Scientists, students embark on mission to top of world for data of global concern

Credit: Northwest Passage Project

Amid sweltering heatwaves and wildfires worldwide, a group of scientific experts supported by 22 students — most of them young undergrads from Chicago, New York, Miami, and Richmond — embark Aug. 23 on a major three-week investigation of related conditions at the top of the planet.

Departing from Resolute Bay in Canada's Nunavut Territory aboard the One Ocean Expeditions' 384-foot vessel Akademik Ioffe, and returning to Iqaluit Sept. 13, the Northwest Passage Project team will observe conditions and collect data to improve the resolution of our scientific picture of, and assess changes underway in the far North, considered a harbinger of climactic change for the rest of the world.

Full science plan:

The team will update the public in real time en route (see sail plan here) via 31 interactive sessions hosted by three major US museums and science centers: The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, the Exploratorium, San Francisco CA, and the Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward AK. (See public events calendar here:

In addition, the team will report in real time with videos and photos via its social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and post blogs accessible on the project website,

The team will also take questions directly from classrooms, citizen scientists and the public worldwide in the first-ever interactive Facebook Live sessions from the Northwest Passage — four in total, Aug. 30, Sept 3, 5 and 9 — all fully open and available to the public (see broadcast times here:

Managed by the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center (ISC), part of the Graduate School of Oceanography, with major funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and additional support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Northwest Passage Project's 37-member on-board team includes experts in natural and social sciences, students, as well as an award-winning documentary filmmaker and crew.

Led by

  • Chief scientist, Dr. Brice Loose of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography,
  • Dr. Donglai Gong of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and
  • Holly Hogan of the Canadian Wildlife Service the team's overarching multi-disciplinary mission is to assess and chronicle the consequence of the warming trend over the Arctic Circle on waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA).

The research focuses in particular on:

  • volumes and flows of freshwater ice melt entering the Arctic Ocean, which when it enters the Atlantic has world-affecting impacts
  • changing water column chemistry and its effects on greenhouse gases vvulnerable constituents of the Arctic food web: plankton, seabirds and marine mammals.

Student researchers:

Sixteen undergraduate student researchers (average age: 22) attend minority-serving universities in New York (City College of New York), Chicago (University of Illinois Chicago), Miami (Florida International University), Richmond (Virginia Commonwealth University), and Camarillo, CA (California State University Channel Islands).

The four graduate students are from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the University of Illinois Chicago, Florida International University and the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

Joining the team also are two young Canadian investigators, one from Laval University, Quebec City, one from the Inuit nation.

Student profiles, with photos:


On shore:

I addition to the undergraduates, graduate students, and young investigators on the ship, six teams of high school teachers and students (total 18) will be in residence in the Inner Space Center's (ISC) mission control facility during the first week of the expedition, where they will interact directly with the participants at sea.

Special interactive broadcasts will be beamed via the ISC to the three prestigious science museum partners: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, the Exploratorium, San Francisco CA, and the Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward AK.

Additional information and details, as well as the daily highlight videos will be available on the project's social media channels, and at

One Oceans Expeditions' Akademik Ioffe

One Oceans Expeditions' 384-foot vessel Akademik Ioffe is equipped with multiple laboratories, cranes, a "moon pool" shaft through the hull for lowering and raising equipment, and a full suite of oceanographic research tools.

The ship will depart Resolute Bay on August 23, travel south and west to Cambridge Bay via Bellot Strait, then return to Lancaster Sound and Pond Inlet, before travelling down the east side of Baffin Island, with many stops along the way. The expedition will end in Iqaluit on September 13, 2018. Full sail plan:

Scientific research areas

See full science plan here:

  • The physics of Arctic ocean circulation: Transpolar water drift through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA)

Scientists will investigate the increased freshwater storage and export from the upper Arctic ocean due to a warming Arctic. As ice melting occurs, increased freshwater is accumulating in the Arctic, resulting in a large freshwater anomaly.

Freshwater inputs can have dramatic impacts on ocean circulation, particularly when freshwater is discharged into the North Atlantic Ocean from the Arctic. The CAA, and particularly Northwest Passage, is one of the principal conduits for freshwater transport from the Arctic Ocean to the North Atlantic.

There is uncertainty about the magnitude of the flow of water through the various restricted outlets from the Arctic to the Atlantic. One of the pathways for this freshwater transport can be found in the Northwest Passage.

  • Chemistry of the melting Arctic and marginal seas: Water column chemistry affecting greenhouse gas fluxes

The concentration and isotopic composition of methane and carbon dioxide in the Arctic Ocean and atmosphere are of great interest, as both are greenhouse gases and the sources and flux of both between the ocean and atmosphere are important components of the global climate system.

