CASPER, Wyo— To better understand the rapidly-warming climate in the Arctic, director and professor of the University of Wyoming Department of Atmospheric Science Bart Geerts is looking at cold-air outbreaks, which are poorly understood, he says. Geerts recently received a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant worth $724,331 over three years to aid in his research, according to a UW release on July 24.
According to the release, warming is arguably fastest-growing in the Arctic, with rapid sea ice loss and warming air temperatures reinforcing each other. Decreasing ice cover implies potentially more hazardous Arctic winter weather effects upon coastal communities and local transportation.
“Cold-air outbreaks [from the Arctic] have a significant impact on the global energy and water cycles, including the ocean circulation,” Geerts said in the release. “Arctic air streaming over open ocean water encourages strong surface fluxes of moisture and heat, supporting shallow, but highly-convective clouds. These occasionally spawn intense ‘polar lows,’ and both are difficult to forecast.”
“A key question is how the high-latitude changes connect to those in the midlatitude and the global climate system,” Geerts added.
Geerts’s project is one of 31 in the atmospheric sciences that received $19 million in total funding from the DOE. The projects aim to improve the power of Earth system models to predict weather and climate.
This newest grant builds on a current DOE grant under its Atmospheric System Research (ASR) program, called “Mixed-Phase Convective Clouds in the Polar Marine Boundary Layer.”
“Despite the impacts on weather and climate, cold-air outbreaks remain difficult to model,” Geerts said, because typical climate models fail to capture the dynamic processes of these kinds of clouds.
“In addition, little is known about the cloud properties; their rain and snowfall amounts; the accompanying boundary layer structure and circulations; interactions with meteorology; and surface fluxes.”
Geerts served as lead scientist on the DOE’s Cold-Air Outbreaks in the Marine Boundary Layer Experiment (COMBLE) field campaign, which gathered measurements to support modeling improvements of this mysterious cloud regime. The project took place from December 2019-May 2020 at an outdoor laboratory in far-northern Scandenavia with 20 international collaborators near a vast stretch of open water in the open sea, according to the release.
Processing the collected data with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientists will require a large supercomputer allocation from the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputing Center, said the release.
Geerts said the latest DOE grant will fund one Ph.D. student, Christian Lackner, of Mainz, Germany, who will start his studies at UW this fall.
“Atmospheric processes leading to cloud formation and precipitation are notoriously complex and difficult to model accurately,” says Chris Fall, director of the DOE’s Office of Science. “These studies, which combine observation and modeling, will be important steps toward more precise and predictive models on both regional and global scales.”