Efforts to provide reliable weather and ice condition forecasts in the Arctic need to be ramped up in order to reduce the risk of environmental disasters, says the World Meteorological Organization.

About 130 members of the organization from nearly 30 countries met in Geneva this week for a summit in the lead-up to the Year of Polar Prediction planned for 2017-2019. 

Conference organizers are looking into how reductions in ice and snow cover and melting glaciers will affect weather predictions in the area.

David Grimes

David Grimes, president of the World Meteorological Organization and head of Environment Canada's Meteorological Services, says better weather prediction in the polar regions may help avoid environmental disasters. (Environment Canada)

"Our scientific understanding of these processes that operate in the Arctic are not as clear," says David Grimes, President of the World Meteorological Organization and head of Environment Canada's Meteorological Services.

"We have been looking at developing an operating ice model that is connected to both the atmosphere and to the ocean. This method helps us improve the weather forecast and gives us a better sense of how the ice may change or drift or shift over a period of days."

The group says the opening up of waterways due to environmental changes will lead to a greater number of ships travelling the Northwest Passage and growing interest in oil and gas exploration.

"In order to manage the opportunities but also the risks coming with the increased shipping, it is very important to have a reliable forecast of sea ice conditions or the occurrence of wind storms," says Thomas Jung of the Alfred Wegener Institute, and chair of the Polar Prediction steering group.

Climate prediction models of the future

The work being done on weather forecasts can also offer long-term benefits to scientists studying climate change.

"I always think that these weather prediction models are the climate prediction models of the future," says Jung.

"In that sense we are also contributing to developing the next generation of climate models which allow for projections on what to expect during the 21st century and beyond."

Jung says this information can be invaluable in the future as climate change may compromise the traditional knowledge local hunters may use to help predict the weather and ice conditions.