Weather Forecast

AWI snow buoys provide important weather information from the North Pole

The buoys had measured the unusual temperature rise in late December
[06. January 2016] 

When the temperatures at the North Pole went to just above zero degrees Celsius at the end of December, not only the relatively warm temperatures of this region were unusual. The availability of weather data is not for granted but owed to the use of snow buoys, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).

As for weather data, the Arctic is more of a data-poor region. The next manned weather station is located about 1,500 kilometres from the pole on Spitsbergen. However, the use of so-called snow buoys makes it now possible to deliver data of the air temperature close to the pole. These snow buoys were developed by the Alfred Wegener Institute and deployed a few years ago for the first time.
On 30 December, the buoy closest to the pole was located 229 kilometres away, but so far to the west towards Canada that it could not detect any strong warming. The highest temperature of about two degrees above freezing was measured by a buoy, which was located about 500 kilometres away from the pole towards Spitsbergen.

"The snow buoys are used primarily for detecting the snow thickness of sea ice - four ultrasonic sensors measure the distance to the snow cap," says the AWI sea ice physicist Dr Marcel Nicolaus. "In addition, the buoys measure the air temperature and air pressure. We provide all data to international networks." Through the cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization, the measurements are available for weather forecasts and other scientists. In addition, they contribute to the International Arctic Buoy Programme which collects the data of most automatic monitoring stations.

Three years ago the Alfred Wegener Institute has established this technique. Currently, the AWI has a total of seven snow buoys in use. They were deployed last September as part of the research program FRAM during a Polarstern expedition. Within minutes, the international data network is supplied with the latest weather data. "Without these buoys the heat rise at the North Pole would have been unnoticed," said Dr Marcel Nicolaus.

The map below shows the position of all currently active snow buoys in the Arctic. The lines indicate the movement of the individual buoys since 1 November. This corresponds to the drift of the ice floe, driven by wind and ocean. For additional maps and data of snow buoys please go to the website "Meereisportal/Sea-Ice Knowledge". Our new sea-ice graphic (in German language) gives an overview of tools and methods.



Marcel Nicolaus

Press Office

Nadine Michel

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