NOAA’s new Arctic Action Plan calls for enhanced weather and sea-ice forecasts
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a five-year science initiative to better understand the impact of Arctic weather and changing climate on the mid-latitude zones of the United States, where weather extremes have become common in recent years.
That science initiative is part of NOAA’s contribution to the National Strategy for the Arctic Region released by President Obama last May and the implementation plan released by the White House in January, the agency said on Monday.
NOAA, the federal agency responsible for weather forecasts and stewardship of marine resources, released its Arctic Action Plan, a document that outlines current and future programs aimed at improving oversight of the land in northern Alaska and the marine waters off the state’s northern and western coasts.
The action plan focuses on these goals:
• Better sea-ice and weather forecasts and warnings;
• More scientific research to understand Arctic climate change and effects;
• Improved management and stewardship of Alaska’s marine and coastal resources;
• Improved support of Arctic communities; and
• Increased work with international organizations like the Arctic Council.
NOAA’s work in the Arctic has been hampered by a shortage of data, the action plan said.
“Weather analysis and prediction capabilities are currently poorer in the Arctic than in other parts of the United States,” the plan said. “Major challenges for long-term modeling being addressed by NOAA include the lack of good physical data regarding winds and clouds. Although accurate forecasts and models depend upon the availability of observations, existing observations in the Arctic are very limited in both geographic scope and frequency.”
To address those problems, NOAA is planning to increase the number of data-collecting sensors on land, at sea and on satellites. Better real-time data will help NOAA better predict immediate dangers in the Arctic, such as rapid ice form-up and storm surges, the new plan said. One important task is improving resolution of sea-ice data so that finer-scale information can be acquired, according to the plan.
The plan calls for improved science, as well, to meet NOAA’s marine stewardship missions, such as additional trawl surveys to understand fish populations and more research on vulnerable marine mammal species.
The plan also calls for additional cooperative work with organizations from other countries — Russia, Japan and Norway, for example — as well as multinational organizations. One specific goal is to work with the International Maritime Organization to complete the final version of a pending Polar Code to protect Arctic waters from pollution and to mitigate safety hazards.
NOAA’s Arctic programs encompass a broad geographic scope. In addition to land in Alaska and waters above the Arctic Circle — the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas — the plan covers subarctic regions in interior and western Alaska and out to the western Bering Sea.
Currently, about 61 percent of NOAA’s Arctic budget goes to stewardship and management of natural resources, a mission that includes oversight of fisheries and marine species. Sea-ice research accounted for 3.3 percent of NOAA’s 2013 Arctic funding, according to the plan released Monday.