Arctic 2016 winter temperature is breaking records

The Washington Post, 18th February 2016, reports: New data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that January of 2016 was, for the globe, a truly extraordinary month. Coming off the hottest year ever recorded (2015), January saw the greatest departure from average of any month on record, according to data provided by NASA.

Global warming has long been known to be particularly intense in the Arctic — a phenomenon known as “Arctic amplification” — but even so, lately the phenomenon has been extremely pronounced.

This unusual Arctic heat has been accompanied by a new record low level for Arctic sea ice extent during the normally ice-packed month of January, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center — over 400,000 square miles below average for the month. And of course, that is closely tied to warm Arctic air temperatures.

The low sea ice situation has now continued into February. Current ice extent is well below levels at the same point in 2012, which went on to set the current record for the lowest sea ice minimum extent:

So what’s causing it all? It’s a complicated picture, say scientists, but it’s likely much of it has to do with the very strong El Niño event that has carried over from 2015. But that’s not necessarily the only factor.

“We’ve got this huge El Niño out there, we have the warm blob in the north-east Pacific, the cool blob in the Atlantic, and this ridiculously warm Arctic,” says Jennifer Francis, a climate researcher at Rutgers University who focuses on the Arctic and has argued that Arctic changes are changing mid-latitude weather by causing wobbles in the jet stream. “All these things happening at the same time that have never happened before.”

In Alaska, matters have been quite warm but not record-breaking this winter, says Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service in the state.

“It’s been another warm winter in Alaska,” Thoman says. “No other way to put it. This is the third in a row that’s been significantly warmer than normal.” Alaska’s winter so far (taking into account the months of November, December and January) has been the third warmest on record since 1925, he says.

Still, it all fits a by-now familiar picture of an Arctic warming up considerably faster than the mid-latitudes, with consequences that could extend far outside of the polar region, says Rafe Pomerance, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who sits on the National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board.

Impacts of Arctic warming are usually considered in isolation, and that’s a mistake, he says. “It’s unravelling, every piece of it is unravelling, they’re all in lockstep together,” Pomerance says. “What tends to happen is, everybody nationally reports on the latest piece of news, which is about one system. You hear about the sea ice absent the temperature trend. So you really have to think of it as a whole.”

Source: The Washington Post, 18th February 2016. For the full text, see www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/02/18/scientists-are-floored-by-whats-happening-in-the-arctic-right-now


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