Polar bear walking on sea ice in the Arctic
February 13, 2017

Scientists track third major arctic heat spike this winter

Just as a significant part of the United States was bracing for frigid weekend temperatures last week, meteorologists were busy documenting yet another unusual warm spell in the air above the Arctic Circle.

According to Data from the Danish Meteorological Institute, temperatures above 80 degrees latitude were more than 20 degrees higher than average for this time of year.

The warming period comes after two similar recent incidents in November and December. Warm spells also took place in December of the two previous years.

Researchers suspect that various factors are leading to these warming events, including the continuous drive of climate change and the interface between the air and shrinking Arctic sea ice. A robust low-pressure system, like the one that occurred this week, can help kick start these types of abrupt warming situations by shipping a large quantity of warm air up to the North Pole in a short period of time.

Changing Weather Worrying Scientists

While the recent storm that ravaged the East Coast isn’t unusual for this time of year, what is odd is how far north some of these storms have been making it, according to Kent Moore, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Toronto.

“There are these extratropical cyclones that appear to be tracking further north than they usually do, and these low-pressure systems are bringing the heat up into the polar region,” he told the Washington Post.

Moore said researchers aren’t sure why these storms track so far up north but said the scientific community is certain about the warming effect they can have.

Changes in the scope of Arctic sea ice are one significant factor. Due to global warming, temperatures in the Arctic are climbing at around double the global average rate, and one of the repercussions is a reduction in Arctic sea ice. The changes are most apparent in the warm summer months when sea ice has shrunk to its minimum scope, but lately, researchers have been seeing record lows for the winter months also. The ocean also becomes warmer where sea ice is missing.

“As that sea ice moves northward, there’s a huge reservoir of heat over the north Atlantic,” Moore said. “As we lose the sea ice, it allows essentially this reservoir of warmth to move closer to the pole.”


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