The polar and cold regions comprise the Arctic, Antarctica, high altitude areas, as well as the global permafrost regions. Even though they are only sparsely populated, the polar and cold regions play a significant role in the context of climate change, sea level rise, and water availability. In the “Polar and Cold Regions” team, the processes leading to changes in the Earth’s cryosphere are being analyzed and quantified relying on remote sensing data. Long time series of different sensors (multispectral, Radar, passive microwave) often constitute the basis for this research. We want to find answers to the question how climate change is affecting the polar and cold regions and which consequences these processes might entail for both nature and society.
One research focus of the team is the global snow cover and its dynamics. Up to 50% of the Northern Hemisphere is snow covered during winter, but short term weather anomalies as well as long term effects of climate change influence snow cover distribution, duration, and amount. This results in alterations of water availability, the global radiation balance, and affects tourism, flora and fauna. To better understand these processes, the “Global SnowPack” has been developed, which is based on daily satellite observations and provides information such as snow cover duration, snow cover onset/melt, deviations from long-term mean conditions, as well as other products. The “Global SnowPack” product is processed and analyzed on a monthly and yearly basis. The influence of climate change on glaciers and snow cover in mountain regions is of particular importance. Therefore, long-term processes such as the global retreat of glaciers, shorter snow cover seasons and snow line elevation shift to higher altitudes are being researched in our team as well.
An additional field of our research is the investigation of the dynamic changes of glaciers and ice shelves as a consequence of climate change in Antarctica. We utilize remote sensing data originating from Radar sensors and a combination with additional satellite-based and airborne observations to quantify the ongoing processes. This results in time series of high resolution glaciological parameters such as glacier extent, glacier velocity, ice shelf extent, change of altitude and mass balance of glaciers. The analysis of these time series allows for detailed conclusions about glacier and ice shelf development during the last decades as well as an assessment of potential future developments.