On Earth Day, look north to the Arctic! DOE invests in research to better understand the Arctic’s importance to our Earth’s overall sustainability.
Let’s explore some of the Arctic projects funded by the DOE Office of Science:
What do changes in the Earth’s atmosphere mean for the Arctic and the planet’s future? DOE lab researchers and university scientists are looking for the answers in clouds, precipitation patterns and ice data from the north slope of Alaska. Data from fixed instruments, balloons, unmanned aircraft—and even a snowflake camera—at the ARM observatories on the North Slope of Alaska have given scientists insight into weather patterns, air/water temperatures, and sea ice. For example, they collected data on how liquid and ice in Arctic clouds act as blankets to warm the surface by reducing the cooling that happens naturally by radiation into space. Their research--conducted year-round, often in darkness and in sub-zero temperatures--is critical to our ability to predict and understand climate change impacts. .
Climate forecasting accuracy is dramatically increasing with high performance supercomputers at the national labs that analyze global climate data at resolutions 30 times finer than previous typical resolution for global climate models. Scientists can capture weather events, such as cold snaps, with more accuracy.
With more accurate data on weather variables--including snowfall, humidity, sunlight, and wind--they can more accurately model climate change impacts. For example, the models can help researchers predict Arctic air and water temperatures that lead to sea ice retreat and sea-level rise, and forecast coastal flooding, which can impact Arctic ports, fishing operations, or community infrastructure.
Data collected from Arctic tundra, forests and permafrost areas will improve understanding of how climate change affects Arctic vegetation. Experiments conducted near Utqiaġvik and Nome shed light on how water, nitrogen, carbon, and energy interact. Understanding these links between land, precipitation, and vegetation enables scientists to better predict how plants—and the Earth’s ecosystems--will respond to future climate change.
For example, warmer summers and increased permafrost melting can lead colder water to flow into Arctic streams, affecting vegetation and the wildlife depending on it. Lab researchers hope to better understand if and where the Arctic becomes wetter or drier, and the implications for ecosystems throughout Alaska and around the world.
By gathering and analyzing the data from these and other Arctic-related projects, scientists are working to help us answer questions that are vital to our energy future. Making decisions about our future energy generation, transmission and delivery begins with accurate forecasting and data.