Interview with Arctic Council Observer: World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

21 July 2020
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) became an Observer to the Arctic Council in 2017. It has ever since been involved in the Council’s high-level meetings and nominated contact points for all six Working Groups. Most WMO participation to date has focused on two of the Working Groups: the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) - cooperating on topics such as environment and climate and safety at sea.

What pressing issues in the Arctic are of interest to WMO?

There is a growing concern and recognition of the importance of polar regions for the global Earth system. Both the Arctic and the Antarctic play fundamental roles in regulating and responding to a changing climate in many ways e.g., changing sea-ice, melting ice sheets and carbon uptake. The Arctic is seeing unprecedented rates of change, challenging current scientific capacity to monitor and predict what is now becoming a journey into uncharted territory. The changes we are seeing have repercussions not only on the global climate and weather systems, but also directly affect Indigenous peoples in the Arctic and are changing marine and terrestrial ecosystems. These changes, coupled with increased enhanced economic activity as new areas and shipping routes open, are resulting in a growing need for better observations, predictions, and targeted services, in particular for weather, sea ice and climate, in order to make effective decisions and mitigate risks to people, governments, businesses and the environment.

An effective solution to this growing need is to develop a regionalized approach toward the development of improved weather and climate products and information to support service delivery activities.
WMO is actively engaging with Iceland on one of its Arctic Council Chairmanship priorities: to further the circumpolar meteorological and oceanographic cooperation to improve safety at sea. This can support safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic, as well as prevent emergencies, and enable search and rescue preparedness and response.

In addition, WMO aims to work with the Arctic Council to strengthen the engagement of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and Ice Services in Arctic matters, as a mechanism to deliver the strategic goals of both WMO and the Arctic Council

How do you work with the Arctic Council to tackle pressing issues in the Arctic?

WMO became an Observer to the Arctic Council in 2017. It has ever since been involved in the Council’s high-level meetings and nominated contact points for all six Working Groups. Most WMO participation to date has focused on two of the Working Groups: the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, AMAP (environment and climate) and Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, PAME (safety at sea). It should be remembered that all Arctic States are members of WMO and that WMO can support NMHSs in their role in delivering their countries’ mandates in the Arctic Council.

Through WMO’s strategic goals, the organization is well-placed with its members to contribute to the pan-Arctic challenges identified by the Arctic Council. WMO, in its recent reform, has adopted an earth system observation and prediction approach to address socially relevant impacts of atmospheric, hydrological, ocean, and cryospheric change. WMO is well positioned to facilitate addressing critical knowledge gaps in pan-Arctic earth systems science, observations, as well as predictive and dissemination capacities. WMO is actively working with its Members to develop pan-Arctic earth system prediction systems to help Arctic communities become more resilient to extreme events, climate change and development pressures, both terrestrial and marine-based. Additional information on WMO Arctic activities are outlined below:

Science and Innovation

Supporting internationally coordinated research efforts to significantly improve our environmental prediction capabilities for the polar regions and beyond, on time scales from hours to seasonal, is the goal of the Polar Prediction Project (PPP) of the World Weather Research Programme (WWRP). Its key activity, the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), was officially launched on 15 May 2017. Taking place from mid-2017 to mid-2019, YOPP fostered intensive extra observation activities and modelling campaigns in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. As YOPP moves into its consolidation phase (2019-2022) WMO aims to ensure that the outcomes translate into improved services.

WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) participates in many polar environment research initiatives and has connections to polar weather and climate through e.g. short-lived climate forcers and black carbon. Such synergies are already being explored with AMAP and the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP). In particular, GAW is actively participating in the activities of AMAP’s Short-lived Climate Forcers (SLCF) Expert Group, the Pan-Eurasian Experiment (PEEX) and the Air Pollution in the Arctic: Climate, Environment and Societies initiative (PACES) and is represented in their respective boards.

Most comprehensive atmospheric composition observation stations in polar regions are GAW stations. GAW is also collaborating with the GlobalSMEAR (Station for Measuring Earth surface – Atmosphere Relations) initiative, SMEAR is an approach towards integrated Global Earth observatory.

Air Pollution in the Arctic: Climate, Environment and Societies (PACES) is an IGAC/IASC-co-sponsored initiative, which aims to review existing knowledge and foster new research on the sources and fate of Arctic air pollution, its impacts on climate, health, and ecosystems, on the feedbacks between pollution and natural sources, on climate responses, and on societal perspectives, including sustainability, adaptation and economic feedbacks. PACES coordinates international research efforts on these topics in collaboration with existing and planned initiatives such as Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution (HTAP), AMAP, PEEX, YOPP, International Arctic Systems for Observing the Atmosphere (IASOA), Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) and ArcticStar - Solution-oriented, transdisciplinary research for a sustainable Arctic and motivates trans-disciplinary research related to Arctic air quality.

