Oden off the coast of Greenland in 2015 — The Swedish icebreaker will spend a month moored to an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean this summer, enabling Bigelow Laboratory researcher Paty Matrai to study how the ocean influences cloud formation. Photo by Ida Kinner
Oden off the coast of Greenland in 2015 — The Swedish icebreaker will spend a month moored to an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean this summer, enabling Bigelow Laboratory researcher Paty Matrai to study how the ocean influences cloud formation. Photo by Ida Kinner
The Arctic climate is changing faster than anywhere else in the world. On July 31, a Swedish-American research expedition to the Arctic Ocean set sail to study how those polar changes may impact global temperatures by altering cloud formation.

Forty researchers from across the world will be based aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden. Paty Matrai, a senior research scientist from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, will act as co-chief scientist for the expedition. After sailing nearly as far north as the Pole, the crew will moor the ship to a moving ice floe. As they drift with the ice, research teams will collect vital statistics from the sea, ice and air.

“A better understanding of how clouds form in the Arctic is key to predicting the global climate of the future,” Matrai said. “Clouds play a very important role in our planet’s climate — but how are they affected by the microbiological life that thrives in and beneath the sea ice?”

According to Bigelow Lab, clouds are made up of small droplets and ice crystals that form in certain wind, moisture and temperature conditions. Condensation and formation of cloud droplets depend on the existence of small particles in the atmosphere, which in the Arctic originate from microbiological life in the sea and ice. The more sea that opens up as the Arctic ice pack melts, the more biological particles bubble out into the atmosphere. That process may lead to more clouds and earlier freezing of seasonal sea ice. 

Matrai will examine the process of how these ocean particles seed clouds. Using seawater from the open spaces between Arctic ice floes, her team will conduct experiments that create artificial sea spray. The results will allow them to quantify how organic aerosols influence cloud 

formation.

“This research takes us from the microscopic to the global very quickly,” Matrai said. “By understanding how sea spray particles in the air influence cloud formation in the high Arctic, we will understand the polar ecosystem much better, and be better equipped to predict its future.” 

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, nonprofit research institute on the coast of Maine. Its research ranges from the microscopic life at the bottom of marine food webs to large-scale ocean processes that affect the entire planet. Learn more at www.bigelow.org.