By Neil D. Gordon1 , Thomas Jung2 and Stefanie Klebe3
Scientific and public awareness of the importance of the polar regions in the global weather and climate system is increasing. The popular use of the term “polar vortex” in the United States of America earlier this year is just one example of increased interest in rapid climate changes at high latitudes. The WMO annual reports on summer Arctic ice cover catch worldwide media attention every year. There is a high level of public interest – especially amongst youth – about how these factors might affect the weather and climate in the rest of the world. The expansion of human activities into the polar regions is also increasing the demand for more information and better predictions.
Recognition of the important role that polar regions occupy within global environmental systems, including the climate, has placed increasing demands for scientific investigation, semi-and permanent research stations, and various forms of in situ and remote environmental monitoring, with corresponding needs for weather and environmental information in support of tactical decision-making. For example, the forecasting of fog, low clouds and poor visibility is a concern for aircraft flights into Antarctica. These flights support a range of research activities in the Antarctic; unpredicted poor weather can be very costly if flights, unable to reach their planned destination, have to turn around.
However, the remoteness and prevalence of harsh weather and climate conditions contribute to making the polar regions the poorest observed in the world.
There are many gaps in our knowledge and understanding of key processes in polar regions, of how best to improve computer models and prediction systems, how to optimize the observing system, and what services should be provided. Polar research is an extremely resource-demanding endeavour requiring large-scale infrastructure. Coordination of research activities at an international level is therefore especially important for generating the knowledge required to improve prediction capabilities for the polar regions and beyond.
The international Polar Prediction Project was established to provide the observational database required to optimize the polar observing system. It will improve the quality of data on initial conditions in a cost-effective manner. It will also provide the ground-truthing of data needed to improve satellite retrieval algorithms, and the understanding of key polar processes, which is urgently needed to advance numerical modelling capabilities.
The Project was established under the World Weather Research Programme to address these research challenges on time scales from hourly to seasonal. It will collaborate closely with the World Climate Research Programme’s Polar Climate Predictability Initiative, which deals with time scales from seasonal to multi-decadal. Together, they will provide the research that will underpin the Global Integrated Polar Prediction System (GIPPS).
The Project’s International Steering Group includes academics and representatives from the operational weather and climate prediction communities. The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, in Bremerhaven, Germany will host the Project.4
Service, forecasting and underpinning research
The research goals of the Polar Prediction Project can be broadly classified into:
• Service-oriented research, tackling issues of direct relevance to users of environmental forecasts – This includes the analysis of historic and current uses of polar prediction products; the communication of risk, opportunity and uncertainty to disparate users; and the comprehensive verification of user-relevant products such as sea ice forecasts.
• Forecasting system research, encapsulating more “traditional” issues such as observations, modelling, data assimilation and ensemble forecasting – Here the emphasis will be polar-specific issues such as the lack of observations, the proper representation of the cryosphere in forecast models, data assimilation schemes, and ensemble prediction systems.
• Underpinning research, dealing with the more fundamental aspects such as predictability of the polar climate system, forecast error diagnosis, and weather/climate linkages between polar and non-polar regions.
The development of sea ice prediction capabilities has a central role in the Project. On shorter time scales it will be important to provide users with reliable information on sea ice characteristics such as leads and zones of strong sea ice convergence (important for safe shipping and sea ice management). On longer, monthly to seasonal, time scales, the focus will be on larger-scale aspects, such as the prediction of sea ice conditions in the Northern Sea Route and in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. In line with the central role that sea ice prediction takes in the polar regions, the development of forecasting systems based on coupled atmosphere-sea ice-ocean modelling systems will be pivotal.
Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP)
The major initiative in the ten-year (2012–2022) Polar Projection Project will be the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), planned for mid-2017 to mid-2019. YOPP will enable significant improvement in environmental prediction capabilities for the polar regions and beyond by coordinating a period of intensive observing, modelling, verification, user-engagement and education activities.
Timeline of the three different stages of the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) − one of the flagship initiatives of the Polar Prediction Project – together with a number of selected key activities.
As a result of the Project, many who live in, or visit, the polar regions, where activities related to transportation, tourism and resource development are on the rise, will benefit from improved predictions. However, the expected benefits will go beyond the provision of more accurate predictions on various time scales (hourly to seasonal) in the two regions (Arctic and Antarctic), which is the focus of the Project. Improvements anticipated in the representation of polar processes in coupled numerical weather models will help to narrow uncertainties in regional climate change projections. Furthermore, improved environmental predictions in the polar regions will result in more accurate predictions for non-polar regions, especially in the middle latitudes, through atmospheric linkages.
Contributions and support
The Polar Projection Project is an international effort that aims to provide advanced prediction capabilities in two regions that are becoming increasingly important, but which, thus far, have attracted relatively little attention from the forecasting community. The International Steering Group has developed plans and strategies in collaboration with partners from the research community and operational centres. The Polar Prediction Project may become a crucial WMO contribution into an emerging International Polar Partnership Initiative, which will unite efforts of many agencies and organizations in achieving socially important objectives in the polar and alpine regions, including the Third Pole (Tibet and Himalayas).
Ultimately, the success of the Polar Projection Project will depend on support from WMO Members through contributions to the Polar Prediction Trust Fund to ensure proper international coordination, on in-kind support from operational centres, research institutions and universities, and on an enhanced level of interest in polar prediction by national and international funding agencies.
WMO, 2013: WWRP Polar Prediction Project Science
Plan, WWRP/PPP No. 1 – 2013, 69pp. – available via
WMO, 2013: WWRP Polar Prediction Project Implementation
Plan, WWRP/PPP No. 2 – 2013, 59pp. – available
The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped in thick Antarctic ice 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Australia, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. - Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefotography.com
1 Consultant, Polar Prediction Project, New Zealand
2 Chair, Polar Prediction Project; Expert member, WMO Executive Council
Panel of Experts on Polar Observations, Research and Services; and Alfred
Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany
3 Assistant, Polar Prediction Project; Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz
Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany
4 Further information is available at http://polarprediction.net