A helping hand for our national obsession

An international team of climate scientists led by the University of East Anglia will measure for the first time the influence of the atmosphere over Greenland and Iceland on the weather in Northern Europe.

The mountainous region at the southern tip of Greenland produces hurricane-strength ‘tip jets’, ‘barrier winds’ and ‘mesoscale cyclones’ which ‘force’ the overturning of the ocean. The atmosphere here also impacts on weather downstream in the UK some three to four days later. The experiment will make detailed measurements of weather features that are influenced by the flow around Greenland. For example, small cyclones known as ‘polar lows’ can sometimes produce heavy snow in North-West Europe.

The pioneering research led by Dr Ian Renfrew of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences comes at the start of the International Polar Year which begins on March 1 and is launched in the UK by HRH the Princess Royal on Feb 26.

“In Britain we tend to view medium-range weather forecasts with a certain scepticism, so it is very exciting to be part of a project which could significantly improve their accuracy,” said Dr Renfrew.

“Though we have suspected for several years that the mountainous presence of Greenland has a strong influence over our own weather, this will be the first time that its impact has been observed.”

This will be the first time that this area has been targeted with additional meteorological observations aimed at improving subsequent weather forecasts.

Richard Swinbank, who is leading the Met Office team, said: “We will identify areas where additional targeted observations should be particularly beneficial, and afterwards we will check the benefit that the extra observations had on our forecasts.”

The intention is that this targeting will help to improve forecast quality during the experiment, and also help with designing the observational networks of the future.

As well as improving predictions of UK weather, the research will also fill in missing gaps in the existing climate change models, such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its major report on February 2. This will help to improve both the accuracy and the long-term range of climate change predictions.

From February 21 to March 10 the researchers will take to the skies over Greenland in a specially adapted aircraft, supplied by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM), to conduct the Greenland Flow Distortion Experiment (GFDex) experiment. The team includes scientists from the UK, Canada, Norway, Iceland and the US. The UK Met Office is a project partner and the research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

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