Collaborative Research: Atmosphere-Ocean-Ice Interaction in a Coastal Polyna

Lead PI: Dr. Christopher J. Zappa , Professor Arnold L. Gordon , , Richard Cullather

Unit Affiliation: Ocean and Climate Physics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2008 - July 2012
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Antarctic polynyas are the ice free zones often persisting in continental sea ice. Characterization of the lower atmosphere properties, air-sea surface heat fluxes and corresponding ocean depth profiles of Antarctic polynyas, especially during strong wind events, is needed for a more detailed understanding of the role of polynya in the production of latent-heat type sea ice and the formation, through brine rejection, of dense ocean bottom waters.

Broader impacts: A key technological innovation, the use of instrumented uninhabited aircraft systems (UAS), will be employed to enable the persistent and safe observation of the interaction of light and strong katabatic wind fields with the Terra Nova Bay (Victoria Land, Antarctica) polynya waters during late winter and early summer time frames. The use of UAS observational platforms on the continent to date has to date been modest, but demonstration of their versatility and effectiveness in surveying and observing mode is a welcome development. The projects use of UAS platforms by University of Colorado and LDEO (Columbia) researchers is both high risk, and potentially transformative for the systematic data measurement tasks that many Antarctic science applications increasingly require.

OUTCOMES: Found that sensible heat fluxes ranged from -45 to 608W/m2 and latent heat fluxes from 19 to 137W/m2 and changes in these fluxes are well correlated with changes in the surface state. Found that AMPS predicts 40% of cyclones in the western Ross Sea region, predicts the absence of cyclones 70% of the time, the majority of cycles are mesoscale, and that these estimates are more accurate in the eastern part of the domain.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




University of Colorado Boulder, Aerosonde Pty. Ltd



Uotila, P., A.B. Pezza, J.J. Cassano, K. Keay, and A.H. Lynch. "A comparison of low pressure system statistics derived from high resolution NWP output and three re-analysis products over the Southern Ocean," Journal of Geophysical Research, v.114, 2009, p. D17105. doi: 10.1029/2008JD011583

Cassano, J.J.. "Observing the Antarctic atmosphere with UAVs," Meteorological Technology International, v.Launch, 2009, p. 18-21.

Knuth, S.L. and J.J. Cassano. "An analysis of near-surface winds, air temperature, and cyclone activity in Terra Nova Bay Antarctica from 1993-2009," Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, v.50, 2011, p. 662. doi: 10.1175/2010JAMC2507.1

Cassano, J.J., J.A. Maslanik, C.J. Zappa, A.L. Gordon, R.I. Cullather, and S.L. Knuth. "Observations of an Antarctic polynya with unmanned aircraft systems," Eos, v.91, 2010.

Cassano, J.J., J.A. Maslanik, C.J. Zappa, A.L. Gordon, R.I. Cullather, and S.L. Knuth. "Observations of an Antarctic polynya with unmanned aircraft systems," Eos, v.91, 2010, p. 2.


oceans antarctic bottom water ocean and climate physics surface energy budget climate polynya sea ice