When the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund Board distributed 6.1 million kroner for various projects this spring, The University Centre in Svalbard was awarded 650,000 kroner. The money went to a project titled "Will there be ice in Isfjorden this year?" The project will measure ocean currents and temperatures to determine if the fjord is frozen over or not.
Ragnheid Skogseth, the project's leader, said it is intended as a service to the public.
"It will be possible for everyone to go onto the internet and see what the state of the ice is," she said, adding the website with all the data will immediately be available through UNIS' website.
The ice index will debut when the rest of the equipment is deployed, hopefully next week, while the finished website with interpretations of the data will not debut until sometime next year sometime. The project is scheduled to continue for several years.
Will not indicate thickness
The standard procedure for such projects is to set out the measuring devices and then retrieve initial data from them after a year.
"The fact that we now have the data in real time enables us to go out and collect more measurements when there appears to be some changes instead of going out sporadically without a good idea," Skogseth said.
She said she believes other researchers and institutions will have an interest in the project.
"There's not a lot of data that exists," she said. "It would probably be interesting for biologists to get information and keep track of what is happening in Isfjorden."
The project will provide an opportunity to say whether there is ice on the surface, but it will not reveal anything about how thick the ice is.
"The instruments emit sound waves that are reflected on the surface," Skogseth said. "They will register if they receive signals from something other than air – which in this case is ice – but it will not say anything about the thickness."
The instruments will also measure ocean currents and temperatures, as well as salinity and water type. Many of the measurements will help form an image of the ice situation, but they will also reveal changes in the waters and how that, in turn, is affecting life in the fjord.
"And we shall record chlorophyll amounts in the water, which may say something about when we get spring bloom," Skogseth said. "It will be interesting for biologists."
The instruments also have a light meter and a tide gauge. The latter measures the variation in the tide, allowing people to check the water's level at the website.
Fearing weather and fishermen
An undersea cable extends from land to about 800 meters off the coast. Skogseth is asking people at sea to show respect during activities in the area.
"We pray that especially fishermen and trawlers stay away from this particular section," she said, adding she fears the cable will be destroyed by human activity.
Longyearbyen Habormaster Kjetil Bråten said he isn't familiar with the project.
"So I can't say whether someone will be affected by it," he said.
The biggest challenge for the project so far seems to be storms and waves.
"Conditions in the coastal zone can be challenging," Skogseth said. "We are seeing relatively large rocks being tossed around by the waves so we have worked hard to secure the cable to transmit data."
She said there are some things in the path of regular boat traffic where the first part of the measuring instruments are 20 meters beneath the surface.
No signs of ice
Some measuring instruments were deployed Sept. 26 and are transmitting data continuously. Skogseth said mild weather this fall has resulted in little cooling in the fjord so far..
"It is very warn in the water, unfortunately," she said. "At 60 meters depth it is about five degrees Celsius."
Once instruments are in place taking measurements at 20 meters depth they will represent the surface to a larger degree.
"We are seeing that there is fresh water on the surface because of all the rain, and runoff from glaciers and rivers," Skogseth said. "It can freeze faster if the weather becomes colder quickly."
But Skogseth said she does not think there will be ice in the fjord in the near future.
"People are optimistic, expectations are certainly there," she said. "I, however, am holding back my optimism somewhat."