By: Matt Rutherford On: July 26, 2015 In: Education, STEM Education Comments: 4

8th Grade STEM Students Response to “Sailing a Nearly Frozen Sea”

Hannah: “Why did you choose to go to Greenland out of everywhere else you could go?”


Ocean Research Project: Greenland is important. It is the forefront for climate change research and close to North America making it accessible by our sailing research vessel to visit during Greenland’s prime oceangoing research season (July-September).

Alex:  “Why are the effects of climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution in Greenland hardly understood?”


Ocean Research Project: Scientists have been studying climate change in the Arctic for years. Ocean acidification or carbonization and plastic marine debris pollution challenges have not been studied more than a few years and or a handful of places in Greenland. Greenland is so big, about the size of Europe and has very few people living there (about 55,000 people). Compare that to how many people live in your county alone! International scientific collaborations have formed to address these issues together and strategize on collecting data to better understand the un studied areas.

Malia:  “At this rate, is the melting of ice in Greenland reversible? Or can we only try to stop/slow the melting to prevent further damage?”


Ocean Research Project: The melting is only reversible in time by nature. In fact, there has been many periods in history called glacials and interglacials when the ice recedes, the planet’s oceans rise and visa versa. Currently, we are in an interglacial period so the melting is expected but the difference is the melting should happen much more slowly. There is evidence that the melting usually happened at a much slower rate. We believe due to humanities industrialization and use of fossil fuels this rate of melting has increased. In the future if we learn how to decrease human impact on the environment then we could possibly slow down melting to better assess how to adapt to a rising or falling sea level.

James: “Why is it so important to keep the ice sheets on Greenland frozen?”


Ocean Research Project: The ice sheet if completely melted would raise sea level, increase fresh water where salt water is key for marine life and dump nutrients once trapped in the ice that could alter the ocean chemistry balance.


Alex:  “The fresh water would flow into the ocean, so the salinity in the ocean water would lower- the water in the ratio of water to salt in the ocean would rise drastically, and that would kill species of sea life that depend on the ocean’s salt to survive. It would also raise the sea level up to an estimated 21 feet, destroying any structures close to the ocean or anywhere under 21 feet above sea level.”


Anagh:  “I learned that the Titanic had sunk because it collided with an iceberg, therefore I am asking these questions.  How should the ORP team and their ship be equipped and what precautions should they take so that they do not meet the same fate as the Titanic did?  What kinds of skills should the ORP team have so they can survive in such tough conditions?”


Ocean Research Project: We combine Matt’s experience navigating in polar seas with the latest information on ice proximity. Our radar allows us to see the large icebergs even when the visibility is poor such as in the fog. Smaller bergs called bergy bits are harder to see so you have to maintain a good lookout when at the wheel. We receive ice intelligence from various sources including Danish and Canadian sea ice charts, NOAA/NASA satellite radar images, and iceberg frequency maps. All crewmembers onboard must be able to operate the ice detection equipment and become familiar with interpreting the multiple information resources.

Jordan:  “In what ways will the plants and animals in our own backyard be affected by glaciers melting in Greenland?”

Nicole: “How could all the aquatic wildlife in Greenland be affected by the increasing melting of the ice caps?”


Ocean Research Project: When sea levels rise plants and animals that occupy submerged regions will be displaced and be forced to move upstream to re-establish and identify a suitable habitat. If sea salinity levels and temperature change dramatically this could have an impact on marine species. There were warmer waters in Greenland in the past because today you can find evidence on the seabed of fjords and just offshore on the shelf. There you can find redeposited bivalves such as blue mussel fossils, a marine species that lives in sea water warmer than today’s.

Hannah:  “How big of an impact would the sheets of ice melting would have on the world? Could it cause cities to flood?”


Ocean Research Project: It certainly could cause flooding and scientists hope that these floods will be gradual enough for cities to move inland ahead of time. It is believed that Greenland ice sheet once melted would raise the world’s oceans about 21 feet and if Antarctica’s ice sheet completely melts 192 feet can rise. This rising water will not happen in our life time but future but we can prepare future populations so that they can adapt to this natural phenomena.

ORP:  “ Why should we measure ocean carbon, salinity and the temperature of the surface of the ocean from a temperate to polar climate?”

Anagh:  “The ORP team should measure ocean carbon, salinity and the temperature of the surface of the ocean because these 3 factors can potentially increase the melting rates of glaciers and other forms of ice.”