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Climate Models as Guidance for the Design of Observing Systems: the Case of Polar Climate and Sea Ice Prediction

  • Climate Change and Snow/Sea Ice (PJ Kushner, Section Editor)
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Abstract

Purpose of review

The Arctic and Antarctic are among the regions most exposed to climate change, but ironically, they are also the ones for which the least observations are available. Climate models have been instrumental in completing the big picture. It is generally accepted that observations feed the development of climate models: parameterizations are designed based on empirically observed relationships, climate model predictions are initialized using observational products, and numerical simulations are evaluated given matching observational datasets.

Recent findings

Recent research suggests that the opposite also holds: climate models can feed the development of polar observational networks by indicating the type, location, frequency, and timing of measurements that would be most useful for answering a specific scientific question.

Summary

Here, we review the foundations of this emerging notion with five cases borrowed from the field of polar prediction with a focus on sea ice (sub-seasonal to centennial time scales). We suggest that climate models, besides their usual purposes, can be used to objectively prioritize future observational needs – if, of course, the limitations of the realism of these models have been recognized. This idea, which has been already extensively exploited in the context of Numerical Weather Prediction, reinforces the notion that observations and models are two sides of the same coin rather than distinct conceptual entities.

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Acknowledgments

The research leading to these results has received funding from the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S.-FNRS), and the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 projects APPLICATE (GA 727862) and PRIMAVERA (GA 641727).

We acknowledge two anonymous reviewers, as well as Peter Bauer, Irina Sandu, Dirk Notz and Leandro Ponsoni for useful insights and feedback on the manuscript.

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Massonnet, F. Climate Models as Guidance for the Design of Observing Systems: the Case of Polar Climate and Sea Ice Prediction. Curr Clim Change Rep 5, 334–344 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40641-019-00151-w

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