The Arctic Ocean generally absorbs carbon dioxide, but ice cover limits air-sea exchange. Measuring carbon dioxide and its isotopic composition can provide information about the carbon system's sources and fluxes into the atmosphere. Methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is found throughout the Arctic Circle, and the Arctic appears to be an ever growing source of methane to the atmosphere. Methane is found in land-based permafrost and as methane ice or methane hydrates, which are distributed along the seafloor.

With less sea ice cover, there can be an increased flux of methane into the atmosphere from the ocean. However, some microbes in ocean water use methane as a food source. If microbial breakdown of methane is rapid enough, it may serve to offset the methane that escapes to the atmosphere. There is little data to provide estimates of this methane breakdown in Arctic water. The Northwest Passage Project will study this microbial breakdown of methane and the rate at which it occurs in the Northwest Passage region.

  • Ecosystem surveys of Arctic habitats in transition: Distribution and abundance of zooplankton and phytoplankton

As the waters of the Arctic warm and the sea ice cover decreases, the Arctic surface ocean ecosystem is anticipated to undergo considerable changes. Habitats are changing and moving, perhaps disappearing, and species distribution and abundance also may be changing rapidly.

To observe phytoplankton and zooplankton, the Northwest Passage Project will periodically conduct plankton net tows in the upper water column (100m and less). The contents of the nets will be catalogued. The organisms collected in these net tows will be counted with a laboratory bench-top Flowcam.

The Flowcam counts and images micrometer size particles using an imaging microscope. This provides the ability to identify and quantify 'particles' from some sampled volume. These particles can be sediments, phytoplankton, or even zooplankton. This imaging system will generate a library of images for each run and store them for processing later.

  • Ecosystem surveys of Arctic habitats in transition: Distribution and abundance of seabirds

In addition to the water column studies, there will be surveys of marine birds for the duration of the expedition. As top predators of marine food webs, seabirds play an important role in marine ecosystems. Colonies of international importance are found in this region and their abundance and distribution at sea can be used to monitor changes and variability. The Northwest Passage Project cruise will use a standard method to perform seabird counts and contribute to the seabird survey database of the Canadian Wildlife Service used to monitor the status of marine birds in Canada.

URI Inner Space Center's advanced telepresence technology

Live interactive broadcasts throughout the expedition will use the ISC's advanced telepresence technology and video production facility. Pre-expedition webinars, archived online for public viewing, will prepare the students for their research experiences.

The ISC will also produce daily video blasts using footage supplied by the onboard filmmakers. These video blasts will be used during broadcasts and live interactions with partner sites. They will also be available on the ISC's YouTube channel.

The ISC will receive a live satellite link from the ship and connect it to the partner sites, allowing audiences to communicate with the shipboard scientists and students. The pre-produced video segments will be made available to the partner institutions for use in their other educational activities, and will also be made available on the project website.

Since the Arctic is an extreme environment and at any time during the expedition may experience weather that disrupts the satellite signal, these highlight videos will allow the ISC to conduct an interactive program with the partner institutions without the live interaction from sea, if necessary.

Frozen Obsession: A two-hour television documentary by Emmy-winning director David Clark

Emmy Award-winning director David Clark will produce and direct a two-hour television documentary, Frozen Obsession, which will explore the changing Arctic by documenting the NPP expedition. The film will highlight the expedition's research and document the activities of the diverse group of participants (scientists, historians, journalists, educators, and students) and their various experiences.

The documentary will also explore the maritime history of the Northwest Passage, the role of the indigenous Inuit people in the Arctic's history and changes affecting their way of life, and the geopolitics of this Arctic waterway (more information:

Special screening events will take place at each of the NPP partner institutions, at Penn State's Polar Center, and at the Environmental Film Festival. The film will have a television broadcast and also be available for future theatrical distribution. The program will be combined with online/social media, community outreach, and youth activities. The project's participants will host screenings of the documentary in their schools and institutions.

Award-winning author and journalist Ed Struzik, who has written about the Arctic for three decades, will be onboard to share his perspective on critical wildlife issues, the native Inuit culture, impacts of climate change, and prospects of Arctic resource extraction and commercial shipping traffic in the Passage.

The Northwest Passage Project

Lead Institution:

University of Rhode Island:

Graduate School of Oceanography:

Inner Space Center:

Project Partners:

David Clark Inc.

One Ocean Expeditions:

U.S. Minority Serving Institutions:

  • California State University Channel Islands:
  • City College of New York:
  • Florida International University:
  • Virginia Commonwealth University:
  • University of Illinois at Chicago:

Alaska Sea Life Center:


Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History:

Virginia Institute of Marine Science / William and Mary:

Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada:

Climate Change Education Partnership Alliance:

Consortium for Ocean Science Exploration and Engagement:

Penn State:

Climate Central:

People, Places, and Design Research:

Interface Guru:

Project brochure:






Media Contact

Terry Collins
[email protected]