City of Ilulissat on Greenland. Photo by Terje Heiestad.
City of Ilulissat on Greenland. Photo by Terje Heiestad.

New tool can predict short-term climate changes

The ARCPATH tool can become a game changer in both the private and public sector.

Noel Keenlyside is one of the researchers from the project: Arctic Climate Predictions: Pathways to Resilient, Sustainable Societies (ARCPATH). He explains how the ARCPATH tool can be used in the Nordic countries to meet the challenges faced by climate change and other environmental impacts of human activities.

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Noel Keenlyside is one of the researchers from the ARCPATH project. Photographer: Thor Brødreskift, University of Bergen

What is the basic concept of the ARCPATH tool?

“In ARCPATH we are using numerical models as a tool to predict changes in climate. We focus on predicting changes from seasons to several years into the future, and on scales that are relevant to society.  A particularly novel aspect is to focus on these shorter timescales that are of immediate concern to society. Thus, the predictions are a tool for society to help us cope with today’s changing climate. While the long-term effects of climate change are well known, they are difficult for the private and public sectors to incorporate in decisions that they make now. In this respect, climate prediction is analogous to weather forecasts, which allow us to plan our activities over the next few days.

The climate predictions (ARCPATH tool) that we have been developing use advanced statistical techniques (data assimilation) to combine contemporaneous observations of the climate with modern Earth System Models. Observations of the ocean and sea ice are particularly critical for climate prediction. It is the use of observations that distinguishes climate predictions from the long-term climate change scenarios presented in the IPCC Assessment Reports. In ARCPATH we have developed climate predictions using two Earth System Models and with a regional climate model. These concepts are presented in detail in the book chapter “The Climate Model: An ARCPATH Tool to Understand and Predict Climate Change."

How can research results from ARCPATH meet society demands? 

“ARCPATH research can help meet societies demands through the provision of more detailed information of how the climate in the Nordic region will be over the next few years.

To be concrete, you might take a look at the prediction of ocean temperature for the next 1 and 5 years. You can see a cooling is predicted in the North Atlantic that reduces the global warming effects in the Nordic Seas. These changes reflect shorter term fluctuations of the climate system that can sometimes weaken and sometimes accelerate the pace of global warming. Importantly, these oceanic changes can influence the atmospheric weather patterns. Thus, the predictions can provide oceanic information of importance to fisheries, sea ice information relevant to activities in the Arctic, and atmospheric information of importance to energy, agriculture, and infrastructure sectors.

The two ARCPATH models (Norwegian Climate Prediction Model (BCCR) and the Danish/Swedish system (SMHI/DMI) contribute to the predictions on this website, but also to the newly established World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Global Annual to Decadal Climate Updates.

Another important aspect is to make the climate information accessible to society. This requires the close collaboration between the providers and the users of the predictions. This activity forms the basis of the rapidly developing field of ‘climate services’. To be concrete, the temperature predictions above are unlikely to interest many users directly. The users will be more interested in how the temperatures will affect them. For the fisheries sector, this will mean translating the information to a form that can be used in their fisheries outlooks. In ARCPATH we have explored how these forecasts could be used by the whale tourism industry in Iceland. Thus, ARCPATH is also developing the research approaches required to develop useful climate services for the Nordic Region.”

What difference has it made to have Nordic research collaboration on this field?

“ARCPATH has allowed the major climate centers in the Nordic region to work together to develop climate predictions for the region. Sharing of knowledge, data, and computing infrastructure has allowed us to make greater progress in improving models and use of observational data. It has also facilitated the interaction with marine biologist and social scientists that is required to develop knowledge that is directly useful to society.”

How can we strengthen the Nordic research collaboration even more in the future?

“NordForsk funding allows the pooling of expertise and infrastructure to accelerate the development of knowledge and tools that are urgently required by society to meet the challenges faced by climate change and other environmental impacts of human activities. The Nordic region is being greatly affected by the rapid warming of the Arctic that is 2-3 times faster the global mean. I feel it is important to continue to bring together research expertise on this problem. In my opinion it is also important to strength interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary research, bringing researchers in different disciplines together with public and private sector institutions that are directly impacted by climate change. It is also very important to bring together climate and ecological sciences to develop knowledge and tools for understanding and predicting how climate and other human activity (e.g., pollution, habitat destruction, fisheries) will affect the ecosystem.”


Kyösti Lempa

Kyösti Lempa

Special Adviser