Arctic submarines.

The US Navy, Nature reports, is taking some time out to give scientists a look at what goes on beneath the Arctic Circle:

Nature talked to two of the researchers involved in the next phase of the project, biologist Raymond Sambrotto and chemist Bill Smethie, both of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York.

Was it hard to get the Navy to restart this programme?

BS: The Navy seems to be quite interested in the changes that are occurring in the Arctic. They’re interested because they need to know what capabilities they’ll need to operate in the Arctic in the future, and what US assets need to be protected, such as shipping, which may become more prevalent.

The plan here is to take advantage of transits across the Arctic Ocean. Submarines have to go from one side to the other, and the Navy is willing to add two or three days to that transit time to allow for the collection of scientific data and samples. But they won’t allow civilian scientists to go, so a research plan has been developed in which Navy personnel and a civilian arm of the Navy called the Arctic Submarine Laboratory, based in San Diego, California, will collect the data and samples.

RS: This will be catch as catch can. The Navy has specified a geographical area — as long as the sub is in that area and is operating within certain depth limits and speed limits, it will release the data to us immediately upon the sub’s return.