WMO support for Shipping in Polar Waters

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update on 29 Sept 2022


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Climate change and accelerating sea‐ice melt in polar regions are opening up new polar shipping routes and increasing summer availability to traditionally ice‐locked areas. Due to challenges of weather, communications and positioning (e.g. poor satellite coverage), the Arctic may become one of the highest risk areas in the world for the safety of life and property at sea. Reliable marine weather forecasts and knowledge of the state of the sea and sea ice are crucial for safe navigation and planning voyages in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.  Specialist skills in ice navigation are also needed to support the safe passage of ships in polar waters. In cooperation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), WMO supports the UN International Convention for Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) through the provision of maritime safety information, including in polar waters. In order to improve such services, WMO is promoting the collection of cryosphere and weather observations from ships sailing in polar regions. This is guided by the IMO Polar Code.

WMO contribution to Arctic Shipping Best Practice Portal

Polar Code Part I A – Safety measures

Chapter 1: General

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WMO provides information for integrating weather, climate and hydrological data, environmental information and weather-climate predictive tools in the Arctic region, for example through its World Weather Watch (WWW), the Marine Meteorological and Oceanographic Services, the Global Cryosphere Watch and other components of the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS) as well as its World Climate and Weather Research Programmes (WCRP and WWRP). This is the general link to the WMO's public website.

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The World Meteorological Organization's Global Cryosphere Watch (GCW) is an international mechanism for supporting all key cryospheric in-situ and remote sensing observations. To meet the needs of WMO Members and partners in delivering services to users, the media, public, decisions and policymakers, GCW provides authoritative, clear, and useable data, information, and analyses on the past, current and future state of the cryosphere.

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WMO has various in situ observation programmes in polar waters.

The joint WMO-IOC Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP) established two action groups for the polar regions, the International Arctic Buoy Programme (IABP, 1991) and International Buoy Programme for Antarctic Buoys (IPAB, 1994).

IABP focuses on the Arctic Ocean and its marginal seas, excepting Exclusive Economic Zones, with an expected resolution of 250km×250km. It aims to provide meteorological and oceanographic data for real-time operational requirements and research purposes including support to the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the World Weather Watch (WWW) Programme. As of June 2020, there were 223 buoys operational, thanks to a high number of deployments in the MOSAiC station. For more details on IABP data, see http://iabp.apl.uw.edu/.

IPAB (jointly WCRP/SCAR) investigates south of 55°S and that region of the Southern Ocean and Antarctic marginal seas within the maximum seasonal sea-ice extent, in 500km×500km grids. It is designed to provide meteorological and oceanographic data for real-time operational requirements and research purposes. In June 2020, there were 65 operational buoys, leaving most of the Southern Ocean still sparsely sampled. For more details on IPAB, see http://www.ipab.aq/.

With Minamata Convention taking effect in 2020, the DBCP is taking necessary measures to assist Members to migrate to mercury-free instruments, including environmental stewardship discussion at the recent 36th DBCP session, http://goosocean.org/DBCP-36.

Under the Ship Observations Team (SOT), mostly fast-moving Voluntary Observing Ships (VOS) regularly gather meteorological data (including sea ice) in the Arctic with manned or automated weather stations wherever the equipped ships navigate;

The Ship of Opportunity Programme (SOOP) deploys XBTs on mostly quarterly repeated lines which lead at least partly into the Arctic region and collect sea temperature profiles from the surface to 1000m.

Radiosondes (Automated Shipboard Aerological Programme-ASAP) for upper air soundings are only launched in this area as part of research ship activities. The latter operates inter alia in the Arctic region as part of the GO-SHIP repeat hydrography programme, with data collection from the surface to the seafloor of the highest quality and a full set of parameters. Some GO-SHIP lines are repeated every or at least every second year, but most of them (including the transpolar line on the map below) are sampled only once per decade. Neither in SOT nor GO-SHIP exists a particular working group or performance indicator with a focus on polar matters.

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WMO's World Weather Research Programme advances society's ability to cope with high-impact weather through research focused on improving the accuracy, lead time and utilization of weather prediction. It has several activities focused on the Arctic region, including the Year of Polar Prediction.

