BARROW, Alaska — The Coast Guard C-130 airplane flies low over the fractured springtime Arctic ice pack offshore from the town of Barrow. At the tail end of May, the ice looks shattered: broken sheets dotted by turquoise pools and snaky paths leading to open water.
This air holds clues about climate-change-causing emissions that are reshaping the Arctic's sea ice as well as life on the ground below.
Since 2009, NOAA scientists have been measuring levels of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the Arctic, a bellwether region that could reveal truths about climate change worldwide. The data will help map out natural emissions sites, estimate the levels of gases they emit and set benchmarks for future changes.
Today, NOAA technician Jason Manthey, an affable bearded Kodiak native who also works part-time at a brewery, is in charge of taking the readings.
"It's baseline data," he says. "We have nothing to compare it to."