Polar Observations and Processes

ICECAPS observatory in Summit, Greenland (Credit: Matt Shupe, CIRES)

Leads: Taneil Uttal and Matthew Shupe

What happens in the ocean and atmosphere at the Earth’s poles can impact weather and climate around the globe. The poles are the Earth’s heat sink, and any changes in the equator-to-pole temperature gradient as a result of Polar change or variability can affect global circulation patterns. Yet many of the important atmospheric, surface, and cloud processes in Polar regions are not well understood and represented in current numerical weather prediction and global climate models. Improved Arctic observations and research will enhance understanding of these processes and thereby improve our representation of Polar environmental systems. In turn, improved modeling capabilities allow for the study of polar-midlatitude linkages between weather and climate, and how they affect extreme weather events and the hydrological cycle.

PSL’s Polar Observations and Processes Research Team is working to improve Polar climate prediction and sea ice/weather forecasting. We use observations and models to measure and understand cloud properties, boundary-layer processes, and their interactions with the underlying surface (snow, permafrost, ice sheets, open ocean, and sea-ice) via exchanges of heat, momentum, and mass. We contribute to a number of programs that support long-term, ground-based observations of the Arctic atmosphere and surface, while also conducting targeted observational process-study experiments in key locations. These observations are tightly linked with a suite of modeling tools ranging from cloud-resolving scales to regional scales in order to aggregate our process-level knowledge. This research helps further understanding of the dynamic and interconnected atmosphere–ocean–ice–land systems in the Polar regions. Our expertise cuts across:

  • Size scales ranging from the snowflake to synoptic-scale weather systems;
  • Time scales ranging from the micro-seconds of cloud droplet formation processes to the decades since weather stations began operating in the Arctic in the early 1900s;
  • Science that ranges from foundational discovery science to responding to operational requirements of NOAA and the Nation such as sea-ice forecasting;
  • Organizational scales from individual research papers to the facilitation of interagency and international science consortiums.

Current Research Activities

Arctic observatory
ADVANCING coordinated and collaborative research objectives of independent Arctic atmospheric observatories.
OBSERVING the coupled Arctic atmosphere-ice-ocean system through ship and ice-camp based campaigns in the Arctic Ocean.
CHARACTERIZING energy, clouds, precipitation, the atmospheric state, and the surface in diverse Polar locations and conditions.
DEVELOPING innovative observing platforms designed to operate in Polar environments and modeling approaches to upscale detailed process information to large-scale models.