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Weather and ice data help secure winter shipping in the Arctic
05 December 2012
Finnish Meteorological Institute
Climate change brings changes to the Arctic region. The opening of new shipping routes creates needs for weather and marine safety services. Jouni Vainio, Senior Ice Expert at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, explored the practical needs while sailing on the multi-purpose icebreaker Nordica to Europe through the Northeast Passage in the Arctic Ocean.
During the past summer season, Arctia Shipping Ltd’s multi-purpose icebreakers Fennica and Nordica were working in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.Arctia’s icebreakers were the last ships to pass through the Northeast Passage this season. Jouni Vainio, ice expert at the Finnish Meteorological Institute who returned to Finland on the Nordica on Monday, 3 December, had made weather and ice observations while on the ship.
“The intention is to compare the observations against satellite images and weather forecasts made during the trip. The aim is to determine at practical level what type of weather and ice data the vessels working in the Arctic need and what the optimum data could be like,” Jouni Vainio explains.
During the past hundred years, mean temperatures in the Arctic areas have risen nearly twice as much as the global mean temperature. Owing to global warming, the Northern sea routes are gradually opening for commercial traffic. At the same time, the economic, political and scientific importance of the Arctic is increasing rapidly. During summer, the partly melted Arctic Ocean has gained a more important role as a key transport channel for natural resources and industrial products.Because of the special nature of the Arctic conditions, the increased marine traffic in the Arctic Ocean also offers new opportunities for Finnish know-how. The Finnish Meteorological Institute provides various ice, weather and marine services that benefit transports in the area and improve the safety of winter shipping.
Satellite images provide real time information on ice conditions
Satellite images are particularly important because satellites are the only possible means of monitoring ice conditions in large marine areas almost in real-time and with a good resolution. To this end, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and e-GEOS of Italy are launching cooperation to exploit the opportunities offered by the COSMO-SkyMed satellite system. The COSMO-SkyMed system includes four satellites providing observations from the entire Baltic Sea region and extensively from Arctic areas. The observation material is utilised, for instance, for monitoring the ice situation and changes in the northern polar region.
Combined with Finnish know-how of ice service and weather safety, the COSMO-SkyMed satellite material offers excellent new opportunities for producing innovative services for the Arctic region and the Baltic Sea. By means of the observations provided by the COSMO-SkyMed system, the Finnish Meteorological Institute can offer, for instance, increasingly accurate ice information for ice breaking operations in the area.
Extent of sea ice smaller than ever
The extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been measured by satellites since 1979.This September the extent of sea ice reached its all-time lowest value, 3.41 million square kilometres. In September, the average extent of ice was 3.6 million square kilometres, or 0.7 million square kilometres less than the previous minimum value measured in 2007. “The reduction is in line with global warming,” says ice expert Jouni Vainio.