Climate Office for Polar Regions and Sea Level Rise

Background and Goals

Stopping, or at least slowing down, climate change, with its wide-ranging and very diverse regional effects for people and nature is one of the major challenges of the 21st Century. Whether humanity can adapt to the imminent changes in time will depend to a large extent on whether research and scientific findings can be communicated sufficiently broadly. Global networks of climate information centres, which provide significant scientific assessments particularly at regional level, can make an important contribution to decision making processes in policy, business and society.

As climate change can take different forms in different regions, farmers, coastal engineers, urban planners and political and business decision makers need first-hand information so that they can equip themselves to deal with climate change in their region. The Helmholtz community has therefore decided to establish a network of climate offices across Germany.

To do this, four regional climate offices collate and communicate research findings on regional climate change, identify information needs and integrate these into research programmes:

  1. Northern German climate office (focuses on the research areas of storms, storm floods and waves, and energy and water cycles in Northern Germany)
  2. Climate office for polar regions and sea level rises (covers climate change issues in polar regions, with particular focus on sea levels)
  3. Southern German climate office (provides expertise in regional climate modelling and extreme events such as heavy precipitation and flooding)
  4. Central German climate office (provides information on the impact of climate change in terms of the environment, land use and society, as well as proposing adaptation strategies)

Climate office for polar regions and sea level rises:

Climate fluctuations are a characteristic feature of the history of the earth. However, the final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 shows that climate change is advancing extremely quickly and that the warming over the past 50 years is highly likely to be predominantly caused by human activity.

The polar regions in particular are proving to be very sensitive to even minor changes in climate and therefore play an extremely important role in global climate events. An understanding of climate variability and change is necessary to formulate useful political concepts for climate protection and climate change adaptation strategies.

Since 1980, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Maritime Research (AWI) in the Helmholtz community has been studying the relationship between global climate and the specific ecosystems in the ocean and on land. The central focus of the research are the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute provides important research contributions to our understanding of interactions between ice, atmospheric and ocean systems.

The climate office's objectives and tasks are:

  •  Establishment of a comprehensive academic climate information services for the polar regions and rising sea levels;
  •  Provision of academic contributions to interpreting research results and deriving strategies and initiatives to protect the climate and the environment;
  •  Current summary and provision of climate-related AWI research findings;
  • Publication of research findings for target groups in business, policy and the general public as monographs, articles in journals or at conferences, in both a national and an international context;
  •  Networking with existing international knowledge;
  •  Performing a forum function for climate research;
  • Organising networking between all target groups in society;
  •  Creation of regional climate scenarios;
  •  Adopting a facilitator role between politics, business, science and the public;
  •  Interface between academic findings and practical implementation.

By setting up this regional climate office, the Alfred Wegener Institute has the conceptual and organisational framework to put the results of its specialist climate-related research in the polar regions into an appropriate and differentiated form for national and international target groups in politics, business and society.

Content time

Research area/region

Country
  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Bremen
  • Hamburg
  • Mecklenburg Western Pomerania
  • Lower Saxony
  • Schleswig-Holstein
Natural spatial classification
  • coasts: North Sea-/Baltic Sea coasts
  • North-East German lowland
  • North-West German lowland
Spatial resolution 

Polar regions

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

IPCC 2007; also creation and ongoing development of regional climate scenarios

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Sea level rise und storm surges

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

Three key questions associated with climate effects are addressed:

1. Is the earth's ice melting?

Snow and ice are characteristic of polar regions and high mountains and, in winter, also of wide lowland areas of the continents in the temperate zones. Global warming is significantly reducing snow and ice masses. This is particularly true in high Northern latitudes. The new climate report from the "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" (IPCC) makes this clear. Measurements leave no room for doubt that the Arctic is currently undergoing particularly rapid warming, in fact double that of the earth's global average. Ship and land expeditions, station data and satellite observations provide indications of significant changes in marine ice, ice sheets and permafrost, with important consequences for climate change and rising sea levels. In the Arctic, the area and thickness of marine ice is falling drastically, particularly in summer, thus having a significant impact on the ecosystem adapted to marine ice and coastal zones. By contrast, these changes are not yet evident in the Antarctic. Because of warming, glaciers and ice sheets worldwide are shrinking and their melt water is contributing to rising sea levels. At present, sea levels are rising by 3 mm/year, around 40% of which can be attributed to melt water and 60% to warming of the oceans.

2. Are sea levels rising?

There is clear evidence that global sea levels rose slowly by around 17 centimetres in the 20th Century. By contrast, much higher figures are expected for this century. The main causes of the rise are melting of inland ice and the expansion of sea water associated with rising temperatures. After the end of the last Ice Age, around 21,000 years ago, sea levels rose by 120 metres before stabilising around 2500 years ago. There were then only slight changes until 1900. Past rises in sea levels can be estimated from level measurements. Since 1990, extremely accurate satellite data has been available. The rise in global sea levels has accelerated and is currently around 3 millimetres per year. Climate models predict even sharper rises in the future.

3. What changes are occurring in the North Sea?

The time series on Helgoland in the German North Sea are unique. Since 1962, samples of the surface water have been taken at the so-called ""cable buoy"" (54° 11.3'N, 7° 54.0'E). They represent one of the most significant and comprehensive marine time series, e.g. for phyto plankton, nutrients and saline content. The trend for mean average temperatures on Helgoland over the last 45 years shows a temperature increase of 1.5 degree Celsius. In this period, it is not only the temperature that has risen - the sea level also shows clear evidence of change. Species shift can be observed both in plankton (freely drifting and floating organisms in the water) and in benthos (totality of all creatures occurring in the bed zone of a waterway).

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Time horizon
  • 2071–2100 (far future)

Participants

Funding / Financing 

Helmholtz Association

Project management 

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) (Helmholtz Association)

Contact

Alfred Wegener Institut Bremerhaven
Klimabüro für Polargebiete und Meeresspiegelanstieg
Bussestraße 24
D-27570 Bremerhaven

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Fields of action:
 biological diversity  coastal and marine protection  cross sectoral