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Saturday Morning Science Series to Present Arctic Program

A program by Old Dominion University oceanographer Victoria Hill, "Arctic Science: Burning Questions in the Freezing Cold," will be presented as part of ODU's Saturday Morning Science Series on Dec. 10.

The presentation will begin at 10:30 a.m. in Room 200 of the Oceanography and Physical Sciences Building. Anyone with an interest in science, regardless of background or age, is invited to attend. Programs in the series are free.

Hill has been on several research trips to the Arctic region, the latest of which was in March and April of this year when she worked as part of the Catlin Arctic Survey, looking into reasons why ice near the North Pole is melting faster than scientific models had predicted.

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 degrees 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 says. "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. 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, Ruble and the principal investigator on the Arctic project, Richard Zimmerman, ODU professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric science.

For more information on the Saturday Morning Science Series, visit: http://sci.odu.edu/physics/events/sms.html.

This article was posted on: November 28, 2011

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