New data from cold war treasure trove


  • Michael Carlowicz


For half a century, the Russian and United States navies competed for tactical advantage in the Arctic Ocean, mapping seafloor and floating ice sheets, measuring temperatures and reckoning chemistry. But with old enemies becoming new friends, data once collected for the sake of war now are being shared in the name of scientific cooperation.

In mid-January, the U.S. and Russian governments announced the release of the first of four volumes of a new atlas of the Arctic Ocean. The previously classified data it contains will effectively double the amount of Arctic data that is available to the scientific community. The set includes more than 1.3 million temperature and salinity observations collected from 1948 to 1993 by drifting ice camps and stations, icebreaking ships, land—and airborne expeditions, and buoys. Approximately 70% of the observations for the Arctic Ocean and shelf seas were derived from Russian archives of formerly restricted data, with the other 30% coming from comparable sources in the U.S., Canada, and other Western nations.