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Are we able to predict the position of the sea ice edge around Antarctica? Lorenzo Zampieri, Helge Goessling and Thomas Jung (AWI) investigate in their new study whether current prediction systems can simulate reliably the evolution of the Antarctic sea ice edge and what needs to be improved.

In the past, the Arctic region has been the main focus area of sea ice prediction, as in this area economic interests are high because of its proximity to densely populated countries. On the other hand, studies on Antarctic sea ice prediction are still sparse and a systematic investigation of the sea ice predictive skill in the southern hemisphere has been initiated only recently (e.g. SIPN South). The ability to accurately predict the ice edge position from weeks to months in advance around Antarctica is becoming increasingly important because accurate sea ice predictions are fundamental to effectively plan research activities in the Antarctic continent and because the economic interests at stake in the Southern Ocean are growing substantially. There are quite a few forecast systems that explicitly represent the Antarctic sea ice, but how reliable and correct are those in predicting the evolution of the sea ice edge? A new study by Lorenzo Zampieri, Helge Goessling and Thomas Jung (Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Science) contributes to closing this knowledge gap and to set a baseline for further investigations.

The study suggests answers two main questions: Are fully coupled forecasting systems in the Antarctic better than observation‐based benchmark forecasts in predicting the sea ice edge evolution? And does the predictive skill of dynamical forecast systems differ between the two hemispheres?

The investigation of the Subseasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction Project database, which has shown to be valuable to study the Arctic sea ice prediction, has been extended to Antarctica with a robust assessment of the forecast skill over a relatively long period of time (>10 years). “We have been applying what has been learned for the Arctic to the Antarctic and trying to make a comparative assessment between the two hemispheres”, explains Lorenzo Zampieri, the lead researcher of the study. “Our conclusion is that current sea ice forecast capabilities in the Antarctic should be used carefully since forecast errors are relatively large and forecast skills in Antarctica are in general behind those of the Northern Hemisphere.” Only one forecast system outperformed two observation-based benchmark forecasts for at least one month.

Further research should focus on the improvement of forecast models and initialization techniques, together with further in situ observations to better understand the physical processes at the atmosphere‐sea ice‐ocean interfaces. If this is done, sea ice forecasts will be a valuable resource to support human activity in the Southern Ocean in the near future.

The full open-access article is available here.