Climate: Scientists to study sea ice and precipitation in the Arctic


Finding out the causes of the sharp rise in Arctic temperatures compared to the rest of the globe, a phenomenon known as "Arctic amplification", and study its complex dynamics. This is the goal of the projects ECAPAC and SENTINEL, coordinated by ENEA and Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council (Cnr-Isp) respectively and funded by the Arctic Research Program (PRA). Specifically, the study will investigate the role of sea ice, precipitation and bromine and mercury chemistry, important indicators for sea ice changes.

The project ECAPAC[1] aims to study precipitation and ascertain its effects on snow and ice cover, which trigger the complex mechanisms behind Arctic amplification. Coordinated by ENEA jointly with the Sapienza University of Rome, National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of the Columbia University Earth Institute, it’s among the first six projects funded by the PRA 2018/2020 PRA .

Specifically, in situ and remote sensing measurements will be conducted at the Thule base (76.5 ° N, 68.8 ° W; in Greenland and new instrumentation -crucial in ground-based observations to determine and reduce climate models uncertainties and validate and correct satellite data- installed to study precipitation.

"The Arctic is a fragile region, but of strategic significance for monitoring the health of our planet; that’s why it needs to be protected and the uncontrolled exploitation of its huge resources reined in ", pointed out Alcide di Sarra, ENEA representative in the Scientific Committee for the Arctic. "Hence the importance of preserving and increasing national funding for research programs in the Arctic, fostering international scientific cooperation and free access to available research infrastructures, in line with the EU objectives ", he said.

"In order to better comprehend the developments taking place, we will systematize the data and analyses developed over the years by ENEA both in the Arctic and Antarctica, among the areas of the Earth most sensitive to climate change", pointed out Virginia Ciardini, researcher at the ENEA Laboratory of Observations and Measurements for the Environment and Climate and scientific manager of the project.

The project SENTINEL[2] instead, aims at determining the role of sea ice  in Arctic amplification and its impact on the atmosphere, in particular on the chemical processes of bromine and mercury.

Italian participants in the project include ENEA, Ca 'Foscari University of Venice, Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences (Cnr-Isac) and Institute of Polar Sciences (Cnr-Isp) as coordinator. With a three-year duration, SENTINEL ranked first among the 6 PRA- funded projects.

As part of the project, two ice cores from two different arctic regions will be analyzed, one in the Svalbard islands (Holthedalfonna glacier at 1,150 m high, coordinates 79.15 N, 13.38 E) and the other in the eastern part of the Greenland Plateau ( EGRIP site, 2,660 meters, 75.63 N, 35.99 W).

The data obtained on the variability of bromine and mercury levels  in the two areas will be compared with satellite data on sea ice extent and snow accumulation measurements taken "in the field". In addition, atmospheric transport models will be used to establish the possible provenance areas of the two chemical species. As part of the project, ENEA will be mainly engaged in the identification of source areas through atmospheric transport models and in the comparison between snow precipitation data and data obtained from the two ice cores.

"These studies will provide a better understanding of the relationship between the dramatic sea ice decline recorded in the last four decades and the atmospheric chemical processes linked to the bromine and mercury cycle", Claudio Scarchilli, researcher at the ENEA Laboratory of Observations and Measures for the Environment and Climate pointed out.

"This will give us a greater understanding of how the climate is changing and how these sudden changes affect the chemical cycle of bromine and mercury, the latter considered toxic to the Arctic ecosystem," he concluded.

In addition to the Italian institutions, some of the most important international centers for climate science collaborate on the project, including: Centre for Ice and Climate (CIC) - Niels Bohr Institute, Institute of Physical Chemistry (CSIC), Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) , Institute of Environmental Geosciences (IGE), Villum Research Station (VRS) and Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU).

ENEA in the Arctic

ENEA began its scientific investigations in the Arctic in 1990 managing, jointly with other national and international institutes, the Thule High Arctic Atmospheric Observatory (THAAO) in north-western Greenland and continues today with numerous activities in other Arctic regions.  A benchmark for the study of physics of the atmosphere and climate, the observatory is part of the international Network for Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change .

The Arctic Research Program (PRA)

Funded with three million euro by the Ministry of University and Research, the PRA is managed by the Arctic Science Committee, established by Budget Law 2018, and comprises representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the MUR, experts from the CNR, ENEA, INGV and OGS and some polar scientists. Implemented by the CNR, the PRA is part of the initiatives of the Strategia italiana per l’Artico, which pursues objectives of safety, stability, sustainability and prosperity of the area and of the commitments made by Italy with the joint declaration of the Ministers of Research on 28 September 2016 , as part of the first "Arctic Science Ministerial" held in Washington.


For more information please contact:

ENEA - Observations and Measurements for the Environment and Climate Laboratory

Alcide di Sarra – Arctic Science

Project ECAPAC: Virginia Ciardini

Project SENTINEL: Claudio Scarchilli



[1] Effects of Changing Albedo and Precipitation on the Arctic Climate

[2] The impact of sea ice diSappearance on highEr North aTlantic clImate and atmospheric bromiNe and mErcury cycLe

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