How is the Year of Polar Prediction related to the International Polar Year?
During the International Polar Year, there were several topics, and the projects in each topic were very well coordinated. But coordinating the overall International Polar Year (IPY) was probably more difficult, because aspects from more disciplines were involved, ranging from socioeconomic issues to geosciences and atmospheric physics. The Year of Polar Prediction, or YOPP for short, is more thematically focused – it’s all about improving weather and climate forecasts in the polar regions. In principle, YOPP can be seen as a legacy or follow-up project to the IPY. When the IPY ended in the late 2000s, the changes in the Arctic were particularly dramatic, and the research community had to consider the research topics in which parts of the IPY should be continued – that was when the focus shifted to polar forecasts.
In concrete terms, what will occur during the Year of Polar Prediction?
On the one hand, enhanced measurements will be taken so that we can, for example, better understand which processes are taking place in the atmospheric boundary layer. This knowledge will then be used to create better models and more accurate predictions. As part of YOPP, various field campaigns will investigate this issue. In addition, as far as possible we will attempt to close the gaps in the observing systems in the Arctic and Antarctic over a certain time period. For instance, additional radiosondes, weather stations and buoys will be deployed to measure the atmosphere, sea ice and ocean. These Special Observing Periods as we call them will be taking place from February to March and from July to September 2018 in the Arctic, and from mid-November 2018 to mid-February 2019 in the Antarctic. Modellers can use the data collected during YOPP for their experiments to identify whether additional measurements – and if so, which ones – actually improve the predictions both in the Arctic and in our latitudes.
Do we really need all these extra measurements, which are probably very expensive? Isn’t it enough to have only a few measurements, but ones that are critical and affordable, to make reliable predictions?
Further developing the observing systems, collecting the data, and making appropriate recommendations about what needs to be done and is financially feasible are the main tasks of the modelling activities that will take place as part of the Year of Polar Prediction. But there are additional questions that can be investigated with the help of modelling efforts during the Year of Polar Prediction: how well can we currently predict the sea-ice extent, e.g. in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard, and what can we use the improved models for? There will be numerous predictability studies – tests of which additional measurements help us, and how much. Another important aspect is the development of what is known as data assimilation: bringing together observations and models. The coupled data assimilation for the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean and land is a challenge that we will have to address as part of YOPP.
What about the “people aspect” in the Year of Polar Prediction?
Though the main focus is on scientific activities, YOPP will also address social science and economic aspects. Socioeconomic studies will be conducted in order to assess the exact value of improved predictions for various stakeholders in the Arctic. Here is a definite need for more research.