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Tools & Technology

Scientists use a variety of tools to measure the ocean, ice, and atmosphere. In the past, measurements of this remote ocean were made by hand, from temporary camps erected on the sea ice or from icebreakers. Increasingly, researchers are relying on robotic instruments, which can take measurements for a year or more without any human intervention. The following instruments have all been developed in the past few years to overcome the difficulties of studying an ocean that is covered in ice and, during the winter months, cloaked in darkness.

Drifting buoys

These instruments are designed to “go with the (ice) floe.” Drifting buoys meander around the Arctic with the motion of the winds and currents. The collection of buoys is often referred to as an ice-based observatory (IBO). Like an observatory on land, an IBO collects a whole host of different data about the environment through which it moves. In addition to the three buoys described below, other research teams, from Japan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also plan to install automated buoys on the ice at NPEO.


Ice-Tethered Profiler Measures the temperature, salt content, and currents beneath the ice. More...


Ice-Mass Balance buoy
Measures the thickness and temperature of the pack ice. More...



Autonomous Ocean Flux Buoy
Measures the flux of heat, salt, and momentum in the upper ocean. More...

long bottom mooring

Long term Bottom-Anchored Mooring
2.6-mile long fixed mooring measuring water properties under the ice. More...

Fixed Moorings

A mooring is a series of instruments spread along a cable that extends over a portion of the water column. A heavy anchor holds it in place and glass floats keep the line taut and upright. Moorings give scientists a look at how water properties change with time at a fixed location—essentially, a movie of what passes by.


Aerial CTD and chemistry survey
Using a light aircraft, scientists take “snapshot” measurements of the Arctic Ocean water. More...

In situ measurements

Certain measurements must be made in person (“in-situ”). For example, oceanographers sometimes need to collect water samples to measure the chemical and nutrient content.