Science focus on poles to counter warming

16 May 2017 - 09:36 By AFP
Ice Trek offers a 40-day trip that traces Roald Amundsen’s path to the South Pole. Participants cover 640km on skis in 32 days
Ice Trek offers a 40-day trip that traces Roald Amundsen’s path to the South Pole. Participants cover 640km on skis in 32 days
Image: ice-trek.com

Scientists will intensify their scrutiny of the polar regions as part of an international campaign to improve global weather predictions and minimise risks linked to rapid climate change, the UN said yesterday.

The World Meteorological Organisation said a full year would be dedicated to improving polar forecasting capacities in the Arctic and another year would be spent doing the same in Antarctica.

The polar regions are by far the most affected by climate change, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

But, because of their harsh climates, these regions are also the most poorly observed by scientists and meteorologists, detracting from the quality of weather forecasts.

WMO chief Petteri Taalas said that "the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live.

"Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spells, heat waves and droughts in the northern hemisphere."

A large network of scientists and forecasting centres would carry out observations in the Arctic and Antarctic from this year to mid-2019, the WMO said.

"The rate and implications of polar environmental change are pushing our scientific knowledge to the limits," Thomas Jung, head of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee, said.

"The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice after the winter refreezing period in March was the lowest on record because of a series of heat waves."

The minimum level of sea ice in the Antarctic after the southern hemisphere summer melting was also the lowest on record.

The changes in weather and climate, and shrinking ice at the poles, are leading to an increase in human activities such as shipping, fishing and the search for and extraction of natural resources.

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