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Changing Arctic weather monitored at 'supersites'


The Arctic will experience some of the more dramatic weather changes in Canada in coming years, according to new meteorological research on the North.

On the occasion of Arctic Science Month, NNSL Media spoke with Dr. Zen Mariani, a Toronto-based research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) about some of those weather changes.

Research by meteorological scientists with Environment and Climate Change Canada is revealing changes in weather patterns in the Arctic. NNSL file photo.


Mariani and other meteorological researchers have made observations based on the research “supersites” in Whitehorse and Iqaluit where new and specialized detection instruments are installed.

Most of them are sensors that look at precipitation, infrared light, lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) devices, and radiation flux sensors that measure solar radiation coming off surfaces.

“There are a few types of lidars. Doppler lidar that measures wind out to a very long range of three to five kilometres. We've installed another type of lidar that measures water vapour in the air out to long ranges of three kilometres above the ground,” he explained.

“They're each designed to complement one another.”

While the specialized gear at the supersites provides ECCC scientists with useful data on environmental trends, its main contribution is improving weather forecasts and making them more precise across the North.

One interesting observation gleaned from the detection site in Iqaluit is stratified wind layers.

“As you go up in height above the surface the wind direction very quickly shifts almost 180 degrees to the east or west. People in the past have observed it but no one has done long term studies of it. We've  been able to fill in gaps in observation. In Iqaluit we see these events very frequently and sometimes they're very different from weather forecasts,” said Mariani.

Other key observations relate to changes in typical weather patterns. Precipitation levels are changing all across Canada but particularly in the Arctic, as are surface temperatures.

“It depends on where you are. Some areas have more and some have less precipitation,” he said.

“We expect to see changes in the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour is an extremely important component when looking at radiation.

"Water vapour acts as a powerful greenhouse gas. It traps heat very effectively. That's going to have implications on temperatures."