With thanks to all my helpers who enabled the week to go smoothly! Adam Bateson, Sally Woodhouse, Kaja Milczewska and Agnieszka Walenkiewicz
Each year PhD students in the Department of Meteorology invite a distinguished scientist to spend a week with us.This year we invited Prof. Cecilia Bitz, who visited between the 28th-31st May. Cecilia is based at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Cecilia’s research interests are the role of sea ice in the climate system, and high latitude climate and climate change. She has also done a lot of work on the predictability of Arctic sea ice, and is involved in the Sea Ice Prediction Network.
The week began with a welcome reception in the coffee area, introducing Cecilia to the department, followed by a seminar by Cecilia on ‘Polar Regions as Sentinels of Different Climate Change’. The seminar predominantly focused on Antarctic sea ice, and the possible reasons why Antarctic sea ice behaviour is so different to the Arctic. Whilst Arctic sea ice has steadily declined we have seen Antarctic sea ice expansion over the past four decades, with extreme Antarctic sea ice extent lows since 2016.
Throughout the week Cecilia visited a number of the research groups, including Mesoscale, HHH (dynamics) and Cryosphere, where PhD students from each group presented to her, giving a taste of the range of PhD research within our department.
Cecilia gave a second seminar later in the week in the Climate and Ocean Dynamics (COD) group meeting, this time focusing on the other pole, ‘Arctic Amplification: Local Versus Remote Causes and Consequences’. Cecilia discussed her work quantifying the role of feedbacks in Arctic Amplification, how they compare with meridional heat transports, and what influence Arctic warming has on the rest of the globe.
On Wednesday afternoon the normal PhD group slot consisted of a career discussion, with Cecilia. Cecilia shared some of her career highlights with us, including extra opportunities she has taken such as doing some fieldwork in Antarctica and working for the charity, Polar Bears International, her insights and advice from her own experiences, as well as about post-doctoral opportunities in the US. A few of my personal take-aways from this session were to try give yourself space to learn one new thing at a time in your career (e.g. teaching, writing proposals, supervising etc). Try to work on a range of problems, and keep your outlook broad and open to new ideas and approaches. Take opportunities when they appear, such as fieldwork or short projects/collaborations.
A small group of PhDs also met with her on the Friday to have an informal discussion about climate policy. In particular about her experiences speaking to the US senate, being a part of the IPCC reports and about the role of scientists in speaking about climate change, and whether we have a responsibility to do so.
Thursday evening the PhDs took Cecilia to Zero Degrees (a very apt choice for a polar researcher!), and enjoyed a lovely evening chatting over pizza and beer.
The week ended with a farewell coffee morning on Friday, where we gave Cecilia some gifts to thank her for giving us her time this week including some tea, chocolates, a climate stripes mug and a framed picture of us…
All the PhDs had a great week. We hope Cecilia enjoyed her visit as much as we did!
On 28th January to 1st February I attended the APPLICATE (Advanced Prediction in Polar regions and beyond: modelling, observing system design and LInkages associated with a Changing Arctic climaTE (bold choice)) General Assembly and Early Career Science event at ECMWF in Reading. APPLICATE is one of the EU Horizon 2020 projects with the aim of improving weather and climate prediction in the polar regions. The Arctic is a region of rapid change, with decreases in sea ice extent (Stroeve et al., 2012) and changes to ecosystems (Post et al., 2009). These changes are leading to increased interest in the Arctic for business opportunities such as the opening of shipping routes (Aksenov et al., 2017). There is also a lot of current work being done on the link between changes in the Arctic and mid-latitude weather (Cohen et al., 2014), however there is still much uncertainty. These changes could have large impacts on human life, therefore there needs to be a concerted scientific effort to develop our understanding of Arctic processes and how this links to the mid-latitudes. This is the gap that APPLICATE aims to fill.
The overarching goal of APPLICATE is to develop enhanced predictive capacity for weather and climate in the Arctic and beyond, and to determine the influence of Arctic climate change on Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, for the benefit of policy makers, businesses and society.
Attending the General Assembly was a great opportunity to get an insight into how large scientific projects work. The project is made up of different work packages each with a different focus. Within these work packages there are then a set of specific tasks and deliverables spread out throughout the project. At the GA there were a number of breakout sessions where the progress of the working groups was discussed. It was interesting to see how these discussions worked and how issues, such as the delay in CMIP6 experiments, are handled. The General Assembly also allows the different work packages to communicate with each other to plan ahead, and for results to be shared.
One of the big questions APPLICATE is trying to address is the link between Arctic sea-ice and the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes. Many of the presentations covered different aspects of this, such as how including Arctic observations in forecasts affects their skill over Eurasia. There were also initial results from some of the Polar Amplification (PA)MIP experiments, a project that APPLICATE has helped coordinate.
