Year of Polar Prediction – from research to improved environmental safety
Release Date 15 May 2017
Scientists at the University of Reading are providing expert knowledge to an international campaign aimed at improving predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) campaign has been launched to minimise the environmental risks and maximise the opportunities associated with rapid climate change in polar regions, and to close the current gaps in polar forecasting capacity.
YOPP takes place from mid-2017 to mid-2019 in order to cover an entire year in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Dr Jonathan Day, Research Fellow in the University of Reading’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), is contributing as a member of the campaign’s steering group, while Professor Len Shaffrey and Professor Keith Haines, both from the University’s Meteorology department, are involved through the APPLICATE-H2020 project which forms a major component of YOPP.
"There's increasing evidence that warming in the Arctic caused by climate change could be having an impact on the weather of Britain and beyond." - Professor Len Shaffrey, Professor of Climate Science at NCAS, University of Reading
Also involved are the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and a wide array of partners around the globe.
During the next two years, a large international and interdisciplinary network of scientists and operational forecasting centres will jointly undertake intensive observation and modelling activities in the Arctic and Antarctic. As a result, better forecasts of weather and sea-ice conditions will reduce future risks and enable safety management in the polar regions, and also lead to improved forecasts in lower latitudes where most people live.
Dr Len Shaffrey, Professor of Climate Science at NCAS at the University of Reading, said: "There's increasing evidence that warming in the Arctic caused by climate change could be having an impact on the weather of Britain and beyond.
"If we can better understand how this process works, we'll be able to provide more accurate predictions of extreme weather, such as extended periods of cold or heavy rain."
The Arctic and Antarctic are the world’s most poorly observed regions. Lack of data and forecasts there impacts on the quality of weather forecasts also in other parts of the world. It is therefore expected that advances in polar prediction will lead to improved weather forecasts and climate predictions both for polar regions and densely populated countries elsewhere.
Special Observing Periods The Year Of Polar Prediction was officially launched during WMO’s annual Executive Council meeting. Polar and high mountain activities are among WMO’s top strategic priorities because of the growing impact of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions, because of the need to improve our understanding of weather phenomena in extreme regions and because the poor monitoring network leaves gaping holes in the global weather observing capability.
During special observing periods, the number of routine observations, for example through weather balloon launches from meteorological stations and buoy deployments from research vessels, will be enhanced; coordinated aircraft campaigns and satellite missions will be carried out; and new automatic weather stations will be installed at different polar locations. In addition, coordinated field campaigns will from mid-2017 to mid-2019 will raise the number of observations in both polar regions.
Challenging conditions for shipping
A growing number of international projects, network and organizations are already involved with activities during the Year of Polar Prediction, including several EU Horizon 2020 projects. There will be a special focus on sea ice forecasting capabilities. On shorter time scales, sea-ice information includes information on zones of strong ice convergence which is important for safe shipping. On monthly to seasonal time scales, the focus will include the prediction of sea-ice conditions in the Northern Sea Route and in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.
Changes in the Arctic Circle are likely to result in an opening of the sea, more severe waves and more challenging ice conditions for shipping. In an ice-free Arctic, wave height conditions of 25-feet or greater could be the new norm that mariners may have to design and plan for. The ability to better understand and predict the effects of phenomena such as Arctic polar lows or Antarctica extreme winds will help polar nations prepare for considerable management and maintenance issues on existing roads, airports, buildings, and pipelines. All observational data will be shared via the WMO Information System – allowing operational forecasting centres around the world to receive the data in real time to feed their forecasts.
“The effects of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions are felt more intensely in the polar regions than anywhere else." - Thomas Jung, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and chair of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee
In addition, social scientists will look at how polar forecasts can be factored into socio-economic decision making, whilst key stakeholders in transport, shipping and tourism sectors will provide input on the practical needs of the user community. The science and technology improvements developed under the umbrella of the Year of Polar Prediction will both strengthen physical understanding of the Arctic and Antarctic, and provide the foundation of better observational and predictive systems for the future.
Thomas Jung, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and chair of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee, said: “The effects of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions are felt more intensely in the polar regions than anywhere else. The Arctic and parts of the Antarctic are heating twice as rapidly as the rest of the world, causing melting of glaciers, shrinking sea ice and snow cover.
“The impact of this is felt in other parts of the globe – as exemplified by rising sea levels and changing weather and climate patterns. The rate and implications of polar environmental change is pushing our scientific knowledge to the limit.”
Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, said: “Because of teleconnections, the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live. Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spells, heat waves and droughts in the northern hemisphere.”
For more information on the Year of Polar Prediction, including a media kit, visit the Polar Prediction website.