Attaching a tag line to recover an Ice-Tethered Profiler (ITP) in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean in 2011 from the Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker, Louis S. St. Laurent. Credit: Mary-Louise Timmermans, Yale University

What is going on in the Arctic?

The Arctic Ocean environmental conditions have changed rapidly since the early 1990s. Air and water temperatures are increasing, sea ice is melting, its volume and extent are declining, permafrost is thawing, storminess is increasing, sea level is rising, coastal erosion is accelerating, and biological processes are becoming more complex and diverse. The pronounced climatic signals at high latitudes provide an exceptional opportunity to document these changes, analyze the underlying processes and consequences of such variability, improve models and methods of observations, and ultimately develop an understanding of the mechanisms driving climate that will allow for more accurate climate predictions.

What is AOMIP?

To address these Arctic challenges outlined above, the AOMIP (Arctic Ocean Model Intercomparison Project) was initiated in 1999, completed in 2012, and then continued in 2013 as FAMOS (Forum for Arctic Modeling and Observational Synthesis). The AOMIP created a broad international community of Arctic modelers who worked together to improve coupled ice-ocean models. This community-based modeling approach provides the unique opportunity to coordinate the investigation of different aspects of Arctic Ocean dynamics and thermodynamics. AOMIP (and FAMOS) differ from a typical MIP (Model Intercomparison Project) in that they are forums for collaboration, rather than a strict set of criteria for model simulations. An overall framework for the project is provided by the project participants, projects are brainstormed at the annual meetings, and work is done throughout the year via teleconferences and face-to-face meetings when possible. This allows the group to design a set of carefully-planned numerical experiments covering the most important processes and interactions and then to estimate model uncertainties.

AOMIP (and FAMOS) differ from a typical MIP in that they are forums for collaboration

Significant AOMIP contributions to Arctic research include identification and attribution of Arctic regional models’ discrepancies and errors, and recommendations for improvements of regional and global climate models by implementing new physics and parameterizations. In addition, a set of process studies providing better understanding of ocean circulation, sea level variability, sea ice characteristics, tides, and biogeochemical and ecosystem transformations was completed during this 14-year project, and about 60% of AOMIP results were published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans special issues in 2007 and 2012. Other references on AOMIP publications are available at the project’s website.

Why is FAMOS needed?

The FAMOS project’s goal is to enhance our understanding of Arctic processes based on the synthesis of model results and observations. The key word in this project is synthesis, and specifically synthesis with observations. The first major FAMOS project results for 2013-2016 were just published in the JGR: Oceans special issue “Forum for Arctic Modeling and Observational Synthesis (FAMOS): results and synthesis of coordinated experiments”. There are 40 articles by 165 co-authors in this issue. Together they present coordinated analyses of: mechanisms responsible for sea ice drift, ice growth, and deformation and melting under global warming conditions; driving forces and pathways of the Atlantic, Pacific, and river waters in the Arctic Ocean; processes of freshwater accumulation and release in the Beaufort Gyre; the fate of melt water from Greenland; characteristics of ocean eddies; biogeochemistry and ecosystem processes and change, and climate variability and predictability based on modeling together with observations.  

A box with deployment gear is slung back to the ship after installation of an Ice-Based Observatory during an expedition to the Beaufort Gyre region in 2010. Credit: Richard Krishfield, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Future FAMOS activities

Future FAMOS collaborations of the international Arctic community, supported by the NSF’s Arctic System Science (ARCSS) Program, will focus on employing models and conducting observations at high and very high spatial and temporal resolution in order to investigate the role of sub-grid scale processes in regional Arctic Ocean and coupled ice-ocean and atmosphere-ice-ocean models. Photos here illustrate typical operations during Arctic field studies using icebreakers and helicopters for deploying and recovering automated instrumentation to collect year-round data about atmospheric, sea ice, and ocean processes. These data under the FAMOS umbrella are necessary to validate models and improve weather and climate predictions.

The coordinated community approach to the investigation of Arctic Ocean variability is the only way to assess the degree of uncertainty in results and conclusions made by different modelers, scientific groups, or institutions. Furthermore, one of the highest impacts of FAMOS activity is educational; the FAMOS School promotes the growth of young scientists participating in the project. It provides guidelines for critical analysis of the existing models and fruitful improvements and developments of the Arctic models by a new generation.

—Andrey Proshutinsky, Editor, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans; email:


Proshutinsky, A. (2016), AOMIP and FAMOS for enhancing understanding of Arctic changes, Eos, 97, Published on 15 June 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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