Start of the Arctic Winter Observation Phase in the Year of Polar Prediction
11 May 2018
1 February to 31 March 2018 marked the first Arctic winter observation phase in the Year of Polar Prediction. In the span of these two months, sixteen Arctic weather stations operated by seven different countries sent up more than 1,900 additional weather balloons.
In an effort to close the remaining gaps in forecasting capacities for weather and sea ice in the polar regions, the period from mid 2017 to mid 2019 has been designated the Year of Polar Prediction. In the course of this international initiative, which was launched by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to improve forecasting in the Earth’s polar regions, experts from various disciplines are intensively collaborating with operational forecasting centres. The mammoth project, which brings together partners from more than 20 countries, is intended to lastingly improve weather and sea-ice forecasts for the Arctic and Antarctic, so that potential risks for shipping and other activities can be more accurately estimated, and accidents can be more effectively prevented. In addition, the researchers involved hope to gain a better understanding of how climate changes at the poles are affecting the weather at the middle latitudes.
To maximise the number of observations and, in the process, arrive at improved climate models and more accurate weather and sea-ice forecasts, there will be several simultaneous campaigns in the Arctic and Antarctic during the Year of Polar Prediction. In order to develop reliable weather and climate forecasting systems, countless data points from the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean and surface of the land have to be gathered and combined. This data is not only used to determine the initial state for forecasts as precisely as possible, but is also compared with past forecasts in order to gauge the extent to which forecasting accuracy has improved.
During the first winter observation phase in the Arctic, some stations will send up as many as six weather balloons a day. With the help of the gas-filled balloons, which can reach altitudes of up to 35 km, the attached radiosonde can collect readings on the atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity, the wind and other key parameters in the atmosphere. These and other readings, e.g. from automatic weather stations and buoys on the water and adrift in the ice, are simultaneously fed into the Global Telecommunication System (GTS), making them available to researchers and meteorological centres in real-time. As such, the Year of Polar Prediction will make an important contribution, not only in terms of improving weather and climate forecasts in the higher latitudes, but also beyond.
Additional observation phases will follow: from 1 July to 1 September in the Arctic, and from 16 November 2018 to 15 February 2019 in the Antarctic.
The Year of Polar Prediction is being spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, where the International Coordination Office for Polar Prediction is responsible for planning and organising the two-year initiative.
For more information on the project, please visit www.polarprediction.net
Dr Kirstin Werner (AWI)
Dr Helge Goessling (AWI)
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