Observation of the Arctic Sea leads to accurate climate model predictions

A research team from the University of Huddersfield has studied sea ice fragmentation in the Arctic to generate climate model predictions with superior accuracy.

Why is sea ice fragmentation an indicator of climate change?

Scientists consider ice in the Arctic Sea to be an important indicator of climate change; its rapid decline in the past few decades has been a caution to not only researchers, but also to policymakers and the general public.

The objective of the study – which was led by Dr Phil Byongjun Hwang from the University of Huddersfield’s School of Applied Sciences is to determine the role of sea ice fragmentation in the accelerated retreat of the Arctic icecap by combining new and emerging observations, new theory, and process climate modelling predictions. 

The research is being funded by the National Environment Research Council (NERC)as part of a responsive project award titled ‘Fragmentation and Melt of Arctic Sea-Ice’.

Why are climate model predictions important?

The latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concluded that it was likely that the Arctic Sea would become ice-free by 2050, assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

However, the climate simulations used by the IPCC often fail to realistically capture large scale properties of Arctic Sea ice, such as the extent, variability, and recent trends that can lead to the impairment of climate model accuracy.

Dr Hwang, Director of Huddersfield University’s Centre for Climate Resilient Societies, explained: “This is why it is imperative we improve simulations of Arctic Sea ice so we can provide a better understanding of the recent observed changes and deliver credible projections of the future.

“By building a fundamental understanding of sea ice fragmentation we will improve climate model predictions. This will help assess risks and opportunities as well as inform important policy decisions about adaptation and mitigation.”

How will scientists continue to improve the accuracy of these models?

The three-year project, which is being led by Professor Danny Feltham at the University of Reading, will result in a new sea ice fragmentation module delivered to climate and weather modelling groups including the Met Office, the National Oceanography Centre, the British Antarctic Survey, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

As a geophysicist and remote sensing expert, Korean-born Dr Hwang’s developed specialism in the dynamics and thermodynamics of snow and sea ice in polar regions, makes his knowledge crucial in this study. He has undertaken many expeditions to the Arctic, including some tough mid-winter assignments.

A seasoned Arctic researcher, Dr Hwang has already made 15 voyages to the region, observing, recording, and analysing seasonal changes in the ice. Researchers have noted that the data Hwang has gathered on Arctic Sea ice retreat has been an important contribution to the scientific debate about climate change.

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