Major warming event captured in special observation period

Launch of a weather balloon on Bear Island, Norway. (Photo: Andrè Gunnar Røsberg)
During the recently completed Special Observation Period of the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), an unexpected warming event in the Arctic was recorded.

During the recently completed Special Observation Period of the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), an unexpected warming event in the Arctic was recorded.

"By chance, a major stratospheric warming event, which was associated with very warm temperatures in Greenland and very cold temperatures in Europe - the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ -, fell into the YOPP February-March special observation period," Helge Goessling, director of the International Coordination Office for Polar Prediction, says to HNN.

He reported on the current status of the program at the annual meeting of the European Geophysical Union (EGU) in Vienna, Austria.

Improved forecasts essential to mitigate climate change impacts

From February to March, open water and sea ice buoys, radiosondes, automatic weather stations and satellites in a concerted effort gathered additional data on weather, climate, ice and ocean conditions in the Arctic with the aim of advancing our understanding of climate-related processes and enhancing forecasts.

YOPP (see a short introductory video here) is part of the Polar Prediction Project, an initiative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in collaboration with the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI) and other partners. A key element of YOPP are several special observation periods carried out both in the Arctic and the Antarctic between February 2018 and February 2019.

Strong support by the community

"One of the successes of the first observation period was that we managed to get a broad community on board, both through official WMO channels and from the research community, to help with the launch of radiosondes and other measurements," Goessling rejoices.

Infrastructural challenges

A challenge was the difficulty of dropping meteorological buoys into the Arctic Ocean, because aircrafts and ships rarely navigate in the darkness of the Arctic winter. For the next Special Observation Periods (SOP), the scientists are nevertheless optimistic to have sufficient aircrafts and ships seeding buoys across the Arctic. Additional observations will come again from meteorological weather balloons and research vessels, aircraft and satellite missions, as well as automated stations.

Buoys deployed near the North Pole at -30° C. (Photo: Tomash Petrovky, AARI)
Buoys deployed near the North Pole at -30° C. (Photo: Tomash Petrovky, AARI)

"The Arctic regions pose specific challenges, because model errors are large and there is still a striking lack of in-situ data in ocean areas to complement the denser satellite observations. What is more, not all observations are well integrated into weather and climate models," Irina Sandu noted at the EGU session on ‘Arctic observations to improve weather and climate predictions’.

During the same session, Agnieszka Beszczynska-Möller further pointed to political constraints and a declining commitment to observations in the Arctic, adding to the already difficult physical and technologically challenging conditions.

Preparations for next observation period started

The deployments of the meteorological buoys have now already started for the summer SOP in the Eurasian part of the Arctic, where measurements and buoys are particularly sparse so far. There will be 27 buoys deployed, resulting in an unprecedented coverage, including in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone.

After this, there is one more Arctic SOP planned for February to March 2020 at the same time as the research vessel Polarsternwill do a great number of different measurements while being enclosed in and drifting with the sea ice within the framework of MOSAiC, the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

Integrate new findings into socio-economic decision-making

"A big question is how to prepare the products that come out of the forecast systems and make them useable. For example, can the users of the forecasts work with probabilistic data, such as saying that the chance of encountering ice is higher or lower than usually?", Goessling explains. "One of the goals is to improve how the products can make their way into society to support decision-making."

In order to facilitate the dialogue with the users of the forecasts, social scientists will investigate how forecasts can be integrated into socio-economic decision-making. In addition, stakeholders in the transport, shipping and tourism industries, as well as people living and working in polar regions will shed light on the practical needs of the users.