Polar Ocean Physics Group

About the Group

sea ice Sea ice covers 7% of the surface of our planet. It is one of the most important and variable components of the planetary surface and is the key to understanding many basic questions about the energy balance of the Earth. The ice-covered seas represent the cold end of the enormous heat engine that enables the Earth to have temperatures suitable for human life over most of its surface. Solar radiation, absorbed by the ocean at equatorial latitudes, is transported poleward and lost through the sea ice to the atmosphere at a rate determined by the extent, thickness, and consistency of the ice cover. Sea ice also helps drive the oceanic thermohaline circulation through salt rejected by ice formation in critical regions, and directly affects climate through its high albedo, which causes sea ice retreat to have a positive feedback effect on climatic warming. These global effects are due to a material that itself experiences a huge annual cycle of growth and decay, especially in the Antarctic where almost all of the sea ice disappears in summer, while in winter its area reaches 20 million km-2.

The role of the Polar Ocean Physics Group is to study the mechanisms by which physical processes occurring in the polar seas affect the global climate and global climatic change, and the nature and magnitude of the changes that are taking place.

Funding sources have included the European Commission / EU, the US Office of Naval Research, US National Science Foundation, and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Professor Peter Wadhams has run the Group since January 1976, which until December 2002 was based in the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), University of Cambridge. In January 2003 the Group moved within the university from SPRI to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. It was previously called the Sea Ice and Polar Oceanography Group.

Text by Prof Peter Wadhams, 2002.
Updated by Oliver Merrington, POPG Webmaster,
October 2005.