At the end of the week there was the Early Career Science Event which consisted of a number of talks on more soft skills. One of the most interesting activities was based around engaging with stakeholders. To try and understand the different needs of a variety of stakeholders in the Arctic (from local communities to shipping companies) we had to try and lobby for different policies on their behalf. This was also a great chance to meet other early career scientists working in the field and get to know each other a bit more.
What a difference a day makes, heavy snow getting the ECMWF’s ducks in the polar spirit.
Aksenov, Y. et al., 2017. On the future navigability of Arctic sea routes: High-resolution projections of the Arctic Ocean and sea ice. Marine Policy, 75, pp.300–317.
Cohen, J. et al., 2014. Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather. Nature Geoscience, 7(9), pp.627–637.
Post, E. & Others, 24, 2009. Ecological Dynamics Across the Arctic Associated with Recent Climate Change. Science, 325(September), pp.1355–1358.
Stroeve, J.C. et al., 2012. Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 39(16), pp.1–7.
When sea water freezes it forms sea ice, a composite of ice and brine. Sea ice exhibits varying structural, thermodynamic and mechanical properties across a range of length- and time-scales. It can be subcategorised into numerous different types of sea ice depending on where is grows and how old it is.
However, climate models do not simulate the evolution of floes (they model floes as cylindrical) or the floe size distribution, which has implications for ice melt rates and exchange of heat with the atmosphere and ocean. Sea ice also hosts algae and small organisms within brine channels in the ice, which can be important for nutrient cycles. This is a developing area of earth system modelling.
How much complexity do global climate models need to sufficiently model the interactions of sea ice with the ocean and atmosphere?
The representation of sea ice in global climate models is actually very simple, with minimal sea ice types and thickness categories. The main important feature of sea ice for global climate models is its albedo, which is much greater than that of open water, making it important for the surface energy balance. So, it is important to get the correct area of sea ice. Global climate models need sea ice:
to get the correct heat exchange with the atmosphere and ocean
to get a realistic overturning circulation in the ocean.
because salt release during sea ice growth is important for the ocean salinity structure, and therefore important to get the correct amount of sea in/near deep water formation sites.
sea ice is not important for sea level projections.
So, do the complex features of sea ice matter, or are simple parameterisations sufficient?
Schematic showing some dynamic features of sea ice 3.
Which leads to a lot more questions…
Where does the balance between sufficient complexity and computational cost lie?
Does adding extra model complexity actually make it harder to understand what the model is doing and therefore to interpret the results?
Do climate models need any further improvements to sea ice in order to better simulate global climate? There is still large uncertainty surrounding other climate model components, such as clouds and ocean eddies, which are believed to explain a lot of the discrepancy between models and observations, particularly in the Southern Ocean.
A lot of these questions depend on the scientific question that is being asked. And the question is not necessarily always ‘how is global climate going to change in the future’. Sea ice is fascinating because of its complexity, and there are still many interesting questions to investigate, hopefully before it all melts!
Images clockwise from top left: grease ice 4, pancake ice 5, surface melt ponds 6, ice floes 7.
The Future Developments in Climate Sea Ice Modelling Workshop
This blog stems from a one day workshop I attended on ‘Future developments in climate sea ice modelling’ at the Isaac Newton Centre as part of a four month programme on the ‘Mathematics of Sea Ice Phenomena’. The format of the day was that three different strands of sea ice researchers gave 40 min talks giving their strand’s point of view of current sea ice developments and what the focus should be for sea ice modelers, each followed by 40 mins of open discussion with the audience.
The three (very good!) talks were:
Dirk Notz: What do climate models need sea ice for? A top-down, system level view of what sea ice models should produce from the perspective of a climate modeller.
Cecilia Bitz: What sea ice physics is missing from models? A bottom-up view of what is missing from current sea ice models from the perspective of a sea ice scientist.
Elizabeth Hunke: What modelling approaches can be used to address the complexity of sea ice and the needs of climate models?
The aims of the NERC funded BAS run course, “A skills framework for delivering safe and effective fieldwork in the polar regions”, were to learn how to safely and effectively plan and carry out fieldwork at the poles. And in doing so, to give 16 early career polar scientists across a range of disciplines the opportunity to go to the Arctic and learn practical fieldwork skills that we don’t pick up from our day to day office work.
The first part took place at Madingley Hall in Cambridge where we were briefed as an entire cohort on planning, logistics, instrumentation, risk assessment, GPS mapping, health and safety, and were exceedingly well fed as part of the process….
The sunny early morning views that greeted us into Ny Ålesund.
Next we set off to put what we had learnt into practice in Ny Ålesund, on the Island of Spitzbergen (translates as ‘pointy mountains’) in Svalbard. Ny Ålesund is a small international village predominantly inhabited by scientists, with a peak population in summer of around 150, and a hardy winter population of 35 toughing out the minimal daylight hours and chilling temperatures, which reach minimums of around -20°C! Our journey began with three flights, and a stopover in Longyearbyen, also known as Santa Claus town, although it looks a lot more industrial than the name implies. We then had a 3.30am start which was aided by the 24 hour daylight to get the boat to Ny Ålesund. After 4 hours of queasiness we arrived at the NERC UK Arctic research station in Ny Ålesund.