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WMO’s Polar Prediction Project is a decade-long initiative from 2013 to 2022. It is promoting cooperative international research enabling the development of improved weather and environmental prediction services for the polar regions, on time scales from hours to seasonal. Within this decade, the Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP), covered the period from 2017 to 2019, during which time, there were intensive to intensive observation and modelling campaigns in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. YOPP significantly improved our environmental prediction capabilities for the polar regions and beyond, on time scales from hours to seasons. Because of various teleconnections, the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live. YOPP evaluated the improvement of weather and climate prediction worldwide with the improved polar observational network. The connection to longer time scales is through the World Climate Research Programme’s Polar Climate Predictability Initiative.

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The World Climate Research Programme (cosponsored by WMO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the International Council for Science) provides the science underpinning changes in the climate worldwide, including in the Arctic.

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The Polar Climate Predictability Initiative (PCPI) is an initiative of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), whose goal is to improve the understanding of the predictability of climate and the effect of human activities on climate. The PCPI has focuses on polar regions and their role in the global climate system and aims to improve the predictability of the climate system on all time scales by improving our understanding of the underlying physical mechanisms and their representation in climate models.

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Chapter 2: Polar Water Operation Manual

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The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) website displays the marine forecast and warning products that are provided to mariners via SafetyNet and NAVTEX, as part of the Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS), within the framework of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The worlds' oceans have been divided into 21 areas, called METAREA's, for the provision of marine products to shipping. The products displayed are issued by the National Meteorological Services (NMS) appointed as WWMIWS Issuing Services. METAREA Coordinators are assigned to coordinate the provision of the marine services for each area. Canada, Norway, Russian Federation have responsibilities in the respective METAREAs in the Arctic polar waters.

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WMO provides its guidance documents to support shipping in the Arctic Waters.

The WMO No. 558 Manual on the Marine Meteorological Services is designated to facilitate cooperation in respect of the international coordination of marine meteorological services (MMS); to specify obligations of Members in the implementation of MMS, and to ensure uniformity in the practices and procedures employed in achieving these.

The WMO No. 471 Guide to the Marine Meteorological Services is to describe the requirements for the various types of service; explains the rationale for the agreed methods of providing services, and gives guidance on how to set up and maintain marine meteorological services.

The WMO No. 574 ‘Sea Ice Services in the World’ contains a description of sea ice, methods of observation and the basis of ice information services; It also lists the sea-ice information services of 17 countries according to region, describing the organization, data acquisition, output products and forecasts, and giving details of publications and postal addresses.

The WMO No. 259 Sea Ice Nomenclature provides a snapshot of the WMO Sea Ice Nomenclature.

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Chapter 8: Life saving appliances and arrangements

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The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) website displays the marine forecast and warning products that are provided to mariners via SafetyNet and NAVTEX, as part of the Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS), within the framework of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The world's oceans have been divided into 21 areas, called METAREA's, for the provision of marine products to shipping. The products displayed are issued by the National Meteorological Services (NMS) appointed as WWMIWS Issuing Services. METAREA Coordinators are assigned to coordinate the provision of marine services for each area. Canada, Norway, Russian Federation have responsibilities in the respective METAREAs in the Arctic polar waters.

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The WMO No. 485 Manual on the Global Data-processing and Forecasting System is designed to facilitate cooperation in data-processing and forecasting among Members; to specify the obligations of Members in the implementation of the World Weather Watch (WWW) Global Data Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), and to ensure adequate uniformity and standardization in the practices and procedures employed in achieving these. Some Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC) are defined to cope with Marine Environmental Emergency Response (MEER) and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations.

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Chapter 9: Safety of navigation

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The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) website displays the marine forecast and warning products that are provided to mariners via SafetyNet and NAVTEX, as part of the Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS), within the framework of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The world's oceans have been divided into 21 areas, called METAREA's, for the provision of marine products to shipping. The products displayed are issued by the National Meteorological Services (NMS) appointed as WWMIWS Issuing Services. METAREA Coordinators are assigned to coordinate the provision of marine services for each area. Canada, Norway, Russian Federation have responsibilities in the respective METAREAs in the Arctic polar waters.

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Chapter 11: Voyage planning

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The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) website displays the marine forecast and warning products that are provided to mariners via SafetyNet and NAVTEX, as part of the Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS), within the framework of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The world's oceans have been divided into 21 areas, called METAREA's, for the provision of marine products to shipping. The products displayed are issued by the National Meteorological Services (NMS) appointed as WWMIWS Issuing Services. METAREA Coordinators are assigned to coordinate the provision of marine services for each area. Canada, Norway, Russian Federation have responsibilities in the respective METAREAs in the Arctic polar waters.

