This blog highlights success stories from across the project, from our cutting-edge scientific discoveries to our collaboration and co-design with stakeholders. New blogs are released monthly.

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New study on energy heat transports to help understand Arctic warming

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The Arctic demonstrates the impact of climate change more dramatically than anywhere else on earth.

In some areas, the mean temperatures have warmed two or three times faster than the global average since the late 20th century. We can also watch the increasing loss of sea ice, glacial ice and snow cover in all seasons since the satellite era, when we were first able to accurately observe these changes. These are the result of Arctic or polar amplification, a phenomenon where warming at the poles is greater than at the lower latitudes.

A new study by partners in Blue-Action, led by Yang Liu from the Netherlands e-Science centre, have contributed an open-source work package that may help future studies in modelling the causes of Arctic amplification. The package, available in Python, combines ocean and atmosphere reanalysis datasets and analyses the variability between them. The overall aim was to compare differences in the datasets over space and time, and ultimately improve our understanding of Arctic climate processes such as amplification.

Polar amplification was suggested as far back as the 1890s, when it was merely a hypothesis. Now it is a reality, and the implications reach far beyond the highest latitudes. The Arctic is often called the “refrigerator of the world”, influencing global climate processes across the Northern hemisphere and beyond. For example, there is evidence that the differing rates of warming between the equator and the poles can influence the frequency and severity of storm formation: leading to the “once in a lifetime storms” of the past few years becoming far more familiar for many people.

Understanding the impact of Arctic amplification first requires an understanding of the causes. Studies show that warming is influenced by local processes, such as snow cover and sea ice melting. Losing sea ice and snow cover reduces the albedo, the reflection of heat from sunlight back into space. When sunlight reaches the darker oceans instead, the heat is absorbed and retained.

However, the Arctic is not a self-contained system. Remote processes such as moisture transport from lower latitudes by air, or heat transport from lower latitudes by air and ocean, can also be important. This poleward shift of energy is accelerating the warming in the region, but the relative contribution of various remote and local processes are still under debate.

The new study suggests the Arctic climate is sensitive to seasonal variations in atmospheric and ocean energy transport. The datasets analysed generally agree on the average transports and these results are consistent with observational datasets, but that they become less consistent over longer-term analysis. However, the team are now working on refining the role of energy transport, and all the work is available to other researchers looking to improve our understanding of Arctic warming.

 

Publication details

Liu, Y., Attema, J., Moat, B., and Hazeleger, W. (2020) Synthesis and evaluation of historical meridional heat transport from midlatitudes towards the Arctic. Earth System Dynamics, 11, 77–96, https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-11-77-2020

Work package: https://zenodo.org/record/3609505#.Xow90IhKiM9


Who are the authors behind the IPCC? An interview with Blue-Action partner Didier Swingedouw on contributing to a recent Special Report

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What is your role and where do you work?

I am a CNRS researcher at EPOC laboratory based within the University of Bordeaux.

 

What are your main areas of research?

I am mainly interested in climate dynamics. My main target is to correctly understand the climate system and anticipate its variations. For this purpose, I use complex numerical climate models that I compare with recent observations as well as paleodata. I am particularly interested in the North Atlantic Ocean dynamics, its interactions with the atmosphere and its predictability and potential impacts.

 

What does a normal working day look like for you?

As a numerical modeler, I spend quite a lot of time with my best friend, my computer! Nevertheless, there is no “normal” working day, because each day is usually enlivened by meeting in face-to-face or videoconference with other colleagues, conferences, scientific council, or supervision of internships, PhD and postdoctoral fellows. So, I have no time to feel any routine. I also have interactions with wider audiences through conferences or visit in schools, which I really enjoy. Science needs more people involved and this is what I’m searching for, in order to find fresh new ideas concerning the critical issues climate change is bringing towards us.

 

What is the SROCC?

 SROCC means Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a changing Climate. This is a Special Report from the IPCC requested by governments after the Paris Agreement in 2015. Its aim is to focus on the ocean and cryosphere (ice or snow-covered region) which are key elements of the climate system, but whose vulnerability is not always well-highlighted in classical IPCC Assessment Report (AR) report released every 7 or 8 years. I had the honor to participate in this report, which was an incredible experience.

 

Why is important to know about the oceans and cryosphere in relation to climate change?

The ocean covers about 2/3 of the Earth, while the ice-covered area represents about 1/3 of the land surface. Thus, these two realms are huge players in the climate system. Furthermore, people living near the coast or in regions dependent on the cryosphere (e.g. mountains) represents almost 1.5 billion of the population. The resources from the ocean are also fundamental to a huge number of people, so it was absolutely crucial to properly assess the risks of changes in these two realms, which are intimately interconnected.