The first task we had to do after arrival was the rifle training course. This felt like a dangerous activity to be doing at 2pm in the afternoon after a 3.30am start. However it is safe to say we were all sufficiently awake after the first gun shot… We never left the NERC Arctic base without a massive rucksack full of layers, food, water, flask etc and most importantly a rifle and flare gun in case of running into a polar bears. As we are essentially trespassing on the bears’ territory, it is up to us to avoid disturbing them and to use rifles for self-defence as a last resort.
Terrestrial wildlife around Ny Ålesund. The greatest wildlife threat we faced was the cheeky Arctic fox stealing our sandwiches!
In Ny Ålesund you are very far removed from civilisation, even via digital means as there is no wifi (due to a large experiment detecting quasars) or phone signal. Therefore life in Ny Ålesund feels timeless, as outside events that rampage on social media feel far removed and irrelevant. However signatures of global warming are evident, with the extent of glaciers noticeably retreating each year, and sea ice becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence in the fjord within the living memory of residents of Ny Ålesund.
From left to right: View of Ny Ålesund, the closest we came to a polar bear in the doorway of the mess building, old hut from the mining industry.
The past mining infrastructure is evident everywhere, and classified as ‘heritage’, meaning that despite thinking of them as eyesores, in the otherwise immaculate views the run down infrastructure is actually protected as part of Ny Ålesund’s history. The NERC UK Arctic base was very cosy, we definitely weren’t roughing it like all those early polar explorers! The base is run by station manager Nick Cox, who was full of stories about everything and anything. Most evenings ended with everyone staying at the base gathering together for storytime with Nick in the living room of the UK Arctic base. Everyone in Ny Ålesund went to the mess building (best view I’ve ever had whilst eating breakfast!) in the centre of Ny Ålesund for meals, and on Saturdays everyone makes more of an effort to change out of work clothes and enjoy good food and wine together before heading to the small pub which opens on Saturday nights for people to gather to drink, chatter and dance.
Every time we left the UK station we had to take an enormous rucksack filled with food (packed lunch and lots of snacks, Mars bars disappeared like gold dust), waterproofs, spare layers, emergency blanket, first aid kit, temporary shelters, spare batteries for any equipment needed, flare gun, rifle, bullets, a satellite phone (one between the group), radio (at least one for each separate group). Keeping in contact via radio is very important, even if our group was going to be just 15 mins late we had to radio in and let the people at the station now so they can amend the signing out book. There was also a radio line for all of the stations in Ny Ålesund, so everybody would know if somebody was in trouble or extra help was needed. All the extra layers were essential. In just the five days we were there, we saw sun, rain, snow, sometimes all in one day! Preparing for all eventualities and all of the `what ifs’ is essential for polar fieldwork.
We had two main projects that required fieldwork planning and execution. The first was a two day marine biology project (led by Simon Morley from BAS) which was undertaken in two boats followed up by lab work. We took sediment grabs, plankton nets, CTD profiles (measurements of salinity, temperature and density), put down traps overnight. The aim was to investigate the difference between near rivers and near glaciers, and build up a picture of the food web there. Understanding the small marine creatures at the base of the food web and their temperature tolerance has important implications for larger marine and terrestrial creatures higher up the chain.
Left to right, getting our hands dirty sieving the sediment samples on the boat, putting on the immersion suits before getting onto the smaller boat in case of falling in! Photos courtesy of Simon Morley and Ed King.
The second two day task (led by Ed king from BAS) was to investigate the retreat of a glacier about 4-5km from Ny Ålesund called Midtre Lovénbreen. We carried out was to do a ground penetrating radar survey along and across the nearest glacier to Ny Ålesund to measure the ice thickness. Also, we mapped out the snout of the glacier and took photos to compare the glacier to previous years. A 15-20m retreat of the snout of the glacier relative to last year was measured!
Clockwise from left: Setting up the geophysics kit for a transect on the glacier, Midtre Lovénbreen in 1999, Midtre Lovénbreen September 2016. Glacier photos courtesy of Ed King.
The five or so days we had in Ny Ålesund flew by and before we knew it, it was time for us all to take the (very choppy) boat journey back to Longyearbyen before heading back to the UK. I really, really enjoyed the course, and I would highly recommend to any PhDs or Postdocs who study the poles to consider applying for the course in 2017!
Thanks to everyone at BAS involved in organising the course, in particular Alistair Crane, Blair Fyffe, Simon Morley, Ed King, Nick cox, and of course Ali Teague for organising all of the logistics and ensuring we all got there and back as smoothly as possible!