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Antarctic Operational Meteorology



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Antarctic Operational Meteorology

This paper recalls the work of the many staff members of the Bureau of Meteorology who, as ANARE expeditioners, have carried out the uncomfortable task of observing the high southern latitude atmosphere over the past half century and those in both Antarctica and Australia who have attempted to record, analyse and understand its mechanisms.


"Operational" meteorology involves the continuous activities of observation, synoptic analysis and prediction, the compilation of a comprehensive climatic record, the provision of practical forecast and advisory services and the relevant essential international cooperation. It also extends to the research and development activities necessary to maintain and improve such services. For Australia, and in particular the Australian Antarctic Territory the responsible authority is the Bureau of Meteorology established in 1908 which has contributed staff and resources to ANARE since the latter's inception in 1947, and in partnership with the Antarctic Division, CSIRO and the universities has sought to advance a wider understanding of Antarctic meteorology.

The initial and continuing activity has been concerned with surface and upper air observation at Antarctic stations employing conventional meteorological instruments and modern radiosonde and radar technology. Such observations provide a vital input for global weather analysis, prediction and research carried out both in Australia and other countries. Early experiments with Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) have led to the most recent units which employ compact and efficient energy sources and report via satellite. Such AWS provide the basis to extend an efficient and effective international surface observing network across the entire continent. Similarly, ocean buoys drifting in the Southern Ocean including the sea-ice zone now further increase the data coverage of the region.

The most significant observational technique which has led to a better understanding of the weather of high southern latitudes has been the increasingly sophisticated range of meteorological sensors flown on the polar orbiting operational and research satellites. These provide visible and infra-red imagery of cloud, ocean and ice surfaces and enable estimates to be made of vertical atmospheric temperature and moisture structure. In addition, wind vectors derived from cloud motion observed from geostationary satellites and microwave scatterometer observations of winds at the sea surface derived from research satellites are now available.

Developments in observational networks and methods have been progressively introduced in major international experiments beginning with the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957–58, the First (Global Atmospheric Research Programme) Experiment (FGGE) of 1978–79 and the Antarctic First Regional Observing Study of the Troposphere (FROST) of 1994–95. These have evolved in parallel with the other major 20th century advance in meteorology viz the development of numerical weather analysis and prediction using increasingly more powerful computers and detailed models to predict meteorological fields to greater accuracy and to finer geographical resolution. Australia has played a significant part since the IGY in providing a centre for the day to day analysis and prediction of Southern Ocean and Antarctic weather systems and such activities are now demonstrating a continuous improvement in accuracy resolution and forecasting skill. In the specific Antarctic context the Australian Antarctic Meteorological Centre (AMC) was established at Casey in 1991 and in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology's Regional Forecasting Centre in Hobart is making a very significant contribution to the understanding of high southern latitude weather systems and to the provision of practical guidance material particularly for aviation and marine activities of ANARE and other Antarctic operators.

Operational meteorology and related communication activities in Antarctica are guided by the World Meteorological Organization's Working Group on Antarctic Meteorology which co-ordinates and monitors international programs. Australia has been active in this area and Australian activities in Antarctic operational meteorology are generally regarded as a model by many other countries.

People in Bright Sparcs - Streten, Neil Anthony

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Streten, N. A. 1997 'Antarctic Operational Meteorology,' ANARE Jubilee Science Symposium (in press).

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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