Arctic flights to shed light on sea ice and storms link
Scientists will fly research planes through the heart of Arctic storms this summer to better understand how weather systems affect Arctic ice.
Arctic cyclones are the main type of hazardous weather affecting the polar environment in summer. They can affect the movement of sea ice and cause rapid ice loss, effects that themselves influence the development of cyclones.
Two planes will fly about 60 missions this month from the Norwegian Arctic, to study Arctic summer cyclones for the first time. This will provide the most detailed physical picture yet of how the ice and ocean interact with the atmosphere above, to better simulate this in weather and climate forecasting models.
As a result of global warming, sea ice in large parts of the Arctic Ocean thins year after year in summer. This means that wind can move the ice more easily, which in turn can affect weather systems. This makes forecasting short- and long-term changes in the Arctic environment difficult.
The dramatic changes in the Arctic ice are expected to become increasingly important to the global climate, making it an urgent problem for study.
Professor John Methven, an atmospheric dynamics researcher at the University of Reading and project leader, said: “Arctic cyclones are much less understood than those in temperate regions, making them even more difficult to predict.
“This project will examine summer Arctic cyclones from above, below and in the middle of their center. It will shed light on the relationship between sea ice and the atmosphere above, providing invaluable data to better understand how climate change is affecting this globally important area. region.”
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth. Climate change has drastically altered sea ice, thinning and breaking the ice, making it more susceptible to winds and storms.
Summer Arctic cyclones can be thousands of miles in diameter and can last for several days or weeks, often moving south outside the Arctic Circle.
Flights take place from July 27 to August 24. Strong northerly winds during the first week temporarily slowed the sea ice retreat due to recent heatwaves in the region. This and a forecast for an Arctic cyclone to follow over Spitsbergen this weekend have provided ideal conditions for the first flights.
A team of British scientists flies the British Antarctic (BAS) Survey Twin Otter aircraft from Longyearbyen in Svalbard, the northernmost city on Earth. The Natural Environment Research Council is funding the project team from the University of Reading, University of East Anglia, British Antarctic Survey, National Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling.
These low-level flights take place over the ocean and sea ice, and especially over areas where the sea ice breaks. They simultaneously monitor turbulence, heat and moisture in the lower atmosphere and take detailed measurements of physical properties of the sea ice, such as surface height, roughness and temperature.
Rod Arnold, head of air unit at British Antarctic Survey, said: “British Antarctic Survey is proud to support this important research with our scientific and logistical expertise. It is essential that we provide researchers with the opportunity to study weather systems up close and understand our changing climate and the effect it has on the environment.
“Our Twin Otter aircraft and the crews’ experience in conducting flights in support of polar air science and logistics allow us to do this as safely and efficiently as possible during these missions.”
Professor Ian Renfrew, Professor of Meteorology at the University of East Anglia, said: “From our base in Svalbard we will investigate Arctic cyclones in summer and the interaction of these weather systems with sea ice.
“Over the past few decades we have seen a dramatic decline in Arctic sea ice and cyclones appear to both slow and accelerate ice decline depending on the time of year. The physical processes are unclear and one of our goals is to reduce the effect to investigate the cyclones on the sea ice and the effect of the spread of the sea ice on the cyclones.”
Scientists from France and the US are conducting additional flights in the SAFIRE ATR42 aircraft, which is equipped with radar and infrared sensors. These will take 3D measurements of the movement of clouds and the droplets in them from above during cyclone conditions.
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