WMO is also represented in the IUGG/IAMAS International Commission on Polar Meteorology (ICPM). The International Commission on Polar Meteorology (ICPM) is a focus for research into the meteorology and climatology of the Arctic and Antarctic. It is one of the ten commissions of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (IAMAS), which is in turn part of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG).

The WMO/IOC-UNESCO/ISC World Climate Research Programme carries out a range of climate research in the Arctic, particularly through its Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) and Global Energy and Water Cycle (GEWEX) Core Projects.

Co-sponsored with the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), the Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level group (ISMASS) aims to promote research on the estimation of the mass balance of ice sheets and its contribution to sea level change, to facilitate the coordination among the different international efforts focused on this field of research and to contribute to the diffusion, to society and policy makers, of the current scientific knowledge and the main achievements in this field of science. Related to this, the WCRP Grand Challenge on Regional Sea-Level Change and Coastal Impacts focuses on all components of global to local sea level changes and will consider the necessary analyses on global and regional climate change data and simulations, extreme events and potential impacts, including the evaluation of sea level rise impacts for coastal zones.

CliC leads several Model Intercomparison Projects that feed directly into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, for example the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison for CMIP6, ISMIP6 brings together a consortium of international ice sheet models and coupled ice sheet-climate models to fully explore the sea level rise contribution from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet. Other Model Intercomparisons focus on snow, soil moisture, marine ice sheet, glaciers and sea ice in order to improve specific areas of future climate models.

WCRP also has a Grand Challenge on Melting Ice and Global Consequences, which has the overall aim to consolidate historical observations from a range of sources, and focus effort on better representing the shrinking cryosphere in climate models used to make quantitative projections that underpin the IPCC Assessment Reports.

Polar-CORDEX(Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment - Arctic and Antarctic Domains) aims to produce an improved generation of regional climate change projections for input into impact and adaptation studies.
The CliC/CLIVAR Northern Ocean Regional Panel, serves as a forum for the discussion and communication of scientific advances in the understanding of climate variability and change in the Oceans.
WCRP carries out a range of activities focused on permafrost, for example the CliC/IPA Permafrost Research Priorities: A Roadmap for the Future.

Services and Infrastructure

WMO is actively engaged with the Council’s Working Groups PAME and Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) on maritime safety issues. The main objective is to support effective implementation of the Polar Code and clarify how to collect information of use to maritime administrations, to better understand the Polar Code requirements and how to improve WMO’s approach with regard to how WMO can contribute to its implementation. WMO also supports the coordination and provision of meteorological and oceanographic information for marine pollution emergency response operations outside waters under national jurisdiction under the terms of MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. WMO works closely with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to support work on the effective implementation of the Polar Code and MARPOL. There are also the METAREA Coordinators for every sea region who are responsible for delivering weather related Maritime Safety Information via Satellites to the ships.

WMO Regional Climate Centres (RCCs) are centers of excellence that create regional climate products including climate monitoring, long-range forecasts in support of regional and national climate activities and thereby strengthen capacity of WMO Members in a given region to deliver better climate services to national users. Based on the WMO RCCs concept, and as a legacy of the 2007-2008 International Polar Year, the Arctic Regional Climate Centre Network (ArcRCC-N) was established in May 2018. ArcRCC-N is a center of excellence that links Arctic national meteorological and ice services and provides regional climate products and services. Canada leads the long-range forecasting services, Norway the data services and Russia the monitoring services. Currently Norway provides overall coordination of the Network activities. The Network members committed to provide on a regular basis all the products and services as defined in the Implementation Plan. This initiative falls well within the objectives of the Arctic Council, especially AMAP and its Climate Expert Group. AMAP has been engaged actively in the definition of requirements for the Network and the dissemination of results. All relevant information and products are accessible through a dedicated website

The Arctic Climate Forum (ACF) is a flagship activity of ArcRCC-N, it serves as a platform that brings together climate experts and sector representatives from countries to produce consensus based climate prediction and information, with input from global and regional producing centers and NMHSs, with the aim of gaining substantial socio-economic benefits in climate sensitive sectors. The key objectives of the ACF are to build a platform for sustained engagement with end-users and learn about the use of climate information as well as their needs, raise awareness of end-users about climate products and services, co-design and co-develop useful output products, issue a consensus statement on the current status and potential evolution of the Arctic climate on a seasonal scale.