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Arctic RCC Network and Arctic Climate Forum

Based on the WMO Regional Climate Centre’s (RCCs) concept and as a legacy of the 2007-2008 International Polar Year, the Arctic Regional Climate Centre Network (ArcRCC-Network) has been established in May 2018. The ArcRCC-N is a centre of excellence that links Arctic national meteorological and ice services and provides regional climate products and services. Canada leads the forecasting services, Norway the data services and Russia the monitoring services. Currently, Norway provides overall coordination of the Network activities. The Network members are committed to providing on a regular basis all the products and services, including climate data, monitoring, and long-range forecasting, as defined in the Implementation Plan.   The Arctic Climate Forum (ACF), a flagship activity of the ArcRCC-Network serves as a platform that brings together climate experts and sector representatives from countries, e.g. from the indigenous community, shipping, tourism, hunting, ice-breaking, etc., to produce consensus-based climate prediction and information, with input from global and regional producing centres and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, with the aim of gaining substantial socio-economic benefits in climate-sensitive sectors. Since 2018 ACF sessions occur every May (physical meeting) and October (online meeting) to produce a seasonal outlook on temperature, precipitation, sea ice, and snow cover for the summer and winter seasons respectively. The ArcRCC-Network coordinates this activity and provides technical input to ACF building on atmospheric, oceanic and ice data sets from observing networks, model outputs, and satellites.

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The WMO No. 9 Volume D: Information for Shipping contains Marine meteorology and other related geophysical information necessary for safe and economic conduct of shipping operations, as well as for fishing and other marine activities, is made available to the user by the various Meteorological Services of maritime countries. The provision of this information is coordinated by WMO. Chapter 4 Part C contains the ship weather routing services.

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The WMO No. 485 Manual on the Global Data-processing and Forecasting System is designed to facilitate cooperation in data-processing and forecasting among Members; to specify the obligations of Members in the implementation of the World Weather Watch (WWW) Global Data Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), and to ensure adequate uniformity and standardization in the practices and procedures employed in achieving these. Some Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC) are defined to cope with Marine Environmental Emergency Response (MEER) and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations.

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Chapter 12: Manning and training

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WMO has designated various Regional Training Centres (RTC) around the world, to provide training and course for marine meteorological forecasting, sea ice analysis and forecasting.

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The first International Symposium on “Extreme Maritime Weather: Towards Safety of Life at Sea and a Sustainable Blue Economy” was held in London at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Headquarters from the 23rd to 25th October 2019. Jointly organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the IMO, over 200 participants from over 40 different countries attended, representing both private and public sectors, and including Ministers and Ambassadors.

There were 2 sessions dedicated to discussion on strengthening sea ice services and service delivery in the polar regions. The recommendations from the Symposium are to integrate Sea Ice Information into ECDIS by S-411 standards; to develop and standardize the communications of the sea ice information to the ships; to approve established standards for ice forecasters and analysts, and to improve iceberg models to predict location, drift, and deterioration in the face of the greater challenge by a changing climate and the increased vessel traffic in the polar regions.

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Polar Code Part II A: Pollution Prevention Measures

Chapter 1: Prevention of Pollution by Oil

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The WMO No. 485 Manual on the Global Data-processing and Forecasting System is designed to facilitate cooperation in data-processing and forecasting among Members; to specify the obligations of Members in the implementation of the World Weather Watch (WWW) Global Data Processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS), and to ensure adequate uniformity and standardization in the practices and procedures employed in achieving these. Some Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC) are defined to cope with Marine Environmental Emergency Response (MEER) and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations.

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Technical Guidance of Sea Ice Services

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Access to Sea Ice service products

The International Polar YearIPY Ice Logistics Portal is a joint initiative of the former JCOMM-Expert Team on Sea Ice and Polar View, aimed at creating a convenient point of access to operational sea ice information produced by the world’s ice services. Access to products is provided via a series of pre-defined regions for both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Since the primary focus of the IPY Ice Logistics Portal is on operational sea ice data (i.e. ice charts), only the most recent information is displayed for any given region. Click the banner below to access the IPY Ice Logistics Portal.

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