 

In which areas did you contribute to the report?

My contribution as a lead author concerns the chapter 6: “Extreme and abrupt changes”. In this multi-disciplinary chapter, I have mainly synthesized the knowledge we have concerning the risk of a rapid climatic changes in the North Atlantic and the associated potential impacts. I have also collaborated with colleagues concerning other aspects of climate change in the ocean, like the risk of extreme events in the ocean, or the interactions between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in terms of decadal variability. We have made a great effort to incorporate knowledge and approaches from colleagues from the social sciences that contributed to this chapter. In that sense, this chapter provides a very complete assessment of the potential impact of extreme and abrupt changes, including societal and governance aspects.

 

What are the main findings of the report?

The report covers a wide range of topics, and it goes from the high mountains to the ocean abysses. The main findings that it synthesizes concern the very high vulnerability of coral ecosystems, which might be in great danger under warming larger than 1.5°C globally, with huge implications for the whole marine fauna and associated ocean ecosystem services. A key novelty highlighted in the report also concern the instability of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which might cross a tipping point under global warming larger than about 2°C. This means that if this threshold is crossed, the sea level will rise for millennia, with no possibility of return, committing numerous generations of people. The report also confirms that the risk of abrupt change in the North Atlantic is still relatively low, but given its potential very high impact for socio-ecosystems, this is a scenario for which we need to develop appropriate adaptation measures, which are clearly missing at the moment.


Helping local communities to understand what the future might look like: "Information Services" in Russia

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By Vilena Valeeva, IASS Potsdam

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One of the Blue-Action case studies is focusing in the Yamal region of Russia, characterized by fragile ecosystems, a harsh climate, and extreme weather.  Large-scale economic projects must be assessed for their capability to provide local economic benefit without causing harm to local ecosystems, social and cultural livelihoods, and the global climate. Together with stakeholder groups, the team has co-developed a suite of scenarios to describe possible futures for this region in 2040 by incorporating cutting edge climate predictions with environmental, social and cultural concerns, economic opportunities, and political and legal developments.

 

Yamal is a region with substantial ongoing and planned petroleum and shipping activities. However, its future is highly uncertain due to a number of factors; the impacts of climate change are among the most important of them. The main goal of the project was to help stakeholders, i.e. those whose life and work is dependent on Yamal, to deal these uncertainties and to adapt to possible developments in the future. The scenarios “Yamal 2040” were developed together with stakeholders at a series of workshops and incorporated cutting edge climate predictions with environmental, social and cultural concerns, economic opportunities, and political and legal developments. Representatives of different stakeholder groups were involved in the Yamal scenario project from the very beginning and acted as co-authors of the developed scenarios and the strategic options. Blue-Action climate scientists also participated in the workshops and played an important role providing information about possible impacts of climate change on Yamal.

 

As a result of this case study, three different scenarios were developed showing how different might be the future of the region. In one of the scenarios, Yamal petroleum business is shrinking by 2040 as a result of global energy transition. In another one, Yamal gas is, by contrast, booming and acknowledged worldwide as a “transition fuel”. In two of the total three scenarios, Yamal experiences severe consequences of climate change, such as rain-on-snow events or anthrax outbreaks and mercury releases out of thawing permafrost which create life-threatening challenges for indigenous communities. The third scenario, however, projects cooling instead of warming for Yamal and Europe as a result of interaction of a number of unexpected factors. This unlikely but still possible development creates challenges and opportunities which are totally different from those in other two scenarios.

 

Participation in the scenario construction helped stakeholders to deepen their knowledge about the impact of climate change and its interaction with other factors influencing the future of Yamal and to reflect on their cognitive biases, accepting the uncertainty of the future. The second part of the project, i.e. development of the strategic options, showed them how they can act in face of such an uncertain future and proactively prepare for different possible developments. Strategic options that might be rather robust against alternative possible developments and could thus be useful under alternative scenario conditions were developed for the three stakeholder groups: local communities including indigenous peoples, oil and gas business, and Russian Federal government.  

 

Overall, this work enabled stakeholders to make unbiased and more information-based decisions about the future of Yamal, to prepare for developments they have not considered so far, and to reduce risks and identify new opportunities in times of climate change.


Welcome to the new Blue-Action blog!

Over the following months we will be featuring short pieces introducing our team, discussing climate science and sharing our research to provide a closer look at what is happening within the project.

If you would like to know more details about anything we feature, please look through the many topics on our website, or contact us for more information.


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