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The IPY-CARE project - background

Overall objective:

To explore, quantify and model Arctic climate change, its interaction with the climate in lower latitudes and its impact on Arctic marine ecosystem, and to assess the socio-economic consequences for Europe

Specific objectives:

  1. To determine the processes responsible for the past and present variability and changes in the Arctic climate system and to improve their representation in regional and global climate models
  2. To understand the degree to which recent variability and changes in the Arctic climate system, e.g., shrinking sea-ice cover, thawing permafrost and increased methane emission, are of natural or anthropogenic origin
  3. To understand and quantify the response of marine biological processes to climate change and their effects on Arctic marine ecosystems and the air-sea CO2 fluxes and to improve their representation in ecosystem models and inclusion in global climate models
  4. To quantify the Arctic freshwater budget and its linkages to the global thermohaline circulation (THC) and climate, and to assess its potential in causing rapid climate change, sea-level change and sequestration of CO2
  5. To improve capabilities to predict Arctic climate on decadal and longer time scales and design optimal components of an integrated monitoring and forecasting system
  6. To assess the impact of climate change in the Arctic on the THC, marine ecosystems and fisheries, transportation, offshore industry and oil and gas production, coastal infrastructures, and on climate in Europe

State-of-the-art

A consensus from coupled atmosphere-ocean modelling studies of increasing greenhouse-gas (GHGs) scenarios is that anthropogenic global warming will be enhanced in the northern high latitudes, due to complex feedback mechanisms in the atmosphere-ocean-ice system.

The predicted warming in the Arctic over the next 50 years is ~3-4 C or more than twice the global average. This suggests that the Arctic may be where the most rapid and dramatic changes (e.g., a shrinking sea ice cover and a glacial meltdown) may take place during the 21st century. Recent synthesis reviews of fragmentary observational evidence taken together provide a reasonably coherent portrait of Arctic and boreal change, indicating that the last 2-3 decades have experienced unusual warming over northern Eurasia and North America, reduced Arctic sea ice, marked changes in Arctic Ocean hydrography, reduced glaciers and snow cover, increased runoff into the Arctic, increased tree growth in northern Eurasia, reduced tundra areas and thawing permafrost.

There have clearly been significant advancements from observations and models in recent years; however there remain many key uncertainties concerning the fundamental processes underlying Arctic climate-system changes in the past, present and future and how to model them, the spatial-temporal characteristics of Arctic climate change and the bio-geophysical and socio-economic consequences, including their role for Europe:

The aforementioned key uncertainties have been formulated into the over-arching questions and hypotheses that will compel the CARE research program: