Understanding climate
for the benefit of society

Research Theme

Polar Climate 

Arctic and Antarctic climate change. 


Keywords: Arctic amplification, climate models, environmental fieldwork, fieldwork, ocean heat transport, polar lows, predictability, teleconnections, sea ice


The research of Polar Climate can be summarized as cause and predictability. 

The predictability and implications of future change, e.g., with respect to marine resources and commercial activities, are of particular concern in subpolar and polar regions. This is very much the case for Norway and the Arctic, where arguably the largest gradient of present climate change and retreating sea ice is in transit through the Barents Sea, leaving ecosystems in potential limbo and the Svalbard archipelago in open waters with unprecedented local environmental change.

Cause can broadly be understood both as improving the empirical basis, and to improve the mechanistic understanding from this basis, including paleo reconstructions. Predictability, or more general, prognostic capability with respect to past and future climate, can accordingly be documented and improved. This is particularly relevant at high latitudes as global warming is most pronounced in the Arctic, and the Polar regions in general are critically sensitive to climate change.

The emerging field of climate prediction (seasons-to-decades) is nevertheless still lacking empirical evidence of what can actually be predicted. It furthermore remains unresolved to what extent change in the Arctic, and particularly in sea ice, cause subsequent and systematic response in weather and climate in lower latitudes. Closely related to the above, and in both Polar regions, is the unknown interplay between natural variability internal to the climate system and what can be attributed to global warming. Again pointing to the need for understanding cause and predictability. 

Understanding Arctic and Antarctic climates

The Polar Climate research theme will progress by considering empirical evidence, mechanistic understanding, and predictability of climatic and environmental change in the high latitudes. The understanding of present Arctic and Antarctic climates will be corroborated and extended by jointly focusing on the reconstructed climate of the past and the modelled climate of the future.

The observational basis and prognostic capabilities — ranging from weather forecasts via climate predictions to climate projections — are continuously improved by dedicated fieldwork providing new data and direct process understanding.

Present research priorities include:

  • Antarctic ice shelves.
  • field work in the ice-covered Arctic.
  • the “seamless” extension of the instrumental record with high-resolution paleo reconstructions.
  • disentangling oceanic and atmospheric influences on sea ice conditions (and vice versa).
  • the routing of freshwater, and polar weather and climate prediction, including predictability over land.
  • the general challenge of understanding the role of the polar regions in global climate.

Strategic project 

AOI - Atmosphere-Ocean-Ice Interactions in Polar and sub-polar regions, leader Einar Olason.

International, national and local cooperation

  • The national Norwegian effort of the Nansen Legacy
  • The NFR project CHASE providing high-resolution reconstructions of northern climate since LGM
  • EU-FP7 Blue-Action
  • The international the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP)
  • MOSAiC
  • Clivar-CliC’s Northern Oceans Regional Panel
  • CMIP6