Professors to make Arctic trek, study climate change

Kevin Kolus

Joseph Ortiz will embark on a scientific Arctic-cruise this summer to help answer the uncertainties of global warming.

The associate professor of geology, who was a member of a Trans-Arctic cruise in 2005 and named the Healy-Oden Trans-Arctic Expedition, said the purpose of these cruises is to identify climate changes in the Arctic region.

The HOTRAX cruises bring together many scientists with different levels of expertise to determine if warming in the Arctic region has been normal or influenced by humans, he said.

“That will help us understand the amount of change that’s potentially possible in the decades to come,” he explained. “We are trying to set the baseline to understand the magnitude of the changes we’ve seen.”

Oritz said the Arctic region was chosen because it is one of the few places on Earth that is expected to warm the fastest due to the greenhouse effect. Studying the soil in the Arctic Ocean for evidence of climate changes before the Industrial Revolution will help scientists to understand if humans are affecting global warming.

“So what we are hoping to do, basically, is to try and reconstruct the history of ice cover in the Arctic over a long time period,” Ortiz said.

Stefanie Brachfeld, assistant professor of earth and environmental studies at Montclair State University who also participated in the 2005 HOTRAX cruise, said a look into the Arctic region’s history is important research because scientists know little about it.

“It’s not often you get records from the poles,” Brachfeld said. “It’s a fascinating way to look into the Earth.”

Brachfeld said computer programs called “global climate models” are used to predict decades to centuries into the future of what the ice cover will look like in the region.

“They all predict the Arctic will get warm enough to where all ice could disappear completely,” she said.

Ortiz said the reason the ice is melting is because there is too much energy being retained in the Earth’s atmosphere. When the energy hits ocean water, it is absorbed and heats the surrounding ice pack. This consistent heating creates problems for Arctic wildlife, he explained.

“If the ice goes away in the Arctic, it leads to dramatic changes within the Arctic ecosystems that have been in place for millennium,” Ortiz said. “Many of the animals that live in the Arctic are dependent on seasonal migration on the ice pack.”

Ortiz said he looks forward to the late-summer cruise to Baffin Bay, located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Of the 10 scientific cruises he has been on, Ortiz said the HOTRAX cruise was “one of the most amazing.”

“It was like being on another planet,” he said. “It was sort of like traveling through this terrestrial landscape. All you could see was ice … it was desolate, in a beautiful sort of way.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].