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The free troposphere is the location of important weather and climate processes. Here, horizontal and vertical transport of energy, mass, and momentum take place, and it holds greenhouse gases, water vapor, and clouds. The free troposphere therefore plays an important role in global climate feedback processes. Mountains provide important ecosystem services for a large lowland population. Mountain ecosystems may react particularly strongly to climatic changes. This is because mountains intersect important environmental and geoecological boundaries such as the snow line and the tree line. In a changing climate, these boundaries may shift. Climate change thus affects mountain glaciers, water resources, and mountain ecosystems. Climates of mountains and of the free troposphere have attracted scientists of the enlightenment and have been studied scientifically at least since the 18th century. High-altitude observatories were installed in the late 19th century, and upper-air measurements were started soon afterwards. However, even in the early 21st century, the climate observing systems do not well cover mountain regions and specifically mountain peaks. The temperature of the free troposphere is dominated by horizontal and vertical transport of sensible and latent heat, condensation and release of latent heat, and radiation to space. Mountain peaks sometimes reach into the free troposphere, but at the same time also share characteristics of surface climate. They are strongly influenced by radiative processes of the surrounding surface, while during the day they are often within the atmospheric boundary layer. With respect to climate change, temperature trends are amplified in the tropical upper-troposphere relative to the surface due to latent heat release, while in the Arctic the surface warms faster than the free atmosphere due to strong inversions and due to feedback processes operating at the surface. Mountain peaks may see both types of amplification. Several processes have been suggested to cause an elevation dependent warming, the most important of which arguably is the snow-albedo feedback. Elevation dependent warming is also seen in model studies and in observations, although detecting this signal in observations turns out rather difficult outside the tropics due to high variability and sometimes low-data quality. The observed climatic changes are expected to continue into the future.


Rasmus Benestad

The Barents Sea is a region of the Arctic Ocean named after one of its first known explorers (1594–1597), Willem Barentsz from the Netherlands, although there are accounts of earlier explorations: the Norwegian seafarer Ottar rounded the northern tip of Europe and explored the Barents and White Seas between 870 and 890 ce, a journey followed by a number of Norsemen; Pomors hunted seals and walruses in the region; and Novgorodian merchants engaged in the fur trade. These seafarers were probably the first to accumulate knowledge about the nature of sea ice in the Barents region; however, scientific expeditions and the exploration of the climate of the region had to wait until the invention and employment of scientific instruments such as the thermometer and barometer. Most of the early exploration involved mapping the land and the sea ice and making geographical observations. There were also many unsuccessful attempts to use the Northeast Passage to reach the Bering Strait. The first scientific expeditions involved F. P. Litke (1821±1824), P. K. Pakhtusov (1834±1835), A. K. Tsivol’ka (1837±1839), and Henrik Mohn (1876–1878), who recorded oceanographic, ice, and meteorological conditions. The scientific study of the Barents region and its climate has been spearheaded by a number of campaigns. There were four generations of the International Polar Year (IPY): 1882–1883, 1932–1933, 1957–1958, and 2007–2008. A British polar campaign was launched in July 1945 with Antarctic operations administered by the Colonial Office, renamed as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS); it included a scientific bureau by 1950. It was rebranded as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 1962 (British Antarctic Survey History leaflet). While BAS had its initial emphasis on the Antarctic, it has also been involved in science projects in the Barents region. The most dedicated mission to the Arctic and the Barents region has been the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which has commissioned a series of reports on the Arctic climate: the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report, the Snow Water Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) report, and the Adaptive Actions in a Changing Arctic (AACA) report. The climate of the Barents Sea is strongly influenced by the warm waters from the Norwegian current bringing heat from the subtropical North Atlantic. The region is 10°C–15°C warmer than the average temperature on the same latitude, and a large part of the Barents Sea is open water even in winter. It is roughly bounded by the Svalbard archipelago, northern Fennoscandia, the Kanin Peninsula, Kolguyev Island, Novaya Zemlya, and Franz Josef Land, and is a shallow ocean basin which constrains physical processes such as currents and convection. To the west, the Greenland Sea forms a buffer region with some of the strongest temperature gradients on earth between Iceland and Greenland. The combination of a strong temperature gradient and westerlies influences air pressure, wind patterns, and storm tracks. The strong temperature contrast between sea ice and open water in the northern part sets the stage for polar lows, as well as heat and moisture exchange between ocean and atmosphere. Glaciers on the Arctic islands generate icebergs, which may drift in the Barents Sea subject to wind and ocean currents. The land encircling the Barents Sea includes regions with permafrost and tundra. Precipitation comes mainly from synoptic storms and weather fronts; it falls as snow in the winter and rain in the summer. The land area is snow-covered in winter, and rivers in the region drain the rainwater and meltwater into the Barents Sea. Pronounced natural variations in the seasonal weather statistics can be linked to variations in the polar jet stream and Rossby waves, which result in a clustering of storm activity, blocking high-pressure systems. The Barents region is subject to rapid climate change due to a “polar amplification,” and observations from Svalbard suggest that the past warming trend ranks among the strongest recorded on earth. The regional change is reinforced by a number of feedback effects, such as receding sea-ice cover and influx of mild moist air from the south.


Rasmus Fensholt, Cheikh Mbow, Martin Brandt, and Kjeld Rasmussen

In the past 50 years, human activities and climatic variability have caused major environmental changes in the semi-arid Sahelian zone and desertification/degradation of arable lands is of major concern for livelihoods and food security. In the wake of the Sahel droughts in the early 1970s and 1980s, the UN focused on the problem of desertification by organizing the UN Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) in Nairobi in 1976. This fuelled a significant increase in the often alarmist popular accounts of desertification as well as scientific efforts in providing an understanding of the mechanisms involved. The global interest in the subject led to the nomination of desertification as focal point for one of three international environmental conventions: the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), emerging from the Rio conference in 1992. This implied that substantial efforts were made to quantify the extent of desertification and to understand its causes. Desertification is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon aggravating poverty that can be seen as both a cause and a consequence of land resource depletion. As reflected in its definition adopted by the UNCCD, desertification is “land degradation in arid, semi-arid[,] and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variation and human activities” (UN, 1992). While desertification was seen as a phenomenon of relevance to drylands globally, the Sahel-Sudan region remained a region of specific interest and a significant amount of scientific efforts have been invested to provide an empirically supported understanding of both climatic and anthropogenic factors involved. Despite decades of intensive research on human–environmental systems in the Sahel, there is no overall consensus about the severity of desertification and the scientific literature is characterized by a range of conflicting observations and interpretations of the environmental conditions in the region. Earth Observation (EO) studies generally show a positive trend in rainfall and vegetation greenness over the last decades for the majority of the Sahel and this has been interpreted as an increase in biomass and contradicts narratives of a vicious cycle of widespread degradation caused by human overuse and climate change. Even though an increase in vegetation greenness, as observed from EO data, can be confirmed by ground observations, long-term assessments of biodiversity at finer spatial scales highlight a negative trend in species diversity in several studies and overall it remains unclear if the observed positive trends provide an environmental improvement with positive effects on people’s livelihood.