Dog sleds that have carried Inuit hunters since the earliest times are now helping tow high technology across the Arctic to investigate the latest global warming-related changes in sea ice there.
Recent measurements have shown that the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region of the world, and satellite images have revealed that the Arctic summer sea ice extent has declined at a rate of over 10 percent per decade.
"In scientific circles, it has been well-recognized that the Arctic is rapidly changing, certainly faster than any other time during recorded history," said sea ice physicist Jeremy Wilkinson at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.
Satellites, while they provide excellent views of the area of Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice, cannot yet scan ice thickness from space. Researchers instead rely on scientific instruments such as those that generate magnetic fields to induce what are called eddy currents in the water beneath sea ice. The devices can measure the strength of these currents, which depends on the distance between the instruments and the bottom of the sea ice, thus revealing how thick the ice is. They typically are installed on the bows of icebreaker ships or hung below helicopters.
During time spent with Inuit hunters during research on the sea ice off Greenland, "we learned of the severe difficulties that the local communities faced because of the climate-driven changes to the sea ice conditions," Wilkinson recalled. "We also saw the large number of dog teams that were on the ice everyday and the vast distances they covered. Then came the light bulb moment — why don't we put sensors on these sleds?"