Arctic ocean modelers in Woods Hole

A whole delegation from AWI met at the airport in Bremen on a Monday morning in November, heading to Boston in Massachusetts. After a hectic stopover in Munich, we entered the transatlantic flight one minute before takeoff, and could relax for the next 7 hours.


Passport control in Munich – our flight is leaving very soon

Among oceanographers, the small village of Woods Hole is known for its oceanographic institute, located beautifully at the cost of Cape Cod. And for a number of years, a group of scientists working with Arctic ocean models have met here to discuss how the different ocean models can help us understand the changes happening in the Arctic.

I guess most people have some trouble understanding what an ocean model is. Firstly, it’s got nothing to do with fashion. Our models are the kind that are written by programmers and which, for example, calculate how the ocean currents run, how the Arctic sea ice changes and where phytoplankton blooms occur. Our model, FESOM, describes the global ocean. Below is a video showing the surface currents in the North Atlantic as calculated in FESOM. The ocean starts with zero velocity, and then slowly starts moving as they are affected by the winds, earths rotation etc. About halfway through the video the meandering Gulf Current is clearly visible. Pretty cool I would say. But I may be biased.

FESOM also has sea ice and my stuff – biogeochemistry. I work with describing biology in the ocean in terms of mathematical equations. It’s not the easiest thing to do, and biologists routinely look at me in disbelief – how can I be so arrogant as to think that I can describe the complexity of life through a small number of equations. And of course I can’t. But in the modeling community we try. Right now, a large focus is on the Arctic Ocean because the ice extend is so much smaller in summer than it used to be. One consequence of this is that more light reaches the ocean, and since light is necessary for photosynthesis, it may mean that marine productivity is increasing. But of course it’s not that simple. It never is.

Models can be used to understand the changes currently occurring in the Arctic, but since models are not reality, different models may get different results or they may get to the same result for different reasons. At FAMOS, we meet in working groups where we learn what other people have found out since last year, and we discuss how we can combine our knowledge to learn more. It’s a really nice meeting because of the discussion sessions, and hopefully we manage to continue our work together – even though some people are in Japan, some in Alaska and some in Europe.

Every time we visit Woods Hole, I plan to go running every morning, but in reality I’m too tired, and only end up taking the 5 km walk back to our hotel in Falmouth a couple of times instead. Which is also lovely. The downside to the meeting is that Woods Hole is so beautiful that it is difficult not to be depressed about returning to a grey Bremerhaven.

And just one more video. This is the sea ice in FESOM. The sea ice extend is mainly decreasing in the Barents Sea (North of Norway), and on the Russian shelves.

The biology is not yet on youtube, guess I should prioritize that.

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