arctic

Scientists Aghast by Off-the-Charts Arctic Temperatures, Record-Low Sea Ice

Words such as “Agast” or “stunned” don’t perhaps fully capture it, yet nevertheless we are in the midst of something quite unusual in the Arctic.

Via Zack Labe, a researcher at the University of California at Irvine, and others, we have a series of tweets and graphs that illustrate just how weird things are in the Arctic at the moment …

… and there is plenty more where that came from.

But it happens … right?

Yes, there are indeed naturally occurring variations, so you might wonder why scientists are “stunned”.

If you have access to very precise data gathered over all the decades since it has been possible to gather such precise details via satellite, then look and what you see leaves you stunned.

Below is a graph by Zack Lake that illustrates the daily 2 m surface air temperature for the Arctic.

  • It only measures the averaged tempatures captured 80°N – the polar region.
  • Individual years from 1958-2017 are shown by the sequential blue/purple to yellow lines.
  • 2018 is indicated by the red line.
  • ERA40 has been applied for the 1958-2002 climatology (white line), while the operational ECMWF is used for the current year.
  • This figure is then modified from the Danish Meteorological Institute with more information available at http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php.

Now take a good long hard look at where we are right now and bask in the observation that right now in 2018, all previous records have been smashed and 2018 is out on it’s own.

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From here …

“To have zero degrees at the North Pole in February – it’s just wrong,” said Amelie Meyer, a researcher of ice-ocean interactions with the Norwegian Polar Institute. “It’s quite worrying.”

The so-called Polar Vortex – a zone of persistient low-pressure that typically keeps high-latitude cold air separate from regions further south – has been weakening for decades.

In this instance, “a massive jet of warm air” is penetrating north, sending a cold burst southwards, said Dr Meyer, who has relocated to Hobart to research on the southern hemisphere, and is hosted by Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

“The anomalies are really extreme,” Andrew King, a lecturer in climate science at the University of Melbourne, said. “It’s a very interesting event.”

Warm, moist air is penetrating much further north than it would normally at a time when the North Pole is in complete darkness.

Cape Morris Jessup, the world’s most northerly land-based weather station, in Greenland, touched 6 degrees late on Saturday, about 35 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Robert Rohede, a Zurich-based scientist with Berkeley Earth, posted on Twitter that Cape Morris Jessup had already recorded 61 hours above freezing so far in 2018.

The previous record of such relative was just 16 hours recorded to the end of April in 2011.

“Parts of Greenland are quite a bit warmer than most of Europe,” Dr King said.

.. While researchers had pegged 2050 as a possible year when the Arctic will become ice-free, this winter and the previous one – also unusually warm – had thrown those estimates out.

“It’s going much faster than we thought,” said Dr Meyer, who will begin work later this year at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

Meanwhile, where has all that cold air gone?

It appears to have moved south and is sitting over Europe.

In essence …

  • The Arctic is warming and the sea ice is declining.
  • It is normal to get variations in the jet stream such that it transports warm moist air North into the polar region and pushes Arctic air south – It has happened about once every decade.
  • This current event is a bit different …
    • The last time something like this happened was last year, not 10 years ago
    • Normally the warm most air that pushes into the polar region would rapidly cool, but it has not been cooling as rapidly as it used to and so it pushes further North and warms things up in a manner not measured before.

It all appears to be part of a feedback loop. A rapidly warming arctic leads to disruption in the high altitude jet stream which in turn leads to an increase in the frequency of such “wacky” events.

“wacky” is actually a literal description and not an emotional response

The “Warm Arctic, Cold Continent” (WAC#C) pattern is sometimes dubbed “wacc-y” or “wacky” as a description of the warm air pushing north and shoving the colder air south on top of us.

This is one isolated event, but in the context of the bigger picture over a longer period of time, we have good cause to be greatly concerned.

To be able to see the bigger picture, Robert Rohde, the Lead Scientist @BerkeleyEarth has tweeted out a movie …

Further Reading

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