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Evaluating SIMB3 for your project

See if SIMB3s unique features make it a suitable tool for your observational campaign

Use Case
Published Apr 21, 2021

Cameron Planck, Ph.D.

Curious about whether SIMB3 will suit your project’s needs? In this article, we’ll discuss some of the features and use cases of the SIMB3 technology. By the end, hopefully you'll have a better idea about what SIMB3 does and how it could benefit or enable your research observational program.

What does SIMB3 do?

Let’s start by answering the (maybe not so obvious) question. What does Seasonal Ice Mass Balance Buoy 3 do?

In short, SIMB3 is an automated ice thickness gauge, ablation stake, and weather station. After being frozen into sea, pond, or lake ice, SIMB3 measures how the surrounding ice and snow change thickness through time. On predefined intervals, SIMB3 collects data and transmits it over the Iridium satellite constellation. The data is then processed and hosted to the Cryosphere Innovation cloud where it is made instantly available via our Real Time Data Portal. Iridium connectivity makes SIMB3 operable in any floating-ice environment on Earth, so long as it has a clear view of the sky.

What makes SIMB3 unique?

SIMB3 deployed in ice  on MOSAiC
Figure 1: An SIMB3 installed during MOSAIC. During MOSAiC, the ability of SIMB3 to survive harsh sea-ice dynamics was put to the test. Photo courtesy of Ryleigh Moore.

A defining feature of SIMB3 is that it is able to distinguish ice growth, snow accumulation, and melt. Through the use of ice-facing acoustic rangefinders, SIMB3 can identify surface and bottom melt independently, even when the ice is warm and melting. Scientifically, this feature enables changes in ice thickness to be attributed to oceanic (bottom melt) or atmospheric (surface melt) driven heat fluxes.

In addition to ice growth and melt measurement, every SIMB3 is also equipped with a suite of additional sensors that record other important environmental data. These sensors include a high-resolution vertical temperature string, air temperature and barometric pressure sensors, and a GPS. We’ve also equipped a custom SIMB3 with incident, reflected, and transmitted pyranometers, and are developing a version with sensors to measure the vertical profile of visible light. To learn more about the standard SIMB3 sensor package, check out this SIMB3 detailed specifications page.

Example use case: Arctic sea ice

To help you evaluate if SIMB3 is the right tool for your project, let’s profile one of the most common use cases: the study of sea ice mass balance in the Arctic.

As climate change progresses, mitigation strategies and adaption plans rely on accurate modeling of the global climate system. Improving climate models requires better representing sea ice, which in turn requires improving knowledge of how sea ice responds to environmental forcing. Since the deployment of the first prototype in 2017, SIMB3s have provided ground-truth observations of sea ice growth and melt through time (i.e., the mass balance evolution). Because SIMB3 independently measures surface and bottom melt, observed change can be attributed to the ocean or the atmosphere. Data from many National Science Foundation funded SIMB3s is made available for researchers through our Real Time Data Portal and also through the International Arctic Buoy Program.

While Arctic sea ice mass balance observation is a common use case for SIMB3, it is far from the only one. SIMB3s have been used to measure ice in shallow freshwater ponds, in landfast ice, and even in Antarctic sea ice. While each of these use cases presents different challenges and requirements, they all benefit from SIMB3s design heritage as a tool made to survive year-long campaigns in the high Arctic.

What are SIMB3's key features?

So now that we’ve covered a common use case, let’s talk about some of the features that you might like to know when evaluating SIMB3 for your own research project.  

Direct measurement of snow/ice interface

By using acoustic rangefinders to directly measure ice/snow interfaces, SIMB3 can observe ice thickness, growth, and melt even when the ice is warm and melting. This has advantage over other temperature string methods which struggle to detect thermodynamic interfaces in the absence of a strong temperature gradient.

Open-water operable

Built as fully-contained spar-type buoy, SIMB3 is buoyant, waterproof, and able to be operated or deployed in open water. This feature gives you freedom to conduct your research program as you see fit and without the constraints of ice-based equipment.

Real-time connected

SIMB3 gives you access to ice thickness, growth, melt, temperature, and location data in real-time. You can access your data via our Real Time Data Portal, or you can build your own applications that compile or present your data on your own webpage. No matter how you do it, your data will be there within 5 minutes of transmission.

Deploy in < 30 minutes

When you’re on the ice and in the cold, you need equipment that works with you, not against you. We’ve designed SIMB3 to be deployed in less than 30 minutes by one person without tools. To see how it’s done, check out this video or take a peek at the SIMB3 Deployment Manual.

Is SIMB3 right for your research project?

SIMB3 is a multi-purpose ice-observational tool that was designed to survive the harshest Arctic conditions for months or years without intervention. In addition to Arctic sea ice measurement, it’s found use in landfast ice, pond ice, and Antarctic ice. Whether it’s the correct tool for your project of course depends on many variables, but we hope that after this article you are better informed about the features and past use cases. If you have questions or need help deciding if SIMB3 is right for you, please contact us and we'll get back to you ASAP!

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About the author

About the authors

Cameron Planck, Ph.D.

Cameron is the co-founder and CEO of Cryosphere Innovation.

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