Arctic Climate in Focus: CRC Launches Expedition in the Polar Region

The effect of global climate warming in the Arctic region is the focus of a major expedition starting end of May with the participation of more than 60 researchers from all over Germany. With two specially equipped research aircraft and a research vessel at their disposal, they are taking part in a complex survey covering the area between Greenland and Spitzbergen. The expedition is a project within the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) Transregio 172 “Arctic Climate Changes” led by the University of Leipzig in which environmental physicists from the University of Bremen play a prominent role.

Bremen scientists to investigate the role of clouds

“The CRC wants to examine the role played by Arctic cloud formation in the amplified climate change of the polar region. Among other things, this will be done by remote sensing carried out at sea”, says JustusNotholt, Professor at the Universität Bremen. He is deputy spokesman of the research center. Together with his colleague, Professor John Philip Burrows, he represents the University of Bremen in the CRC. Their research group will be gathering data on cloud composition and size distribution. Parallel to this, they will also be examining the composition of the atmosphere by means of measurements in the infrared spectral range.

Large-scale research

“Over the past few years, we were able to conduct several surveys on the specific behavior of clouds under Arctic conditions. This led to some important insights, but this time our investigations will enter a new dimension”, says Professor Manfred Wendisch from the University of Leipzig, which has overall control of the CRC. “We‘re thrilled at the possibility of being able to conduct our Arctic research on such a large scale.” Beside the universities of Leipzig and Bremen, the CRC encompasses the University of Cologne, the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar- and Marine Research (AWI), and the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) in Leipzig.

Ice cover depleted by more than half

According to Wendisch, over the past 25 years, the increase in the apparent surface air temperature in the Arctic is twice as much as that recorded on the global level. "This phenomenon is known as polar amplification. It leads to dramatic changes of many climate parameters in the Arctic.”

Goals of the CRC

The CRC pursues the aim to enhance the reliability of models that predict Arctic climate development by using different methods and over the long term. There are various causes of what scientists call Arctic amplification, many of them not yet fully understood. The German Research Foundation is funding the first phase of their research up to 2019 in an amount of ten million euro.

Expedition started on May 24

The current survey comprises two missions covering a period of eight weeks. On May 24, the research vessel “Polarstern” set off from Bremerhaven on May 24. And on May 22, the two planes, “Polar 5” and “Polar 6”, took off from Longyearbyen (Spitzbergen) to conduct the first aerial survey. The Polarstern expedition will end on July 20 in Tromsö, having spent almost two months collecting data covering the beginning of the Arctic melting period. Plans are already in place for additional aerial surveys in 2018 and 2019.

Forschungsflugzeug Polar 5 überfliegt das Forschungsschiff Polarstern bei einem Zwischenstopp auf Spitzbergen.
Das Forschungsfluzeug Polar 5 überfliegt das Forschungsschiff Polarstern bei einem Zwischenstopp auf Spitzbergen.