The German Research Foundation (DFG) supports the new Transregional Collaborative Research Centre TR 172 “Arctic climate change” represented by the speaker Prof. Dr. Manfred Wendisch, meteorologist from Leipzig University, during the next four years. In January 2016 the research network will start. Research partners in the project are the Alfred Wegener Institute, the Leipzig University, the University of Bremen, the University of Cologne and the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) in Leipzig. It is the first systematic large-scale investigation on this subject in Germany.

The scientists plan to ‘freeze’ the research vessel
The scientists plan to ‘freeze’ the research vessel "Polarstern" of the Alfred Wegener Institute to drift through the Arctic Ocean for 14 months. Photo: Mario Hoppmann

The aim of the research network is to observe the climate changes in the Arctic with a multitude of methods over longer periods in order to further develop the reliability of models to project the observed significant warming in the Arctic. The causes of this above-average warming is based on various factors that affect the Arctic climate and which are not fully understood yet. "The funding of our Transregional Collaborative Research Center (CRC) is a milestone for us. Thereby we receive generous financial resources in order to investigate a very complex research topic on a relatively long term," Prof. Manfred Wendisch said. He is the speaker of this Transregional CRC, which consists of a total of 21 subprojects. Vice Speaker of the project are Prof. Susanne Crewell of the University of Cologne and Prof. Justus Notholt of the University of Bremen.

During the past 25 years a remarkable increase in surface air temperature has been observed in the Arctic, which exceeds global warming by two to three times. This phenomenon, which is referred to as Arctic Amplification, leads to dramatic changes in a multitude of climate parameters, according to Wendisch. For example, it has been observed from satellites that Arctic sea ice has strongly retreated in the annual Arctic summer. "In the last 25 years the ice of the Arctic Ocean has decreased by more than half. It could very well be that there will be no more sea ice during the Arctic summer period in 40 to 50 years, " Wendisch said about particularly drastic effects of climate change in the Arctic.

However, climate models don’t describe this decline properly. "Therefore, it is very important to identify the origin of these discrepancies," outlines the meteorologist a core objective of the research network. To improve the accuracy of these predictions, the existing scientific knowledge and expertise of three German universities and two non-university research institutes are combined in the context of the Transregional CRC. Observations of measuring instruments on satellites, aircraft, airborne balloon platforms, research vessels and the measurements of selected ground-based monitoring stations will be integrated into certain research campaigns and combined with long-term measurements.

In the first phase of the research center the focus will be on atmospheric and surface processes, because the fast changes in Arctic climate suggest that important atmospheric factors are involved in these mechanisms. In the second and third phases, especially the interactions between oceanic and atmospheric components of the Arctic amplification and related global effects will be examined more closely. Among other measures the scientists plan to ‘freeze’ the research vessel "Polarstern" of the Alfred Wegener Institute to drift through the Arctic Ocean for 14 months. This will be the first time for this research icebreaker, which was previously almost 100 expeditions in use.