‘Beyond the extreme’: Scientists marvel at ‘increasingly non-natural’ Arctic warmth
1 February, 2017
Arctic temperature difference from normal during January. (WeatherBell.com)
The Arctic is so warm and has been this warm for so long that scientists are struggling to explain it and are in disbelief. The climate of the Arctic is known to oscillate wildly, but scientists say this warmth is so extreme that humans surely have their hands in it and may well be changing how it operates.
Temperatures are far warmer than ever observed in modern records, and sea ice extent keeps setting record lows.
Unfortunately, influxes of "warm" air from both the Pacific/Atlantic Oceans this week will likely continue preventing #Arctic sea ice growth
Veteran Arctic climate scientists are stunned.
At the North Pole, the mercury has rocketed to near the melting point twice since November, and another huge flux of warmth is projected by models next week. Their simulations predict some places in the high Arctic will rise over 50 degrees above normal.
One chart, in particular, is a jaw-dropping and emblematic display of the intensity and duration of the Arctic warmth. It illustrates the difference from normal in the number of “freezing degree days,” a measure of the accumulated cold since September.
Because data is sparse in this region, David Titley, a professor of meteorology at Penn State and Arctic climate expert, suggested “a little” caution in interpreting the chart but said he considers it “basically right” given other data. “This is another ‘smoking gun’ pointing to rapid climate change,” he said.
Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, called the chart an “incredible” depiction of the Arctic warmth. “While the magnitude of the Arctic warmth is extraordinary in and of itself, the duration of the warmth has been astounding,” he said.
Climate scientists say there is no single cause for the remarkable warmth, but posit it is due to natural variations in the Arctic climate superimposed on a long-term warming trend resulting from human activity.
Walter Meier, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and an expert on Arctic sea ice, explained that the recent lack of sea ice and warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures have “kept air temperatures higher than normal, especially in the Barents and Kara Seas” between Greenland and Siberia. “A series of storms tracking from the south has led to repeated influx of warm air and ocean waters into the region,” he said. Such an influx is predicted next week.
Sun, the chart’s creator, pointed to a recent lack of cold polar high pressure systems over the Arctic, which block heat and moisture transfer from mid-latitudes. “Now Atlantic and Pacific storms blow right into the central Arctic and transform the area from a cold, dry desert into a wet and stormy ocean,” he said.
But it’s unclear and perhaps unlikely that this set of conditions, which has essentially opened the floodgates for an onslaught of warmth into the Arctic, represents a permanent state.
“I think we should be cautious, especially considering the resiliency of sea ice, when discussing the warming trend,” Labe said. “It remains uncertain the role natural variability may be having in individual years such as this one.”
Yet the human influence on climate in the Arctic may be redefining the so-called natural variability, said Chip Knappenberger, a climate scientist at the Cato Institute. “Natural variability is itself is becoming increasingly ‘non-natural’ as it includes influences which themselves are shaped by anthropogenic activities,” he said.