What are you currently working on?

WMO has been involved with several AMAP activities such as its Arctic Meteorological and Climate Workshop (November 2018, Copenhagen), during which a number of WMO activities (e.g. WCRP and GCOS) were presented.

WMO GAW was one of the co-organizers of the “Arctic Interdisciplinary Studies – ARCTIS2019”: international interdisciplinary training workshop in the Russian Arctic, on 18-22 February 2019. The ARCTIS2019 meeting was designed to cover practical and theoretical blocks accompanied with the field workshops, lectures, plenary talks, presentations and project development session. The meeting was organized and funded by the UK Polar Network and the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists in Russia (APECS-Russia) together with partner organizations.

The Global Atmospheric Watch Urban Research Meteorology and Environment project (GURME) jointly with the Helsinki University co-organized the workshop “Arctic Urbanization under Environmental Change” on 14-15 January 2020, initiated and submitted a new EU H2020 project proposal on Sustainable Northern Urbanization. This workshop aimed to gather research questions on Arctic urbanization under environmental and climate change undertaken from the social science, humanities and natural sciences perspectives with a particular focus on potential work in Nadym and Salekhard, Russia, and Tromsø, Norway, and any other city of interest. The idea is to establish a series of studies around the Arctic in cities that represent different environments and conditions. The workshop was also co-organized by the international initiative Air Pollution in the Arctic: Climate, Environment and Society (PACES), the Pan Eurasian Experiment (PEEX) and the WMO-GURME with financial support of The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).

WMO attended PAME Working Group meetings in 2018 and 2020. For PAME-II 2018 (Vladivostok), WMO presented on the work of marine services and research in supporting meteorological work in the Arctic region. This was in the spirit of promoting meteorological work – the theme promoted by the Finnish Chair of the Arctic Council at the time. For 2020 PAME-I (Oslo), the representative from WMO gave a presentation on the WMO-IMO Symposium on Extreme Maritime Weather (from October 2019). The Symposium, amongst several themes, had a dedicated polar session about maritime safety.

The PAME Best Shipping Practices Team is of particular interest to WMO, with respect to the maritime safety and SOLAS. In May 2018, WMO attended the Best Shipping Practice Forum in London and presented on the work of WMO in the WWMIWS. The Team was due to meet in May 2020 in London at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). WMO was invited to give a summary presentation of relevant outcomes from the WMO-IMO Symposium on Extreme Maritime Weather. Due to COVID-19, this has been postponed to a later date.

In November 2019, WMO co-hosted with Iceland an Arctic Earth System Modelling Workshop, with a broad participation, including representatives of AMAP. The outputs of the workshop are integrated in the recommended strategy of WMO for polar regions, developed within the framework of the Strategic Plan, and for delivery in the new Governance structure. The recommendations of this review will be presented at the Second Meteorological Summit to be hosted by Iceland in May 2021. The Arctic Council Working Groups are active participants in this review.

WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch is actively engaged in the work of the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), and is a contributor to the implementation of the initiative on the Roadmap for Arctic Observing and Data Systems (ROADS):

  • panel member at the Arctic Observing Summit, in March 2020, on Arctic Observations in the context of Global Observing Initiatives;
  • co-authored the publication of “Value tree for physical atmosphere and ocean observations in the Arctic”, 2019, under the Chairmanship of Finland;
  • WMO hosted the Polar Data Forum in November 2018.

The active collaboration between SAON Arctic Data Committee and the WMO Information System, through GCW, has two immediate priorities:

  • Working towards interoperable Arctic Data Systems and
  • the integration of observing requirements, with an immediate focus on sea ice. The role of WMO as a convener, at the international level, is essential in addressing critical issues across multiple domains, for example WMO/GCW have initiated an international intercomparison on sea ice products with broad engagement of polar communities, which will be formalized through the dedicated session at the ESA workshop on Earth Observations for Polar Science, 28-30 October 2020.

WMO emphasised the need to focus on climate change impacts facing the Polar regions, at the COP-25 in Madrid. WMO is also preparing to highlight polar ocean issues at the upcoming 2nd UN Ocean Conference (postponed due to COVID - date TBC) in an effort to spotlight global attention to supporting ocean-climate research and observations for services.

WMO is looking forward to exploring future collaborations with the Arctic Council and its Working Groups.