Polar and high-mountain regions

Polar and high-mountain regions


The more rapid than expected loss of sea ice in the Arctic, the Ozone Hole in the Antarctic, glacial decline and the potential for both Greenland and the massive Antarctic ice sheets to dominate sea level rise are just some of the issues in the polar and high-mountain regions that have global ramifications.

It is now clear that these changes are indicators of the effects of human activities elsewhere on Earth and will have profound effects on human society around the world if they continue. The sensitivity of the polar regions is increasingly understood as an issue of global significance.

Already, indigenous peoples and others who live and work at high latitudes are challenged by a the increasingly wide range and variations of weather and climate. Over the past century temperatures in the Arctic have have increased at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world leading to rapid changes in, amongst others, sea ice, snow cover and permafrost affecting traditional ways of life and existing infrastructure. These changes, coupled with increased tourism and enhanced economic activity, are resulting in a growing need for useful and targeted climate information in order to make effective decisions and mitigate risks to people, governments, businesses and the environment. An effective solution would be to implement a regionalized approach toward the development of improved climate products, information and services to support the service delivery activities of Members. This approach would aggregate skills and investments at the national level, as well as provide a mechanism to coordinate, enhance and in some cases, harmonize products and services requested by relevant stakeholders.

But even further, rates of melting have the potential to dramatically affect sea levels, with implications for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and low-lying coastal areas, including heavily- populated deltas inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. Monitoring and long-range projections of these phenomena are making a significant contribution to policy formulation and implementation at national, regional and global levels. These include informing the adequacy of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) current goal of limiting warming to less than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. 

Initiatives to expand prediction in polar regions

Global Crysphere Watch.pngThe 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY) emphasized and expanded knowledge of the cryosphere and led to the implementation of the Global Cryosphere Watch (GCW), which ensures a comprehensive, coordinated, cost-effective and sustainable system of observations and information on the cryosphere on national, regional and global scales. The Global Integrated Polar Prediction System (GIPPS), a major decadal initiative to develop a polar prediction system established in 2010, brings together the aggregated power of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services throughout the world to map weather, water and essential climate variables in these regions and will provide an invaluable resource to be drawn upon by decision-makers. The Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) (2017-2019) is a community initiative and key activity of the World Weather Research Programme's Polar Prediction Project (PPP). It will enable a significant improvement in environmental prediction capabilities for the polar regions and beyond, by coordinating a period of intensive observing, modelling, prediction, verification, user-engagement and education activities. 

As human presence in polar regions increases, ocean information and related services will be needed to underpin action for protection of life and property at sea and on the coasts and are an important contribution to understanding and projecting global climate. The Joint (WMO-IOC) Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) works on this challenge helping to coordinate efforts of the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS), the International Arctic Buoy Programme and the International Ice Charting Working Group to name a few.

The high Asian (Tibetan Plateau) cryosphere environment provides water to eight large rivers originating there; 45% of the world’s population depends on these for their water supply. Today, glaciologists worry about the depletion of glaciers globally. In the Pakistan area of the Karakorum Range, six glaciers were found to be melting at an increasing rate while in other parts of the Plateau, glaciers are expanding. Recognizing that requirements for observations in polar and high mountain regions cannot be fully met through surface-based observing sites, the WMO Space Programme has coordinate across research and operational agencies, the planning, processing and archiving of Earth observation data sets to support these efforts.