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Centre for Polar Observation & Modelling

The Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) is a research centre that studies processes in the Earth's polar latitudes that may affect the Earth's albedo, polar atmosphere and ocean circulation, and global sea level. We use theoretical and laboratory-derived understanding to form new mesoscale models of interactions between the ice, ocean and atmosphere, and use ground and satellite observations to test the predictions of these and other climate models. CPOM is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and is part of the National Centre for Earth Observation. It has research groups in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, at the Bristol Glaciology Centre at the University of Bristol, at the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, and in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds.

Research at CPOM

CPOM pursues a wide range of projects as part of its program, typically of three years duration. The research page has a summary of the projects and provides a good summary of the range and nature of CPOM research. The research is performed by CPOM staff and students, each of whom has an entry in the people page. CPOM has a seminar series and hosts scientific meetings on polar matters of national interest, which are described in the meetings/seminars page. Links to our collaborators and other useful sites are described on the useful links page.


April 2014 Arctic sea-ice minimum predicted by spring melt ponds

The strong trend of reducing Arctic summer sea ice extent has led to interest in Arctic access for navigation, tourism, and oil exploration. Each year, scientists try to forecast the summer sea ice extent but these forecasts have been of limited skill. A new study by CPOM researchers at the University of Reading shows that melt ponds provide an unprecedented level of skill in predicting observed September sea ice extent. They find a strong correlation between May pond fraction and September sea-ice extent. The inclusion of their new melt-pond model promises to improve the skill of future forecast and climate models in Arctic regions and beyond. Read the full story in Nature Climate Change:  

March 2014 Arctic melt season length icreases

The Arctic sea ice melt season length is increasing by five days per decade, according to new research from a team including CPOM's Professor Julienne Stroeve. New analysis of satellite data shows the Arctic Ocean absorbing ever more of the sun’s energy in summer, leading to a later appearance of sea ice in the autumn. Read the full story on the University College London Mathematical and Physical Sciences webpage:  

July 2013 CryoSat-2 maps an Antarctic subglacial flood

New observations from CryoSat-2 show a 260 km2 depression in the surface of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The feature formed when a subglacial lake lying beneath 3 km of ice drained. By combining data from the CryoSat-2 and ICESat satellites, CPOM researchers at the University of Leeds and University College London found that 6km3 of water drained from the subglacial lake over a period of two years. The scale of this flood dwarfs all similar events observed by satellites and represents ~10% of melting that occurs beneath the entire ice sheet annually. The BBC news report can be found here:  

April 2013 Dr Katharine Giles Katharine Giles

It is with great sadness that we report that our talented friend and colleague, Dr Katharine Giles, died in a road traffic accident while cycling to work on the morning of Monday 8 April. Katharine had a bright future ahead of her. She was the first person to appreciate that altimeter observations between sea ice floes were more than just a stepping stone to measuring sea ice thickness and demonstrated that they could also show how winds affected the newly-exposed Arctic Ocean. It was with these ideas that Katharine was awarded a personal Fellowship from NERC and most recently a position as a University Lecturer. Katharine solved a series of problems in polar oceanography: her first paper in Nature Geoscience last year demonstrated that an accumulation of freshwater in the Arctic Ocean was due to wind-driven intensification of the Beaufort Gyre. We greatly admired the bravery and sense of purpose with which she took on the many commitments in the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling following Seymour's death. Read more here:  

Feb 2013    CryoSat-2 mission reveals major Arctic sea-ice loss

Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a CPOM-led team of scientists has discovered. Researchers, led by Professor Seymour Laxon, used new data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite spanning 2010 to 2012, and data from NASA’s ICESat satellite from 2003 to 2008 to estimate the volume of sea ice in the Arctic. Read more here, and as reported by the BBC.

Jan 2013     Professor Seymour Laxon Seymour Laxon

It is with a profound sense of shock and deep sadness that we report the death of our friend and colleague, Seymour Laxon, aged 49, following an accident on New Year’s Day. Seymour was at the heart of all the achievements and successes of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at UCL over the past two decades. His innovative research allowed him and his colleagues to use satellite altimetry over the ice covered Arctic Ocean, revealing its gravity field, surface circulation, the thickness of its sea ice cover, and, more recently still, how the changing ice cover is affecting the coupling between the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere. Seymour’s work provided much of the evidence which eventually led to the launch of the CryoSat mission, which is now - as his last paper describes - providing the first observations of the annual cycle of sea ice growth and decay throughout the Arctic Ocean. Read more here:  

April 2012     Cryosat results revealed at London's Royal Society

The first map of Arctic sea-ice seasonal variability, generated by CPOM, was presented at the Royal Society on Tuesday 24th April. The map, using data from ESA's Cryosat-2, shows the changes in sea-ice thickness over the period October 2010 to March 2011. Read more at ESA and BBC.

