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Laura Seddon: Report on placement at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Earlier this year, I spent six weeks on placement at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET Norway) headquarters in Oslo. The placement was undertaken as part of the DurhamARCTIC’s placement scheme and was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In addition to fulfilling the placement scheme requirements, the visit features as a central part of my PhD fieldwork. The placement was originally planned to take place from 2nd February – 28th March 2020. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I was required to end my placement early by two weeks. However, I was fortunate enough to be able to complete the remaining work remotely, following my return to the UK.

For the duration of the visit, I was predominantly working alongside sea-ice scientists in the Division for Remote Measurement and Data Management, using participant observation as a primary research method. Within this division, researchers use satellite observations to develop, process, and distribute sea-ice data products. Sea-ice data products are developed at MET Norway for several vital parameters of Arctic sea ice, including, sea-ice concentration, edge, drift, and type. Through numerical and visual representations, these products provide crucial insights into Arctic sea-ice characteristics and variability, knowledge of which is necessary for a wide range of applications, including operational forecasting and climate research. Understanding how, why, and in what contexts these products are developed, constitutes a primary focus of my PhD, and so working alongside researchers in their development was an extremely valuable experience.

The majority of my time was spent working independently on a project that compared several sea-ice climate data products, produced by MET Norway scientists for the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). The project aim was to analyse and compare how different sea-ice product attributes and processing methods impact relative estimates of sea-ice concentration and extent. The group had hoped to work on this comparison exercise for a while, but due to time constraints, had not been able to do so.

I soon discovered that almost all the processing of satellite data occurs in the programming software, Python. With limited prior experience, I was required to learn the basics very quickly to make any progress in the project. While frustrating at times, I became increasingly confident in my ability to use Python to process and manipulate sea-ice data, and I began to draw some interesting conclusions, even towards the end of my first week. As well as being essential to the project, developing Python skills has provided me with first-hand experience of the methods used by scientists in sea-ice reporting. It has enabled me to get much closer to the data products, and I am continuing to apply these skills in my PhD.

During my placement, regular meetings were held to discuss my progress and initial findings. The meetings informed how the project should develop and for whom the outcomes might be of interest. These discussions have greatly advanced my understanding of the sea-ice products, as well as the research interests and activities of MET Norway scientists more generally. The meetings also provided me with valuable insights into how research objectives are influenced by the expectations and requirements of various internal and external interests.

The majority of the data processing and comparative work for the project was carried out during the placement. A subsequent report was completed following my return to the UK. The outcomes of the study provide significant insights into how the different products retrieve and interpret sea-ice conditions across various temporal and spatial scales. This information is valuable to MET Norway scientists as it offers a greater understanding of product uncertainties and biases in sea-ice concentration retrieval. Insights from this project are going to be incorporated on the product websites and will be used to inform how MET Norway detail the intended purpose of the products. In the context of my PhD, my experiences of working on this project speak to my initial research questions regarding the nature of product development and the knowledge they produce about the changing Arctic region. I intend to explore these ideas further throughout the remainder of my PhD.

By participating directly in the institution’s research activities, and through numerous informal discussions over an extended period, I developed an understanding of the contexts in which sea-ice science is conducted, as well as the working culture of MET Norway. Through my experiences, I have developed a richer understanding of sea-ice science, and I have built some important relationships within the sea-ice community. These outcomes will undoubtedly be invaluable to my development as a researcher in this field. I am very thankful for the support and patience that MET Norway scientists afforded me throughout my placement, and during the months that followed.

--- Click here to see Laura Seddon's Durham ARCTIC Student Profile ---

Sea Ice Oslofjord