Climate change may be rearing its ugly head again in the North Pole, as an Arctic heatwave has caused temperatures to rise tens of degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.
A report from the Washington Post described how high Arctic temperatures had risen by about 36 degrees Fahrenheit last month, coinciding with record-low sea ice levels. This was a disturbing trend, as sea ice normally expands at this time of the year. But with a buoy recently reporting temperatures at the North Pole close to the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, talk of an Arctic heatwave has experts concerned about the impact of climate change on the area.
Speaking to the BBC, Oxford Environmental Change Institute senior researcher Friederike Otto said that such spikes in temperature would have been “extremely rare” before the industrial age, perhaps occurring every thousand years or so. As such, she and her fellow researchers believe that the temperature spikes in the Arctic are related to man-made climate change.
“We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations. And in all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal.”
Earlier this week, the BBC reported that warm air from the North Atlantic was expected to make its way to the North Pole, creating clouds and preventing heat from seeping out – a “feedback loop,” as Otto described it. And with ice melt still a problem, that would potentially aggravate the phenomenon, exposing darker water and land in the process, and the ice absorbing the sunlight instead of reflecting it back.
Otto also warned that the Arctic heatwave currently being experienced might become more common going forward.
“If temperatures continue to increase further as they are now, we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem.”
In its report, the Washington Post explained that the Arctic heatwave meshes with a scientific model known as “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents,” where temperatures in the North Pole warm up faster than they do in the mid-latitudes and in equatorial regions, and sea ice continues melting as temperatures go up. In other words, the theory suggests that the Arctic may keep getting warmer, and rather hot by historical standards, while the mid-latitudes, which include the United States, may get colder.
Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis spoke to the Washington Post to explain her take on the “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” theory. A paper she co-wrote in 2012 stated that the “Arctic amplification” of climate change was causing a slower-moving and more “wavy” jet stream, one that was resulting in more weather extremes not only in winter but throughout the year. She believes that the ongoing Arctic heatwave is consistent with her theory, with the jet stream’s nature bringing more heat and moisture to the Arctic.
“What I think is happening is that it’s been very warm in the Arctic all year long and this has helped favor a very wavy jet stream, which is what we’ve been seeing, and that has helped to pump a lot of extra heat and moisture up into the Arctic.”
Adding to Francis’ statement, Atmospheric and Environmental Research head of seasonal forecasting Judah Cohen told the Post about how low sea ice levels in the North Pole have made Siberia more snowy in the late fall, while also upsetting and elongating the polar vortex, as Arctic cold and mid-latitude warmth swap.
“This year, we had this unprecedented early polar vortex weakening, polar vortex split, and that really kicked off this continental cooling we’ve seen this winter. It started across Eurasia but obviously in December it’s come over North America as well, and so far there’s no signs of that going away.”
The fact that the North Pole may be experiencing its warmest Christmas in history has got scientists very concerned, and, as NASA Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory head Thorsten Markus said, it’s a “very, very unusual” trend that seems to have carried over from last year. And with the trend likely to continue as climate change continues to be a problem, Markus quipped that the Arctic heatwave might force Santa Claus to wear “a light jacket or plastic mac” to deal with the temperature changes.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]