March 2012     First Globice project datasets released

The UCL-led ESA Globice project to model sea ice dynamics using radar data from the Envisat and ERS missions has released its first validated datasets for the Arctic winters of 2004–11. Read more here:  

Jan 2012    Western Arctic Ocean freshwater storage increased by wind-driven spin-up of the Beaufort Gyre

CPOM scientists have discovered that the freshwater stored in the western Arctic Ocean has increased by 8000 km3 between the mid 1990s and 2010 by looking at changes in the sea surface height measured by the European Space Agency Satellites ERS-2 and Envisat. Read more here:  

Jan 2012    New PHD Studentships

Five new PHD Studentships available. Find out more here  

November 2011    Duncan Wingham appointed as Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Professor Duncan Wingham will be taking over as NERC's Chief Executive from 1 January 2012. In a message to CPOM's members, past and present, he says "I have aways been proud of, and taken pleasure in, the impact that CPOM has had in the polar domain in the short period of its existence.". CPOM will of course miss Duncan and the excellent scientific insight and guidance he has provided to CPOM members over the years. CPOM wishes Duncan all the best for his new role at NERC. Read more here:  

June 2011    Duncan Wingham presents the results from the first year of the CryoSat-2 mission at the Paris Air and Space show

Professor Duncan Wingham unveiled the latest scientific results from the CPOM-led CryoSat-2 satellite at the Paris Air and Space show today. Since the launch last year CPOM and ESA scientists have been examining the data and designing new processing systems to turn measurements made from 700 km in space into maps of the ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic and of the Arctic Ocean surface. Today marked the culmination of that effort with the presentation of the first ice maps from CryoSat-2. Read more here:  

April 2011    CPOM Team head to the Arctic to Validate the ESA Cryosat Mission

Three members of CPOM are heading up to ALert, Canada, to participate in an experiment to validate data from the UCL led CryoSat mission. Read about thier progress here:  

Jan 2011    Melt-induced speed-up of Greenland ice-sheet offset by efficient subglacial drainage

Hotter summers may not be as catastrophic for the Greenland ice sheet as previously feared and may actually slow down the flow of glaciers, according to new research by CPOM. 

Dec 2010    First scientific results from CryoSat2

CPOM has used data from CryoSat to generate the first near complete map of Arctic Ocean Dynamic Topography. 

May 2010    Melting icebergs causing sea level rise

CPOM Scientists have discovered that changes in the amount of ice floating in the polar oceans are causing sea levels to rise.  

Apr 2010    Successful launch for CryoSat2

CryoSat-2 was launched on 8/4/10 at 15:57 CEST (13:57 UTC) on a Dnepr rocket provided by the International Space Company Kosmotras from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The signal confirming that it had separated from the launcher came 17 minutes later from the Malindi ground station in Kenya. 

Dec 2010    First scientific results from CryoSat2

CPOM has used data from CryoSat to generate the first near complete map of Arctic Ocean Dynamic Topography. 

Apr 2010    Successful launch for CryoSat2

CryoSat-2 was launched on 8/4/10 at 15:57 CEST (13:57 UTC) on a Dnepr rocket provided by the International Space Company Kosmotras from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The signal confirming that it had separated from the launcher came 17 minutes later from the Malindi ground station in Kenya. 

Sept 2009    Nature paper on the thinning of the Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets

The most comprehensive picture of the rapidly thinning glaciers along the coastline of both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has been created using satellite lasers. 

Sept 2009    The CryoSat2 mission

The CryoSat-2 mission is ready to map the ice fields of the Arctic and the Antarctic. Duncan Wingham explains the mission on BBC News - "Ice mission returns for a second go". 

Aug 2009    Duncan Wingham talks to The Observer

"Britain's ice man ready for a second space shot with rebuilt CryoSat probe" - the importance of launching the CryoSat-2 probe. 

Aug 2009    BBC report on GRL paper on the thinning of the Pine Island Glacier

A new study, funded by NERC and led by Duncan Wingham and Andrew Shepherd, shows the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is losing ice four times as fast as it was a decade ago.