The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) have recently announced funding for the major new SNAP-DRAGON project, to improve our understanding of a key ocean region important for climate predictability. The project, led by Oxford Earth Sciences Associate Professor Helen Johnson, will involve scientists in Oxford, Southampton, Reading, Liverpool and Oban, joining with colleagues across the US to study the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean, which stretches between the UK, Greenland and Canada. Heat released from the ocean in this area influences the storm track that determines our weather in Europe, while the sinking of water here carries heat and carbon down into the ocean interior, moderating their impact on surface temperature. The SNAP-DRAGON project will provide new knowledge of this critical region, which will help to improve predictions of ocean and climate variability in the North Atlantic and beyond.
SNAP-DRAGON will build on the results of the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Programme (OSNAP, ukosnap.org, o-snap.org) which has recently made the first ever sustained observations of the large-scale circulation in this region. SNAP-DRAGON scientists will use these observations together with numerical models of the ocean to understand what causes the large variability observed in the circulation here. The researchers will also establish what the variations in temperature and circulation tell us about future ocean and climate conditions. By figuring out how the ocean circulation here works and which physical processes are important, SNAP-DRAGON scientists will be able to assess the performance of climate models and suggest improvements.
Helen Johnson, who is leading the project, said ‘This is a really exciting project which should help us to properly get to grips with how the circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic works, and the role it plays in the climate system.’
Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre will lead the analysis of the OSNAP and other observations. A team at Oxford University will take the lead on using state-of-the art numerical models to probe the ocean physics responsible for variability and change. The SNAP-DRAGON team includes scientists at several US institutions and partners from a range of European institutions. It will bring observations and models together in a range of innovative ways to produce a step change in our understanding of the causes of subpolar ocean variability, their implications for ocean and climate predictability in this region, and the degree to which we can trust their representation in climate models.