sediments containing CDOM can flow into seas, creating the tint, and heavy plankton growth and decay can produce it, too. But scientists have generally thought of the cold Arctic waters as relatively clear of CDOM. If biological activity in thick ice is creating it, models will have to be adjusted to account for more dark water and more heat absorption.

"It's important to know," Hill is quoted as saying in The Times magazine article. "Water with CDOM absorbs 40 percent more light, so it can add up to quite a significant amount of energy."

The Catlin Arctic Survey is an initiative of the Catlin Group Ltd., the international provider of specialty insurance and reinsurance that is based in Bermuda. The company launched the survey three years ago with the declaration of its top executives that "climate change and other environmental changes are creating a new set of risks for the insurance industry and its policyholders."

A National Science Foundation grant also supports the work of Hill and Ruble, and the principal investigator on the Arctic project is Richard Zimmerman, ODU professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric science.

This article was posted on: July 12, 2011

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