Project Overview

SASx Arctic Baseline Project

Ten-year annual extension of Synoptic Arctic Survey (SAS) observations

The international, one-year Synoptic Arctic Survey (SAS) program ( is set to begin in late 2020 and continue through 2021, with the participation of nationally sponsored scientific cruises on national research icebreakers from nearly a dozen countries (see Figure 1). The Synoptic Arctic Survey will significantly expand the scope of measurements in the Arctic; however, it will remain a single annual “snapshot” of conditions, not to be fully replicated until 2030.

The accelerating rate of biophysical and ecosystem changes in the Arctic, coupled with the continuing lack of knowledge at an annual/interseasonal scale and on a wider regional scale, is the major challenge to fully understanding how and why the Arctic is changing over time, and its disproportionate response to global climate change.¹ ²

Global Oceans is proposing to the Arctic science community the development of an intervening 10-year “Extended Synoptic Arctic Survey”, or SASx, program to conduct an annual series of Arctic Ocean transects, including both summer and winter transects, each year between 2021-2031, that will replicate over the next decade standardized, core environmental datasets generated from SAS.

The SAS Science Plan acknowledges the limitation that the Synoptic Arctic Survey “will not alone address all ongoing transformations”, but it also emphasizes an important contribution to future measurements that will be established. A crucial aspect of SAS is the design of standardized, intercalibrated sampling and analytical methods and procedures for common use across all SAS science teams and research cruises. Without such a coordinated effort, it would “be impossible to evaluate and parameterize processes in the correct reference frame and to assess the relevance of model outputs” (SAS Science Plan).

Measuring “ongoing transformations” in the Arctic is vital for building more accurate biophysical models of the Arctic and of global climate change; and ultimately to informing the international community about how we should best respond to difficult and far-reaching resource management and regulatory questions for the Arctic Ocean.

SASx will continue the Arctic observations of the Synoptic Arctic Survey, measurements that can only be accomplished with research ships and icebreakers, including Arctic hydrography and circulation, carbon uptake and ocean acidification, tracer distribution and pollution, and organismal and ecosystem functioning and productivity. Figure 2 lists the core measurements developed by the Synoptic Arctic Survey, which will be replicated by the SASx Arctic Baseline Project.

The Synoptic Arctic Survey is focusing on three main scientific foci: 1) Physical drivers of importance to the ecosystem and carbon cycle, 2) Ecosystem response, and 3) Carbon cycle and ocean acidification. Each of these focal areas poses a group of related research questions that are important to understanding key transformations in the Arctic and that will be informed by SAS data collected over the one-year series of expeditions.

Annually extended SAS data from the SASx Arctic Baselines project will enable continuing analysis and assessment of these research questions necessary for a greater understanding of Arctic change over time.

To support the SASx project, Global Oceans will host ongoing scientific workshops beginning with an initial SASx planning workshop in 2021. 

SASx Research Vessel Support

Development of standardized datasets and measurement protocols for the Synoptic Arctic Survey will be fundamental to the design of a readily deployable SASx ship, lab, and instrument configuration to support the research plan for replicating SAS datasets efficiently and economically.

A significant constraint to a dedicated SAS expansion effort, as with any Arctic research program, is the difficulty in accessing and directly observing the Arctic Ocean with research vessels on an extensive and routine basis, especially over the winter season and in remote areas.

This is the challenge that Global Oceans proposes to address with a strategy for mobilizing time-chartered commercial sector icebreakers adapted specifically to support the SASx Science Plan. Ice-class and non-ice class Offshore Service Vessels (OSVs) may also be utilized were icebreakers are not required. Modular laboratories, workshops, ship-independent power systems, sampling equipment, analytical instrumentation, and deep-sea vehicles are all available and will be engineered and installed by Global Oceans on each project vessel platform.

Initially, we have focused on a specific icebreaking vessel for the project, the 110-meter (360’) Chouest Aiviq Icebreaker, configured for the SASx project in consultation with Edison Chouest Offshore. The Aiviq is available for the project at an economical rate, and will be mobilized for deployment from Halifax, Canada for regional transects. Icebreaking vessels are also available for deployment from Northern Europe for regional transects and Global Oceans is developing additional vessel partnerships in that region.

Global Oceans can mobilize adaptive modular laboratories and workshops, ranging from 20’ to 40’, built for polar exposure and rated for operations to -40°F. We have also developed an alternative approach with the design of a shippable, insulated structure that will fully enclose a cluster of standard 20’ globally certified modular labs and workspace systems (see Figures 4 - 6). The insulated building shell will provide a more comfortable, drier inter-lab working environment on deck and will allow more flexible configuration from among hundreds of available standard modules rated to -20°F. 

For the deck-mounted lab enclosure project we are working with Cocoon, Inc., a manufacturer of insulated structures, to design a shippable, containerized system assembled portside, crane-lifted over the installed lab module footprint, and fastened to beams welded on deck. These systems are built to withstand hurricane and typhoon wind loads and snow loads in Arctic environments.

Data Management & Open Access

Global Oceans is working with the Environmental Sciences Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) to develop a proposal to fund, establish, and support a staffed cloud-based data repository and distribution system for SASx Arctic data. 

The objective will be to aggregate and redistribute SASx data processed by multiple participating institutions on an open access basis that will serve a community of globally distributed scientists and decisionmakers. The SASx data center will ensure equal access to datasets and the tools for query and analysis. 

Analytical methods, sample archiving, data QC/QA processes, data processing, data storage, and open data access for SASx will mirror or exceed SAS standards and protocols. Where possible SASx datasets will be co-hosted in SAS data repositories. 

Supporting Capacity Development

SASx will generate opportunities for, and will solicit and coordinate participation from, international students, postdocs, early career scientists, and indigenous communities, as a platform for expanding research, leadership training, and diverse participation in Arctic observations. 

Conducting standardized shipboard measurements with a variety of instruments and analytical methodologies over many SASx expeditions will provide an ideal opportunity for the next generation of scientists to work alongside international teams of researchers. Funding will be allocated in the project budget to support the capacity development effort and will be sought from grants and fellowships for this purpose from foundations, government agencies, and other sources.

SASx expeditions will also provide opportunities for funded principal investigators to conduct independent field work on fully funded SASx cruises, including utilization of instrument and laboratory facilities, at marginal incremental cost for project-specific work.

Global Oceans is currently assembling an Arctic Science Advisory Council of regional experts and stakeholders to advise the SASx project and will be adding them to our website soon.


  1. Paasche, Oeyvind, et al. "Addressing Arctic Challenges Requires a Synoptic Ocean Survey." Eos: Earth & Space Science News 100 (2019).

  2. Synoptic Arctic Survey, Science and Implementation Plan, Version 29, June 2018.

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