The Polar Meteorology Group (PMG) has developed expertise in atmospheric modeling in the polar regions (both Arctic and Antarctic). Atmospheric models are powerful tools to investigate the weather and climate of these data-sparse areas in ways not possible with point observations. Models can provide insight into what happened in the past or what can be expected in the future, but also allow to test some hypotheses that would not be practical in the real world.
Research conducted by the PMG involves one or a combination of two approaches:
- Numerical model development and enhancement for use in polar environments
- Polar climate investigations using atmospheric models and observations
Key areas of research include:
- Regional atmospheric modeling. The PMG has developed a polar-optimized version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model known as Polar WRF (pronounce "polar wharf"). This model is used to conduct high-resolution simulations of the Arctic and Antarctic weather and climate (see projects below). Current model enhancements focus on improving some physical parameterizations and testing the impact of the assimilation of certain types of observations into the model through its data assimilation system.
- Regional climate reanalysis. The PMG is carrying out the Arctic System Reanalysis (ASR), an ambitious blend of modeling and observations that provides a high-resolution description in space and time of the atmosphere-sea ice-land surface system of the broad Arctic from 2000 onward.
- Cloud-radiation investigations in Antarctica: The prediction of clouds over the Southern Ocean and Antarctica is the single greatest impediment to realistic weather and climate model simulations in this critically important part of the Earth System. The PMG is a principal participant in the ARM West Antarctic Radiation Experiment that has collected an extensive set of observations of the atmospheric energy balance, cloud microphysics, precipitation, and aerosol chemistry at McMurdo Station and WAIS Divide site in West Antarctica to address the cloud prediction shortcomings in high southern latitudes. AWARE is funded by the Department of Energy in conjunction with the National Science Foundation. AWARE deployed the Second ARM Mobile Facility (AMF2), which is the most advanced and complete set of equipment for atmospheric and climate science ever sent to Antarctica.
- Recent Antarctic climate change. The PMG's investigations focus on assessing the changes in Antarctic surface mass balance and temperature, two parameters that are key controllers of the state of the ice sheet and ultimately influence its contribution to sea-level rise. The sparsity of meteorological observations in Antarctica confer a key role to atmospheric modeling. Nonetheless, direct observations are irreplaceable in their ability to tell us "what happened", which is why the PMG has strived to reconstruct some important climate records, particularly from West Antarctica.
- Long-range climate linkages. The polar regions are not isolated from the rest of the globe. Indeed, their climate is subject to the remote influence from the Tropics, in particular related to the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The PMG use global climate models to further understand these interactions (known as climate teleconnections) and their role in high latitude climate change.
- Operational numerical weather prediction. The PMG has been a participant in the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) since its inception in 2000. This project uses Polar WRF to provide valuable weather guidance for Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean in support of the United States Antarctic Program. The PMG also provides Polar WRF weather forecasts for selected research programs in the Arctic.