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AICSEX - Arctic Ice Cover Simulation Experiment

Summary information

Funding:FP5 - Research project
Total cost:2424255
Ec contribution:1700000
Start date:2001-01-01
End date:2004-03-01
Duration:38 months
Coordinator:Ola M. Johannessen (
Organisation:Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Bergen (NERSC) – Norway
Themes:Temperature changes; ice melting; freshwater inflow; socio-economic impacts
Regio:Arctic; Baltic Sea
Project name:AICSEX - Arctic Ice Cover Simulation Experiment
Project summary:Objectives
The overall aim of AICSEX is to compare the natural variability and trends during the last century, for selected observed climate sensitive variables and coupled global/nested climate models, in order to assess the model capabilities for prediction of climate changes in the Arctic, Nordic and Baltic Seas in this century. In the last period, the project focused on completing the simulations and assessing the performance of the models used. Furthermore, the economic impact of a melting Arctic ice cover was assessed for fisheries, shipping, offshore and hydroelectric energy industries through a project dedicated industrial users reference group.
Project outputs:Scientific achievements
The work on AICSEX has resulted in the following achievements:
- New data sets for surface air temperature and multiple sea ice parameters in the Arctic and its regional seas, as well as new data sets for snow cover and river runoff in Eurasia.
- New knowledge of the spatial and temporal variability of temperature and sea ice, through analyses of these new data sets.
- A new high-resolution coupled Atmosphere Ocean General Circulation Model (AOGCM) for the Arctic and its regional seas.
- A new coupled model (physics-biology-geochemistry) for carbon cycle simulations for the Arctic and its regional seas.
- An assessment of the economic impact of climate change on important sectors such as fisheries, offshore industry and energy market.

In addition a number of journal papers have been submitted to refereed journals. The list of publications can be found on the project website.
A list of publications can be found on the project website. The project brochure and other materials are protected by login and password.
Socio-economic relevance and policy implications
Improvements in our ability to detect and predict regional climate and environmental change patterns improve our understanding of the various possible impacts on economic activity following changes in climatic conditions. In a long-term perspective, climatic changes will indirectly or directly bare consequences for all economic activity on a global scale. Such changes will impact consumer and producer behaviour in a wide range of markets. Change in weather conditions will give rise to change in housing requirements etc. However, the impact may first be seen in markets and economic activity directly related to the geographic areas where the changes are most distinctive. The impact will probably be first seen in economic activity in the north-east Atlantic. Several European economic activities are dependent upon the climatic conditions in this area: fisheries, marine transport and energy resources, including hydroelectric power production.

AICSEX has been dedicated to the determination of variability and trends for climate sensitive variables. Furthermore, we have used models for prediction of variables in order to assess if abrupt changes of the sea ice cover of the Arctic and Baltic Seas will occur in this century. Climate change is an international issue of great relevance and significance across Europe and beyond. Climate and ocean phenomena and their variability transcend national boundaries, as do their effects on the environment. European climate is associated with regional atmosphere-ocean variations. The inter-relationships between these phenomena and the variability of e.g. sea ice and run-off are certainly manifested on a regional scale. Climate changes are anticipated to be heterogeneous across Europe. Because of positive feedback mechanisms in the Arctic, the northern European regions are expected to be more affected by climate change and their marginal environment more susceptible to its effects.

AICSEX's contribution to European policies is manifold. First, it contributes towards expanding European scientific expertise in global climate change research in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. It provides more definitive and convincing evidence ("fingerprints") of natural variability and anthropogenic climate change for the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Europe needs to have a clear view of what is happening with global warming in global climate change policy-making, e.g. input to IPCC and Kyoto type protocols. Second AICSEX contributes towards determining, understanding, assessing and predicting climate change patterns that influence the European environment, which impact on e.g. fisheries, marine transportation, water resources and off-shore oil industry in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region. Therefore the results of AICSEX are useful for European policy makers.

A number of major publications from the project have been completed. The main conclusions are:

First, we theorise that the Arctic warming in the 1920s-1930s and the subsequent cooling until about 1970 are due to natural fluctuations internal to the climate system. Second, we believe there are strong indications that natural processes alone can explain neither the warming trend nor the decrease of ice extent and volume over the last two decades. Third, the state-of-the-art ECHAM4 (WP6) and HadCM3 coupled climate models both predict a dramatic decrease of the ice cover, which could result in a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer at the end of this century.

Though a climate change may shorten the ice season in the Baltic Sea, the natural variability will still be large. Even in the future in terms of decades, there is a need to be prepared for severe ice conditions. The overall tendency towards milder ice winters in the northern Baltic Sea does not necessarily mean that every winter would be mild and, in terms of winter navigation, easy. Considerably year-to-year variability in ice conditions are still to be expected.

Over the last 20 years passive microwave satellite data exhibit significant decreasing trends in snow extent found in Eurasia and North America, especially after 1988. The computed linear trends show a marked difference between North America and Eurasia, with a larger decrease in Eurasia than in North America. This tendency is confirmed when analysing the trends in the spring timing of the snow pack disappearance. Spatio-temporal variability is pronounced during the spring melt period. In most parts of Eurasia and the central and western parts of North America, the tendency has been for earlier snow melt. However, a large region in North-Eastern Canada exhibits a cooling trend with the spring snow pack disappearing later now than 20 years ago.

In situ and satellite-derived estimations of the Ob' river discharge at Salekhard (Russian Federation) has been compared and it is shown that Topex/Poseidon data can be successfully used for hydrological studies. The accuracy of the water discharge is good enough to estimate the daily, monthly discharges and annual water flow with an average error of 5%. For mean monthly discharges, the average errors increase to 15%, mostly due to the scarcity of valid Topex/Poseidon observations during some periods and cater discharge overestimation during the water depletion period in August-October. The introduction of new re-tracking algorithms for computing the river level will significantly increase the accuracy of the discharge estimates.

The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to observed and projected climate change and its impacts. The Arctic is likely to experience more rapid and severe climate change than any other region on Earth. Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to contribute to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun. Changes in polar climate will also affect the rest of the world through rising sea levels and increase warming of lower latitudes. Reduced sea ice cover will increase shipping opportunities and access to resources. Marine and terrestrial animal species' diversity, ranges, and distribution are likely to change, some dramatically. Also, the production of hydropower will change with changed patterns of precipitation and temperatures.

A partial equilibrium model for the Nordic electricity market has been developed. The model comprises 9 regions of which 6 are endogenous Nordic sub-markets (2 Norwegian, 2 Danish, 1 Swedish and 1 Finnish) while 3 are exogenous regions (Russian Federation, Poland and Germany). All explicit production takes place in the internal regions while the external ones only exchange power with internal regions at fixed home market prices. There are no other limits set to the external supply than the transport capacities. The model operates at regional wholesales level, and simulates a full year production and consumption with the year divided into 24 periods, covering 12 months with two load sessions (high and low) for each. The model has been successfully tested in a plain, unconstrained version, but further work is needed to handle cases where water constraints are imposed.

AICSEX has contributed to a better understanding of the climate in the Arctic and its regional seas, by synthesising and analysing new and comprehensive data sets for key parameters like surface air temperature, sea ice thickness and extent, snow cover and river runoff. AICSEX has also improved the climate prediction capabilities by developing new high-resolution atmosphere-ocean-sea ice and coupled models for carbon cycle simulations.