Brrrrrrrr: Arctic ice loss responsible for our chilly spring

by Cassady Craighill

March 27, 2013

Ice Floe in the Arctic

Aerial view of an ice floe from Greenpeace's expedition to document Arctic sea ice reaching the lowest level on record.

© Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

Although it’s Cherry Blossom festival time in Washington D.C., Greenpeace’s United States headquarters, we’re still bundled in our winter gear. Turns out that the same warmer temperatures causing Arctic ice loss at record-breaking speeds are responsible for the extreme winter weather and cold temperatures experienced in much of Europe and North America. The ice loss in the Arctic broke a previous 2007 record shrinking 18 percent, according to data published by National Snow & Ice Data Center last fall.

Below is an excerpt from The Guardian explaining just how scientists have discovered the connection between Arctic ice loss and the bitterly cold spring you may be experiencing.


“The sea ice is going rapidly. It’s 80% less than it was just 30 years ago. There has been a dramatic loss. This is a symptom of global warming and it contributes to enhanced warming of the Arctic,” said Jennifer Francis, research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science.

According to Francis and a growing body ofother researchers, the Arctic ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere which shifts the position of the jet stream the high-altitude river of air that steers storm systems and governs most weather in northern hemisphere.

“This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes,” she said. “It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It’s now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around,” she said.

Francislinked the Arctic temperature rises to extreme weather in mid latitudes last yearandwarned in Septemberthat 2012’s record sea ice melt could lead to a cold winter in the UK and northern Europe.

She was backed by Vladimir Petoukhov, professor of Earth system analysis at Potsdam Institute in Germany, whose research suggests the loss of ice this year could be changing the direction of the jet stream.

“The ice was at a record low last year and is now exceptionally low in some parts of the Arctic like the Labrador and Greenland seas. This could be one reason why anticyclones are developing,” he said.

The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures which have marked March 2013 across the northern hemisphere are instark contrast to March 2012when many countries experienced their warmest ever springs. The hypothesis that wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere would explain both the extremes of heat and cold, say the scientists.


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Cassady Craighill

By Cassady Craighill

Cassady is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based on the East Coast. She covers climate change and energy, particularly how both issues relate to the Trump administration.

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