Mark Ivey, left, a Sandia National Laboratories senior engineer, and Fred Helsel, a systems engineer, inspect a shelter that had been stationed in Oliktok Point, Alaska. After eight great years of observations and research, a Sandia National Laboratories-operated Atmospheric Radiation Measurement mobile facility moved from Oliktok Point. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Sandia-operated Arctic measurement facility moves, research to continue

November 11, 2021 9:16 am Published by

Atmospheric studies and more to continue at fixed Arctic observatory

After eight great years of observations and research, a Sandia National Laboratories-operated atmospheric measurement facility moved from Oliktok Point, on the North Slope of Alaska, this summer. The mobile facility will be relocating to the southeastern United States; the exact location is still being decided.

The Department of Energy Office of Science’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement mobile facilities collect important data on atmospheric, aerosol and cloud dynamics to refine climate and weather models. ARM’s third mobile facility was originally intended to stay in northern Alaska for only five years, but has been collecting and processing data at Oliktok Point since 2013.

Over the years at Oliktok, Sandia scientists — and researchers from across the country — have also conducted experiments on cloud dynamics, distributed acoustic sensing, unmanned aircraft systems, tethered balloons and more. Critical Arctic observations and scientific studies will continue at ARM’s fixed observatory 165 miles away at Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow. The fixed ARM observatory in Utqiaġvik has been collecting data for almost 25 years.

“The DOE’s commitment to Arctic atmospheric observations and researcher-driven studies in Utqiaġvik is not changing at all,” said Lori Parrott, recently retired manager of Sandia’s atmospheric and Arctic sciences group. “The mobile facility at Oliktok Point offered a powerful extension of that facility, as it was on the Beaufort Sea instead of the Chukchi Sea with regional variation. We’re grateful that DOE is going to continue its mission of collecting unique atmospheric measurements to support the climate modeling community with its move of the mobile facility to the southeastern U.S.”

Arctic observations, research to continue

Arctic observations and DOE Office of Science experiments will continue at the Utqiaġvik observatory, which has been operating since the summer of 1997. Some specialized instruments, like snow measurement sensors, will move from the Oliktok Point facility to the Utqiaġvik facility, said Joe Hardesty, who leads the Sandia team that manages the DOE Alaska ARM facilities. He added, “We look forward to maintaining that long record of Arctic data and observations to serve the modeling community.”

One notable example of how Sandia researchers were able to use the Oliktok location to conduct other research projects is Dari Dexheimer and her tethered balloons. She has regularly flown 13-foot-tall, sensor-laden tethered balloons at Oliktok since 2015. The balloons have collected important information about the temperature and supercooled liquid water content of Arctic clouds, which were then fed into climate models to fine-tune them.

“Being up at the mobile facility on Oliktok Point gave us an unparalleled opportunity to test and refine our expertise flying tethered balloons,” Parrott said. “Being able to insert instruments in a cloud from top to bottom, using our restricted airspace and stay in there to collect data over a long time, provided some unique datasets. It also gave our tethered balloon team great experience in improving our technology, strengthening the tethers, so that they could handle extreme conditions. Now we’re using that skill for other studies in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.”

Another experiment that will continue at Oliktok Point is Rob Abbott’s three-year distributed acoustic sensing interrogator project. His team uses unused fiber optic cable to capture data on the seafloor of the Arctic, including sounds from ice quakes and transportation activities. “They’re doing first-time-ever measurements up there,” said Mark Ivey, Sandia senior engineer and science liaison of the ARM facilities at Utqiaġvik and Oliktok.

Read the complete news release.

Share this story:

Tags: ,