JAMSTEC > Research Institute for Global Change (RIGC) > Institute of Arctic Climate and Environment Research (IACE)  > Arctic Ocean and Climate System Research Group

Institute of Arctic Climate and Environment Research (IACE)

Arctic Ocean and Climate System Research Group

Finding the Current Status and
Trends of the Arctic Environmental Change

The Arctic Ocean used to be covered with sea ice almost all of the year, so it was a “quiet ocean”. But because of global warming there is now less ice and the ocean is exposed to the atmosphere, allowing it to be directly affected by the wind; consequently, the Arctic Ocean is becoming an active ocean. Melting of the sea ice is also associated with ocean warming, freshening, and acidification, which is greatly changing the environment. Additionally, because the sun now shines directly on this formerly ice-covered ocean, changes have begun to appear in the activities of marine organisms. Such changes are not confined to the ocean, for there are changes in snowfall in the regions around the Arctic. Perhaps owing to the decrease in the Arctic sea ice, snow now falls earlier in the year than before. If land that has warmed in the summer is covered with snow before it has cooled, the snow acts as “blanket” and keeps heat in the ground. This is believed to thaw the frozen ground known as permafrost. It may sound a little strange to say that “early snow accumulation warms the ground,” but this is a real phenomenon.

As this shows, we can now find various rapid changes of environments in the Arctic and its surrounding regions. But what exactly is changing, and how much? How fast are those changes occurring, and what directions are they taking? At this time we do not have enough data to quantitatively assess these changes. As such, our goal at the Arctic Ocean and Climate System Research Group is to ascertain the status and trends of Arctic environmental changes, and for assessing the impacts of Arctic changes on the global climate system. Furthermore, for each phenomenon occurring in the Arctic, it is important to determine the processes which answer the question, “Why do these things happen?”

We are conducting expeditions in the Arctic Ocean using the research vessel (R/V) Mirai to measure ocean and atmospheric conditions; collect samples of seawater and sediments; and perform other tasks. We are installing moored observation systems to collect observation data year-round even in marine areas that freeze over in the winter. Further, we are collecting valuable data on land around the Arctic Ocean to investigate changes of hydrological cycles, underground temperatures, and other factors. We believe these studies are indispensable for building the foundation of Arctic research. Modeling experiments using the Earth Simulator supercomputer are also essential for a detailed understanding of the current and future status and trends.

In recent years, reduction of the Arctic sea ice in summer has enabled R/V Mirai to sail over an expanded range. Because we can now study marine areas that were previously covered by sea ice, there is a greater possibility that we can obtain new data and knowledge. These data will be used to understand the Arctic’s current and future status and trends.