The Year of Polar Prediction has been launched and will take place from mid-2017 to mid-2019 (covering an entire year in both the Arctic and Antarctic). It is a concerted international campaign to improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic, in order to minimize the environmental risks, maximize the opportunities associated with rapid climate change in polar regions and to close the current gaps in polar forecasting capacity. The campaign involves the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and an 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.
“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,” said Thomas Jung, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz-Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and chair of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee.
“Arctic sea-ice maximum extent after the winter re-freezing period in March was the lowest on record because of a series of ‘heat-waves.’ Antarctic sea ice minimum extent after the most recent Southern Hemisphere summer melt was also the lowest on record. The rate and implications of polar environmental change is pushing our scientific knowledge to the limits,” said Mr Jung.
“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,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
Dramatic changes in weather, climate and ice conditions at the poles are leading to increased human activities such as transportation, tourism, fisheries are and natural resource exploitation and extraction.
“The expected increase in activity comes with its own share of risks to both the environment and society, including traditional indigenous livelihoods. Ice-laden polar seas are a challenge to navigate, whilst any oil spills could be catastrophic. Less ice does not mean less danger,” said Mr Taalas. “Accurate weather and sea-ice information will thus become increasingly vital in order to improve safety management in polar regions and beyond,” he said.
However, forecasts of weather and sea-ice conditions have serious shortcomings at the poles. The Arctic and Antarctic are the world’s most poorly observed regions. Lack of data and forecasts in the Arctic and Antarctic impacts on the quality of weather forecasts in other parts of the world as well. It is expected that advances in polar prediction through this campaign will lead to improved weather forecasts and climate predictions both for polar regions and densely populated countries.