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Climate Programme Summary

The launch of a radiosonde weather balloon at Halley Research Station.
The launch of a radiosonde weather balloon at Halley Research Station.

Science Leader: Dr John King (jcki@bas.ac.uk)

Introduction

The polar regions exert controls on global sea level, the carbon cycle, and atmospheric and ocean circulation. The climate of the polar regions is controlled by complex interactions between the Sun, the atmosphere, ocean and sea ice, making accurate prediction of regional climate a formidable challenge. Predicting how polar climate may change is therefore an essential part of understanding the global climate system.

The Climate programme uses observations from both polar regions to improve our understanding of how natural and human-induced factors contribute to climate change.

Programme Goals

  • To explain changes in atmospheric circulation, temperatures and sea-ice extent in both polar regions over the past 50 years and to determine how much of this change is due to human activity and how much is a result of natural factors (including solar variability)
  • To improve the representation of polar climate processes in large-scale models, using targeted observations
  • To improve climate predictions in the polar regions on the space and timescales needed by the international scientific community (including glaciologists, oceanographers and biologists)
  • To maintain a programme of high-quality, long-term observations in the Antarctic using instruments at BAS research stations and remote field sites
  • To understand the controls on energetic particle precipitation in the upper atmosphere, and the ways in which particle precipitation can impact on the middle and lower atmosphere through changes in chemistry and wave propagation

Delivering the Results

Important progress has been made in predicting the impacts of global climate change at regional scales. However, predicting the impacts of climate change in the polar regions is more uncertain than elsewhere on Earth. The Climate programme will examine the causes of climate variation through an integrated programme of observations, data analysis and modelling studies.

Using a global network of radio receivers and satellite data, the Climate programme will measure particle input to the atmosphere from terrestrial, solar, and galactic sources. It will investigate associated changes — in atmospheric chemistry, temperature, and winds — using ground-based radiometry and radars in the Polar Regions, and satellites.

Predictions of warming over Antarctica through the 21st century (expressed as degC per decade) from a weighted mean of the outputs of climate models used in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Predictions of warming over Antarctica through the 21st century (expressed as degC per decade) from a weighted mean of the outputs of climate models used in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Climate programme will also develop a global model of the Earth’s radiation environment for different solar conditions. BAS scientists will use this to calculate particle precipitation into the Polar atmosphere; to understand how particle precipitation can impact on the middle and lower atmosphere through changes in chemistry and wave propagation; and to provide input to global atmospheric circulation models.

Sophisticated radars and optical instruments deployed in Antarctica will observe winds and waves in the middle atmosphere. It will then be possible to study how dynamical processes can vertically couple the atmosphere, from the geospace (which includes the Earth’s upper atmosphere), down to the Earth’s surface.

Global and regional climate models — together with analyses and observations of the atmosphere from the polar regions — will be used to identify the drivers of variability and change in the polar climate system. This will improve predictions of future polar climates.

Measurements made using instrumented aircraft, surface-based facilities, and remote sensing will provide new insight into the processes that control the atmosphere-ice-ocean system in the polar regions, and lead to a better representation of these processes in large-scale models. The Climate programme will continue long-term atmospheric measurements at BAS research stations to serve the needs of the weather forecasting and climate research communities.

National and International context

Improved descriptions and interpretations of recent climate variability at high polar latitudes will lead to better-constrained predictions of future polar climate and contribute to the ongoing work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Programme Information

Science Leader:
John King (jcki@bas.ac.uk)

Related NERC Science Themes:
Climate system
Earth system science
Natural hazards

The programme will also contribute directly to several international initiatives, including the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment (ACCE) project; and the Climate and Weather of the Sun-Earth System (CAWSES) initiative. BAS scientists are co-investigators on a number of international satellite missions.

Long-term measurements will contribute to the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the World Weather Watch (WWW) of the World Meteorological Organisation.

The Climate programme addresses the NERC Climate System Theme. It represents a significant part of the UK national effort directed at the Climate System Theme challenge to increase knowledge of the role of the polar and tundra regions in the global climate system. The work will also contribute directly to the Climate System Theme action on developing methods for quantifying uncertainty in predictions of regional and local climate change and climate impacts.

Glossary of terms
Particle precipitation
The process whereby charged particles, which are usually trapped in space by the geomagnetic field, are scattered into the atmosphere. It is responsible for charged particles striking the atmosphere, altering atmospheric chemistry, and causing different types of aurora (or northern lights).
Wave propagation
The transfer of wave energy, such as sound waves and radio waves, through a medium such as the atmosphere.
Vertical coupling
Mechanisms by which one layer of the atmosphere can effect the layers above and below it.
Geospace
The region extending from out into space where the Earth's magnetic field is dominant. It is highly variable, but extends out to approximately 64,000 km towards the Sun, and an unknown distance, beyond the moon, on the anti-sunward side of the Earth.