Photo: Stefan Hendricks

Ambitious North Pole expedition will help improve weather forecasts at Yr

A search for “Polarstern” at Yr will give you weather observations from the research vessel currently deployed in the Arctic Ocean. This ambitious expedition will help improve weather forecasts from the weather service Yr.

Temperature, precipitation and wind observations from the German icebreaker RV Polarstern are updated hourly on Yr’s new website and app. During the entire year Polarstern spends drifting with the ice near the North Pole, Yr will also present the weather forecast for the ship’s current location. 

“Yr is eager to be at the forefront and wants to help publicize this project that means so much for society. It is more important than ever to understand the ongoing changes in the Arctic Ocean”, says Ingrid Støver Jensen, Yr’s product manager at the Norwegian broadcasting company (NRK). 

Polarstern left Tromsø 20 September as part of the MOSAiC expedition, which is the largest Arctic research cruise ever. Several hundred scientists will be aboard the research vessel, which is being frozen into the ice for a full year to figure out what is happening in the Arctic. Six hundred researchers from 19 countries will participate in the expedition. The data they collect will be used by scientists all over the world and give climate research new wind in its sails. 

Closing knowledge gaps

The goal is to fill knowledge gaps concerning the central Arctic Ocean, where wintertime observations are particularly scarce. Global warming is leading to a gradual disappearance of sea ice, and in a few years the ice may be gone. The expedition will try to determine if and when this might happen. 

Like Fridtjof Nansen’s vessel during the Fram expedition of 1893-1896, RV Polarstern will be frozen into the ice. From Siberia in the east, the ship will drift at an average speed of seven kilometres per day. A network of observation posts will be set up as far as 50 kilometres from the ship, and data will be collected from 4,000 meters depth to 35,000 meters up in the air. Both the ship and the surrounding observation network will drift with the ice towards the Atlantic. 

Better models for weather and climate

These observations will lift weather and climate models to a new level and help improve weather forecasts for Arctic areas.

“MOSAiC will increase our knowledge about interactions between atmosphere, sea ice, and the sea in the Arctic, so that the physical processes can be better represented in our weather forecasting models”, explains Jørn Kristiansen, director of the centre for the Development Centre for Weather Forecasting at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET Norway).

Systematic and comprehensive understanding of the scientific fundamentals, obtained in part through the Alertness research project, enables MET Norway to meet the operational needs of the weather forecasting service.

Much of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute’s contribution will come through a major research effort called “The Year of Polar Prediction” (YOPP), which will make use of the observations from MOSAiC. In order to forecast weather into the future, we need highly accurate observations of current weather conditions. The global weather observation network is sparse in the Arctic and Antarctic. The sparseness of these observations, combined with our limited knowledge about the physical processes in polar regions, means that weather forecasts are less accurate in polar areas than, for example, in Norway or the rest of Europe. These limitations also affect the quality of the weather forecasts for areas far from the poles.

Follow the MOSAiC expedition here:

Images from the expedition for use by the media:

MOSAiC’s research approach is multidisciplinary, with special emphasis on atmosphere, sea ice, oceans, biogeochemistry, and ecosystems. 

MOSAiC is the abbreviation for the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. The expedition is backed by an international consortium of leading research institutions, and has a budget of more than 120 million EUR. 

Predecessor RV Lance improved Yr

Four years ago, the research vessel Lance was also frozen into the ice; the observations made at that time were used to improve weather models for Arctic areas – models now in use at Yr. Meteorological Institute researchers Malte Müller and Yurii Batrak did the work of improving the weather model and published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, as part of the research project the Nansen Legacy.