Meteorologists urge closer collaboration to improve safety, climate assessments

The observations needed to provide good weather forecasts can be used to improve research and services in the Arctic.

By Kevin McGwin - March 22, 2018
This April 9, 2015 natural-color satellite image shows sea ice and cloud streets between Labrador (Canada) and Greenland. A recent study suggests the decline of sea ice in the North Atlantic will affect a powerful current, in turn affecting the climate of Western Europe and Eastern North America. (NASA Earth Observatory)

The heads of meteorological institutes from around the Arctic say greater collaboration and improved communications systems are necessary in order to attain the level of information-gathering needed to make proper assessments of the impacts of a warming climate.

During the Arctic Meteorology Summit, held Tuesday in Levi, Finland, the directors-general of the weather services of all eight Arctic countries stressed that better monitoring was necessary in order to keep up with a situation that sees the rate of climate change in the Arctic outstripping scientists’ capacity to monitor and predict them.

“The impact of climate change will be largely visible in society, and therefore research and services will be needed in various fields,” said Juhani Damski, the director-general of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

While the challenge and cost of operating in the Arctic makes it one of the most poorly observed regions of the earth, it is becoming increasingly certain that dramatic changes in the region that include temperature increases of as much as 5°C (9°F) are linked to extreme weather events at lower latitudes.

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However, at the same time as receding ice brought on by warming temperatures has opened the region to an increase in economic activity, a lack of reliable forecasting means that it remains a dangerous place to operate.

“We urgently need to improve weather and climate services and forecasts of ocean and ice conditions to minimize risks to the environment and society, including traditional indigenous livelihoods, and improve safety management in polar regions,” said Petteri Talas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, a UN agency.

Improved forecasting based on better monitoring and information exchange, scientists say, would require space and ground-based information systems than can observe the Arctic with more consistency than currently possible.

Such systems, according to proponents, could also double as communications networks in a region where commercial operators have little incentive to provide services.

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The Arctic Meteorology Summit is part of a week-long gathering of meteorologists that is being held concurrently with a high-level meeting of the Arctic Council. Finland, currently chair of the eight-country group, has selected meteorology as one the themes for its two-year term, marking the first time the subject has been taken up.

The council, however, has already pledged to make meteorology a part of its continuing work, and Aleksi Härkönen, the chair of the council’s senior-Arctic officials, who represent their countries on the council, explained that the summit would guide its efforts.

“Meteorological cooperation means better observation, research and services, and that should be part and parcel in our efforts to look for common solutions to issues we are facing in the rapidly changing Arctic,” he said.